Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Top Halloween 30!

Hello everyone and Happy Halloween 2009!
Since Wednesday, I've been reading countless "Top Horror" and "Top Scary" films by readers, journalists and various websited just to see what everyone's opinions are. Every year about this time, lists like this bombard the internet and movie/entertainment magazines and to be really honest with you, I have yet to find one that impresses me. I'm not going to get into the reasons why (if you're reading this you probably can guess) so I decided to show my top 30 (randomized, of course). Let me know what you all think. What did I miss? And what did I overlook? At any rate, hope you guys have a great Halloween and be careful when you're out on the 31st! Watch those kids! =).

30. Shock (1977) - A woman and her husband and son move into a house that houses a horrible secret. Also known as "Beyond the Door II"

29. Inferno (1980) - Sequel to "Suspiria" and the second film in the "Three Mothers" trilogy. Great atmosphere.

28. Ghosthouse (1988) - A HAM-radio operator hears voices that lead him to an abandoned house where a dead girl and her clown doll haunt the place. Read my review on this blog.

27. The Bird With the Crysal Plumage (1970) - A writer is stalked after witnessing an attempted muder in an art gallery. Fantastic.

26. Prom Night (1980) - Someone in a mask is stalking a group of friends who witnessed the death of his kid sister years before. Great twist ending.

25. Intruder (1989) - Last of the great 80's slahers. Just think "Friday the 13th" in a local grocery store. Cameos by Sam and Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell make this a lost classic. Great gore, get this one uncut if you can find it.

24. Curtains (1983) - A group of actresses meet up at a house to audition for a famous director's next film. But who is killing them off one by one? A genre classic!

23. Night Warning (Butcher Baker, Nightmare Maker) (1983) - A young boy is left in the care of his aunt when his parents die in a horrible car crash. But what's up with auntie? And why is she so obsessed with him? And a gay love triangle to boot! Strange film - read my review on this blog

22. The Beyond (1981) - Woman inherits a hotel in New Orleans that sits on one of the seven doors of hell. Not bad. Another classic.

21. Visiting Hours (1982) - Liberalist news reporter (the always awesome Lee Grant) is stalked and brutally beaten by a disturbed individual (the ULTRA-awesome Michael Ironside) and when he finds out all he did was maim her, he goes to the hospital she's in to finish the job! Creepy!

20. Burt Offerings (1976) - The best haunted house film in the world, with one of the BEST endings ever. Read my review on this blog!

19. Happy Birthday to Me (1981) - Someone is picking off the high class kids at the local school. But who it is? Great twist ending!

18. Pieces (1982) - A chainsaw-wielding killer is stalking girls at the local college to make a human puzzle. Sleazy and ridiculously entertaining! Read my review on this blog.

17. Don't Go In the House! (1980) - A disturbed man stalks women and burns them alive in his home. Genuinely creepy.

16. Haute Tension (2003) - The only film on this list from the 21st century. And for good reason.

15. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) - A young boy watches as Santa Claus kills his mother and father...and then gets a job years later at a toy store where several murders take place. Grisly sleazly! Read my review on this blog.

14. The Burning (1981) - Dismissed as a "Friday the 13th" ripoff, slasher fans know better. Read my review on this blog.

13. Tenebre (1982) - Fantastic giallo about a writer being stalked while everyone associated with his latest book murdered in grueseome ways. And a closing credit sequence you will NEVER forget!

12. I Spit On Your Grave (1978) - Woman goes out into the woods to write her next novel to be gang raped by a group of thugs (one mentally-challenged). She recovers and gets her revenge on each one. Reprehensible and extremely disturbing. Watch at your own risk.

11. The House on Sorority Row (1983) - Sorority girls play a prank on the house mother that goes horribly wrong. One of the genre's BEST. And by all means and at all costs - stay away from the re-make!

10. Killer Party (1986) - Overlooked film about a group of girlfrieds being inducted into a sorority on "Goat Night" in the house where one of theirs had been murdered. Cheesy...but awesome!

9. Maniac (1980) - Extremely bizarre and disturbing film about a man who lost his mother to prostitution and is now a killer of such. will stay in your head for days. Read my review on this blog!

8. Demons (1985) - Patrons going to see a horror film at a local theater become mindless demons. One of my all-time favorites. Read my review on this blog!

7. Friday the 13th/Friday the 13th - part 2 (1980/1981) - These 2 are self explanatory. Halloween is NOT Halloween unless I screen the sequel! Read both reviews here on this blog!

6. Black Christmas (1974) - A sorority house is plagued with bizarre phone calls as the pledges are murdered one by one. Great slasher!

5. Sleepaway Camp (1983) - Sleeper slasher with the most bizarre twist ending ever.

4. My Bloody Valentine (1981) - The town of Valentine Bluffs is being stalked by a masked killer. Is it Harry Warden come back for his revenge?! One of my all-time favorites.

3. Nightmare (1980) - Ultra-disturbing film about a man who goes on a killing spree in south Florida. NOT for the faint of heart.

2. Stage Fright (1987) - Superb Italian entry about an escaped mental patient who terrorizes a group of thespians rehearsing a play at the local theater. Fantastic!

1. Suspiria (1977) - Beautiful film about an American ballet student who enrolls at a German dance academy only to find that the school is a front for a coven of witches. My all time favorite. Superb in every way!

Have a great Halloween!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hide and Go Shriek (1988)

The end of the eighties brought the downward spiral of the slasher film.

There were alot of factors that contributed to this: Maybe many of the low budget studios that were churning these out were finally seeing that their fruits were no longer profitable? Maybe there was a growing lack of un-interest in these types of films and studios didn't see the need to give out out hordes of cash to have less-than-Hollywood movie makers churn these out by the dozen? I have always wanted to know what really caused the fall of the slasher film by the time the greatest decade in history came to a close. But, if you paid any attention, some films were made at the end of this golden era that surpassed many of its predecessors in both style and content.

