Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Prince of Darkness (1987)

October 18, 2019

I had my own brush with Satanic Panic when I was a small child. It was Halloween and even then it was my all-time favorite holiday. I always enjoyed writing and creating stories and I could not help getting into the spirit of the holiday, apparently in a very method way. At one point, my brothers and neighbor took off running down the sidewalk and I wanted them to wait for me. I decided it would be in character to call out “Stop! In the name of the Devil!” A neighbor immediately chastised me, scared that I had invoked the name of humanity’s nemesis. That event and the rhetoric in church made me fear Satan a lot during childhood. For example, I never put my hands under my pillow while sleeping because I was afraid that Satan would drag me to Hell. I have told the story before but when I was a preteen, I was sleeping over at my best friend’s house when his mother called up. She said, “Hey guys, look outside it’s snowing!” I started to move toward the window but my friend said “Don’t. She could be the Devil. If we look, she’s got us.” Thoughts like this chilled me to bone. Now, like the Church of Satan says, I know that “Satan is a fictional character“. Still, it’s still fun to pretend.

I have often stated that losing oneself is probably one of my biggest fears. This includes changes made to my mind or body. Body horror is obviously terrifying but I am not afraid of monsters as much as I am afraid of becoming a monster or just melting into a subhuman mess. John Carpenter is very good at poking that fear center and is famous for exploiting it. I am also afraid of having my mind co-opted by a foreign entity. While that thought has helped me be a better skeptic, it is not a wholly rational fear. Well, except that there is already at least one case of dementia in my family. Horror is full of stories of possession and the change of people into monsters both figuratively and literally. Every single one of them is scary to me. Prime examples are The Thing, The Mouth of Madness, The Shining, all of the Re-Animator movies, and The Exorcist. Of course, there are so many other examples such as the myriad Hollywood movies on possession. I like to seek out these movies because they challenge me and, although they terrify me, they also inspire me.

The first thing I noticed was how much work the movie puts into introducing all of the characters and setting up their lives. The mystery of the movie unfolds slowly at first. I really liked the probably realistic depiction of the church as a large body that keeps so many secrets that even the Pope doesn’t know some of them. I also like the marrying of religion and science which gives this horror film a unique kind of feel. Both were invented to try and explain the universe but somethings should not be explored or spoken of. Like many of John Carpenter’s movies of the day, the aesthetic is gritty 1980s city. The movie keeps the tension going with trademark electronic music written and performed by John Carpenter, one of the few directors who could do that. The music is exactly what the movie needs at every moment. The special effects are top-notch as you would expect from Carpenter. A lot of practical effects which are gross and bloody.

One of the best parts about the movie is a great cast delivering great lines about evil, science, and religion. Horror legend Donald Pleasance plays an unnamed priest who is the catalyst of the whole movie. He is the one who delivers a lot of the dark lore in long ominous speeches. Victor Wong is the lead scientist, a man who is confounded by seeing things that go against his understanding of the universe. He delivers a lot of the science of the film, through lectures and speeches. Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount play the de facto lead characters, doing a lot of the moralizing and acting as the audience viewpoint. There is also an excellent cast of character actors involved in spooky science. There is also a creepy group led by the glorious Alice Cooper. Even silent he has so much charisma and his role is definitely memorable.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It is just as wild and crazy as the other two movies in the Apocalypse trilogy (The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness). This movie felt like it had less action-adventure components than The Thing and was more old school than In the Mouth of Madness.

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Blacula (1972)

October 16, 2019

I had long dismissed Blacula as some sort of blaxploitation equivalent of Dracula: Dead and Loving It. I thought it was a silly movie. I thought it was a joke. I often confused it with A Vampire in Brooklyn. It was only recently that I heard more about the movie through Horror Noire. Horror Noire is a documentary made this year that covers the history of Horror in Black Cinema. It introduced me to movies that I had never heard of and movies that I had only heard of in passing. It covered movies that I had seen like Candyman and Get Out. As a white person, I have tried to seek out movies that are somehow removed from my life experience. I want to see movies with people of color in them but I also want to see movies made by people of color. I have a long list of movies that I want to see and documentaries and even listicles help me focus that list.

