Monday, April 30, 2012

Red House (1947)

The Red House

Written and Directed by Delmer Daves
Based on the novel by George Agnew Chamberlain

Pete Morgan...Edward G. Robinson
Nath Storm...Lon McCallister
Meg...Arlene Roberts
Teller...Rory Calhoun

Disabled farmer Pete Morgan and his homebody sister Ellen--the Mysterious Morgans, as they're known to the school kids--have raised innocent Meg since her parents died when she was two. When Pete hires local All American Boy Nath to assist around the farm, the newly-hired hand and Meg strike up a friendship that makes his risqué girlfriend Tibby more than a little uneasy. When after work one night, Nath announces his intentions to make a shortcut home through the Ox Head Woods. Pete warns against it, with much jabber about an old red house and torturous screams in the night, but Nath attempts it anyway, finding himself embroiled in a mystery, and dragging Meg along for the ride.

This psychological mystery film dates back some 65 years, and the age definitely shows. The pacing will be a bit slow for a lot of the modern audience, but the patient viewer will find a lot of rewarding things here. It's not a mile-a-minute fright factory, but a long slow burn into madness.

The performances are solid, especially by old timey great Edward G. Robinson as Farmer Pete and Rory Calhoun as bad news delinquent Teller, the fourth corner in the Meg-Nath-Tibby square dance of love.

Beautifully shot in crisp black-and-white, and backed by a perfectly fitting orchestral score, this examination of fatal attractions and deadly obsessions would make a great double-feature with Night of the Hunter.

The Red House has been restored and re-released by Film Chest/HD Cinema Classics in a fantastic Blu-Ray + DVD combo pack, now available in stores. Special thanks to them for supplying the screener.

110 Minutes
United States

"Don't put so high a price on courage. It's overrated."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Return to Horror High (1987)

Return to Horror High

Written & Directed by Bill Froehlich

Stephen Blake...Brendan Hughes
Callie...Lori Lethin
Josh...Scott Jacoby
Harry...Alex Rocco

"In 1982, a series of brutal murders rocked Crippen High School. The killer was never apprehended. Three months ago, Cosmic Pictures went to the town of Crippen to film the story of what actually happened--making the movie in the very halls of the now abandoned school. They were not alone."

Despite the title, this is not a sequel--it's like Leonard Part 6, only infinitely more watchable.  Five years after an unsolved killing spree at Crippen High, a film crew descends on the exact location of the crimes to film a dramatization of the events. The writer wants a psychological thriller, the director wants an art piece, and the producer wants a gory slasher film. The cast and crew, however, just want to make it out alive.

Some mysterious person is lurking the halls of the high school, slaughtering people between takes. It takes quite some time before anyone grows suspicious about the increasing number of missing persons, but movie making is like running a circus. The show must go on.

There's a playful self-awareness here, as this is simultaneously a horror movie and a satire of the making of horror movies. Actresses get on a soapbox about the sexual exploitation of women in genre films, only to be forced by the director to disrobe. There are questions raised about the social implications of portraying sex and violence onscreen, then a police woman gets noticeably aroused at the crime scene and caresses her breasts with blood.

This is a very meta movie, a low-rent post-modern take on a tired genre decades before Scream stormed the theaters. The entire film is a flashback recounted to the police by the sole survivor, and within that flashback exists scenes from the movie they're filming, which in a way act as flashbacks themselves. Actors are portraying actors who are portraying characters--sometimes multiple characters--based on fictional real people in a film within a film based on fictional true events...or something like that. It's sometimes difficult to tell which scenes are "real" and which scenes are just "scenes", and then when you toss in a sequence which appears to be real, but is actually a scene which is actually real--but it's not, it's a dream--well, that's enough to melt your brain.

There's a dark sense of humor here, which mostly works but occasionally reaches too far. The acting and special effects work are pretty decent, and the (first) ending is suitably twisted, but the murderer's grand reveal would be better off in an episode of Scooby Doo. The real highlight here, however, is the cast of familiar faces.

