Posts Tagged ‘Movie’

Hard Rock Zombies (1985)(A Plot Rundown)(Major Spoilers)

September 5, 2022

Sometimes horror movies are so crazy that in order to truly process them, one must go back over them in detail. I really want to tell people about this movie because it is crazy and I believe that a lot of my friends would not watch it on their own. If you are inclined at any time to watch this movie, I would suggest that you do and join me in the experience. Those who want to save yourself 96 minutes are free to stick around and let me regale you. I’m thinking of doing this with other weird movies because the Internet needs to have a comprehensive record of the strange.


We start with a convertible cruising down a rural highway with some great eighties rock and roll playing not from the stereo but as background music. I like to imagine that they are actually driving in complete silence. These rocking dudes are in the car and obviously having a great time, though. We have no idea what their names are because they have zero lines in the film. The dudes see a young and leggy blonde woman on the side of the road and slow to a stop to pick her up. She excitedly gets in the car. 

Two little people up to no good.

We cut to a small lake or pond where three men in suits are cavorting around. Two of them are little people and one is tall. The tall one is looking around through binoculars. The driving trio stops at that same watering hole and they strip down. This gives us some cheap full frontal nudity as the lady does a quick striptease and gets into the water. She and one of the vaguely interchangeable guys swim about for a bit until she decides to playfully dunk him and then not so playfully hold him under until blood comes to the surface. The three men love what they see. The tall man is taking pictures. Somehow, the other guy did not notice what happened to his friend as the lady swims up to him. Without any preamble, she pushes him under the water and holds him down until blood rockets to the surface again. The opening song ends.

Back on the shore, the men have helped drag the bodies out of the water and haphazardly wrapped them in plastic. The men excitedly try to move the body but the woman grabs a knife and lops the body’s hand off at the wrist in one swing. She holds the hand up to her cheek dreamily and softly sings one line of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.

Because there has been almost a full minute without rock music blaring, we cut to a concert in progress. This is where we first see the heroes of our movie who are singing a pretty great tune. The band is made up of a bass player/singer/frontman, a drummer, a guitarist, and a keyboardist. The frontman is named Jessie and he is the creative and sensitive one. The rest are mostly interchangeable goofballs.  

A few minutes later, the song is over and we see the band getting changed backstage after their gig. They are tired but their manager/roadie tells them that they have to mingle with the groupies outside so that the wild pictures can make it into the magazines. In what must be a first, the guys vehemently argue against having to flirt with young ladies who already think they are cool. The manager states that if they won’t go out to the girls, he will just have to let them in the dressing room. The ladies flood the place and climb all over the four rockers whose protests seem to evaporate. The guys begrudgingly sign breasts and thighs as flirting continues. 

Jesse pushes his way through the crowd and finds peace in the hallway. He also finds a young, nervous girl. Jesse softens and asks if she wants to come in and meet the band. She instead warns him to not bring the band to their next gig in the town of Grand Guignol. The town does not want them there. The girl scurries away as Jessie is once again swarmed by groupies.

Cut to the band in their tour bus on the way to the gig in Grand Guignol. Jesse is noodling with a song that nobody else recognizes that sounds vaguely like Latin. He says that it is from a book written in the Middle Ages when people used it to bring the dead back to life. As he sings it, their manager repeatedly smacks the same mosquito which repeatedly comes back to life each time it dies.

They look ahead on the highway and spot the same woman from the opening who is more obviously hitchhiking. She climbs into their van and they start talking to her about the town of Grand Guignol and the warnings Jesse received the night before. The woman shrugs off the questions by being vague. The woman does not introduce herself immediately but her name is Elsa. 

Elsa is a creepy lady.