My first experience with vampires was reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula during the summer when I was ten. It was after I had read Frankenstein and I was once again enthralled by a story of pure gothic horror. The story was scary to me as a little kid. The idea of being like Jonathan Harker and being trapped in a castle of vampires was horrible. The idea of being stalked like Mina Harker, never knowing what was out there in the shadows, sparked my imagination. But really, the worst was the idea of being turned like Renfield or Lucy Westenra. Losing my mind like Renfield and being a creature that fed on spiders and rats like some sort of rabid thing is a horrible thought. The idea of turning like Lucy and not being able to help myself from preying on the weak and then having my former friends kill me. I shudder. I feel like turning is scarier than being killed by a vampire.

The first thing I noticed was that this was not just a palette-swapped version of the Dracula story. In fact, they go to a good deal of trouble to connect the history of Blacula (not his actual name) with that of Dracula. This pleased me as a fan of the original book (and many adaptations) and it made me instantly want to see more of the story. The story also ties into the slave trade and colonialism which I should have expected (as exploitation films of the time tried to address such issues). There is definitely a hokey atmosphere involved. I mean, it is rated PG which still confuses me as it has plenty of blood. Different standards, I guess. It also is able to tie the myth of Dracula to the modern-day while also making the main character somewhat sympathetic. All of this is done in a style that manages to mix the exploitation style with something similar to Hammer Films. The music is also super funky in places and tense in others which makes for a fun mix.

Part of what makes this movie so good is the strong acting. William Marshall plays the title role and he is so commanding and charismatic. At times, he is also very sympathetic and charming and very human (as funny as that sounds). Vonetta McGhee plays his intended victim, a demure woman with plenty of curiosity. He is opposed by Thalmus Rasulala who plays a stern but funny Police scientist who is not only dealing with Blacula but also with the incompetence and spitefulness of the White police. Denise Nicholas plays McGhee’s best friend and Rasulala’s girlfriend who does not know how to deal with the weirdness (except with the occasional joke). Finally, there is a white cop played by Gordon Pinsent who just cannot be bothered. The cast adds so much to what could have been fluff but ended up being scary and interesting. They go for a joke to relieve the tension but they keep the scares going when they need to.

Overall, I loved this movie way more than I thought I would. There was enough action to keep me interested but also enough story to make me happy that I was hooked. It was a pleasant divergence from the traditional Dracula mythos while still staying true to its spirit. It was full of dark romance and plenty of danger.

Us (2019)

October 14, 2019

When I was a preteen, my family used to go to Busch Gardens Williamsburg which I loved the theming of. Part of the theming at the time was that each section of the park was patterned after a European country. My favorite was Banbury Cross (Olde England) but that is not relevant here. One of the sections was themed after Germany, most of which was based on the yearly celebration of Oktoberfest. One of the attractions that I actually chose to ride was a riverboat that cruised up and down the river gently. However, the boat that we boarded was called The Doppelganger. It was during this trip that the tour guide decided to explain what the boat’s namesake was. He told us that everybody in the world has a doppelganger out there. If you ever meet your doppelganger, they could easily kill you and take over your life. The thought terrified me. Back then I really believed in such things and the thought of another me, itching to get rid of me chilled me to the bone. It stuck with me even if it passed from my mind from time to time.

The idea has been explored to some extent before. This idea that we are our own worst enemy is nothing new. We are our own worst critic but also our best advocate and those sides of us are in constant war with each other. If that dark side of ourselves were to manifest as an actual being, all of our worst energies, it would be most dangerous to ourselves. My anxiety and periodic depression have made me very critical of me and I come down hard on myself in my bluest periods. The thought of that darkness leaking out into the world and coming against me and the ones that I love is a bad, bad thought. To have it literally happen is even worse than the few times I have shot my mouth off and made things worse. The clearest example of it I can remember is Invasion of the Body Snatchers and also an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I feel like the concept could use more exploring so I am glad to see it here.

The first thing I noticed was how psychological this movie is. Jordan Peele has proven that he does not need fancy effects to make things absolutely eerie. He does a lot with camera shots, music, and the expressions of his actors that absolutely makes me incredibly tense. He plays with light and shadow and simple optical tricks that mess with your head. Long silences left me stuck in anticipation, waiting for what horrible thing might happen next. Even things I expected to happen ended up scaring me. That is the sign of a great horror movie. I spent a lot of the movie filled with both the dread of what I knew was probably going to happen but also the fear of not knowing for sure if that was what would happen. Of course, being Jordan Peele, there are greater things at work too. The symbolism itself is scary as Hell. The concepts themselves bring a lot to the table. There are great political messages that are reflected in horrible ways.