George Clooney has a very small part as an up-and-coming Hollywood heartthrob. Maureen McCormick--Marcia Freakin' Brady--plays the sexually deviant police officer. Scott Jacoby of Bad Ronald and The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is the ambitious screenwriter. Professional tough guy Alex Rocco plays the sleazy producer, always demanding more tits and blood--obviously my favorite character in the film. The list goes on.

An underrated horror film that was--who would've guessed?--ahead of its time. The wrap-up may piss off some people--it's rather illogical and is something of a "fuck you" to the audience, but it fits well with the meta nature of the rest of the film.

Well worth a watch. Jump on it while Netflix has it streaming.

Rated R
94 Minutes
United States

"What she really needs is the ol' six inches behind the barn."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Penumbra (2011)


Written & Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano & Ramiro Garcia Bogliano

Marga...Cristina Brondo
Jorge...Berta Muniz
Victoria...Camila Bordonaba

Marga, a beautiful but rather cold business woman, is scheduled to meet Jorge, a real estate agent at the apartment that she owns, hoping to pawn it off on his client despite it being a run-down hovel in a bad neighborhood. He assures her that it's just what his client Mr. Salva is looking for, and he's willing to pay top dollar, but the deal must be closed quickly. Playing along, she clears her schedule and awaits the arrival of the mysterious Mr. Salva.

Salva doesn't arrive at the appointed time, but it seems that whenever Marga turns around, there are more employees from Jorge's office appearing, there to make sure that the deal goes off without a hitch. But their behavior turns more and more erratic as time goes on and she realizes these people are here for something far more arcane than a rental property.

This IFC Films import from Argentina is something of a slow-burner, where only the slightest hints of wrongness casually build up your paranoia for the majority of the running time, until it all comes to a boil at the finale. How satisfying that finale is will depend on how believable you find their motivations. I, for one, found it suitable--even if the filmmakers left it a little vague, abstract and open-ended. The backdrop of an impending solar eclipse lent some credibility to the proceedings, as it is an event big enough and cosmic enough to bring out the crazies--whoever those crazies may be.

Penumbra has a solid cast and good acting, although (as usual) the reading of subtitles can easily distract you from truly appreciating them. The musical scoring was pretty good, although the rock song over the closing credits seemed a little out of place--but that's really the least important song on any soundtrack. Hence rapping about Freddy Kruger at the end of certain Nightmare on Elm Street sequels.

Overall, a creepy little flick that never quite turns frightening. If you can imagine a cross between The Strangers and House of the Devil, or Funny Games and To Let, you're halfway there. It's worth a rental, but I'd give it a try before you buy.

Penumbra drops TODAY in select theaters and Video On-Demand.  Special thanks to IFC for supplying the screener.

Not Rated
90 Minutes
Spanish (English Subtitles)


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Debauchery Days 4

Jimmy Retro and I made a return visit to Crave today, where I feasted on the FATTY MELT, which rivals yesterday's LUTHER as the most sinfully delicious thing I ever ate.

Patty melt...sandwiched between two grilled cheese.

Yeah. I ate that.


Debauchery Days 3

Inspired by the old Fluffernutter sandwich, Jimmy Retro and I decided to mad scientist this decadent desert, affectionately dubbed BACON BUTT FLUFF.

A layer of bacon, a layer of marshmallow fluff, a layer of peanut butter, a sprinkling of brown sugar...and REPEAT. Into the overnight at 325° for 15 minutes. Let cool, and serve.

Kind of delicious, but a little goes a long way.

That's right. I ate that.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Debauchery Days 2

At Hookah King, smoking the true King Hookah. A delicious blend of lemon-mint.

Daddy like.


Debauchery Days 1

Spending a few days with my oldest friend Jimmy Retro for our irregular DEBAUCHERY DAYS celebration. Had a momentous LUTHER burger at Crave that will forever change the way I think about eating.