She invites the band to stay at her family’s home for free as it beats staying at a motel. The band agrees and they drive to the manor. We hear a howling sound as they pull up and see a female-presenting werewolf kind of wiggling as she howls. One of the little people from before walks up and asks if the band needs a hand. When they agree, he holds out a hand out for a handshake and it is the hand they cut off the body from earlier. This and the howling freaks the band out but Elsa smooths it over by calling the hand a toy and the howling her mother’s primal scream exercises. We briefly cut to Elsa and the little person putting the severed hand in a jar as Elsa once again sings. This time it is one line from “One Hand, One Heart”

We get another music video as the band parties it up in the town and has fun with the local teenagers (?) and people their age (?). Jesse spots the girl from the night before and chases her as she literally sprints away. He catches up to her just as she bumps into her father. Her father takes one look at Jesse and tells his daughter to go home. We learn that her name is Cassie. Jesse gets a little too big in his britches and boats a little about the concert scheduled for the next night. The father tells him that the concert will not happen.

Jesse returns to the band just in time to get arrested by the local sheriff for parking their van illegally. The band panics about their upcoming gig. Record executive Don Madson is coming to their gig and this is their big break. Cassie throws an envelope from outside into the cell and smiles at Jesse as he flirts with her. They continue on until her father chases her off. She tried to give them bail money but it is a pitiful 37 dollars. 

We cut to an old German main schtupping a woman elsewhere in the house. She says something about him being over ninety but still virile. The little people pop up and beg to watch. They are allowed.

Meanwhile, Elsa has bailed out the band. One of the band members gloats and they invite everybody to the show. The sheriff says that there will be no show. Jesse spots Cassie and goes to talk to her as Elsa watches disapprovingly. Jessie gives Cassie a keepsake and runs to catch up with the band. 

Back at the family manor, the band gears up for a sound test/private show for the family. The family watches with amusement as their gear malfunctions and the band collectively receives a massive electric shock. They console the band members and apologize.

We cut to an emergency meeting of the town council. They bicker about the arrival of the band and how it is affecting the youth in town. Ronnie is in attendance, apparently being the only one smart enough to see the trouble brewing. The clearly corrupt and insane town leadership votes to enact Statute 6969. Because rock leads to premarital sex and has demonic messages, the new statute will effectively ban it. All rock and roll materials in town are to be destroyed forthwith. Ronnie tries to speak up but is chased out of the meeting.

We cut to Jessie who is once again experimenting with the song that raises the dead. He smashes a tarantula and brings it back to life. We also see the human hand from earlier come alive in its jar.

As music plays, we go through a montage of two things: The first is the Family murdering the band members one by one. It is revealed that they have done this for a long time and keep photos of the murders and trophies from their victims. The grandmother turns into the werewolf we saw earlier. The other thing we see is the town destroying all manner of rock and roll paraphernalia in the middle of town. The violence from both is frenzied.

Cassie arrives to try and save Jessie. The two run through the woods and then hide. Jessie tells Cassie that he loves her and hands her a cassette tape to play if they catch Jessie. The two get split up and one of the Family catches Jessie and kills him with a weed whacker. 

The least offensive picture of Hitler in the movie that I could find.

We cut to Family dinner which is also attended by the Sheriff and Ronnie. The  Family thanks the Sheriff and the town council for supporting them. Now that Ronnie is out of a job, they offer him a job. Ronnie objects, saying his friends’ funerals were literally a few hours ago. Apparently, he has not found out how they died. A red light starts flashing and the grandfather excitedly jumps to his feet and unmasks. He is Adolf Hitler, hiding under a mask for decades. Nazi flags are unfurled and everybody is celebratory. He is filmed for a satellite feed where he says that he will be taking over California and tomorrow the World. 

We cut to Cassie sitting at the graves of the band members. She softly tells Jessie that she loves him and then plays the tape. The song causes the band to rise as zombies in corpsepaint and they march off, leaving Cassie behind. 

We cut back to Hitler who is giving a stunned Ronnie a tour of his facility which includes a working gas chamber and furnaces. An increasingly unhinged Ronnie turns down Hitler’s job offer and he is tied up to be killed. He is saved at the last moment by the zombie band. In a montage, Ronnie watches horrified as the band slaughters the entire Nazi family. 

