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. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

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 Points
Something 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 Points
I 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 not

Lessons Learned
If 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 meal

Psychiatrists are VERY Beverly Hills

Putting 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 disposal

In world before online dating, one could always count on pet cemeteries as a great way to meet a potential partner

Look! It's - 
Stephen Tobolowsky, in the very typical Stephen Tobolwsky role of a square teacher who gets his comeuppance via angry voodoo teenage girl doodling

And Look CLOSE! It's- 
Kristin Dattilo, a name that excites that very small but enthusiastic audience segment who knows Days of Our Lives' Lucas Robert-Horton's real-life sister/the chick who played the single teenage mom Brandon Walsh dated briefly in Season 1 of Beverly Hills 90210 when they see her!

Mirror Mirror isn't a particularly good movie, but it's incredibly fun and EXTREMELY of its time in the best possible way. Like most films streaming on Amazon Prime, it looks like someone dropped the print in water and dried it out on a clothesline, but I think most horror fans will still find themselves enjoying its charms. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

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 Points
She may not have loved the material, but Samantha Eggar gives a genuinely interesting performance that helps to elevate the overall film

Low Points
Aside 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 down

Lessons Learned
All's fair in love and auditions

To best keep pepperoni hot, stick it to your butt

You 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 something

Curtains 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?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

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!

M-O-O-N, that spells I hope to see you soon. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

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 Points
I love a good mean girl, and Sarah Lancaster’s Chloe gets to have some sneering fun with the occasional bitchy insult

Low Points
Look, 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 Learned
The rules of Lovers(') Lane states that only one partner can ever hear anything suspicious happening outside of the parked car

The majority of teen-related car accidents happen because everybody inside the car is screaming and flailing to dangerous levels of chaos at once

Unless you’re wearing some form of facial armor, do your best to avoid hunting down your fellow classmates during yearbook photo season

The 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.


Lovers(‘) Lane is near the bottom of the barrel of Scream ripoffs,  but if the idea of that barrel smelling like Surge and CK1 excites you, then hey, why not kill 90 minutes via Amazon Prime?