Part of what makes this movie so good is the brilliant cast that they were able to get. For example, Peele was able to nab Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke fresh off of their star-making turn in Black Panther. Nyong’o plays a loving mother who is already fraying at the edges at the start of the movie from childhood trauma. Duke plays her husband, a nerdy but lovable certified dad who is just trying to figure his family out. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex play their young children who are quirky but normal kids. Of course, as you might expect they all play double duty and they are fantastic at it. The cast is rounded out by Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss who are pretty creepy as well.

Overall, the movie had me on the edge of my seat the entire run. I was absolutely gripped by this movie in the same way that I was gripped by Get Out. I prayed both for a good ending and for somebody to explain to me what was happening. I also really loved the message in this one. While many horror movies have a message, some of the best ones have political messages. They are a dark reflection of our human condition and this one is no different. I absolutely recommend this.

Dead Alive aka Braindead (1992)

October 11, 2019

Rated R for gore and language.

Back in 2016, I reviewed a little movie called Bad Taste which happens to be the first film that a young Peter Jackson made. It was absolutely fantastic in a similar style to the Troma style of horror movies. Lots of wildly fake but gross gore and plenty of silly comedy. The thing is, the general public mostly knows Peter Jackson as “the guy who made Lord of the Rings”. Except, the Lord of the Rings franchise was the second phase of his career. Before that, he made three horror movies that are still celebrated today even if one of them is not technically ‘good’. In 1983 (when I was not yet one year old) he joined together with his friends to make a goofy, crazy horror movie called Bad Taste. It took them four years filming on weekends in their little town in New Zealand. Still, it was his ticket to show business and nine years later (1989) he released The Frighteners, a fun horror comedy starring Michael J Fox. In between, he directed his second film to get a wide release in the United States called Braindead (renamed Dead Alive for American audiences). I am so excited to watch this last movie in his horror trilogy.

As long as I can remember, I have been afraid of contagion. I think that is a natural response to learning that out there are things that you cannot see that can kill you. I used to dread visiting hospitals because I just knew I was going to catch something. I still get skeeved out in them. When I was a preteen, my mom’s best friend got cancer and my first fear was that my mom would catch it consoling her. Obviously, I am not alone in my fear. The media is rife with stories about one contagion or another. Since I was a kid there have been tons of outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease. There have been some potential Ebola outbreaks a little too close to home but now they seem to have developed a cure. That is why the anti-vax movement scares me so much because it causes outbreaks of diseases we thought we already defeated. It makes me worry about how the United States and the world would do in a real global pandemic with too many stupid people on Earth.

What I first noticed was that this movie is every bit as goofy and zany as Bad Taste but with a slightly higher budget. Everything is done with practical effects and the gore starts flowing within minutes of the beginning. In keeping with the same wacky atmosphere as his previous movies, the camera lurches from dramatic angle to dramatic angle like an episode of 1960s Batman. Still, I feel like all of this services the movie really well as it heightens the comedy as it shifts to horror. Everything keeps high energy and almost never stops building toward a conclusion. As I said, the blood definitely flows and the aforementioned contagion and rot definitely rears its head. Those effects are so gross but again, good for the movie. There is a reason that this movie holds the record for most fake blood used in a movie. I also love the stop motion animation. Stop motion has a lot of potential for being absolutely terrifying (see The Ghoulies, The Gate, Evil Dead, and Puppet Master).

The acting is over the top but also fantastic. Timothy Balme is perfect as the nerdy, put upon guy who is thrust into a horrible situation.  He feels like Charlie Chaplin stuck in a horror movie. Diana Peñalver is great as the sunny and naive Hispanic immigrant who falls in love with Balme for better or worse. Elizabeth Moody plays Balme’s horrible mother who is horrible to be with even before everything goes to Hell. The rest of the movie is populated by plenty of zany character actors who get into a lot of terrifying but comically violent situations. It is once again set in New Zealand with a mostly New Zealand cast. A lot of the acting is purposefully exaggerated as it was in Bad Taste. It is like watching a horror movie made by the Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers in the best way. Almost everybody mugs for the camera and makes sure every word is over annunciated. Over the top was the only way to do this movie and it really works for me.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It made me cringe and wince over and over but its outrageousness kept me wondering what would happen next. It is full of plenty of surprises but all of the surprises are definitely earned instead of just for cheap scares. While the movie is still pretty rough, it shows clearly how good Peter Jackson is at putting a movie together. Everything works together in service of the movie and nothing clashes. Everything works toward wacky, bloody horror and nothing pauses the action unnecessarily. I definitely recommend it for people with strong stomachs.

