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Preview: The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense

The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense

One woman's quest to share the beauty and learn valuable lessons in horror films, from the truly terrifying to the totally terrible (and of course, everything in between involving killer dolls)

Updated: 2017-12-11T06:30:22.606-05:00


The Ugly Americans


As an American who lived abroad for a few years during my twenties, I can safely say that yankee expats can sometimes be the worst. While I like to think I was generally respectful and open to the cultures I was experiencing, I also spent a drunken dinner or two with a variety of fellow non-natives who didn't always charm those around them. Watching 1979's bizarre Bloodbath, I witnessed a nightmare version of those days. Thankfully, Dennis Hopper never taught ESL at any of my schools.Quick Plot: A gaggle of awful Americans party together on a mysterious and beautiful Spanish island. Chicken (Hopper in full loon mode) shoots heroin and makes racist jokes. Treasure Evans (the treasure that is Carroll Baker) is a washed up movie star who kills time with booze and local men while waiting for her agent to call. Finally there's Allen (screenwriter Win Wells), a gay hedonist looking for just the right young fellow to seduce.As our ugly Americans frolic and sin their way across the island, the locals take part in their own mysterious traditions, from child marriage to child sacrifice. A caravan of hippies arrive just as things start getting truly weird, with hallucinations and dead bodies turning up every scenic way you turn.Directed by Silvio Narizzano, Bloodbath (aka The Sky Is Falling, which makes a whole lot more sense in terms of a character being named Chicken) is a surreal, strange little movie that plays with religious iconography and Manson-esque cult violence. The oddest thing about it (of which, seriously, there are many) is that for being such a product of the late '60s/early '70s, it comes with a 1979 date.I don't know how much I can say I enjoyed Bloodbath, but it certainly was an experience not like much else. For Dennis Hopper, however, I'm guessing it was pretty much casual Friday.High PointsIt's always a pleasure to see Carroll Baker, but it's even more of one when she gets such a juicy mess of a person to playLow PointsIt may be more Amazon's fault than the film's, but it's a shame that the visual quality feels so compromisedLessons LearnedNever call a snotty Britishman an expatriate if he's simply living abroadReal pearls are what you would call "proper'There are few things worse than a white expat with easy access to liquorRent/Bury/BuyBloodbath is certainly not for everybody, but if you're looking for something way off the beaten path, it's definitely one to try. You can find a poorly lit grainy version streaming on Amazon Prime if your eyes are up for it.[...]

The Time Traveler's Abs


Back when I watched The Butterfly Effect 2, I was angry. Here was a case of a potential franchise with a good central premise being applied in the worst possible way on the least possible interesting characters and situation. While it's far from a masterpiece, The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations (because every franchise eventually needs an entry subtitled "Revelations") makes a batch of good decisions that put its predecessor to shame. Easy tip for new filmmakers: want people to enjoy your movie? Don't center it on a white millennial startup tech salesman.Quick Plot: Sam is a handsome young butterfly effector. Somewhere between presumed four hour ab workouts, he finds the time to assist police on murder cases by butterfly effecting and care for his agoraphobic sister Jenna. Advising him is a friendly weed dealer/former high school teacher named Goldberg who somehow knows a thing or two about butterfly effecting and when not to do it...namely, if it involves saving someone close to you from a violent death.Some years earlier, Sam made that very mistake, going back in time to spare his sister from a house fire only to lose his parents in the tradeoff. Now a somewhat happy and well-adjusted young man, Sam's life is rocked once again when the sister of his brutally murdered high school girlfriend comes to remind him that there's an innocent man on death row.Against all common sense and rules of butterfly effecting, Sam heads back to the scene of the crime. In the process, the murder adds another victim and seems to officially launch the birth of a serial killer who continues to take the lives of other young women. Sam continues to butterfly effect at various points in the past, disrupting his life and status each time.But never his four-hour ab workoutsLike Part 2, The Butterfly Effect 3 (REVELATIONS!) has nothing to do with the rest of the franchise, which is perfectly fine. The other key part to that is how it trusts its audience enough to not dwell on the details of butterfly effecting, assuming (probably rightfully) that they've seen the first film and get the general gist. In a world where every superhero movie has to be an origin story, this is refreshing.At right around 90 minutes long, the story moves quite well, wasting no time on subplots. Directed by Seth Grossman from a script by Holly Brix, it plays like a straight murder mystery with a much more standard horror movie feel than the other installments. It even makes intense use of its Detroit setting, milking the city's reputation for crime and abandonment several years before It Follows and Don't Breathe. When you add that with the ridiculous (in a good way) twist ending, you end up with something far more satisfying than you'd expect...especially if you suffered through the slog that was The Butterfly Effect 2. High PointsI won't reveal it here, but the aforementioned ending is rather glorious, and the subsequent coda has a weirdly black comedic tone that makes the movie feel a little more memorable than your typical third installmentLow PointsAt the risk of spoiling a big reveal, there's a sparseness (which might be a nice way of saying low budgetness) about The Butterfly Effect 3 that keeps the cast of characters so slim that our suspect list can't help but limit the surprise factorLessons LearnedDetroit is such a dangerous place that even a bear trap will get you when you least expect itSeeing your mother bludgeoned to death will not leave you unharmedProper butterfly effecting requires a steady supply of ice cubes and journalsRent/Bury/Buyp.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; color: #222222; -webkit-text-stroke: #222222} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; color: #222222; -webkit-text-stroke: #222222; min-height: 16.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} While it's probably a little below par of the first Butterfly Effect, Revelations is still a decent and engaging watch (and it goes without saying but I'll say[...]

Survivor: Edward Furlong Island


Gather 'round kids, and let me tell you tales of the turn of the early years of this century. The world was a different place, a little colder in some ways and kinder in others. Most notably, reality TV was a new religion that washed over the world like a plague. Competitions sprang up for every possible scenario. Survivor and Big Brother were training wheels for what came after: Boot Camp, Love Boat, Strip Search, and so on. Everyone knew someone who was constantly sending audition tapes to network after network for unnamed shows that teased of minor fame and heavily taxed big winnings. It was the new American dream.2005's Cruel World was clearly made at the height of the trend, something you can guess by the fact that Joe Millionaire is referenced in such a way that it clearly assumes everyone in the audience knew exactly what that one-season Fox show was about. While it's no ahead-of-its-time classic like Series 7: The Contenders, this one has some fun.Quick Plot: Philip (typically greasy Edward Furlong) is still bristling from his embarrassing loss on Lovers Lane (no, not that one), a dating show where he was rejected by the beautiful Catherine (Jaime Pressly), now married to the winning contestant and living in the very mansion where the program was filmed. Bitter and insane, Philip returns to exact his vengeance on the happy couple before setting a much more complex plan into play.With the help of his dim but incredibly strong brother Claude, Philip invites a gaggle of attractive, fame-hungry 20somethings to the mansion under the guise of filming a new Big Brother-esque reality competition. Because it's 2005, none of the "contestants" have any reason to suspect shenanigans. After all, there were some pretty terribly produced reality shows at that time hosted by dudes like this:Naturally, being voted out of the house has bigger consequences than losing out on a cash prize and being confined to a deli interview on Late Night (seriously; in the early days of Survivor, David Letterman was so annoyed with CBS forcing him to interview reality show castoffs that he wouldn’t allow the guests in his actual studio). Each elimination is a murder at the hands of Claude or, as the game gets more intense, fellow contestants. Directed by Kelsey T. Howard with a clear venom towards the reality genre, Cruel World has a tricky time nailing its tone. There’s a nastiness to its opening, savagely disposing of a happy couple before thrusting a batch of somewhat horrid young people at us. As the cast gets thinned out, the contestants become a little more human and sympathetic. That kind of makes it worse.I don’t mean to imply that I hated Cruel World. As someone who watched my share of Temptation Island, it felt like a recent time capsule that found a good look into the reality TV boom. I wish the satire was sharper and characters more tolerable, but on a certain level, this is a film that has aged somewhat well in terms of its social politics. It doesn’t make it any more pleasant to actually watch, but hey…it’s more than I expected from an Edward Furlong movie I’d never heard of streaming on Amazon Prime.High PointsIn a post-Gamergate world, there's something incredibly disturbing and  sadly believable about Cruel World's central villain, a socially awkward but tech-smart young white male so embittered by not his dream girl that he'd go to such violent lengths to right the perceived wrongLow PointsThere's an art to ending your film with a nasty stinger, and then there's "just throw some mean twist at the end without any context so we leave our audience feeling kinda crappy"Lessons LearnedWant to throw your attacker off? Pee on him when he least expects itBefore leaving for a mystery reality competition, carb loadIf you arrive at a reality show filming to discover you’ll be sharing a house with Andrew Keegan, assume the role of the smarmy villain has already been cast and promptly choose another one, like cowboy or token gay guyRent/Bury/Buyp.p1 {margin[...]