Yeah, I ate that.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Short Film: Spider (2007)


"It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye."--Mum

While on a roadtrip together, Jack purchases a number of impulse-item gifts for his girlfriend at a gas station to apologize for an argument--flowers, candy, a card and (for some reason) a rubber spider. She is, apparently, deathly afraid of spiders, and this portion of the gift backfires in a horrific manner.

There's not much by way of story in this ten-minute short from Blue Tongue Films, but there are a pair of back-to-back shock moments that will leave your mouth agape. I can't say much without spoiling the fun, but as an "exercise in surprise", Spider is a roaring success.

It doesn't require much investment of your time, so just give it a go.  Click HERE to watch it on YouTube.


Friday, April 13, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King

By Stephen King

Jake Epping, the star of our show, is a high school English teacher and sometime adult educator in the small town of Lisbon Falls, Maine. Recently divorced from an alcoholic wife, and having befriended an older gentleman who survived a childhood tragedy, Jake, like all of us at some point, wishes that he could go back in time and right a few wrongs.

He actually gets that chance when his longtime acquaintance Al Templeton invites him into the pantry of the local eatery that he owns. There, amidst the canned goods and supplies, exists a portal into the past: September 9, 1958, to be precise. At exactly 11:58 A.M.

Al has grown old and sickly in the 24 hours since Jake last saw him, the result of living for multiple years in the past. He has a plan, but he requires Jake's help in pulling it off.

For those who don't know, November 22, 1963 was the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. According to Al's theory, if one were to prevent the assassination, it would send ripples through time, changing our world for the better. So convincing is his argument that Jake (eventually) agrees.

There are some hard-thought rules to the time travel at play here. Stepping through the portal always lands you at the exact same location in time, and when you return to your timeline, it is exactly two minutes later than when you left, and any changes you made in the past are evident. However, if you go back to the past again, arriving at September 9, 1958 at 11:58 A.M., you trigger a reset, and any changes previously made have been completely undone. This affords one the luxury of a learning curve, but it also means that Jake (taking on a new identity as George Amberson) must live in the past for more than five years just to get to the event he is attempting to prevent. If he messes up and requires a reset, it's going to cost him an additional five years.

As Jake tracks the comings and goings of would-be presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, he struggles to eliminate any doubt as to whether he acted alone--or if he even acted, period. Conspiracy theories regarding his involvement have flourished since day one, and it would be criminal to murder this man in cold blood, only to have one of them turn out to be correct. Unraveling the past is a long and arduous process--hence the massive 850-page count--especially when the past doesn't want to be unraveled, much less altered. The past is obdurate, says King. It's stubborn, and when you fight the future, it fights back.

It's not all about JFK. In the five years he has to kill, Jake sets up a life of his own, changing things for the better in a few smaller ways as he goes. He gets a job, he falls in love, and he swing dances. A lot. So much, in fact, that it becomes a little ridiculous at times, and we attempt to decipher just why on Earth Stephen King deems it so significant each and every time. There are a lot of mysteries in this book, but that's one I was never able to crack.

Part science fiction, part historical narrative, this is definitely a different kind of beast for King. It's obviously thoroughly researched to the last detail--although he admits tinkering with a thing or two for the story's sake--and many of the characters ring strikingly true to life because of it, specifically Oswald and his clan. You'll hate him just as much as ever, but here he seems like a genuine villain instead of an abstract thing.

Another departure from the Stephen King oeuvre is the use of real-life locations. It starts off in the very-real Lisbon Falls, and comes to a close in the very-real Dallas. The Dallas-of-the-past is painted in a very unflattering light, although that's not to say it's an unfair light. Dallas was a big city with a lot of small town mentality, the wild west all mobbed up. It's a nice place to read about, but I sure wouldn't want to live there.

Don't worry, though. King has not forgotten his fictional small towns. A large chunk of the story takes place in a little borough called Jodie, Texas, and for the fans there is even a stopover in Derry, Maine, where Jake feels the power of Pennywise the clown and teaches a few of the river rat It kids how to--what else?--swing dance.