Hereditary (2018)

October 9, 2019

Rated R for gore, language, violence and plenty of spooks

What we inherit from our parents can be a frightening thought. For example, genetics are particularly likely to cause anxiety among new parents or prospective parents. This is one reason why so many people are getting genetic testing these days to see what they might pass on to their kids. Who knows what nasty thing could be lurking in your genes? I have known a lot of people who were worried they might inherit their parent’s alcoholism or high risk of cancer. These days these unknowns are getting less likely but there is still the chance that something stays dormant in your genetics and pops up generations later. For example, I was born with a rare heart defect which led to an absolutely terrifying fifth-grade year. Also, dementia might run in my family which has me worried.

It is also not just genetics we inherit. Most people think about inheriting property and money but there can be other things lurking. People joke about inheriting debt but our current laws make that mostly impossible. Well, except for debt causing a chain of poverty down through the generations. What I am talking about is that sometimes we do not know the people in our life as well as we thought we did. You can find some very troubling things in the belongings of the deceased. For instance, my family cleared out a house that used to belong to a neighbor of ours. We found a ton of firearms, KKK memorabilia, and Nazi memorabilia. I worked on an Estate once where they found a cardboard box of drivers licenses with names that had no discernible connection to the deceased. I did not investigate.

The first thing I noticed about this movie is the pervasive tone of dread throughout the early parts of the movie. This makes sense as it is labeled as a psychological horror movie. The lighting, the music, the soft tones of people’s voices, it all adds up and starts ratcheting up the tension without the use of jump scares or spring-loaded cats. When the very real fear is mental illness, you do not need to pile anything on top of that. Part of that is also that the special effects are incredibly subtle the few that are there. The movie is mostly dread and anticipation as you wait for something bad to happen. The rest is how the mind deals with emotions and reality after bad things happen with the looming specter of mental illness. Or is something else going on? The ambiguous nature of the movie definitely made it all the scarier.

The acting is superb in this. Toni Colette plays the mom, struggling with the guilt she feels after her mother dies and her own worries over her sanity. She is the heart and soul of this movie and she does such a great job realistically breaking down. Milly Shapiro is so great as the daughter, a young eccentric girl who might be on the autism spectrum or might just be a late bloomer of some sort. Alex Wolff plays the son, a young kid who feels disconnected from it all and just wants to get back to a normal life. Gabriel Byrne plays the husband who is a bit out of his depth even though he’s a psychiatrist. The dynamic between the characters just feels like a close yet slightly dysfunctional family. If it were not a horror movie, I could definitely see them having a cool story arc like in Lady Bird.

Overall, I loved the movie as it was definitely a mind-warping experience. The movie plays with your perceptions of reality through unreliable narrators. It is so well done that it was hard to shake this movie from my psyche. I know something is scary if it sticks with me for a long time afterward. I would definitely put this movie in the same box that includes The Witch.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

October 7, 2019

Rated R for gore, torture, and full-frontal nudity.

 

Today is the anniversary of the death of Edgar Allen Poe, a great writer and one of the fathers of modern horror. He was also less problematic than some other older authors. Of course, the reason that I continue to honor Poe is that, although he was born in Boston, he was a famous resident of Baltimore. Baltimore buried him and claims him and his legend. He was arguably the father of the detective genre in literature and was one of the earliest writers to employ the short story. I love short stories. I love to read them and I love to write them. Poe published originally through newspapers and other periodicals. I carry out his tradition through this blog. Self-publishing was not something that was really possible in Poe’s day. A lot of Poe’s work has a deep, existential dread and my mind often drifts to reference his works subconsciously. I want to continue to find good adaptations of his work to help keep it alive.