We All Have Nightmares of Stage Fright


There are LOT of films with the title "Nightmares," which makes me want to use 1980s's Nightmares' alternate title, Stage Fright, except I've already reviewed TWO movies with that title and you know what? I'm just confused now.Quick Plot: Young Cathy is supposed to be fast asleep in the back seat of the car en route to visit Grandma, but the little girl wakes up just in time to see her mother making out with a man in the passenger seat who is in no way her father. Her shock causes an accident that throws her mother through the windshield. Confused and well-intentioned Cathy pulls her mother back inside, accidentally slitting her throat with broken glass shards.Some years later, Cathy is a talented but nightmare-plagued actress who goes by the name Helen Selleck. After accepting a key role in an experimental play directed by one of Australia's most prominent theater kings, she hesitantly begins a romantic relationship with Terry, her soap opera bred costar. As the rehearsal process begins, a rash of glass shard-based murders follows. While they seem specifically based on Helen's wrath, all the killings are done in a sort of POV style that never shows us the identity of the murderer(ess). Until, well, SPOILER, I think maybe?...we have it confirmed at the end that yes, yeah obviously, duh, it's Helen.So obviously, Nightmares isn't necessarily the cleanest of low budget Ozsploitation slashers to now air in grainy Amazon Prime glory. The film seems to hold back on Helen's wrath as if it hadn't decided whether the killer's identity should be a mystery or not, only to dump it on us at the end as if we knew all along. It's...strange.As is most of Nightmares really, which is why it's extremely ridiculous fun. Directed with a clear hatred towards highbrow critics by John Lamond, Nightmares is at its best when it's playing with the flamboyant bitchiness of the theater world, from its ascot clad director who insults his cast Shakespearean level language to the bisexual critic who flaunts his influence with relish. The actual horror is muddled in its execution and whatever Hitchcockian points the film wanted to explore with its sex-scared lead gets lost amongst the shards of glass and randomly inserted T&A, but Nightmares remains, if nothing else, an awkwardly entertaining good time.High PointsAs someone who spent a fair amount of time around theater people, I appreciate how Nightmares finds some snarky ways to target some of their more obnoxious habits (cut to Emily's college memory of being publicly shamed for introducing myself at an audition with "I'll be doing a monologue from Macbeth")Low PointsYou know, the fact that the story seems more confused than the lead characterLessons LearnedSurviving a brutal car accident can change a lot of things about you, including eliminating any trace of your Australian accentNever whistle or wear green in a theater in front of obnoxiously superstitious theater peopleThere's no such thing as a one hour callRent/Bury/BuyNightmares is not by any conventional definition a good movie. It's a messy, weirdly shot oddity that nevertheless entertained me for the right and wrong reasons. Dive in when you want some 1980 era Aussie sleaze. [...]

You Can't Have Prom Without the Prom Ride


I recently listened to an interview with horror producer extraordinaire Jason Blum, he behind what virtually amounts to every studio horror hit of the last ten years (among them the Paranormal Activity franchise, Insidious, The Purge world, and Get Out, to name a few). I bring this up because one of the questions he was asked speaks heartily to today's film: is there still room for found footage in the horror genre?Blum's immediate answer was a hearty no, followed by a little more explanation. In summary, he said (to witch I agree) that the only time to employ the dreaded double F style is if the movie absolutely requires it to the extent that it only makes sense AS a movie if it's done that way. Prom Ride, a very low budget but not terrible little horror film, does not understand this in the least.Quick Plot: In the weeks leading up to prom, a bunch of attractive young people buy their dresses, play fart pranks on each other, and stage elaborately choreographed dance invitations, just as kids today apparently do. When the big night finally comes, Alejandra's parents treat their daughter and her seven pals to a souped up hummer limo. Before you can say Hello Mary Lou, the vehicle gets run off the road as their pleasant chauffeur (thus far the only tolerable character in the film) is murdered just outside the car windows. Cue a LOT of screaming, followed by an almost Jigsaw-esque game of torture with the teens as participants. It is as positively delightful as it sounds.Written and directed by newbie Kazeem Molake, Prom Ride is clearly a beginner's movie. On one hand, it has some ideas and shows potential skill; on the other, it's pretty impossible to fathom how any viewer could possibly enjoy what happens onscreen. Look, I'm the token oddball who was charmed by the VERY elaborate dance number and way the filmmaker decided to superimpose handmade graphics over the screen to simulate video camera footage. I'm the same token oddball who can make a case for the young actors not being terrible, but just being forced to say terrible lines. And hey, the prom dresses were kind of cute.So in summary, if you have a choice of watching Prom Ride or staring at your shoes, I'd say go for the movie. If your choices broaden to include youtube tutorials on how to do prom hair, reconsider.High PointsAs someone terrified of all things high heeled, I can appreciate a good gouging via stilettoLow PointsGuys, it's 2017, and we've now had a full decade of found footage as the de facto style in low budget horror (remember the innocent aughts when it was all Saw ripoffs about imperfect strangers waking up in torture rooms? Sigh). Sometimes, it's a gimmick that makes sense to the action or can be justified for the film's overall tone. In the case of Prom Ride, a film that never claims to be composed of found footage, why, good god WHY, would Molake randomly stage shots as if they were recorded via phone or security camera? It does absolutely nothing for the action but makes it incomprehensibleLessons LearnedDon't be fooled: it is indeed possible to do a sit-up with your eyes closedA proper prom proposal should require at least four weeks of intense dance practice and intermediate choreographyWhen half your teenage friends order virgin cocktails, you shouldn't be surprised when the waiter asks for your ID upon ordering an alcoholic beverageThe (Losing) LineCharacter 1: That would suck balls.Character 2: That's what she said!All Characters: (uproarious laughter)Me: Rent/Bury/BuyI don't think anyone not related to the cast or crew will actually enjoy the experience of watching Prom Ride, but as I so often say in these corners, it's far from the worst thing you'll find streaming on Amazon Prime. [...]



There are certain personal beliefs of mine that I feel very confident about. Among them, that Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fifth season is the best but that the third season is my favorite, that Clancy Brown has never and will never give a performance that isn't the best thing in whatever film he's in, and that the best use of a tonally inconsistent song in a horror movie is Silent Night, Deadly Night's feel-good montage set to "The Warm Side of the Door."Then a movie like The Mutilator shambles along with its jaunty "Fall Break" ditty and I question everything I know about life.Quick Plot: Poor Ed Jr. just wanted to clean his papa's gun collection for the old man's birthday, but unfortunately, the gift has some unintended consequences when Ed Jr. accidentally shoots his mother, killing her on the spot. The lessons in this case write themselves.Some years later, Ed Jr. is a college student mulling over the best way to celebrate fall break (FALL BREAK!) with his girlfriend and two other couples. In case you had the slightest doubt, the answer is, without question, to have a montage to the jauntiest original tune you've ever not heard called indeed, "Fall Break" (also apparently the working title for The Mutilator).Because this world is cruel and we apparently can't have an entire 90 minute film set to "Fall Break," Ed Jr. decides instead to take his pals to his father's isolated beach condo for a long weekend. Before you can even attempt to get "Fall Break" out of your head, a mysterious man (or just Ed Sr.) begins brutally murdering the young people in especially grisly ways.Written and directed by Buddy Cooper, The Mutilator is far from the top tier of '80s slashers, but it also gives you nearly everything you want (PLUS "FALL BREAK") from the genre. The acting is rough in an absolutely charming manner, with the young cast clearly trying their best with zero camera experience to help back them up. Every trope you find appears in goofy earnestness, from the doe-eyed brunette constantly defending her virginity to the prankster getting murdered in the middle of a joke. This is a good old fashioned dumb slasher, and I say that with full affection. Aside from "Fall Break" (FALL BREAK!), you won't find anything overly revolutionary, but between pitchforkings, vice killings, and a decapitation AFTER OUR KILLER HAS ALREADY BEEN TORN IN TWO, there's a lot to love here.High PointsIs this really up for debate? Guys, FALL BREAK. If you don't believe me, have a listen and try, JUST TRY I SAY to get this out of your headLow PointsMaybe the fact that it's been two weeks and I still can't get FALL BREAK out of my head?Lessons LearnedChlorine probably prevents herpesWhen sleeping in an unfamiliar room, always stay fully clothed with your jeans belted an your shirt buttoned up. You just never know when you'll be called out of bed to investigate the murder of your friends by your insane fatherIt's very easy to get lost in a larger-than-average swimming poolRent/Bury/BuryThe Mutilator is incredibly satisfying to fans of '80s slashers. No, it's not good by any measure, but it's time stamped in such an adorable and low budget way that it's simply impossible to be too hard on it. You can find it streaming on Amazon Prime in all its grainy glory.[...]

