Monday, November 20, 2017

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 Points
As 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 Points
You know, the fact that the story seems more confused than the lead character

Lessons Learned
Surviving a brutal car accident can change a lot of things about you, including eliminating any trace of your Australian accent

Never whistle or wear green in a theater in front of obnoxiously superstitious theater people

There's no such thing as a one hour call

Nightmares 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. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

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 Points
As someone terrified of all things high heeled, I can appreciate a good gouging via stiletto

Low Points
Guys, 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 incomprehensible

Lessons Learned
Don't be fooled: it is indeed possible to do a sit-up with your eyes closed

A proper prom proposal should require at least four weeks of intense dance practice and intermediate choreography

When half your teenage friends order virgin cocktails, you shouldn't be surprised when the waiter asks for your ID upon ordering an alcoholic beverage

The (Losing) Line
Character 1: That would suck balls.
Character 2: That's what she said!
All Characters: (uproarious laughter)

I 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. 

Monday, November 6, 2017


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 Points
Is 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 head

Low Points
Maybe the fact that it's been two weeks and I still can't get FALL BREAK out of my head?

Lessons Learned
Chlorine probably prevents herpes

When 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 father

It's very easy to get lost in a larger-than-average swimming pool

The 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.

Monday, October 30, 2017

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 Points
This 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 life

Low Points
The movie. Seriously, this movie

Lessons Learned
Remember to push "end" when you're finished with your call on a car phone

The best way to rebound from being stood up is to give in quickly to the sexy vampire next door

Witches of the early '90s were not afraid to play with color in their wardrobe


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. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

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 Points
Look, 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 lawsuit

Low Points
Is it just me, or is hearing the term “dry intercourse” on repeat in reference to supernatural rape a little unsettling?

Lessons Learned
Aging alcoholic cops can handle clairvoyance but draw a line at any form of materialization

A 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 it

In some small American towns, the head surgeon also serves as the lead investigator in ongoing murder investigations

Look! 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?


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 pace when the mood strikes you.