The Spanish Inquisition was undoubtedly an incredibly scary time in history. Any period of time when a subsection of the populace is not only hunted but tortured when caught, it is terrifying. We have had similar periods in our country, the closest of which was probably the Salem Witch Trials. However, the inquisition was done on such a grander scale. The Church took control of the State and drove it into committing atrocities against the People. There was never any consequences, as the Church and the State rarely face consequences. It is literally the same energy and ideology that led to the rise of the Nazi party. It is the same thread of evil that we must face again and again in every period of history. Manipulation through ignorance that leads to horrors beyond imagining. Torture, rape, murder. It makes me shudder.

The first thing I noticed is the overall tone of the movie. This movie is not a traditional horror movie as much of Poe’s work covers a lot of existential dread and the horrors of man (his Lovecraftian works notwithstanding). In this, he is tackling the terror of being under the power of a fascist regime. That feeling of powerlessness as you are exposed daily to terror while bystanders not only condone it but smirk and judge you for being its victim. However, there is also plenty of comedy in the movie for contrast. The comedy feels like that in The Death of Stalin, where you feel you should not laugh but you are forced to. The movie uses lighting and severe architecture as a way to reinforce the tone of this authoritarian terror. The music also does a lot, with great orchestral and choral pieces to really lay it on thick. Also, there is the expected amount of horrible gore (in true Full Moon fashion).

The star of the movie is Lance Hendrickson who plays the infamous and very real Torquemada. He obviously pours himself into the role, playing the role of a merciless zealot to the hilt. Every scene he is in, I felt like he was staring right through my soul. Apparently, he researched the role a lot and stayed in character between scenes (and sometimes in public in Italy) which I am sure was a delight. Rona de Ricci plays the young heroine in the clutches of Torquemada. She is great at being young and innocent and sympathetic. Jonathan Fuller plays the young hero whose wife is in danger and he is powerless to protect her. Frances Bay plays a snarky, brassy woman who is a fellow prisoner and de Ricci’s partner in crime for much of the movie. Mark Margolis plays Torquemada’s thuggish torturer sidekick with dark pleasure.

Overall, I really liked this version of the story. It was directed by Stuart Gordon who also directed Re-Animator and Dolls, two movies of this season that I also love. The movie stays true to the story of religious mania and authoritarian power of the original story. It also has all of the gore you would expect if you read the original story.

Shocker (1989)

October 4, 2019

Rated R for some gore, blood, and plenty of foul language.

No matter how one feels about capital punishment aka the death penalty, one has to admit that it is definitely pretty horrific. Whether people feel that it is justified or not, committing the actual deed is very scary. Pretty much every method we humans have thought of is absolutely terrible. We thought of beheading, which we know causes sharp pain and the head is often aware for moments after completion. Hanging breaks the neck when done right but causes a slow, painful death when done incorrectly. Firing squads are clearly painful with no question. The electric chair is absolutely brutal as it takes time for the body to overload with electricity and every pain receptor must fire off at once. The gas chamber is not only painful but has extremely unfortunate historical implications. We have recently learned that the method of lethal injection is both severely painful and extremely fallible. This is all coupled with must be the horrible anticipation and dread that being on death row brings.

As a former theater electrician, I developed a healthy respect for the awesome power of electricity. When I was first learning the trade for real in college, I had a lot of great teachers. I took to it immediately having had a little bit of experience already. Those who showed zero experience and zero instinct for the work were often nicknamed “Sparky”. Such was the case with a man who later became a friend who tried to loosen a lightbulb with a screwdriver. The mocking was not meant to be cruel. It was meant to make those who followed safety rules good and correct those who did not immediately follow the rules. I learned a lot from that gang of misfits. When I later worked with the audio department, I worked on a project where I learned what to do when somebody on a job site was getting electrocuted. All you had to do was loop your belt around their waist and attempt to pull and break the connection without completing the circuit with your own body. I was only shocked once and that is all it took to respect that force for the rest of my life.

The first thing I noticed was that this movie was very in line with Wes Craven’s other works of the time. As evidenced by the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Craven was definitely interested in dreams and weird imagery. The Scream and the Nightmare franchises show that he is very interested in getting meta. This movie combines the two concepts and ups the comedy aspects. It feels like Craven was cutting loose after producing two Freddy movies and being bombarded with the rest of the franchise. The movie knows exactly what it is and puts the pedal to the medal on how ridiculous things can get. Part of that is the crazy special effects they used. There are a lot of standard lightning effects but there were other things that surprised me. Including television into the mix makes for some great comedy and some inventive story beats. It feels like an answer to where the Freddy franchise had gone and maybe it was Craven stretching his legs a bit.