Kings fictional universal is a shared one, each of his stories all existing within each other--as evidenced by the It connection noted above. Even his apocalyptic The Stand and his otherworldly Dark Tower series work within the same framework, existing behind this universe in an alternate reality. As his realities stack atop each other, it should not be surprising that his timelines do too--however some of the explanations of this given by the so-called Yellow Card Man seem clunky and clumsy, and not at all clear. Doc Brown explained the dangers of time travel and creating paradoxes much more succinctly to Marty McFly without all this talk about "bubbles" and alcoholism.

Speaking of pop cultural time travel references, people of a certain age won't be able to read this book without remembering that epic episode of Quantum Leap revolving around the Kennedy assassination. I like to think that King knew this, and purposely named Jake's "guide on this journey" Al.

In the end, a very enjoyable and fast-paced read. Or at least as fast as it's running length will allow. It's widely known that King at times "over writes", but it's also widely accepted. If you're a fan, you've come to expect and even appreciate his loquaciousness. He's put in enough time in this business that he can write what and how he wants to. And most of the time, I for one, am more than happy to oblige him.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hitcher 2: I've Been Waiting (2003)

The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting

Written by Molly Meeker, Charles R. Meeker & Leslie Scharf
Directed by Louis Morneau

Jim Halsey...C. Thomas Howell
Maggie...Kari Wuhrer
The Hitcher (Jack)...Jake Busey

C. Thomas Howell reprises his role as Jim Halsey some 15 years after the events of the previous film, now a police officer and small-plane pilot. After a charge of excessive force is put against him, he loses his job, the result of the emotional damage suffered at the hands of THE HITCHER.

Deciding to face his past in an attempt to recover from it, he returns to the West Texas area where his nightmare unfolded, bringing his girlfriend Maggie along for the ride--although she doesn't seem to be privy to the full story.

Almost immediately upon arrival, the present seems to be eerily reflecting the past, and Maggie forces him to pick up a hitchhiker. Jim's initial reaction makes him appear to be a bit on the crazy side--which he undoubtedly is--but this new Hitcher is right there with him.

Once again framed for murder, pursued by the police, and hunted by the Hitcher--who knew there was a remake of The Hitcher BEFORE the remake of The Hitcher? Although there IS an unexpected casting variation about 40 minutes in.

Lots of action, excitement, gunplay and car chases--just like in the original. A mysterious killing machine pushing a would-be victim too far--just like in the original. In fact, it's pretty much just like the original except for the cast...and quality. It's not a bad film. In fact, it's still rather enjoyable, in a time-wasting sort of way. It's just a shame that the filmmakers couldn't have brought SOMETHING new to the table, or at least give some viable explanation for the same thing happening all over again. Sheer laziness on their part, even more so than just making a full-fledged reboot. At least then you have the balls to own up to your unoriginality.

Watch it back-to-back with the original, and start drinking immediately. By the time the sequel starts, maybe you'll be wasted enough for it to seem fresh. Keep drinking, and maybe you'll even enjoy the remake.

Rated R
93 Minutes
United States

"The bitch won't quit!"

Monday, April 9, 2012

Chop (2011)


Written by Adam Minarovich
Directed by Trent Haaga

Lance...Will Keenan
The Stranger...Timothy Muskatell

When his car breaks down, Lance accepts a ride from a stranger in a pick-up truck. The stranger promptly kidnaps him, forces him to participate in a horrific act, offers him a startling revelation about his wife, and then sets him free...with a few conditions. He can not tell anyone about what has happened, and he can not let his wife know what he knows about her.

The Stranger insists that he and Lance know each other, and that Lance has wronged him sometime in the past--however Lance has no memory of ever meeting him. He keeps taking from Lance, torturing him and ruining his life, and will continue to do so until Lance remembers who he is.