I'm walking through the isles of the H-E-B grocery store on Old Highway 83 in Weslaco, Texas. It's a hot Saturday during the summer of 1989 and I'm heading to the front of the store to where the videos were all lined up nicely in a attempt to get away from my parents for a while. The Dream Academy's "Life In A Northern Town" is playing above me on the muzak and I'm walking like I'm a big 'ol badass just because I'm sporting a pair of hand-me-down British Knights. You know what's even funnier? I can hear you, the reader, laughing to yourself as you read that last sentence. Not because you're laughing at me, but because you probably did the exact same thing back then. At any rate, this particular store introduced me to slasher favorites Sleepaway Camp, Terror Vision and The Last House on the Left. But the box on the left (in VHS form, mind you) brings back the fondest memories of that store.

I remember picking it up and being fascinated by the film's clever title. That's one thing that - sadly - I'm a sucker for. A clever title, a warning that the footage contained in the video you're distributing is "too shocking for theatrical release" and you've pretty much have got me sold. About a year or two later, this film disappeared off the shelf of this store and then, the store disappeared altogether in favor of a much larger store with a larger video rental area that was propped on the other side of the city. Sadly, I don't remember seeing this title again until 1999, when a Brownsville, Texas mom and pop video rental that still charged for memberships had this on its horror roster. One night, my then significant other and I were browsing the shelves and I picked this one up, eager for him to take it home for me. He instantly shot me down, stating that my love for eighties horror was "childish and unbecoming of me" and that was that: The movie was going to be left there on the shelf just as I'd found it. Not that it really mattered, but I had this feeling that I was never going to see this particular title in print ever again. And I didn't see it again, until 2006 when I snagged a copy up on ebay and finally added it to my collection. I 'oohed' and 'ahhed' when I finally held it in my hands again and unless you are like myself, a die hard slasher buff with fond memories of the days of the mom and pop video store, you wouldn't even to begin to understand my happiness as I popped it into the my third of six Videocassette Recorders that I own and sat back to watch. After years of waiting, this was the night.

Before I begin with the film's actual review, let me say that when you boast on your cover that you are similar to Friday the 13th and Halloween, you're really not setting your viewers up for much. Well, it's not fair that you're tell your viewers exactly what to expect. If you are a non-horror fan, or at least not a fan enough to seek out slasher obscurities such as this, you would pretty much, without even thinking about it, instantly classify the film as another run-of-the-mill slasher. I mean everyone has seen Friday the 13th and Halloween so why would your little film be any different than those two blockbusters and definers of the genre in those days? But I digress. The film opens up with a group of teens who have just graduated from high school and who are going to celebrate their new-found freedom in the annals of a furniture store belonging to the parents of John Robbins, the obvious jock and leader of the group. As they sneak in and the store closes, all hell begins to break loose as the kids are picked off one by one by an unseen killer. Seriously, this is pretty much Friday the 13th in a furniture store. But, don't dismiss the film just yet.

The film oozes eighties charm from the very beginning. The clothes, the hairstyles, the way the kids interact with each other - the music. It's wonderful in its own right and not to sound cheesy, but it reminds me of when I was a kid and when times were just much more simpler. While on the surface the film seems to appear just like the rest of them - which in reality, it is with a few exceptions - you've got to take the whole "furniture store" bit into consideration. Since this film, there has never been another horror film set in a furniture store so just for that, the film gets an instant twenty points. The (obvious) lackluster gore that could have made the film that much better is compensated with some genuine moments of suspense and terror that you don't find in many movies of that time period. The mood is sometimes very claustrophobic (the scene in the bathroom!!) and very tense in some parts and that's what makes this one stand out. If you just shut up and give the film a chance, you will end up liking it and wonder why it didn't have much more of a following back then. All the actors are "eye candy" (especially extreme hottie Sean Kanan) and they're presented to us as a group of honest kids who were just trying to have some fun and do nobody harm.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, let us discuss the film's extremely bizarre and even more unexpected plot twist:

Shit, even I didn't see that train wreck coming.

I won't give it away but I will go on record that this is one of the most bizarre and out-of-left-field endings I've ever seen. Four Words: Gay Romance Gone Bad. That's all I will say. I sat there with my mouth agape, jaw almost hitting the floor at the weirdness of how the whole plot took the exit off the highway and didn't bother to come back. It was about as strange as the ending of Sleepaway Camp minus the nudity, of course. As strange as this "revelation" is at the film's close, it gave the film a trademark of its own, which is something that 80's films were all about at one point: Who could give the audience something they'd never seen before and let me tell you, even I as a horror aficionado would have never expected what transpired during the last ten minutes. And for that bizarreness alone it gets two thumbs up. It's ends up being one of those slasher films that flew under the the radar during its theatrical run and got its audience on video. If you see this one lying around on VHS (as there hasn't been an official U.S. DVD release - and there may never be one), grab it and check it out. It's worth looking at once. The VHS claims to be "unrated" but I didn't see anything over the top that I hadn't seen in other films. But overall, the film is great in its own ways and at some points manages to top some of its competitors and counterparts of that time period.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stage Fright (Deliria) (1987)

I don't care what anyone says, I love Italian giallo films and will defend them tooth and nail. I don't know why, but I will. Since the very first time I sat in front of a little film known as Suspiria, my taste for giallo only grown more and more and the years went by. There's just something about the way they are crafted, the way they are executed, and there's something about how bizarre and out of left field they can sometimes be. The Italian giallo holds no bars when it comes to gore and suspense and just on that factor alone, they can completely redeem themselves for the inane and generally strange story lines that they can sometimes present.

I heard of this film for the very first time through a friend who was also a horror collector. He was surprised that I'd never heard of it and told me that it was one of the best Italian horror films he would ever lay eyes on. Of course, I don't take confessions like that too seriously. I've been duped into watching what turns out to be celluloid shit just because someone recommended it to me. With my peaking curiosity of Italian films - at this particular time, I hadn't seen too many and wasn't educated as I am now - I decided to look this one up and see how it would match up with my tastes. When it comes to Italian horror cinema, I always give the film in question the benefit of the doubt and make my own decisions, trying hard to rely on the advice of anyone or the advice of anything I read on line.

I finally came across this film in DVD form about three years ago at a local mom and pop where I was living at the time and instantly wasted no time in picking it up and taking it home with me. I loved the cover artwork and when I read that Anchor Bay had released it, I knew instantly that this was going to be something I'd never forget. And boy was I right.