Storytime With Claude Akins


Like the majority of horror fans, I generally look forward to watching anthology films with very particular expectations. If extremely consistent history has taught me anything, it's that most multi-story horror movies tend to be inconsistent, with some parts hitting and others failing miserably.Then I queue one up and immediately see the Troma logo and edit my expectations to consistently terrible. Quick Plot: A prospective buyer comes to take a look at an LA mansion that just so happens to have a rich haunted history. Caretaker Claude Akins is happy to tell it, leading us all into a trio of tales involving ghosts, vampires, witchcraft, and a whole lot of ADR.Directed by Stephen A. Maier, the first tells the saga of Hubert Whitehead, a hotheaded college student who goes on a murder spree when his fellow classmates don't appreciate his new wheels. Twenty years later, he's released from prison and promptly returns to his killing grounds only to be confronted by the zombified ghosts of his victims. Sadly, it's probably the best story of the bunch. It is not very good.The second tale (by one-time director Kevin G. Nunan) follows a typical family whose life is upended when the eldest teenage son succumbs to a vampire seduction. For whatever reason, the segment is told in narration by the youngest (now grown) daughter and comes off like an earnest teenager's attempt to write a romance novel if said earnest teenager had never read one.Finally, our third and longest (although by this point in Where Evil Lives, time seems to be freezing in an especially cruel way) segment follows the police investigation of a serial rapist/murderer with the help of a sassy, incredibly late '80s-dressed witch. It goes on forever to the point where I started to wonder if I had indeed become a vampire while watching the second story because surely, this part was at least two hundred years long. It's made by Richard L. Fox, a prominent Hollywood second unit director who owes me my soul.Perhaps the one saving grace of Where Evil Lives (aside from Akins, who's pleasant, even if I started to wonder if in his old age, he had just wandered onto the set when a savvy producer somehow managed to convince him that he had actually signed on to do this film) is that it doesn't bear too many of the obnoxious Troma-isms you come to expect with that studio. The quality is terrible, but I guess I was grateful that it wasn't also loaded with the kind of ickiness so fitting of the brand.Small favors indeed. High PointsThis was Claude Akins' last film, and while it's in no way something that should represent his career, it's certainly nice to see him having some goofy fun so close to the end of his lifeLow PointsThe movie. Seriously, this movieLessons LearnedRemember to push "end" when you're finished with your call on a car phoneThe best way to rebound from being stood up is to give in quickly to the sexy vampire next doorWitches of the early '90s were not afraid to play with color in their wardrobeRent/Bury/Buyp.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #222222; -webkit-text-stroke: #222222; min-height: 11.0px} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #222222; -webkit-text-stroke: #222222} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} I can't think of a single reason why anyone would choose to watch Where Evil Lives. I suppose anthology completists might feel compelled, but for anyone else with a modicum of taste (I don't put myself in that camp, hence the reason why I can actually report back from finishing the movie) it's best you move on. [...]

It's Not Incub-Me, It's Incub-US


Amazon Prime continues its war against Netflix's failing genre selection with a dip into the early '80s Canadian demon rapesploitation. Sure, the films continue to look like someone spilled Dr Pepper all over the prints and wiped it down with a dirty rag, but least we can (mostly) see them!Quick Plot: In the small town of Galen, an attractive teenage couple's lake date becomes a nightmare when an unidentified figure slaughters the male and rapes the female, leaving her just barely alive. New-to-town doctor Sam Cordell (a slumming John Cassavetes) is called in to save the young woman and, more importantly, help his town's head (alcoholic) cop solve the case.Later that evening, a museum employee suffers a similar fate with less luck. When yet another young woman is found raped to death in the restroom of a movie theater, it becomes clear that there's a serial rapist/murderer lurking about, loaded with red semen and somehow mysteriously connected to a young man named Tim, who also happens to be Sam's daughter Jenny's boyfriend. Could hot young reporter Laura Kincaid (Beverly Hills 90210's Kerrie Keane) solve the case while keeping her amazing perm?Directed by Disney dark house John Hough (he of The Watcher In the Woods and Escape From Witch Mountain), Incubus is...weird. Perhaps it's the film's 1982 date that helps that, as this feels like an odd hybrid of a seedy ‘70s horror trickling into something more standard.Take, for instance, Sam’s relationship with his teenage daughter Jenny. The film drops some super creepy hints that there’s some serious incestuous action on at the start, only to slowly back away from it without any real resolution. In a slightly better film, this could have helped feed into the sexual madness of its title beast, a creature obsessed with procreation. In Incubus, it just sort of…goes away.The other main issue with Incubus is that it never seems to find its center. John Cassavetes cashes his paycheck with a scowling performance. His Sam clearly has a history deeper than the film ever delves into (see aforementioned what-the-hell-is-going-on-with-his-daughter subplot) while the town’s history is never fleshed out in a satisfying way. The ending has a neat and nasty twist, but it doesn’t quite justify the fact that this feels like one of the longest 100 minute movies I’ve seen in some time.High PointsLook, call me simple, but I’m bound to give any film a few extra points for opening on a young couple sunbathing with a score so blatantly Jaws-esque that you can practically hear the John Williams’ estate putting the paperwork together for an immediate lawsuitLow PointsIs it just me, or is hearing the term “dry intercourse” on repeat in reference to supernatural rape a little unsettling?Lessons LearnedAging alcoholic cops can handle clairvoyance but draw a line at any form of materializationA great rule of directing: if your film is dragging, always, and I really do mean always, insert a randomly avant guard music video when your audience least expects itIn some small American towns, the head surgeon also serves as the lead investigator in ongoing murder investigationsLook! It's --A poster for Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things randomly sitting around the film's movie theater. Remember a time when a movie like that actually came out IN a movie theater?Rent/Bury/Buyp.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; color: #222222; -webkit-text-stroke: #222222} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; color: #222222; -webkit-text-stroke: #222222; min-height: 16.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} Hey, I didn’t particularly like Incubus, but it has some odd touches that might still warrant a watch. It’s right there on Amazon Prime, so it can easily make for a different change of pac[...]

Who's the Winonyaest of Them All?


Amazon Prime may have been slow to the streaming game, but BOY are they currently doing wonders for horror fans with questionable taste!Quick Plot: Megan is an LA goth kid whose Beetlejuice-Era-Winonya-Ryder-Meets-Madonna-With-Hints-of-Boy-George style isn't exactly embraced in her new suburban high school. Only Nikki, a friendly overachiever with a horny boyfriend and a Tracy Flick-ish ambition to be school president, makes an effort to befriend the city girl. They quickly bond over a shared nemesis-ship with the school's reigning mean girls, although Megan becomes distracted quickly by something far more sinister at home.With daffy widowed mom Karen Black too busy trying to find a husband, Megan bonds with the antique full-length mirror that had been left behind in her new room. The relationship intensifies when the lonely goth girl discovers the mirror can help her wreak vengeance on her enemies in especially creative ways.Directed by Marina Sargenti (who like most female filmmakers, went on to primarily work in television), Mirror Mirror seems to be collecting all of the leftover, soon-to-be-expired goofiness of '80s horror before the world was willing to admit that 1990 was a new decade. As slashers and supernatural scares slowly faded from the big screen before being uprooted by post-Scream slickness, movies with the kind of goofy gore like Mirror Mirror would become an endangered species whose only refuge was Blockbuster shelves.Mirror/Mirror is far from being an original tale. Rainbow Harvest's Megan could not look more like the costume department camped outside of Tim Burton's dumpster in the hopes of finding some scraps of Lydia Deetz that they could spin into their lead's ensemble, and the popular queen bees feel ripped off any high school assembly line. At the same time, this is a movie that includes a scene where ditzy Karen Black tries to charm the pet cemetery dead animal retriever (played by William Sanderson, no less) with a romantic home dinner while fending off an fly infestation caused by an evil mirror. And hey, that's not even the best scene IN this film! Among other moments of joy, we get a jock being eaten by said evil mirror, the film's popular villain being burned in an evil mirror-induced shower, and Ned Ryerson being doodled to near death (see note below; it makes perfect sense, trust me). Mirror Mirror is never scary, but it's fun in a way that somehow manages to balance today's camp with an earnestness of its time.High PointsSomething I appreciated about Mirror/Mirror is how Meghan, despite being our main character, is kind of a jerk. Yes, we feel bad for her and hate the Heathers who immediately mark her as a social target, but while she may be lonely and sympathetic, she has a somewhat complicated mean streak of her own, cruelly ignoring her mother's feelings when her dogs turn up dead and savoring her newfound murderous power without much regret. Nikki is the moral heart of the film (and an incredibly pleasant one at that), but I simply found it interesting to center a fairly formulaic horror film on a more-complicated-than-usual character. Low PointsI suppose I could have taken a clearer commitment to tone, since the film never fully decides whether it's tongue is in its cheek or notLessons LearnedIf your friends are dropping dead around you, be sure to make yourself the best sandwich in the world, just in case it ends up being your last mealPsychiatrists are VERY Beverly HillsPutting your hand down a garbage disposal is a choice you make only if you have no affection whatsoever for the hand that will inevitably be destroyed by said garbage disposalIn world before online dating, one could always count on pet cemeteries as a great way to meet a potential partnerLook! It's - Stephen Tobolowsky, in the very typical Stephen Tobolwsky role of a square teacher who[...]