Part of the charm of this movie is the acting by Mitch Pileggi as the home-invading serial murderer who gets a brand new MO. He is so fun even as he murders people. He is like a cross between Freddy Krueger and Charles Lee Ray. He has a lot of the same snarky charm as Robert Englund and Brad Dourif portrayed too. Craven made a rare move and cast a male as the hero but still did a lot of the same beats as with a “final girl”. Peter Berg plays the dumb jock who suddenly finds himself with a psychic connection to the killer. Camille Cooper plays his girlfriend, a highly intelligent woman who I thought was going to be dismissed but she ends up being way more important. The rest of the cast plays their goofy parts to the hilt. There is plenty of pathos and drama but I really enjoyed the dorky comic relief in this movie. Horror fans will love cameos from Heather Langenkamp and Ted Raimi. Fans of goofy guys getting terrorized will love the cameo from John Tesh.

Overall, I really loved this movie. Like I said earlier, it definitely felt like a movie that knew exactly what it was and went for it. It was very much like Happy Death Day 2 U which I saw earlier this year. It is also the same spirit that the Fast and Furious franchise has where you cannot wait for the next ridiculous thing to happen and when it is all over, you understand everything that happened for a reason.

The Gate (1987)

October 2, 2019

Rated PG-13 for fantasy horror, existential dread, and stop-motion creepiness.

I am the oldest brother out of three brothers and I was born in the 1980s. This means that I lived through a time where it was not out of the ordinary for parents to leave their kids alone in the home. As the oldest, I was in charge and given the responsibility to keep the younger ones safe. I mean, they were only four and five years younger than me so it did not take much. We either watched television together or we went our separate ways since there was more than one television and three floors to our house. I never once threw a party when my parents were out. However, we did have rules. The doors were to remain locked and the phone was not really supposed to be answered. If we did answer the phone, we were to say our mother was in the shower. It could be a little spooky if I was alone. Not in a child abuse kind of way but in a thrilling, nervous energy kind of way. It was these moments that taught me how to live alone and be completely comfortable with it.

When you are a kid, it is really easy to imagine very scary things. Every shadow is an excuse to make up stories about monsters. Every cave in the wilderness is the home of a big bear or even a troll. I soaked in stories and imagined so many creepy crawlies especially in the wilderness. I was born a city boy and I have spent over two-thirds of my life in that same city. So those scraps of nature were always magical to me. Nature was for dreaming. I used to walk along the stream that wound through the city along the path from school to home and imagine so many things. I especially remember thinking up so many things out in Oregon Ridge Park near where my friend Arthur lived. He lived in an entirely different world that I eventually moved to myself after college. Now I am back in the city and I still take walks through Druid Hill Park and daydream. Of course, I never imagined anything really sinister and scary. I imagined fairies, vaguely dangerous animals, and mythical creatures.

My first impression of the movie is that it has the same kid-friendly creepy trippiness that I felt from watching Invaders from Mars. This was the time of horror where practical effects had been perfected and digital effects were really just beginning. The movie does a lot with costuming and forced perspective, things that would later be used in the same way in the Lord of the Rings franchise. I can clearly see great effects which were used later in stuff like Stranger Things and the Elm Street franchise. I can see great parallels to other gateway horror classics like Monster Squad, Fright Night, and even Gremlins. I love the character design of the creatures both in costume form and in the creepier stop motion form. I love stop motion animation so much, though, and it is used to great effect in this movie. The story is great for what it is, tapping into a lot of real childhood fears and mixing those with supernatural fears. Having precocious kids and teenagers facing off against the supernatural horrors is always fun. Moreover, everybody is perfectly reasonable in their actions based on what they know at the time. None of that silly genre-inflicted stupidity.

This is Stephen Dorff’s first movie released in theaters at age 14 but you would hardly know it. For a child actor, he is already on top of his game as the precocious, nerdy little brother who just wants a little respect. It is clear why he is still acting if he was this good early on. Louis Tripp plays his best friend, a troubled but good-natured odd duck kid who is obsessed with heavy metal and the occult. He is a lot of fun and reminds me of some of the misfits I grew up with. Christa Denton is great at the older sister who used to be a tomboy but is now trying to grow into her feminity in order to fit in with her friends. She cares for her little brother but also does not want to look bad. The rest of the cast is filled in with Christa’s assorted friends who are a little more cold-hearted and immature than she is. They are a band of teens that a lot of good horror movies need.