Young, nubile thespians are rehearsing a play about a owl-masked killer on the loose when one of the leading ladies hurts herself and has to be driven to the local hospital. But, the local hospital isn't your run-of-the-mill hospital, it's a mental hospital. A very prominent and famous killer is being held there and he escapes and hides in the girls' car. As they go back to the auditorium, he sneaks in, locks them all in and picks them off one by one. And what a ride! I don't usually gush about horror like this but this one is a total diamond amongst all the trash you and I have learned to watch and love. On it's own, it stands out. It's stylized, it's gritty, and it's downright gorgeous. I don't want to give much of the action away, not because I don't think it's worthy to be mentioned, but if you haven't seen this, please go out and look for it. There is a real style to the whole thing that Michele Soavi (the Dario Argento progote who would go on to direct Cemetery Man) impressively brings to the screen. Camera shots, panning, lighting, angles, it all works in this film. And don't get me started on the brilliance of the actors.

Usually in these types of films, the acting is either sub-par or just absent altogether. Sometimes it's so out there that it goes over your head. But the cast in this film bring about an honesty that can't be ignored. From David Brandon's performance as Peter, the director, to the most random performance by Italian horror-character-actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice - as a homosexual. Enough said. The atmosphere of the film is also pretty darn creepy and it works on a variety of levels. Everything is set up in a manner that it falls into place when it needs to, leaving no plot holes and leaving nothing unexplained. The film does contain some legitimate scares and some moments are enough to make you jump out of your seat. With it being sometimes cookie-cutter as far as the methods that the killer stalks the victims, there is a way that Soavi presents them that surpass most slasher moments. Once the killer finds his way into the building and locks the group inside, hiding the key, and once the director (and his promoter/producer) find out that one of their own has been murdered, everything is fair game. The lewdness of the two as they use the murder of a fellow crew member to capitalize on the play's potential success is a plot twist that ultimately backfires on them, but just the idea of it is pretty messed up. The director makes the work overtime, pushing them to their limits, telling them how much money they can make and how famous and popular they will be. But once they begin to disappear, the plans fall through.

I'm having a hard time trying not to give some of the best moments of the film away. This is one that should be sought out at all costs. The version I first viewed was the Anchor Bay uncut DVD which was later re-released by Blue Underground (which I own). Both versions are exactly the same, menus, disc and all. I also own the very-heavily edited U.S. VHS version released by Imperial Entertainment. I purchased the BU DVD for less than ten dollars so please do yourself the favor and go out and get this one. The film's haunting scene where the "final girl" has to re-count the victims who have been gorily placed on stage is one of the best ever. The film's final moment is a bit tacky and everyone has done it before, but I was able to look past it and this film instantly became one of my top favorites of all time. I can watch it again and again and never get tired of it - that's how great it is. You will have a great time being scared by this one. I guarantee it.

I apologize that I didn't go into detail much about this one. It's that good that I want everyone to go out and look for it and make up your own mind about it. Here is the trailer if you haven't seen it already - This is one of all time faves. and for good reason.

Kill Her! Kill Her!!!!!!!!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Body Count (Camping del Terrore) (1987)

In my book, I have a theory that a horror film can sometimes be summed up on its obscurity factor alone. Though I don't have many films on my list that actually prove that, I like to believe that it's fathomable. For example, my previous post for the ultra-obscure Last House on Dead End Street. Had never heard of it until a few years ago, never laid eyes on it until just the other night and though it didn't completely meet my expectations, it came pretty damn close. 
Body Count better known as the awesomely-alternately-titled Camping del Terrore

(Oh, come on, where have you heard of another horror film with a name that is cooler that that?), was one of those films that I'd heard about back in the day but never saw that it really existed. It was one of those that I'd heard about and read about but never really knew if it was a film that was actually in print, or one those that was mere hype. The reason I felt that way was because in all of my years as a horror aficionado, I had never seen, nor to this day have I seen, this film in print be it on VHS or DVD. So I did what every collector would do in this situation: Hit up Ebay. And of course, no luck. And if I did see it for sale, of course it went for silly money.

I posted a note on iMDB about this film and I got an email several weeks later from a fellow collector in the lovely state of New Jersey who told me that he would be happy to forward me a (legitimate) copy of the film to screen for this blog. Of course, I accepted and within about two week's time, I was sitting in front of my big screen television, popping this one in. I will forever hold the grudge against him that he didn't pass along a word of warning about this little ditty.

The plot is quite simple: A gang of college kids take a trip to the dark woods of Colorado during their Summer vacation to sort of "get away" from everything. While scouting the area, they run across a young hitchhiker named Ben who will lead them to his father's campsite out in the country. The place is located in the middle of nowhere and it appears at first glance to be the perfect place to spend the weekend. What these kids don't know is that the camp sort of has a "reputation" that involves an old local legend of a Shaman- half-man, half-beast. to believe, As they spent more time there they all realize one by one that the Shaman is indeed real and it's ready to kill them. Seems like a plot we can all relate to, right? Wow, I couldn't have been more wrong. If you know my taste in old-school horror, there is nothing I love more than to sit with some popcorn, a cold Pepsi and watch a stalk-and-slash film. As cookie-cutter as all stalk-and-slash films are (with the exception of a few hidden gems out there like Curtains and Maniac), I can easily overlook that minor flaw and give the film I'm screening the benefit of the doubt. But this one, sadly, was an exception to the rule.

First of all, the print I received was the darkest, murkiest thing I'd seen since Humongous, a film known for it's dark and almost completely unwatchable night footage. This was just as bad. Some of the death scenes occur at night and it was almost impossible to see what was going on. But that wasn't the most frustrating thing about this film. The pace is quite slow, the storyline wasn't able to keep my attention, but most of all: What a waste of David Hess! Every horror fan who has seen him in film like Last House on the Left or The House on the Edge of the Park knows and loves what this man can bring to a role. Forget Jason and Freddy, Krug was the man you loved to hate! There is brutal honesty when you put Hess in a role, especially as a villain. But to see him in one where he doesn't even play the bad guy? What the hell? I'm not used to seeing him as a passive father. But I digress. The only thing that was worse was knowing that this snoozer was directed by non-other than Cannibal Holocaust director Rugero Deotato who also helmed The House on the Edge of the Park. Let's not go there, shall we?