The actors do a fairly good job with the material, although Lance irritated the hell out of me--but I think that was the point. Lance isn't the good guy, even though he's the victim, and it's difficult to decide who it is you're rooting for. I don't think you can really root for anybody. All you can hope is that the government drops a bomb and kills all these motherfuckers.

It's a good idea, and is decently made, however it has a serious personality disorder that bothers me quite a bit. It teeter totters between straight horror and a dark comedy at uncomfortable intervals--however the comedy interjected in the script isn't all that funny: Lance sticking a finger up his ass in search of a tracking device; signing a letter to a pair of police detectives "Love, Lance"; Jokes about cutting off limbs and fucking the stump; etc.

If the comedy elements were removed all together, it would have made a good horror movie. If the comedy elements were actually funny, it would have made a good horror comedy. However, as it stands, it's rather milquetoast on both accounts.

A solid concept that was poorly executed and thoroughly flawed. For a dark revenge/torture porn comedy that actually works, watch Otis. This one can stay on the shelf.

Not Rated
98 Minutes
United States


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Glory Stompers (1968)

Glory Stompers

Written by James Gordon White & John Lawrence
Directed by Anthony M. Lanza

Christy...Chris Noel
Darryl...Jody McCrea
Chino...Dennis Hopper
Smiley...Jock Mahoney

When Daryl, a member of the Glory Stompers, wakes up from a brutal beating delivered by rival motorcycle gang the Black Souls, he finds his girlfriend Christy missing. Believing Daryl dead, the Black Souls kidnapped her, the only witness to the crime.

As Daryl attempts to track the Black Souls and rescue his woman, he partners up with Smiley, an aging biker who escaped the gang life and rejoined society.

Meanwhile, Christy's presence causes some turmoil among the gang, as Chino (the leader) wants her for himself, to the chagrin of his "mama" and compatriots. Chino's brother Paul (Cleancut) is sympathetic to her plight, and Christy in turn seems sympathetic to his.

As expected, Dennis Hopper puts in the best performance of the cast, playing the type of outlaw that is his bread and butter. The rest of the cast is decent, but nothing to write home about. A number of the extras were probably actual bikers that Hopper and his crew were friendly with. The soundtrack has a few good moments, but is mostly par for the course.

There's a lengthy party scene that seems designed exclusively to fill time, and that's pretty much representative of this entire movie. Despite the promising set-up--a counter-cultural revenge film--there is far too little actually happening here. Lots of dialogue, lots of scenes of biking down the highway, but very little action.

There are much better examples of this genre available, including a personal favorite, Born Losers. All in all, The Glory Stompers is like a leisurely paced cruise down the coastline. Some nice things to look at, but not much substance.

Not Rated
84 Minutes
United States

"What are you? Knife happy or something?"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kissed (1996)


Written by Angus Fraser & Lynne Stopkewich
Directed by Lynne Stopkewich
Based on a short story by Barbara Gowdy

Sandra Larson...Molly Parker
Mr. Wallis...Jay Brazeau
Matt...Peter Outerbridge

"When you die, your life flashes and you disintegrate, radiating energy. When a thing turns into its opposite, when love becomes hate, there are always sparks, but when life turns into death, it's explosive. There are streaks of light, magical and electrifying. Everyone senses something, some energy, some spirit, some sort of illumination. But I see it. I've seen bodies shining like stars."

These are the words of Sandra Larson, a frail and damaged young woman who finds much more beauty in death than she does in life. As a girl, she would find dead animals, dance around them, and rub their remains all over her body before burying them--which is disturbing enough, but grows worse as she gets older.

She gets a job at the Wallis Funeral home, preparing and dressing the bodies of the recently deceased. Her contact with them is initially relatively restrained--a light caress, perhaps, or a gentle kiss--but it quickly spirals into a full-blown physical relationship, what the professionals call NECROPHILIA.

She doesn't seem ashamed of her actions, and in fact admits it right up front when she is hit on by med student Matt. He's not disturbed or disgusted by her confession as one might expect, but rather he is intrigued. Curious, even. The relationship they strike up is relatively normal considering the revelations it was predicated upon--but her obsession with death, and his obsession with her obsession--leads them down a very dark road.