I Hope I Get It


I don't exactly know why it's taken me so long to get around to 1983's Curtains. While it's never had a hugely positive reputation, it DOES have a doll, mannequins, interpretive dance, Samantha Eggar, and, most importantly, figure skating. If that's not a movie made for Emily Intravia, then frankly, I just don't know who I am anymore.Quick Plot: Director Jonathon Stryker (John Vernon) is attempting to mount production on Audra, a drama about a woman going insane. Film star Samantha Sherwood (the always great Eggar) is set to star and decides to undergo intense research by posing as a madwoman, going undercover and living in a mental asylum to prepare. It's method acting to the extreme, and apparently, a little too much for what Stryker wants from his leading lady.Some time later, Stryker decides to recast his leading lady via a weekend audition session with six young contenders. Included in the group is Brooke, a seasoned pro, Christie, a figure skater(!!!!!), Patti, a comedian, Laurian, a dancer, Tara, a musician, and Amanda, who is stabbed to death before she gets the chance to reveal her trade for the talent show. Thankfully for all, Samantha has managed to escape from the asylum just in time to join the Survivor-meets-A Chorus Line-esque audition weekend. Naturally, the other applicants are slowly picked off, all seemingly by a multitalented masked figure. I didn't know much about the behind-the-scenes (or curtains) happenings involved in Curtains at first, so my initial reaction was that this film was an enjoyable mess. Some sequences are weirdly wonderful--figure skating death because OBVIOUSLY, but also a decent stalking scene and some of the drama surrounding the genuinely good and magnetic Samantha Eggar--but throughout the film, there's a lack of focus that hurts the overall effect. Too many of the young females are shortchanged in their characterization, leading me to miscount who was left and to watch one of the final girls wondering who she actually was. Turns out, of COURSE Curtains was a mess because that's what happens when your director walks off the set, your producer finishes shooting over the course of a few years, various cast and crew members are replaced, and rewrites abound in a way that changes your story and tone. So yes, Curtains is an incredibly flawed and sometimes dull film. Thankfully, it's also weird enough to justify its place on the lower tier of Canadian cult classics. This is a movie that involves death via interpretive dance. If that doesn't excite you, we simply run in different circles.High PointsShe may not have loved the material, but Samantha Eggar gives a genuinely interesting performance that helps to elevate the overall filmLow PointsAside from Lynne Griffin, the rest of the younger female characters simply don't get enough time to stand out as individuals, making it hard to be invested in any of the tension as the numbers go downLessons LearnedAll's fair in love and auditionsTo best keep pepperoni hot, stick it to your buttYou might be an insecure figure skater because you haven't made it to the Olympics, but any gal who can tie her shoelaces while wearing fuzzy gloves should win a gold medal for somethingRent/Bury/BuyCurtains is now streaming on Amazon Prime, and while it's not quite a lost gem of '80s cinema, it is unique enough to warrant a watch if you've never done so. You won't get nearly as much figure skating as you should, but isn't that always the case?[...]

Come Geek With Me


GUYS! I'm doing a thing. A LIVE thing, For those East Coasters, come to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY, next Friday (THE THIRTEENTH!) for Kevin Geeks Out, a bimonthly variety show of sorts for the fun-loving nerd in us all. Most specifically, the Stephen King loving nerd that resides in your inner bully, rock 'n roll star, religious zealot, psychic kid, or whatever vessel you hide under your blue overalls. I'll be diving deep into Mick Garris's 1994 television adaptation of The Stand, one of the most gloriously '90s and awkwardly weird pieces of modern history. Put on your best Canadian tuxedo and join the fun!Event details here! You there!M-O-O-N, that spells I hope to see you soon. [...]

Urband Scream What You Did Last Summer Legend


A teen slasher that includes urban legends AND a cat fake-out? Innovation was a BIG thing in the late ‘90s.Quick Plot: It's a poorly lit night on Lovers (Lovers', right?) Lane when two teenagers' front seat lovemaking is rudely interrupted by an escaped mental patient with a hook hand cutting up the couple in a nearby car. In a shocking twist, the victims aren't horny high schoolers but the wife of the town sheriff (and mother to 4-year-old Mandy) and the husband of the school principal (and dad to Michael). You'd think that this would be scandalous, but somehow this small town seems to bury the crime from everyone but Mandy, who saw the messy cleanup. As far as the rest of the town knows, Michael's dad died of a heart attack and since the hook dude was returned to his asylum (conveniently run by Mandy's creepy-and-not-at-all-suspicious Uncle Jack), nobody ever seemed to realize that a brutal urban legend-worthy double homicide took place so close. Thirteen years later, Mandy is a nerdy high school senior who reads J.D. Salinger while Michael is the BMOC with a blond queen bee of a girlfriend named Chloe (who we at some point find out is Uncle Jack's daughter and therefore Mandy's cousin; there are apparently all of 19 people living in this entire town). With a Valentine's Day kegger scheduled for the evening, new girl in town and on the cheerleader squad Janelle (seconds-before-Scary-Movie Anna Faris) sets her sights on Michael, who has just dumped the bitter Chloe. A few more poorly lit teenagers team up for a night on the titular street  unaware that the hook-handed murderer has escaped and is on the prowl. What follows is a fairly straightforward, SUPER poorly lit slasher that gets some minor redemption with the oh-so-Scream-worthy reveal of its twist.Lovers(‘) Lane is not a good movie. The story has been told a dozen times before, the tension is as tight as a sweater three sizes too large, and the murders are fairly uninspired. That being said, Lovers(‘) Lane is also one of THE most ‘90s movies I’ve seen in some time, and for purely nostalgic, very stupid reasons, that makes it slightly better than it should be. Just take a look:Oversized shirt with a single big vertical stripe, modified mushroom cut, hemp choker, and baggy jeans for the boys. Boyfriend's letterman jacket and baby barrettes for the girls. This is a movie that seems to include a pig sighting purely for the purpose of having its characters reference Babe. Mind you, this in no way improves the quality of Lovers(‘) Lane. It merely makes it weirdly enjoyable for someone who graduated with the class of 2000.High PointsI love a good mean girl, and Sarah Lancaster’s Chloe gets to have some sneering fun with the occasional bitchy insultLow PointsLook, I get that director Jon Ward wasn’t given buckets of money to make this movie, but considering how much he saved on his female characters’ bra budget, would it have killed him to invest a little more in lighting his film so we could, you know, see it?Lessons LearnedThe rules of Lovers(') Lane states that only one partner can ever hear anything suspicious happening outside of the parked carThe majority of teen-related car accidents happen because everybody inside the car is screaming and flailing to dangerous levels of chaos at onceUnless you’re wearing some form of facial armor, do your best to avoid hunting down your fellow classmates during yearbook photo seasonThe Winning Line"I wish I was her daddy so I could spank her when she got home."Spoken by a representative of law enforcement. Um.Rent/Bury/Buyp.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 16.0px Arial; color: #222222; -webkit-text-stroke: #222222; background-color: #ffffff; min-height: 18.0px[...]

Dyin' to the Oldies


A supernatural slasher is still a slasher, but when you make it in 1989 and set it in the most 1989 gym that has ever 1989'd, you've got something very, very special. Quick Plot: After practicing her dance routine in an empty workout studio, a young woman named Laura is nearly steam roomed to death (or nearly dissolved to death like an alka setlzer, in the words of the very professional LAPD). Odd accidents continue to follow for a full week, ranging from the mild (a hot shower that doesn't relent) to fatal (a muscle man being weight lifted to death by a malfunctioning machine). Something is clearly amiss at Starbody Health Spa, a trendy gym whose main selling point is how it integrates technology into the equipment. Lording over the control room is the creepy David, a tech wiz who just so happens to be twin brother of the late Catherine, wife of Starbody owner Michael.So what became of Catherine, you ask? After pregnancy complications, Catherine lost her baby and became paralyzed from the waist down. With her husband surrounded by a gaggle of young aerobicizers, she went mad, wheeling herself outside and committing suicide via fire. Michael recovered from his loss, moving on to Laura...much to the chagrin of the increasingly hostile David.Now several unexplained deaths into a regular week at Sarbody, is David using his programming skills to destroy Michael's spa? Is it Michael's lawyer and shady co-owner? Friendly manager Ken Foree? Friendly manager Ken Foree's amazing rainbow blazer?More likely, it's the spirit of Catherine possessing David, urging him to slaughter gym members in increasingly creative ways. How creative, you ask? Aside from aforementioned benchpress-to-death and steam-room-to-death, there's the inevitable tanning bad meltdown, mirror explosion, power smoothie blender malfunction, and my personal favorite, food-obsessed-chubby-detective-being-locked-in-walk-in-refrigerator-fooded to death. Death Spa is basically Carrie if Carrie was a gym member and William Katt wore neon. It's everything you ask for from a horror movie made in the late '80s, but somehow with even more hairspray and joy. It is a beautiful thing.High PointsYou'd be hard-pressed to find a better source for fashion tips than EVERYTHING WORN BY EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIELow PointsMy own personal gym phobia is the nightmare of being stuck on a treadmill that won't stop moving, so I was mildly disappointed not to see someone be jogged to deathLessons LearnedNever lift without a spotterHacking means experimenting with computer programsWhen leaving the house to confront your backstabbing partner and lawyer, make a statement by wearing your Macguyver jacket without a shirtRent/Bury/BuyDeath Spa is a terribly wonderful movie. It's more '80s than your acid washed brain can fathom, and more ridiculous than you can dream a little dream. Crack open a can of TAB, line up your cocaine, and queue it up on Amazon Prime for one fun night.[...]