Long story short, the shaman does still exist (or does he?) and the kids get picked off one by one in bloody fashions blah-blah-blah. Usually in this genre of film there is always at least one thing that I can claim as a redeeming feature be it an actor who I can mark as the "eye candy" of the film (where in this case there was none), or a particular gore scene that caught my eye (where, also, in this case there was none). The only thing that came close was the film's final scene which left the view to decide if the shaman-beast in question really did exist. I can't go as far as to say that this is the worst slasher-in-the-words picture I've seen - that honor goes to The Prey - but it should have been a hell of a lot more than it was. For all the time I spent searching for this - no offense to Michael who was nice enough to send this film to me - there was absolutely no pay off. Unless you're a collector of Deodato's films or are a die-hard David Hess fan, there really is no point in seeking this one out solely on merit alone. As obscure and as hard to find as this film is, after seeing it, I've realized there's a reason...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Last House on Dead End Street (1977)

Hello everyone.

After a brief hiatus, I've decided to return to this little piece of horror hobbying after several months of silence. I've spent some time acquiring some more pieces to add to my collection and this first entry upon my return proves it.

In the horror realm of the seventies and eighties there are those few films who have such a reputation that now, so many years later, horror fans spend countless hours (and unbelievable amounts of money) to get their hands on them. I'd never heard of The Last House on Dead End Street until about a year or two ago when another collector let me in on this almost-forgotten film. I did some research and read about how some horror collectors remember this movie from their childhood and teen-age years, stowing away into the back room of mom and pop video stores and wishing to carry this piece home with them. I was surprised at the fondness of these reminiscences and how dear some people hold this film to their hearts - especially upon reading how rare this film is.

Upon my further research on this one, I found that this film touches one of the most taboo and, at the same time, fascinating horror subject matters: the snuff film. Before getting my hands on this one, I'd sat through the atrocity that is the Findlay mess known as Snuff. I won't get into that one, as I'll save it for it's complete review at a later time. But ever since I first heard of Snuff back in high school, I'd always have this morbid curiosity about the urban myth of the snuff film. Do they really exist? Are there people who make movies that come close and sell them passing them off as the real McCoy? How would you even begin to fathom creating something as horrific as a film where someones actual death would be portrayed on-screen? Is that legal? How would someone even get away with it? All these questions pushed me further and further until I sat in front of a little film called 8MM back in my mid-twenties. Again, not elaborating on that film itself, but that curiosity always stuck with me and sometimes, I'd stay up late at night just thinking about every facet of the subject. It wasn't the actual content that piqued my wanting to know more, it was the actual staging of it, the conception, the writing, the casting. How would it all be carried across? It would cause my heart to race in a way I'd never felt before as a horror fan. Sure, we all like to see how filmmakers are going to kill off the next victim and by which means the execution would take place. But something as mind-baffling as something real happening before your eyes...

I read about this one again some months ago and I began to search for it on-line. As amazing as this is going to sound, I was part of a bidding war on Ebay for a copy of this on VHS (one of the ultra-rare U.S. releases by Sun Video) in which - when I finally withdrew - the asking price for this, again, on VHS, had reached the hundred-dollar mark. And the bidding war was between myself and nine other people. What was so great about this film that had that many people wanting to get their hands on it?

Finally, about three weeks ago, I got an email from a friend, and fellow horror buff, who'd told me he'd gotten a hold of a special edition U.S. DVD release by Barrel Video. He oohed and aahed in delight about how he'd been in the bargain used bin over at the local specialty shop and had seen this just "lying there". He talked about it a little more and the more he spoke, the more intrigued I was. So, the other night, he was kind enough to bring it over and put it in. The following is a very concise review (as best as I can) based on what I've read/heard and what I actually saw:

First of all, according to iMDB, this film is completely pseudonymous - from the director to writer and the complete cast. Nobody who worked on this film used his or her real name in the credits. Just from that mere tidbit of trivia alone was enough to take my curiosity to its peak.

The film opens with a young man, Terry, fresh out of prison, coming back to an old college building in search of an old friend of his who happens to be a filmmaker. Those opening moments set the tone for the entire film. Eerie close-ups of concrete gargoyles, sinister low-fi music with the main character's thoughts echoing throughout, and best of all, terrible, terrible film stock that makes you know the film is going to be sleazy, And boy, does it reek. What transpires in the next hour or so is some of the most bizarre and memorable scenes I've ever witnessed on celluloid.

Terry wants to make snuff films and takes his pals - some of them former business associated - along for the ride to make some money and gain some notoriety. That's pretty much the jist of the film. But what his friends don't know is that they are going to be the cast of these films and that Terry has something set up for each one of them. There is an eeriness to the film that you can't ignore a sort of ominous feeling to the whole thing that tells you right off the bat that you're in for a unique ride. I don't want to give much away because if you're a true die-hard, I believe you should seek this out and see if you can get your hands on it somehow (If you're interested, email me). Terry and his gang of thugs (for lack of a better term) offs the friends one by one in the most brutal of ways, and you sit there and watch them die as the cameraman takes it all in. There are a few scenes that have to be seen to be believed, the kind of scenes that are so horrific that you want to turn away but can't because of how intense and how realistic it all looks. The death scenes are imaginative and you have to wonder what was going through the mind of Mr. Roger Watkins (who came forward just before his own demise in 2007 that he'd helmed the entire thing) at the time of this film's production.

Bottom line: yes, the movie is intense, especially during two memorable sequences. Yes, the movie is graphic. Yes, the movie is quite disturbing but not how I imagined it would be. First, the film takes about a half hour to forty-five minutes to get started, only because the film takes it time in introducing all the main players and the film sets them up pretty well, for being as low-budget as it is. And that's one of the aspects of the film that actually works in its favor. It reeks low budget, it screams trash and sleaze, but you know what? It actually does the film justice. Even the sorrid sex scenes scream vile filth in a classy manner, which is something that most films of that era can't get away with. There are plenty of inadequacies that this film carries, as does every film, but that's actually what helps it carry itself. It does not apologize for what it is. It does not try to be something it obviously isn't. There are no grey areas. You either end up loving it or panning it completely. It all depends on your point of view.