Overall, I really loved this movie. I usually try to start off Halloween with a gateway horror film, something for people to watch with their families. I got this one off of a listicle on Bloody Disgusting and I am glad I did. I have not heard much buzz about this movie and I was unlikely to hear anything as it was not a franchise and came out over thirty years ago. I am so happy to find weird cult classic films like this because I feel like I am making this month extra special. I definitely recommend it and it is not so scary that preteens have to be escorted out of the room.

In Fear of Sundown

August 31, 2019

The town of Rosewood had a problem. During the day, everything was fine and everybody’s life went along easy. Well, as easy as life in a pioneer town in the west could be. Rosewood was a cattle town and not much else so life was simple but rough. The problem was at night. It started with the cattle on one moonless night years ago. There had been no sound during the night but one of the cattle was gone the next morning and there was a lot of blood in the dust. When guards were posted at night, they started disappearing too. Nothing was safe outside at night. When nothing was outside at night, people found scratch marks on windows and doors. Everybody lived in fear of sundown.

It was The Rule that had eventually kept everyone safe. The Rule was that when reaching the age of ten, everyone in town had to receive the brand. The symbol of the brand had been foreseen by the Blind Sisters in a vision that they only vaguely spoke of. Nobody could remember the Sisters’ names. Everybody was too embarrassed to ask and they would most likely not have shared them. Nobody had asked the sisters but one day they had been screaming that they had the solution outside of the tavern. Many had not seen the two of them outside of their house in years. Some had thought they were dead already.

Of course, nobody had actually listened to the Sisters and they were eventually shooed back to their house. After that, the two of them had begun painting the symbol everywhere. The scratch marks stopped appearing. As an experiment, the ranchers left a steer outside after branding it with the symbol. The steer was untouched in the morning but a little spooked. It had nearly pulled the post down. Still, it was alive. Suddenly, the next cattle drive seemed like it might be possible. The deep dread that lived in the town’s hearts began to lift. The Reverend Sawyer was bitter that his prayers and crosses had done nothing when these arcane symbols had seemingly solved the problem.

It had been Ben Hoscut, the town blacksmith, who came up with the idea of branding the skin of humans with the symbol. People had thought the idea was barbaric at first and were content to wear makeshift amulets. Old Sheriff Williams had outlawed the practice and the wives of Rosewood had backed the decision. He and his deputy had tried to enforce the ruling but they could not watch everybody at all times. Bit by bit, people still received the brand. Hoscut had been thrown in the jail and the Sheriff had confiscated all of the branding irons that he could find. He had gotten the evil eye from some folks for it but it was his job to protect the town, even from itself.

Hoscut’s son, Angus, had solved the argument by getting the brand and branding the sheriff’s daughter, Rebecca. The two of them walked out into the desert at night. He was gone all night and nobody, not even the sheriff, was willing to go out and look for him. In the morning, he came back untouched. Even the sheriff had to admit that the brands were the right way to go. As soon as the practice was widespread, nobody mysteriously disappeared anymore. For the first time, there was a feeling of hope in Rosewood. There was still something out there but the people could now just push it from their minds and carry on with their lives.

After the second cattle drive, Williams passed in his sleep and the town started to decide who would be Sheriff next. Everybody looked to Deputy Westcott to step up but he turned the offer down, not wanting the responsibility. Besides, he might have felt some residual resentment from his backing of the Sheriff’s plan to block the Rule. Everybody argued over who it should be. When people said they should ask The Sisters, Reverend Sawyer had objected strenuously. When they knocked on The Sisters’ door anyway, there was no answer. The town became divided over the choice with various groups backing various candidates. During these days, a young woman with long fiery red hair and dark skin walked into the tavern. She ordered a drink and sat down.

It was Billy Hampton who approached her. “Ma’am,” he said. “You might want to move on from here. This town isn’t safe.”

“I don’t want to leave,” the woman said. “I heard this town was in need of a sheriff.”

“To be honest,” Billy said. “I don’t think you’d understand this town enough to have a prayer.”

The woman laughed. “Prayer is for the weak,” she said. “I think I’m exactly what this town needs.” She brushed her hair from her neck and there was the symbol, tattooed on her neck.