Eat Me


Font choice is not something one should ever take lightly. Consider the prologue of Souleater, which opens in the past with subtitles overloaded with serif, leading me to try to figure out if "beavy" meant something different in the 13th century. Quick Plot: Welcome to Bixby, home of Tucker's Motel, a diner, and a house in the woods that contains a souleater. Put that on your postcard and mail it.If you're like me, you may very well hear "souleater" and think "sin eater" and be taken back to The Order, a film with better font choices but far less energy than today's feature. If you recall, a "sin eater" is a handsome centuries old cursed Catholic who helps sinners get into heaven via a side door that opens with sin eating. A souleater (one word, apparently) just eats souls.On hand to fight the souleater is weathered priest Father Dolan and his protégé, Spencer. The pair teams up with the local po-lice (including the film's big name grab, Peter Hooten) and Demon and Pike, a pair of grizzled bikers looking for Pike's soul-teasing daughter. There's TRON-esque night vision, mild CGI (that in fairness, makes The Order look even worse), and when in doubt, zombies.Directed, co-produced, co-written, edited, sound edited, and title designed by Michael Lang, Souleater is, without question, an indie horror film. It doesn't look great, it doesn't sound great, and nobody will be having nightmares after it's over. That being said, it's clearly made with heart and enthusiasm by all involved. The actors aren't going to show up on the list of Oscar nominees anytime soon, but nobody is phoning anything in. That's something.I can't say Souleater is a good film by most measures, but in its very specific realm of micro-budgeted horror, I can't say it isn't more watchable than a lot of what's out there in bargain bins. High PointsI wouldn't be surprised if it was simply a case of casting convenience, but it's always refreshing to see a cast primarily made up of actors on the other side of middle ageLow PointsI could quibble with the dialogue and performances all I want, but at the end of the day, what really gave me the most pain with Souleater was its damned font decisionsLessons LearnedPriests are second only to rock stars when it comes to leaving a motel room in ruinsThe key to impressing a small town Florida deputy is to demonstrate a modicum of skill level with chopsticksPeople just won't take you very seriously if your first name is DemonNever hit a lady in front of bikersRent/Bury/BuyIf you enjoy slightly-more-professional-than-homemade horror movies, then Souleater can go on your Amazon Prime watchlist. Personally, I don't have much of a palette for this level of film in my grumpy old age, but I can certainly acknowledge there's still charm in DIY filmmaking for some genre audiences. If that's you, then have fun. [...]

All In the Family


Here's a new test for the entertainment threshold of a film: let's say you ride the bus every day, as I do here in New York. You get used to the occasional mad man or woman shouting from the backseat about the wrongs of the world or the assets of, say, Aisha Tyler or Cheetos. Sometimes it's far more interesting than anything I might otherwise enjoy on my commute via a movie or magazine. Others, it's not worth the time it takes to hit pause and remove an earbud discretely.I watched today's feature during my ride home from work, and sure enough, on this fateful Friday, there was indeed a raving yeller who had a LOT to say about current events. And you know what? Said nonsense was indeed less interesting, at least at that moment, than the low budget little horror film I had downloaded to my phone. Now I have much to say about The Chosen and much of it is not positive, but I'll give the film this: it was more entertaining than the angry homeless man on the Bx19. Best DVD cover tagline ever.Quick Plot: Cam is an aimless 19-year-old with a complicated but loving relationship with his recovering alcoholic mother Eliza, recovering heroin addict sister Caitlin, and thus far, safely balanced niece Angie. When Eliza goes away for a long weekend, Cam disobeys her orders by bringing Angie to visit her mother Caitlin, who lives in an unpleasant apartment with some unseemly neighbors.The sympathetic Cam hears a little too much fighting next door and barges in, breaking up a rumble between a crazed young woman and a blood-marked man who quickly escapes as Angie watches and, it would seem, becomes possessed by the angry child soul-snatching spirit of the biblical Lilith.With the help of aforementioned crazed neighbor and a mysteriously disappearing/reappearing nun, Cam learns some hard facts: Angie has six days left on earth, after which time Lilith will drag her to hell. The only way to prevent this is to sacrifice six blood-related humans, marking them with a symbol and letting Lilith do the rest. Cam is dubious but must have seen enough horror films to know disappearing/reappearing nuns should not be ignored, so when he walks in on his grandmother in the midst of a stroke, he decides to give his finger painting skills a try. Sure enough, some black Lost-ish smoke comes to take her body away. One down, five to go.Directed by newcomer Ben Jehoshua, The Chosen is an odd little duck. Much like Perkins' 14, it's built on a strong premise that feels like a new enough spin on a familiar and straightforward concept. It clearly values its characters, taking time early on to establish the family dynamics in detail, from Eliza (played by Catherine Keener's sister Elizabeth and yes, I guessed the family connection before looking at the credits)'s recovery and faith to the lazy but maybe deep down, caring Uncle Joey. Cam is a nice kid, and murdering six of his relatives is not something the film treats lightly...At first.Somewhere during the running time, The Chosen gets kind of silly. Perhaps its ridiculousness corresponded inversely with the budget running out, as the CGI--which becomes all too prominent towards the film's back half--is, plain and simple, rather laughable. Maybe Jehoshua was smart in lightening his film's tone as the visual look became impossible to present seriously. Think of it as a sort of reverse Heidi effect.What starts as an earnest family tale about a kind young man trying to protect his niece turns into an odd maybe horror comedy. I say "maybe" because I honestly don't know if I was supposed to be invested or amused at how quickly Cam goes from apologetic to enthusiastic about his murders. By the time the credits abruptly roll to a rap[...]

Because Nothing Has Ever Gone Wrong In An Abandoned Mental Asylum


Abandoned mental asylums! Hot young people! Literal face/offs! What more is a straight-to-Netflix horror movie SUPPOSED to have?Quick Plot: After a pleasantly grimy prologue wherein a nude heroin user shoots herself in the face, we move on to a quick newsreel about the long-shuttered Exeter School for the Feeble Minded, an asylum that did far more harm than good to most of its young charges. Some time later, teenage Patrick is helping his priest, Father Conway (played by Stephen Lang so obviously, a suspicious priest) clean and rebuilt the Exeter building into a youth center. Naturally, Peter's awful friends use said employment position to throw the kind of midnight rave that ends up involving more vomit than alcohol. As the crowd dwindles to an acceptable number of mostly extremely attractive twentysomething actors playing teenagers, Exeter proves to be as haunted a place as you assume any abandoned mental asylum would be. Token hot blonde Amber decides the best wind-down is to play Light As a Feather, Stiff As a Board (heLLO 1990s slumber parties!) with Patrick's kid brother Rory as the test subject, only to unleash the demonic spirit of a wronged dead teenager who once occupied Exeter's most dangerous wing. As you do.I stumbled upon Exeter on a random "You Might Like" scroll on Netflix, and I queued it up with the kind of low expectations one must temper when watching a direct-to-streaming film with a bland title and cover. About twenty minutes into the film, I found myself thinking, "this is a very professionally made top of the lower barrel of horror films." Sure enough, when I saw Marcus Nispel's directing credit, everything made sense.See, as much as Exeter does little new or surprising with its premise and style, it does all of it quite well. There's nothing overly memorable about the gaggle of attractive twentysomething teenagers, but all the actors give completely acceptable and believable performances (playing twentysomethings playing teenagers). Some of the CGI borders on the ridiculous, but plenty of surprise hits of violence actually shock. Nispel has a mixed track record when it comes to horror, ranging from the shockingly better than it had any right to be TCM remake to the worse than it had every right to be Friday the 13th reboot. Perhaps what Exeter demonstrated to me was that there is indeed an art to these kinds of fairly disposable but still highly watchable genre films. Consider, if you will, Satanic or Bleed (a movie I had to scroll through months of blogs in order to even remember the title). Both are similarly told low (but not micro) budgeted horror movies about pretty people spending one night battling literal demons. And both lack anything of substance.Exeter certainly has a few aces up its sleeve. Stephen Lang (who I'm guessing is pals with Nispel after they filmed the gloriously kooky Conan remake) is always going to elevate his material, and the actual abandoned mad house setting does a lot of heavy lifting. The screenplay by Kirsten McCallion (who also has a credit on Texas Chainsaw 3D, a movie I'm in the minority for rather enjoying) is solid enough for what it's trying to do, throwing in some decent twists and leaning on dialogue that mostly sounds appropriate for its teenage characters. It's a far cry from a best of the year candidate, but in the ever crowded market of this exact subgenre, Exeter is certainly one of the better ones you'll find.High PointsLiteral face/off aside, Exeter finds a decent balance in tossing in some quality chuckles throughout its run time, both in its dialogue and clever cutsLow PointsI mean, I suppose it would have been a more ple[...]