The only thing I particularly disliked about the film was its short running time of about 76 minutes, that's just over an hour. But, the wallop the last half hour has makes up for it completely, even going as far as to have the whole thing abruptly end and credits roll just after catching your breath after the final murder. I can honestly say that I've never seen anything like this before. This cements my theory of why the underground horror film never flourished during the late 70's and early 80's: People refused to accept this as cinema. People did not want to see this type of film and interpret it into an art form the way some of us horror buffs do. People want their Jasons and their Freddy Kreugers and their SAW films because most modern horror is all cookie-cutter, and people like those "safe" horror films, where they know they won't be subjected to anything more than a crazy masked killer stalking a bunch or horny teens. They are afraid of having their minds taken into a much deeper realm of terror, especially with the subject of the snuff film altogether.

I used to credit the Findlay piece of crap known as Snuff for igniting the urban legend of the snuff film. Boy, was I wrong. I now believe that Roger Watkins himself is the reason that these films, in theory, exist. I believe that because of his innovation and dark sense of humor that the snuff film was ever introduced into the mainstream. This picture didn't need hired picketers to stand outside New York grindhouses protesting the film's release to get attention. Without this film we wouldn't have had the semi-decent Spanish film Thesis. Without this film, we wouldn't have known what the big deal was when Charlie Sheen called the FBI after watching a Japanese film called Guinea Pig. Without LHODES, these bratty teenagers who think they know it all about horror cinema just because they've seen an Eli Roth film would have their Hostel or SAW. Without this films, true horror fans wouldn't have had the chance to descend into true horror madness. It's amazing to me how Snuff gained the fame and notoriety that it did for a few lousy minutes at the end of the film when Watkins was able to give us something even more graphic and his piece of work goes virtually unnoticed.

The true brilliance of this film is that it takes an Urban legend and uses it to its own advantage. It uses the mere idea of what could possibly exist in a true snuff film and capitalizes on it in a way that makes you wonder if somewhere in the most hidden parts of the world, something like this could really happen. Could I actually one day go into an underground video store and accidentally stumble on the "real thing" without knowing it? If you think about it long enough, it actually will make your stomach turn.

Go out and find this one. I know it will be hard to, but go out and hunt it down. It will change your viewpoint on the idea of the snuff film altogether and give you a new respect for underground horror cinema.

Here is the (particularly disturbing) trailer:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Witchery (Ghosthouse 2) (1988)

Before I begin, I would like to extend the sincerest of thank yous to Ross Horsley, web-host and author of the blog, Anchorwoman In Peril, for the email I received today informing me that he'd been recognized with a Premio Dardo award and wanted to share it with the likes of Linus Loves 80's Horror and other sites he fancies. I was speechless, breathless and totally surprised that not only was someone reading the lovely little postings on this site, but enjoying them! This little hobby of mine has been around since God-knows-when and when I finally decided to sit and create this little contribution to the horror-loving multitudes like myself, I didn't think anyone was really going to bat an eye. I guess I was wrong! Thank you again, Ross. Now I have to keep up with this little ditty, since you all are reading! What kind of blog host would I be if I left you and not post for....wait, never mind.

When I sat and watched the original Ghosthouse, I didn't really fathom that there would be a sequel. I mean, how can a you top the elements of creepy house, some squatters meeting their untimely deaths, a weird HAM radio, and the scariest doll clown to ever grace the silver screen? Well, it turns out that you can't, but more on that later. After seeing the original film, I did some research on it and read other reviews only to discover that there was a second movie, known as Witchcraft, and Ghosthouse 2. Then to see that it starred both David Hasslehoff and Linda Blair? The Exorcist meets Knight Rider? I'm there! It did take me a while to get my hands on it and I ultimately found it after an extensive Internet and retail store hunt, completely by accident, at a Best Buy store in Fresno. I was excited to see that it was released by Shriek Show, who is following very closely on the coattails of Blue Underground and Anchor Bay as the "cool horror DVD distributor", I knew that I was in for something different.

The film opens with what appears to be an hotel on a desolate island and we are immediately introduced to an unknown woman, pregnant and running dream-like through a corridor lined with doors and being pursued by Puritans or Quakers or something. For a split second, I could swear that I was in the mood for oatmeal. Running from this group of people and not wanting to be captured, she jumps through a window on the top floor and plummets to her death. The sequence abruptly ends, which turns out to be all a dream, and we are immediately introduced to Leslie (Leslie Cumming). an occult writer who's latest project is translating a German-language book which supposedly documents that witches were one burned on the island where the hotel now stands and since then, a mysterious "witch's light" has hovered over the island that has never been explained. She is joined by her photographer boyfriend, Gary (played by the Hoff himself in all his then-handsome, bouffant-strutting glory) who is photographing the hotel and the island to accompany Leslie's writings. Hoping that the little excursion they're taking blossoms into a full-out romantic getaway, his plans are dampered by his frigid girlfriend, who has remained a virgin - well into her mid-to-late twenties - and wants nothing to do with Gary in the sexual sense. Sacre Bleu! I can't comprehend why anyone wouldn't give it up to the Hoff - I mean, even I would have in those days! - and to add insult to painful injury, she refuses to share a bed with him and makes the poor bloke sleep on the floor! That would have been the last straw for me, BUT, in all fairness, he seems to be very fond of Leslie (though she spouts out sentences in murmur as if she'd been on Xanax for the a few days straight), so he stays.