Probably the first romance film I've reviewed here, the subject matter is dark enough and morose enough for it to fit in. The concept of what is and what isn't horror is extremely personal and malleable, and I'd squeeze this one in somewhere between May and Love Object.

Due to the deviant subject matter, I'm reluctant to call it beautiful. However, I can't help it. It was a beautiful, sad, and very human film ruminating on life, death, and what comes after. There's no doubt that this is a very sick romance, but it's handled tastefully enough that you don't have to be too hardened to watch this.

It's certainly not going to be to everyone's taste, but it might make a good date movie--if both parties involved are of a darker persuasion.

Rated R
78 Minutes

"You know, I don't fuck everything that's dead!"

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Argento & Bava: Demons In 4 Colors

I received an e-mail from professional Halloween fan Stefan Hutchinson--Producer/Director of Halloween: 25 Years of Terror; writer of the Nightdance, First Death of Laurie Strode, 30 Years of Terror, One Good Scare, and Halloween Autopsis comic books; and author of the short story Halloween: Sam--alerting me to a new, non-Halloween project he's got coming up.

Following the exciting news that restored versions of Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava’s blood-curdling zombie horror classics DEMONS & DEMONS 2 will be released on Blu-ray, DVD and Steelbook on April 30th, Arrow Video are pleased to premiere exclusive extracts from the specially commissioned DEMONS 3 COMIC BOOKS (as attached).

For horror fans, it’s what they have been waiting for since 1986... Written by Stefan Hutchinson and Barry Keating, with artwork by Jeff Zornow and Peter Fielding, DEMONS 3 is finally here. The original sequel to the first two DEMONS films, presented as a 2-book comic, which will come housed in the Blu-ray & DVD editions of DEMONS & DEMONS 2.
It is the 16th Century, the time of the plague in Southern France. Amid the carnage, a new evil is starting to take form and only Nostradamus can see it. Are his horrifying visions of the future signs of what will come to pass?  Can he stop the demons from taking over the world?
 I've checked out the sample pages that were sent to me, and it looks pretty good--and very graphic!  Check out a few images below, then bide your time until April 30th when you can get your grubby paws on the films and the comics in one fell swoop.


Monday, April 2, 2012

The Shrine (2010)

The Shrine

Written by John Knautz & Brendan Moore
Directed by John Knautz

Carmen Burke...Cindy Sampson
Marcus...Aaron Ashmore
Sara...Meghan Heffern

Carmen Burke, reporter for D-Cypher Monthly, has seen better days, professionally speaking. A controversial article she wrote has knocked her down to the bottom of the journalistic ladder, and so while she longs for real stories, her editor has her writing fluff.

When she catches wind of an American boy who went missing while backpacking in Poland--the fifth such incident she could find evidence of in the same area--she strikes out to cover the story when she's really supposed to be writing about bees.

Dragging her photographer boyfriend Marcus and intern Sarah along, they arrive in Kozki, Poland to a rural society of inhospitable locals, a strange church, and a mysterious bank of fog that rises from the forest and rises into the sky like a tower.

The locals are, of course, hiding something, the truth of which is found at the titular Shrine. As these nosy Americans get closer to the heart of the story, they find themselves deeper and deeper in trouble.

It's a lower budget shocker that probably got lost in the shuffle because there's not all that much original about it. It's a cultish variation of Hostel, perhaps, or The Ruins with a drastically different threat.

The actors all do a pretty good job with the material they're given. There are a few shocking moments and a lot of eerie scenery, but the special effects work could use a bit of polishing--still, not bad for the budget, I suppose.

Not all that thrilling, not all that horrifying. Aside from the gorgeous locations (and a pretty damn good finale), The Shrine is a good-not-great horror flick that suffers from rehashitis.

Not Rated
85 Minutes

"Nothing for you here, English!"


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