A Priest's Tale


Did you like A Knight's Tale? Like, did you LOVE A Knight's Tale and think, in your wildest fantasies, that most of the cast and crew should reassemble for another movie, only this time, it should be a super serious Catholic-themed thriller with terrible CGI?Boy is it your lucky day!Quick Plot: Alex (William Thatcher, I mean, Heath Ledger) is a sad priest, possibly because he's forced to be celibate but is also Heath Ledger and therefore one of the most handsome men in the world who should be able to have sex with anyone in the world. When Father Dominic, his mentor, commits suicide, Alex is sent to Rome as one of the last of the Carolingians, an order (or, excuse me, THE Order) specializing in demons and the supernatural. Alex is joined by his fellow Carolingian/squire, Thomas (a pre-Robert Baratheon Mark Addy) and Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), a woman Alex once successfully performed an exorcism on. Mara has spent the last few years recovering in a mental asylum, but that's done nothing to dampen her good looks or artistic ability. Also involved in Alex's case is a cardinal named Driscoll, who just so happens to be next in line to be pope.So what exactly is a ridiculously handsome and moody priest looking for? Why, a SIN EATER, of course.Yes, I said "sin eater," and you should get used to it because a LOT of people in this movie say "sin eater" and it never quite sounds right, no matter how seriously they say the words "sin eater."A sin eater (not gonna stop) is a man/demon who can relieve someone on their deathbed of their evils (or, you know, EAT THEIR SINS), thereby granting a non-worthy heretic a bypass into heaven. Because of his handiness with the supernatural and presumed ridiculous good looks, Ledger's Alex essentially becomes headhunted to take over the position (that of sin eater). Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (yes, the guy who did A Knight's Tale), The Order is a movie in desperate need of a sense of humor. Casting one of Hollywood's leading heartthrobs only to saddle him with a priest's collar and moodiness that makes Jon Snow look like a party boy isn't the best place to start, and the "are they serious about this?" levels of CGI incompetence doesn't help. Things do admittedly perk up int he film's final act, with the introduction of an underground zany devil's playground and unleashed Peter Weller. It's unfortunately too little, too late to make The Order any kind of real fun, but it does justify having the film on in the background while you fold laundry or eat cheese or stream A Knight's Tale on another device. High PointsIt's completely unreasonable, but I'm giving this movie 9000 bonus points for casting John Karlsen in the role of "Eden's Manservant". Karlsen, you see, plays the king in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure but more excitingly, plays Blossum, the manservant to Phinneas T. Prune in the best/worst Christmas movie ever made (and now featured, finally, on Mystery Science Theater 3000), The Christmas That Almost Wasn't. Low PointsI forgive the octopi-like CGI because it at least adds some laughs to the otherwise extremely blah pace, so my low point? the otherwise blah paceBut I mean, that CGI...Lessons LearnedBeing in a mental asylum should never hold your eyebrow grooming backOnly doctors can identify if something is a birthmarkNever drink wine with CaravaggioRent/Bury/BuyI watched The Order via HBO Go, but it really feels like the kind of flick best viewed with commercials on TNT. It's not good, but I guess it's somewhat different from what you might expect of the time. And you know, if A Knight's Tale is your jam, I would guess[...]

A Perkins' Dozen


Quick Plot: In 1999, fourteen children were abducted in the town of Stone Cove (and yes, you will constantly hear "Stone Cold" in your head and everything is better that way).Ten years later, the town has mostly moved on from the tragedy, with only policeman/grieving father Dwayne Hopper still trying to solve the case. While this has done little help his marriage to the unhappy Janine or parenting of the teen rebel Daisy, it looks like on a fateful night exactly a decade after the disappearance of his son, Dwayne may have met the man responsible for his pain.While covering the overnight shift at the local holding cell, Dwayne catches the eye of a mysterious prisoner named Ronald Perkins. Something is off about the self-identified pharmacist. Is it that Dwayne has never met him, despite them both being lifers in such a small town? That much like the man who took his son, Perkins seems to be missing a finger right where young Kyle once took a bite? Or that he's just an incredibly creepy dude who is obviously, without a doubt, the man responsible for Stone Cold--er, Cove's pain.Hopper asks one of his off-duty pals to investigate Perkins' home, a secluded ranch with a very mysterious basement. As you might guess, those fourteen children reemerge, having been caged, abused, and injected with a steady supply of PCP and other drugs.What follows is an interesting take on ye olde zombie trope, as Perkins' victims raid Stone Cove, tearing its citizens apart with their own bloody hands. As he tries to take charge, Hopper finds himself torn between protecting his town and not further punishing fourteen insane teenagers (one of whom is his own son) who can't really be blamed for their own actions.Perkins' 14 is director Craig Singer's followup to Dark Ride, and it's a full traveling carnival better (I think that's how math works, right?). The story itself comes loaded with a nice balance of conflict, as our monsters easily have our sympathy for the abuse they've suffered. While none of the characters make ANY smart decisions when it comes to surviving the night, it's easy to consider the fact that if you were being chased by 28 Days Later-ish creatures, you might not be thinking too straight either. It's probably for the best that our characters lack fundamental survival instincts, since the gore on display is one of Perkins' 14 strong points. We get our fair share of disembowelments, all done with gloriously juicy practical effects. I would have preferred to actually see most of the action, but bad lighting seems as common as poor cell phone service in the realm of 21st century horror. High PointsFrom a storytelling point of view, the whole setup (which was apparently submitted via a web contest by Jeremy Donaldson) is strong, and Richard Brake's Ronald Perkins is chillingly villainous in his clean-cut evilLow PointsI can forgive the film's low budget for some of the rough lighting choices, but the actual geography of some of the more intense sequences is muddled and poorly defined, thereby muting the tensionLessons LearnedWhen it comes to not-quite-zombie zombie movies, animal activists are always the worstAffairs are always improved with warm champagneBest thing about filming in Romania? The creepy eastern European children's parks, of courseRent/Bury/BuyI watched Perkins' 14 via HBO Go, so if you have access to that, it's certainly a decent way to spend 90 minutes of your time. After Dark's 8 Films to Die For typically have mixed results (the same series that gave us Lake Mungo and Mulberry Street is also responsible for Tooth & Nail and, you know, Dark R[...]

Hello Kitty


When the Persian Ed Wood makes a genre film that includes a cat, you don't have to time me to see how quickly it gets added to my Netflix queue. "Long wait" or no, it is mine. Quick Plot: Bruce has been spending some time in a mental asylum following the death of his mother, whose home nurse Susan (Sybil Danning) went on to marry his wealthy father Rachid less than a year later. Declared sane (despite an incredibly inappropriate sense of humor that often sends him on fits of maniacal laughter), Bruce returns to his father's mansion to an unhappy Susan and helpful Ezil, the housekeeper whose favorite song is the first two lines of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”And a cat. Oh yes. A cat.Samson, you see, was Bruce's loyal little tuxedo. When he went away, Samson declared feline war on Susan, prompting her to exile him but like any darned cat, he returned...the very next day. When Bruce comes home, Samson is eager to impress his master by resuming his battle. ...which is filmed as this adorable animal actor waves his little paw around while Danning screams bloody murder and someone loops a ferocious hissing. It. Is. Wonderful.Samson is on to something, as Susan has been plotting with her lover/husband's chauffeur Ralph to kill the old man and take his fortune for themselves. Ralph does the deed by forcing Rachid off his yacht in the middle of the ocean, classily giving his boss a choice between death-by-bullet or the slight chance that he can survive in the water and potentially return for a sequel that includes an extended flashback sequence about how he battled sharks and sold his voice to a sea witch.Okay, I'm getting a little carried away with my zany plotting, but it's not that far off from what actually follows in Cat In a Cage. Spoilers will commence, because honestly, you need to know what goes down.After Rachid's death, a man wearing a werewolf mask murders Ralph, burying him on the mansion's grounds which Samson rather inconveniently digs up when the police stop by. Later that night, Susan is heavy breathed on to death by the same Bruce-like man who, in the clumsiest exposition ever ADR'd and played over two characters walking on a beach, turns out to be Bruce's violently insane brother Ali, who was hidden in the house for twenty years and taken care of by Ezil (who’s seen trouble). This plot point comes up one hour into the movie.Terrified that the cops will rightfully arrest his murderous secret brother, Bruce grabs Ali, Ezil, and his girlfriend Gilda (played by Yvette herself, Colleen Camp, in a role so thankless that I'm guessing her only payment was the chance to sing the lounge-esque theme song) and embarks on a neverending police chase and shootout. If you're like me, you're sitting there on the edge of your seat begging to know the most important question of Cat In the Cage: WHAT HAPPENED TO SAMSON?How I long to tell you. How I long to know.See, after Samson uncovers the corpse of Ralph, he simply vanishes from the film, sort of like Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right. Considering he's easily the most interesting character in the film, it's unforgivable. I don't mean to suggest that Cat In the Cage would be any better with Samson saving the day or firing the last shot or being revealed to actually be Ali as a shapeshifter. I mean, those twists would make this movie amazing, but still...not good. This movie was probably never going to be good.If the name Tony Zarindast rings a bell, then you just might pronounce the word "werewolf" with a mumbled mouth, for he is indeed the[...]