Then come the Brooks, a family from the Boston mainland, who have their eye on buying the old hotel and renovating it into an upscale bed and breakfast. The Brooks consist of Mrs. Brooks (Annie Ross of Basket Case 2), her husband Fred (Robert Champagne), pregnant step-daughter Jane (Linda Blair, who is really pregnant in this film), and her young son Tommy (Michael Manchester). They take a fishing boat out to the island along with a beautiful - but always randy - architect (Catherine Hickland) and the realtor (Rick Farnsworth, whose nerdy charm matched with his rugged good looks almost topped the "boing factor" already set by Hasslehoff) in hopes of selling off the property and getting if off their hands. The best line in the whole film comes just as they step off the boat when the fisherman tells Mr. Brooks, "They've got a bunch of legends about this island: Witches and rainbows and shit!" I must have fallen out of my chair to hear that line. I'm laughing right now as the line repeats inside my head over and over again. But before they left for the island, a strange woman in black approaches young Tommy - and shocks him when she calls him by name - but doesn't tell the family this until he sees her hovering through the top windows of the house. He also fails to mention that a little girl in wheelchair warns him that a witch lives on the island. Is she right? Or is she merely informing him of the local urban legend that the island has held over the small seaside town for centuries?

Almost as soon as they arrive, strange things begin to happen. Judy gets sucked into a bathtub, Mrs. Brooks gets swallowed by a wall safe and is taken to a chair in the netherworld as has her mouth sewn shut (in a really gruesome manner) and then she's placed in the chimney only to be burned alive, the sex-hungry architect and the realtor get impaled through the throat via a trophy fish wall hanging and being burned alive on the beach on an upside down cross, respectively. As original as those murders were, the most eye-popping of the set is when Leslie dreams of being raped by satan himself (?) during a frightening ritual. It's got to be seen to be appreciated and it was the scene that stayed in my mind the longest. She awakens to find herself bleeding and she begins to wonder if the legend of the witch and it's light are really true after all. By this time, it is revealed that Leslie and Gary don't have permission to be in the house, so as they watch the family leave, they think the coast is clear. The entire group is forced to wait it out on the island as a storm breaks over the hotel. Gary's little inflatable boat can't hack the choppy waters so there is no choice but to weather it out. Excruciatingly long story short, the witch cases more mayhem, the power supply is cut off and we get to see a film project play on its own. A helicopter from the mainland attempts to come find the missing group and finding no signs of life, it leaves what's left of the group trapped inside. In the film's closing act, we lose young Tommy, and we get to see Mr. Brooks' demise, by invisible throat stabbing via a voodoo doll (which was the instrument also used on the others) with a nice squirting sequence, dousing the Hoff in what seems to be blood more in the realm of hamburger condiments and it immediately had me wanting to order a bag of French Fries from the local pizza house. In other words, Heinz Ketchup maybe have been a sponsor?

We lost the Hoff - which surprised me as I was sure that he was going to get off that island - by means of crushing by double doors and it all culminates to one point: Dear Jane (and everyone else for that matter) was "chosen" by the witch to extend her existence and in the final 10 minutes, the spirit of the witch inhabits her young body until she repeats the opening sequence of pregnant girl crashing out the top floor window and falling to her death on the beach. Cue a misplaced soft pop song and we are now in the hospital, Leslie being the only survivor. This is where the film, for me, finally hit a good spot. The doctor comes in to check on her and to let her know that everything, including Leslie's baby, is going to be ok. In one of the cheesiest, lamest and overall awesome moments in my twenty-some-odd years of watching 80's horror: Leslie's confused face - picture Tim Taylor of Home Improvement tilting his head to one side and exclaiming 'Urrrr?' - faces the camera and in sheer and utter surprise she utters, "What baby?" The camera then freezes on her confused face (which shouldn't surprise anyone as she sputtered her lines in the same manner) and the music gets louder and credits roll. It was then that I heard a laughter fill the room. Wait, it was my own! Oops!

The film in itself isn't that bad, but there so many plot holes and silly camera "tricks" that don't allow it to hold up as the film it should have been able to on its own. Shreik Show's transfer is quite good, though I read that the film isn't in the 1:85 ratio and scenes are cropped. I'd never seen the film so I really didn't notice. The sound mix was good, as well. The acting in the film (aside from Michael Manchester's inexplicably banal performance, even for a child actor) is particularly sub-par, even for Linda Blair and Hasslehoff, and the score doesn't give it the mood that it needed to make the "trips into madness" the characters all experienced to make it as frightening as they producers may have hoped for. Speaking of producers, this one was penned by the legendary Joe D'Amato, whose company. Filmirage, brought out a string of films during the 80's, including the original Ghosthouse and the forgettable piece of shit film, Anthropophagus. At any rate, I can't think of any reason to go out and actually buy the film but if you like cheese like this, you might want to give it a once-over. Maybe I'm being too harsh, maybe I'm being too nice. There's a perplexity about giving this film a good rating when it doesn't give you much to cheer about - though again, some of the gore scenes were pretty original, so you can't really give it a bad one altogether. Overall, it's a piece of ineffective haunted-house trash. But that last scene sure as hell makes up for it. 

You've been warned.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Demons (1985)

During the horror boom of the 1980's, many film makers and producers tried to out-do each other by coming up with the most interesting and original concepts to present to the movie-going public. Because of this, there are many different sub-classes in the horror genre, ranging from the basic slasher, to the zombie epic, to the holiday-themed scare fest. All in all, the 80's produced some of the strangest, best, and worst films that to this day, cannot be matched.

This first time I heard of this film, it was 1985. I was running around in my parent's living room playing with my brother and the advert for this suddenly appears on the television screen. I instantly stop in my tracks and become glued to the set, unbeknown st to what was to follow. I can still remember it clearly, the scene with the helicopter, the scene with Rosemary in the bathroom, and the announcer's stern warning that no one under 17 will be admitted! I'd heard that warning before, but this time, it sounded real. There was a real tone in the announcer's voice that was pleading with me to heed the words coming through the television set. I stood there for a few seconds after the screen faded out to black. My heart was racing. Those mere 30 seconds had infiltrated my mind more than I would have ever imagined. It took a few days, but I got it out of my system and forgot about it.