Snow White’s (Scary) Adventures

August 5, 2019

Recently, I have been watching shows like Defunctland and Yesterworld and I am starting to branch out from there to like-minded shows. All of these shows delve into the history of theme parks and their rides and attractions. They mostly explore those attractions that have been removed from theme parks. As I explained in my review of Defunctland, they explore things through business decisions, tactical decisions, and creative decisions. All of these decisions effect each other, obviously. It has been endlessly fascinating and has inspired me a lot in my own creative choices. However, it has also served another purpose. It has let me know in great detail that my memory was correct when I was scared by rides.

I have spoken before on a particular nemesis of mine when I was a little child but let us set the scene a little more. There was a time before my brothers when I spent a lot more time taking joint vacations with my mom, my uncle, and my cousin, Brantley. Brantley is the oldest of the cousins on my mom’s side and over time she became a sort of leader when there were eventually six of us. Early on, there were just the two of us though and she and I were fast friends. I remember in particular a visit to New York City together and a visit to Walt Disney World. The visit to the Magic Kingdom (aka the real happiest place on Earth) had a lasting effect on me even though I cannot remember a lot of it now.

Disney parks are an experience as many of the good theme parks are. When you enter, you are entering another world, a self-contained city of pure entertainment. There is so much to do that you could spend a week there and not finish doing absolutely everything. It has always been this other world that I have been interested in and not exactly the actual thrill rides. I do not remember riding Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, or any of the particularly big rides. I know we went on some of the more sedate rides for sure. I vividly remember It’s A Small World and I am strangely not very annoyed by the song now because I was inoculated to it young. I think I almost remember going on the Jungle Cruise which seems like it would be a fun time. Journey Into Imagination is an attraction that has really stuck with me. I remember going on Pirates of the Carribean and getting scared while in line but once the ride started, I was enamored by the fun scenes unfolding in front of me.

When Disney created the Fantasyland section of the park, they wanted to adapt their movies based on popular fairytales. That is why the icons of Disneyland and Disney World are both storybook castles (Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella respectively). They ended up creating a bunch of rides based on Disney animated movies where the riders took the place of the main character of the movie. (Which ended up flooding the park with complaints). When I visited in the early nineties, one of those rides is the focus of this post: Snow White’s Adventure. While on the trip, at some point my mother and my uncle went off to do something. In order to occupy we children, we were put on one of the dark rides. How scary could Snow White be? Well, there is a reason why they changed the name of the ride to The Scary Adventures of Snow White in 1994.

The ride would not be so bad if they had simply followed the movie. Instead, they made it into a straight horror movie. Instead of only showing up once, the Wicked Witch (the Evil Queen in disguise) shows up tons of times. Her animatronic jumps out at the riders over and over, cackling with murderous glee. Among other things, she tries to offer the riders the iconic poison apple, tries to ram them with a minecart, tries to attack them head-on, and finally tries to smash them with a giant boulder. She is more like Wile E. Coyote than the sneaky witch she is in the movie. My little heart could not take it. The relentless witch and the ominous darkness of the ride sent me into full-on panic mode. I ended up covering my eyes and crouching down into the vehicle to make myself as small as possible. If I had even thought of coming back up for air, I swear I heard the witch cackle and call out “Don’t Cover Your Eyes, Sweetie!”

I swear that last part happened even though I cannot find it anywhere on the Internet. In fact, the first results in google are my own blog from a previous claim I made. Still, I have irrefutable and well-researched evidence that proves that the ride was scary. Many people have backed up those words and I have now seen plenty of footage. The witch was relentless and hilariously and needlessly aggressive. I look back and laugh now but I was pee-my-pants scared during that ride. I really believe that it was one of the formative moments that led to me being a fan of the Horror genre. Which is not to say that I was scarred by the experience but maybe somewhat inspired.

I do not blame the Imagineers who made the ride for making it scary. In fact, that was kind of a theme in Fantasyland. The rides there were scarier than the Haunted Mansion ever was. Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan’s Flight were originally also pretty scary. It is alright to scare children a bit. A little darkness shows them about the world in a safe way. I also don’t blame my mother as she had no idea and was there to hug me afterward and assure me that it was going to be alright. I was in the sunshine and everything was safe. At least, safe from the Evil Queen and all the imaginary horrors that would become an obsession later in life.


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