I'll Buy That For a Doll-ar


I've often written about The Asylum and its occasional knack for churning out surprisingly high quality ripoffs of bigger budgeted horror. For every dozen quickies like Sunday School Musical and A Haunting In Salem, there's that one Paranormal Entity that manages to still be a made-in-one-week-after-the-trailer-for-a-sure-to-be-hit-movie rolled out that somehow makes you say, "Hey, that wasn't so bad."Like 2011's The Ouija Experiment, today's Heidi is not actually an Asylum property, but from the cover and synopsis, you'd be forgiven for making that mistake. Just look at the artwork here:And the actual doll featured in the film:Clearly, Heidi's producers are hoping you'd see the title go by and say, "Oh, that's the spin-off to The Conjuring, right?" Based on its 2014 date, it's hard to know whether Heidi was made before, after, or alongside Annabelle. Much like that film, it centers on a haunted baby doll that doesn't follow the standard conventions of wide-talking Good Guys or stabby tiny porcelain-hand cinema. And despite my instincts and opinion of the first hour of this low budget indie, much like Annabelle, it shockingly works.Quick Plot: Teens Ryan and Jack do that thing that teens in the 21st century apparently do all the time: record every moment of their lives on videocameras and GoPros. When Ryan gets a gig housesitting for an eccentric neighbor, they see big potential in incorporating a mysteriously unbranded doll found in the attic into their antics. As you might surmise, the doll is named Heidi, and she does not like to be hugged.Before long, a wave of bizarre violence is spreading through Ryan's life. Aforementioned neighbor (and her poor pet birds) turn up dead, while Jack's massive house party ends in carnage when he and his younger brother are found gutted. We don't have to pull up our bookmark for to know the fate of Ryan's sweet cocker spaniel.Written and directed on what I assume to be a minuscule budget by newcomer Daniel Ray, Heidi is a weirdly fascinating little found footage tale that either found its footing as it went or is secretly one of the smartest horror films I've seen in quite a while. Like almost every handheld teen-centric indie of recent years, it starts with insufferable leads with racist undertones and yet somehow, 90 minutes later, I found myself thinking, "this was kind of fantastic"I am as shocked as you are. Ryan (Samuel Brian) is nothing special. Like almost every found footage film made in recent years, he's a middle class white kid without a clever bone in his body who tends to say, "what the f*ck?" over and over again when investigating strange occurrences without turning on the light switch. And yet...Look, I'm not really ready to say that Heidi is a great horror film. The acting never really clicks in place, the dialogue is often squirm-worthy, and the characters make some incredibly dumb decisions along the way. But at a very particular point about one hour in, I found myself realizing that I was fully invested in the action. Like Annabelle, this is a film that successfully creates a villain without ever really showing it act. We KNOW Heidi is evil because, you know, we're watching a horror movie called Heidi, but you do have to extend some respect to a no-budget movie that manages to get you to that place of discomfort without giving you the goods. When I watched the truly devastating Megan Is Missing a few years ago, I found myself admiring how skillfully the filmmaker had reverse Trojan horse'd me, introducing fairly a[...]

It's the Evil Windmill Movie


You've got to have respect for any film studio that looks at their catalog, looks at the world, and says to itself, "You know the one thing I don't think we have a horror movie for? Windmills. Yeah, windmills. Let's do it."And they did. Quick Plot: A group of strangers ends up on a small Dutch tourbus to explore a few windmills off the beaten path. Before you can summon a single Don Quixote reference, a gruesome sickle-wielding monster is on the hunt, punishing the tourists for their past homicidal crimes. That might seem like a rather basic description of a movie about an evil windmill, but truthfully, that's about it. I'm not complaining.Directed by Nick Jongerius, The Windmill is a handsomely made little horror film that knows how to have fun with itself. The diverse cast spans several generations and countries, something that always makes a movie just a little more interesting. Yes, we get our token alpha male blowhard, but he's also a dad trying to protect his hemophiliac son from either a delusional Australian runaway or murderous Dutch demon. You know, you kind of understand that.I could go into more detail on The Windmill—its moral questions, decapitations, wind-powered energy—but this is the rare case where I truly feel as though I’m somewhat at a loss of words for a film. It’s a gory under-90 minute monster movie where the gate to hell is located in a Dutch windmill. That’s a beautiful thing.High PointsThe Windmill boasts some gloriously ridiculous (in the best possible way) gore, with an opening death scene that's well-staged in its suddenness but also over the top in an almost The Mountain vs. The Red Viper styleLow PointsI have dangerous levels of affection for Red White & Blue’s Noah Taylor, so my excitement at seeing him in this movie was only dashed by the lack of screen time he ultimately getsLessons LearnedWhen in doubt about your drawing, focus on the vanishing pointYou’ll need a professional portfolio if you want to be a professional photographerBumming around Europe is what Aussies do bestRent/Bury/Buyp.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #222222; -webkit-text-stroke: #222222} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #222222; -webkit-text-stroke: #222222; min-height: 11.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} Look, The Windmill isn’t breaking any barriers, but it pretty much gives any horror fan exactly what they’re looking for in 90 minutes with an added bonus of above average acting and slightly more interesting characters than you usually find. And hey, if nothing else, it’s easily the best evil windmill movie ever made. [...]

Cover Girl


Quick Plot: A cameo'ing Katharine Isabelle heads home after seeing a horror movie, only to be promptly murdered by a pair of masked men with a camera. Soon after, we settle in on Claudia, a supermarket cashier toiling away in a small South Dakota town. The only thing interesting in her life is also rather horrifying: every few weeks, someone leaves a grisly photograph of a slain young woman on the community board in her store, where she's always the first to see it during opening hours. The local cops (including Mitch Pileggi) make Last House On the Left's officers look like Stabler and Benson, leaving the young woman frustrated and incredibly at risk.Enter the world's douchiest fashion photographer--No, seriously. I know heterosexual male fashion photographers are universally agreed upon to be the first group of human beings we sacrifice to our Martian overlords when the time comes, but my GOSHThis one is the worst, and I mean that in the best possible way.For better or (usually) worse, horror films are often filled with unlikable characters. Perhaps we need to hate some of these men and women in order to make their painful deaths entertaining, but there's an art to creating these villainous victims, both on the acting and directing side. So many films misunderstand this, throwing obnoxious frat boys or cruel mean girls at their audiences in order to elicit a cheer when said coeds take an axe to the face. Speaking for myself, I don't enjoy watching an awful character die because I don't enjoy watching an awful character AT ALL. The Girl In the Photographs has some problems (I'll get to those) but its biggest strength is in how it understands that an unlikable character should still be fun to watch. Think of Michael Gambon in The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover: he's one of the most disgusting human beings you have ever watched onscreen, but you can't help but be entertained by just how awful he really is. It's the wrestling heel you love to hate, but most importantly, love to watch. Bless Kal Penn for taking Peter Hemmings (aforementioned douchey fashion photographer) to such extremely unpleasant, amazingly amusing levels of hipster terrible.Peter grew up in Claudia's sleepy town, and after learning about the photographs via a Reddit-like forum (because again: inept police department) he assembles his team of airhead models and nice assistant to return home for a murder-inspired perfume shoot. Claudia is recruited as the local it girl, while unbeknownst to her, her best friend and ex-boyfriend are abducted by the camera-happy killers.Directed by Nick Simon, The Girl In the Photographs is a wildly inconsistent, but somewhat consistently entertaining little genre film. The acting (BLESS YOU KAL PENN) is a head above most of this kind of movie's ilk, and the violence is handled with a chilling hand that offers some surprises and important gravity.So what's the problem? Well, maybe those aspects are a little TOO good, making the fairly basic story with its familiar beats feel like such a letdown. There's no real mystery to our killers, and no interesting complexity to their motives. While Claudia is plucky enough to root for, the film doesn't really give her much to hold onto.By most straight-to-Instant-Watch standards, The Girl In the Photographs is certainly better than average. The disappointment comes from the simple fact that it seems to have the potential to be something special, rather than just decent.High PointsSeriously, give Kal Pen[...]