That was, until 2002 when I rented this from a small mom and pop store in Knob Noster, Missouri one day and snuck it home to my sister's house. I put it on when everyone was finally down for the night and sat down with a couple of Pepsi's and a plate of barbecue chicken in front of me and proceeded, with caution, mind you. I remembered that TV commercial as the opening scene began and I'll be honest and say that I was a bit nervous. First I have to say that this ended up being one the most entertaining horror films I'd ever set eyes on. Sure, I was frightened and even shocked by some of the fantastic gore scenes, but I loved every second of it. The plot is one of the most simple and straight-forward in the Italian-Shock group: A mysterious man in a silver mask approaches a young girl named Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) and silently slips her a pass for the local movie theater, she convinces her best friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo) to ditch that day's classes and sneak off to the Metropol. Let me stop and say that the building that houses the Metropol is just phenomenal to look at and it was photographed in such a loving way that I'm surprised no one has written a book on just the theater itself. It stands hovering above the Berlin skyline and its blue neon letters are so beautifully painted across the face of the building that you have to pause the film and just marvel for a while at this piece of architecture. Inside, the white fluorescent-lights hum as the poster for Dario Argento's "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" hangs in the lobby (which was a hilarious tongue-in-cheek reference as he is the producer of this entry) while a silver demon mask dangles from a strategically placed (and very much random) motorcycle. In the group of patrons all there to see the film's premiere is a group of three street-savvy individuals: Ruth (Nicole Tessier), the rebel and free spirit Rosemary (Geretta Giancarlo), both led by the ultra-smooth talking Tony (Bobby Rhodes). Horse playing in the foyer, Rosemary picks up the mask and tries it on for shits and gigs and cuts her face in the process. Exasperated, Tony takes the girls and leads them into the theater.

A word on the inside of the theatre: If you've read my review of Nightmare, I mention how I imagined the grindhouses and theatres of Monterrey, Mexico would have maybe looked back in the 80's and the images of the inside of the Metropol gives life to those musings. The concrete floors, the wooden seats in rows of ten or twenty, the dirty and simple lavatories with cinder block as partitions, the dark corridors and stairways. It gives me chills just thinking about it.

As Cheryl and Kathy try to grab a quick snack from a non-functioning vending machine, they are approached by a pair of friends, George (the ultra-gorgeous Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Karl Zinny) who try to swoop in and woo the girls. The lights go down and the film begins, which, much to Kathy's vocal disapproval, ends up being a horror film about a group of kids who stumble upon the tomb of Nostrodamous. As this happens, Tony and his girls come walking in and sit toward the back of the theater, lighting cigarettes and causing trouble. As the movie continues and the boys try to put the move on the now-vulnerable girls, one of the guys on-screen finds a silver mask in the tomb much resembling both the one in the lobby and the one worn by the mysterious ticket-man (who, by the way is played by Argento protege and future Stage Fright director Michele Soavi). When the guy tries to scare the others, he, too, cuts his face on the mask, just as Rosemary had before. She immediately notices that her wound is still bleeding and excuses herself to the ladies room.
I don't want to give the entire plot away but all I will say is that as the guy on screen begins to turn into a demon, so does poor Rosemary. And when Ruth goes looking for her, the spreading of the evil begins. And so does the action! 

This film is so dated, it's almost laughable but, surprisingly, that's one of its charms. The decor, the set pieces, the soundtrack, the costumes, it all screams, no, it howls mid 1980's. The gore is amazing and it's no wonder this film is so held and cherished by horror fans all over the world. And when you really focus on the center core of the plot, that it's a horror film within a horror film and you imagine yourself in that scenario, it's quite terrifying. Take just one quick moment and close your eyes. Imagine yourself at your local movie theater and you're sitting with your boy/girlfriend and the most recent horror film is playing in front of you. Now, imagine that someone in the theater with you is actually possessed and you are trapped in the theater with no way out. How would you react? How would you really handle a situation like that? Imagine what you would hear, what you'd feel, and the thoughts that would be running through your mind. If you think about it long enough, it should run a chill up and down your spine. That's something that this film portrays, although in a very hyperbolic fashion, but it's something to think about. Imagine having to kill your own best friend because they were slowly becoming one of them? Imagine your past, everything you've been through, every moment you've ever shared and having to end their lives. It's pretty macabre, but hey, if there is one thing I've learned in this life is that anything can happen.

With that said, this film is a fun entry in the list of films from Italy and Europe. It seriously provided an entertaining look at a concept that has never been duplicated since. It is as original today as it was when it premiered and it still packs the horror punch the film makers wanted to present. Anchor Bay just re-released this on DVD and I've seen it for a really good price. I own the special edition double-bill set of Demons and Demons 2 released as an entry in the "Dario Argento Collection" series from AB and from what I hear, the set is now really hard to come by. It sill remains in my top 5 only because I can't resist a film that reeks of 80's like this one does. From the outright gorgeous camera shots of downtown Berlin to the fantastic make up, this is one you can't pass up. You'll thank me the first time Bobby Rhodes screams out, "What the hell happened to Rosemary?!" and you'll watch it again and again.

P.S. Did I mention that I'm completely head-over-heels for Urbano Barberini? 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

In every horror fan's life, there are those select films that give us, to this day, those butterflies deep within. Butterflies like when you first meet that special boy or girl and you're trying to get them to notice you. Then there's that tingly feeling you get all over when he walks into the room. I mean, she. Sorry. There are those films that you end up, without expecting, having an unmistakable love affair with throughout the years and no matter what anyone says about said film, you stand by it as if it were the dreamy captain of the varsity football team. Wait, head cheerleader! Dammit!

This, for me, is that film. I can still remember that winter night in 1984 when I woke up one night with the urge to use the restroom. We had just moved onto a small humble ranch in Texas and we siblings all had to sleep in the same room. I noticed how late it was and I found it strange that the television in the living room was on. I walked in on my father watching a film showing on KGBT and suddenly, the image of a miner's mask came onto the screen. I was terrified, I crouched behind the couch and looked over at the television again and I saw the image of a man in a miner's outfit chasing a girl with a pick axe. Scared out of my mind, I remember quietly sneaking back to my room, getting into bed, and not being able to sleep the rest of the night. The image of the eyes behind that mask was something I never forgot.

Several years later, I was wandering though Weslaco's Valley Mart and browsing - again - through the horror section of the video rentals, I stumbled upon the box for this beloved ditty and my heart stopped out of pure fear at the sight of the miner's mask emblazoned across the front. It was something that had secretly invaded my dreams at night. That mask. That light. Yet I couldn't stop myself from picking the box up and meeting it face to face for the first time. There was something about the picture on the front that was captivating me slowly. There was a charm to the way Paramount was presenting this picture to me and I knew that I would fall victim to it someday. Unfortunately, that wasn't the day. Over the years, I'd see this on and off again at mom and pops and local grocery outlets and I'd always have fights within myself as to rent it or not. For reasons that I, at the time, would understand, I just felt that it would be best to just wait. One day, in 1999, fed up, I walked into the local H-E-B Video Central, picked this up off the shelf, and took it home. I popped it into the VCR and told myself that I had to face my fear and this image that had been haunting me for the past decade. This wasn't like Jason or Freddy, this was different. I turned off the phone, turned off all the lights and locked my front door. I didn't want to be bothered. This was going to be a sort of mind-cleansing for me and I had to be completely alone for it to work. When the film ended and the credits rolled, something wasn't right. I'd expected to be curled up in the fetal position in the corner of the living room, thumb in my mouth, calling out for my mother. I expected this whole thing to backfire in my face and leave me even more traumatized than before. To my own surprise, and without wanting, I had fallen in love with this little Canadian film and just like that, I became it's number one fan. For the next nine months, I rented this film every weekend. There was something about it that pulled me into its gaping jaws. And there was no turning back.

The plot is actually very simple: When several supervisors leave their post to attend the annual Valentine's Day dance, miner Harry Warden and several mining colleagues become trapped underground after an explosion. Being the only survivor, he is placed in a mental institution and escapes, coming back on the one-year anniversary of the accident to the small town of Valentine Bluffs to off some of the locals. Flash forward to the present where the local kids are planning a Valentine's Day Dance on the 20th anniversary of the disaster. When the sheriff of the town receives a box of candy, or what he thinks is a box of candy with an ominous warning, fear of Harry Warden's return fill the air. The news is passed on to the kids and the dance is cancelled. But do the kids listen? Of course not! So here comes Harry to get his revenge! But, look a little bit deeper at this beloved piece of horror history. There's a a lot more going on than you see on the surface.

This is one of those films that has a complete love/hate relationship among horror fans. Some, including yours truly, savor this each time we watch it and hold it close to our hearts. Others pass this off as a holiday-themed Friday The 13th knock-off. And why wouldn't they? I mean, the film clearly states at the beginning that the story takes place on Thursday, February 12th. You do the math. Coincidence? I don't think Paramount did that completely by accident. Some argue that the MPAA's slicing and dicing of the film back before its release hurt the overall potential and punch the film really could have had. And though I agree with that statement at some point, we all have to remember that it wasn't the film maker's fault that 9 minutes of the film had to be cut to avoid the cutthroat "X" rating. But you have to look at the story the film is trying to tell, the sub-plot of the complicated love triangle going on between T.J. (Paul Kelman), Sara (Lori Hallier), and Axel (Neil Affleck). Take a step back and take away the gore, the special effects, and the main villain and you get an honest, all-American (well, Canadian) love story between a grown man, the woman he left behind, and the new beau, who happens to be one of his dearest friends, that has taken his place. There is a frank maturity portrayed in this film between the cast that you don't see at all in slashers from this time period. From the story itself, to the people playing each part, to the reasons why the killer is motivated to terrorize the town. These folks aren't your run-of-the-mill group of horny teenagers at a campsite taking a summer vacation. These are mature, working-class adults who hold pretty blue collar jobs and the women who stand behind them. I think that's one of the things that grabbed me about this film: the honest portrayal of adults in a horror setting. You don't see any of them committing any of the horror cliches that you normally see and it presents itself as a strong, mature piece of film making. Sure, some of the scenes run slow, but they all have their purpose within the story. I think it was wise of director George Mihalka, for example, to have Sara explain her back story regarding T.J. and what pushed her to be with Axel. All of it ties itself together at the end.

The gore in this film is rather tame, but again, blame this one on the MPAA. This is one of those few films that received a massive chopping from the ratings board - along with Friday the 13th part 2 that same year - and its full version intact has been on the "holy grail" lists of horror collectors since the film was released. I've even been on one particular horror site where a guy devotes a huge article to the uncut footage, the "does it exist or not" theory, and his push for Paramount to finally release it altogether. Impressive, seeing that it's 9 minutes of missing footage we all want to see. When Paramount released this DVD for the first time back in 2002, lack of the film's original poster art and the piece of shit sleeve they put together made me totally pass on buying it. And I'm being dead serious. Then, to see absolutely no special features? Give us a break, Paramount! It wasn't until the re-release in 2006 with a new cover bearing the likes of Harry Warden that I finally decided to pick this up, again, sans special features. How hard is it to put the trailer on there for this one? I mean, I can go to YouTube and download it in the snap of a finger. So really, what was the big deal?

Luckily, Lionsgate heard our plea and bought the rights to the original film along with rights to remake it. They've just released a special edition DVD of this with all 9 minutes of lost footage put back in thanks to original producer John Dunning. As of this posting, I haven't picked it up only because I've been sick in bed with the flu. Though, in my opinion, I would have rather seen the proposed sequel, My Bloody Valentine 2: Return of the Miner instead of a remake, which, at the time of this posting, I've already seen it an advance 3D screening. In all fairness, I gave the updated film a chance and though Jensen Ackles makes my butter melt, the film wasn't good enough to say that it trumps the original as the definitive version. Sorry, Lionsgate, I'm just being honest. I am forever grateful, though, that you brought us, after many years of patient waiting, the restored uncut print of the film. I would have really loved to have seen Lionsgate release the original in its restored form as a double-billing with the 3D remake. That would have been something to marvel. So, the hunt for the complete version is film is over. We can all sit back, relax and enjoy this often-overlooked but much-beloved 80's slasher flick and breathe easy.

If you're reading this, you've either seen this several times and/or have this in your collection. I own the original Paramount VHS and the 2006 DVD re-release. I think I've seen this on a Paramount double-bill DVD with April Fool's Day for about $9 and just for this film itself it's worth the price. If you've never seen this, get it and watch it with an open mind. I think you'll find there's more than just an angry miner offing kids on Valentine's Day. One of my all-time top five, and for good reason.