Get Out (please)


Some movies are made to scare you. Some are made to make you look at the world differently. Some want to make you laugh.And some seem put together solely to piss you off.Quick Plot: A pre-credits teaser introduces us to an attractive young woman home alone at night. Before we get to know much about her, a mysterious figure throws a plastic bag over her face and kills her in a quicker way than I though possible based on what I know about air supply.Moving on. Elizabeth, a cellist for the Portland Philharmonic, is mulling the decision to accept an elite position with a London orchestra. Holding her back her university tenured boyfriend Justin, who respects Elizabeth's talent and ambition but can't make the overseas switch for his own occupational reasons. As Elizabeth sits back for a leisurely weekend of laundry, wine, cat sitting, decision-making, and a LOT of showering, a hooded figure slips into her apartment to commit such atrocities as peeing in her kitchen sink, taking a bite out of an apple in a fruit bowl and putting it back, and worst of all, dipping his dirty finger into her cottage cheese.Over the next day or so, Elizabeth showers and runs some errands, unaware that a potential killer is following her every move. She showers. She does some laundry and meets an odd but seemingly nice enough neighbor named John. She feeds her friend's cat and showers. She stops at her rehearsal studio to practice some Dvorak under the strict eye (and terrible line delivering) of her conductor Vincent, played (badly) by Moby for reasons unexplained. Then she showers. Because the movie needs a few more suspects, Elizabeth also continues to bump into a mysterious man who's either homeless or, you know, another mysterious neighbor.  Justin stops by for some makeup/breakup sex. Elizabeth showers. She pours more wine, Skypes with her mother, practices her cello...Guys, seriously: the cello is the most interesting part.I have no way of discussing why I hated this movie so much without spoiling it, but before I do that, allow me to provide the stupidest warning I have ever had to give: if for some masochistic urge you decide to watch this movie (maybe because you really like showers), make sure you stick around past the first minute or so of the credits. This is only if you want to actually see the ending of Intruder, which for some reason, is "hidden" after the first round of titles. So if, like me, the movie ends you say, "Are  you kidding me?", take some comfort in knowing another 3 minutes are coming soon. Note that when those 3 minutes end, your reaction, if you are me, will be something more akin to, "Oh, are you F*CKING kidding me?"So. After 80 minutes of watching a hooded figure skulk around the likable but possibly deaf Elizabeth, the movie decides to just SHOW his face. And yes, it's John, the creepy neighbor who says more words than the other creepy neighbor who proves to be one of a few red herrings in a mystery that the film doesn't have the skill to actively craft. So. 80 minutes of buildup and teasing, a lot of showers and closeups of a cat's bland facial expressions, a one second reveal, punctuated by Elizabeth going to sleep, sneezing, and awakening the reveal that JOHN HAS BEEN IN THE HOUSE THIS WHOLE TIME BUT AT LEAST HE SAYS BLESS YOU SO BRIDGET FONDA IN SINGLES WOULD LIKE HIM.Credits.I'm angry now, but about to be angrier at writer/director Travis Zairwny (sometimes credited as "Travis Z." which doe[...]

What To Expect When You're Expecting (an evil baby)


If you'll forgive the pun, I think we can all agree that pregnancy is fertile ground for a good horror film. With a poster that directly references Rosemary's Baby, the Danish film Shelley seemed like the perfect creepy Netflix stream. Quick Plot: Elena accepts a housekeeping job in Denmark for a mysterious childless couple named Louise and Kasper. The household is vegetarian and anti-electricity, growing most of their own food and living a quiet throwback lifestyle. While it's not her idea of paradise, Elena gives it her all in order to raise enough money to buy an apartment for her young son back in Romania.After a little bonding, Louise reveals the reason she's been so distant and sad: after a miscarriage, she had a hysterectomy and is now unable to carry a child to term. Elena agrees to be a surrogate and will be paid with the home of her dreams. It's only 9 months. What can possibly go wrong?A few months into the pregnancy, Elena starts to show your typical cinematic signs of A Very Bad Fetus. She craves meat, scratches at her shrinking body, and wants nothing more than to go home and get whatever is growing inside of her far away. Terrified that Elena leaving would mean losing their last chance at parenthood, Louise and Kaspar decide to keep her close, even though it's clear the young woman is only getting worse. I'll now step into some spoiler territory, as the 50ish minute mark throws a bit of a surprise at us.You've been warned.Elena attempts to give herself an abortion via Louise's spare knitting needle. Doctors are able to save the baby but not Elena, whose body can't handle the internal bleeding (and possible demon spawn that came out of her womb). Little Shelley seems perfectly healthy and least to her mother.Louise takes to parenthood like nachos to cheese, but Kasper can't seem to connect with his new daughter. Even Louise's own spiritual doctor senses some kind of evil from the baby, fleeing the house rather quickly upon meeting the infant. Something is wrong with Shelley.And then the movie ends.I'm incredibly torn about how I feel about  Ali Abbasi's film. It's beautifully acted and nicely shot, with a subject matter that's incredibly compelling right from the get-go. We like Elena and respect her motivations to build a better life for her child, just as we feel incredibly sympathy for Louise's infertility. Even Kasper's hesitance at fatherhood is understandable. Abbasi builds a strong and effective atmosphere, but I'm just not sure how much I'm willing to forgive the fact that the film ends at just the moment when something actually happens. There's some good tension as Elena's pregnancy develops and even more as the adorable baby coos (and maybe clicks) away. The "sorta" reveal that Shelley has more sinister origins than a mere egg transplant opens up plenty of questions, but the nerve of the film to not even chance an answer is pretty frustrating.High PointsThe performances are good all around, but a lot of credit has to go to Ellen Dorrit Peterson as Louise. On paper, it's a frustratingly thin character (especially considering how many questions go unanswered by the time the film has ended) but Peterson uses her ghostly paleness to fantastic effect, always making us wonder if she's haunted by grief or something far more sinister. Low PointsAside from the aforementioned ENDING RIGHT WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS, there's also the issue that the only rea[...]

America's Next Top Parasite


There was a time in my life when I could tell you everything you never wanted to know about America's Next Top Model. Then Tyra Banks went to the Harvard Business School and decided to make a "college" season which actually just convinced 14 young women to drop out of school to be on an overproduced reality show, teasing them with "scholarship funds" only to take all of it away from everyone except for the winner (who happened to be already wealthy). It was the last straw in a long, complicated relationship. And all this is really just a preamble to say that today's feature, Viral, stars an a former contestant. Quick Plot: Brainy Emma and her older, mildly rebellious sister Stacey (ANTM's Analeigh Tipton) have just moved to a new Californian town in a suburban development. Their dad (the always welcome Michael Kelly) teaches high school biology, while their mother seems to be maintaining some mysterious distance on business trips. Emma balances schoolwork with a chaste crush on boy next door Evan, while Stacey engages in a more physical relationship with skater boy CJ (played by something called Machine Gun Kelly, which I don't think is any relation to aforementioned Michael Kelly). Also, there's a parasitic outbreak and the country is going to hell.Directed by the team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (they of Catfish and the underrated Paranormal Activity 3 & 4), Viral tells a story we've seen many times from a fresh angle. Normally, I'm the last person to ask for more teenagers in horror, but much like the wonderfully underseen Into the Forest, Viral understands the key to centering your film on young characters is to make them real, sympathetic, and specific.We don't need too much exposition to understand Emma and Stacey. They come from caring, if distracted parents. Emma follows the rules, occasionally making exceptions if it means helping her older sister. With her blue highlights and eye rolls, Stacey is a wannabe bad girl still good enough to respect most of her dad's requests, while also helping to edge Emma just far enough over to the dark side to ensure she has fun. Such a dynamic would be healthy and fine if, you know, there wasn't a highly contagious outbreak of worm things that essentially turn their hosts into hungry zombies. Viral does a nice job in balancing its gross-out horror with the very grounded reality of its characters. While it may be frustrating to watch our leads ignore quarantine rules for a nearby keg party, it's also easy to understand why these young women wouldn't put much stock in government warnings. In the last ten years, we've been through swine flu, ebola, and Legionnaire's disease "outbreaks" that were never nearly as dangerous or widespread as the panic-inducing media wanted us to believe. Even an honors student would rather listen to her crush than an anchorman. The lack of initial action may be a turnoff for some viewers, but it felt true to the characters for me. Leads Sofia Black-D'Elia and Tipton convey a real connection as sisters, and it helps to drive the film once infection becomes extremely close to home. There's nothing revolutionary about the story or style, but Joost and Schulman know how to tell a story like this in a way that the audience cares. Along the way, they manage to pack in some decently gross parasitic attacks and effectively tense chase scenes. Solidly done all around. High[...]