Ronnie runs back into town and bursts in on members of the town council sitting around. Out of breath, he explains what happened. The eldest member of this small group (who is obviously Jewish) starts protesting how horrible that is. They approve of Nazi death, of course, but Hitler and his family become ghouls upon their death and their bite can create more ghouls. He also reveals that Hitler made a secret deal with Harry Truman to spare Hitler and Eva Braun’s lives. They snuck off to America to create a family. They need to act to stop a Nazi ghoul outbreak.

Back at the Manor, the Nazis rise where the band members killed them. They begin to murder anybody they run into, creating more ghouls.

Meanwhile, the band climbs into their van and heads off to do their concert. They arrive at the theater and set up and start to play. Cassie follows them. The record producer arrives but is oblivious to what is going on. He is the only one in the audience but shrugs and says it must be a tough town. He loves the band. The band sings a song apparently directed at Cassie and it is intercut with music video footage of Jessie and Cassie dancing in period costumes. 

We cut back to the ghouls killing people. We also see Ronnie and the townspeople trying to prepare for an assault on the Manor. Also, one of the little people finds himself tasty and starts eating his own extremities. We cut back to the band still playing and the record producer on the phone doing comedy schtick. The ghouls have invaded the town. The townspeople start dying because they misinterpreted old wives’ tales about the ghouls. The town is now overrun. The ghouls burst into the theater and chase off the record producer and Cassie barely escapes.

Back in town, Ronnie and the remaining townspeople are frantically trying to figure out what to do. One of them speaks of a tale that says that if they let the ghouls ravish and devour a live virgin, the ghouls will rest for 100 years. At that point, it’s somebody else’s problem. Cassie arrives at the shelter. 

The record producer offers the band a contract but they tiredly get back into their van and drive off leaving the producer to get devoured by ghouls. The one little person is still eating his own body. The band returns to their graves.

The townspeople tie up Cassie as an offering to the ghouls. Objecting, Ronnie frantically goes to the band’s graves and begs them to get up for one more show. They begrudgingly rise from their graves and listen to their manager one last time. The band starts to play the magic song again, this time summoning the ghouls to them just as they are about to reach Cassie. Ronnie frees Cassie. The band leads the ghouls into the underground of the Manor. The horde follows them into the gas chamber which Ronnie activates from outside. The ghouls are all utterly destroyed by the gas. The one little person finishes eating himself, leaving behind only a skull.

Cassie and Ronnie mourn their friends once again at the cemetery. As Cassie leans down and tells Jessie that he will always be the only one for her and that she will return to visit him often. Jessie’s hand rises from the grave and she rubs her cheek against it. 

The end

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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.

Repo the Genetic Opera (2008)

April 20, 2019

I originally watched the first few minutes of this movie about eight years ago. I have since mostly forgotten it and I had put off watching the rest of it despite hearing that it was really good. I do vividly remember the moments when I was watching it. I was sitting in a parking lot behind the theater I worked at after driving from Baltimore to Sussex, New Jersey. I was tired and I was wondering when I would run into my boss. After being back home during the holidays and the offseason, I was anxious about getting back to work after six weeks. The dark edge to the musical mixed with that anxiety about my future. I now know that I had my very first anxiety attack. I could not continue with the movie and I could hardly sit still. I felt like crap. This was actually my second missed opportunity to see the movie after not going to the theater to see it with my little brother. This will be my third attempt and I will not lie that I have been a little anxious about it but it in a good way. My medication keeps most of my anxiety attacks at bay now.

I really wanted to watch a horror-themed musical to go with my theme of “Music” this month. Horror is one of my favorite genres and I grew up being exposed to musicals. My philosophy is that Halloween is less of a one day holiday and is more something that exists year round. Any time I am feeling down, the supernatural is always there to cheer me up or scare me out of my bad mood. As an added bonus, most horror musicals are lighter than the darker, more serious horror movies. While I watch plenty of dark horror, I really love the funnier, goofier side of Halloween better. When I first heard the premise of this one, I knew I could not really take it seriously. This is just another reason why I love the Horror genre. It often has the most out there, crazy ideas. If you are going to get your mind blown, it will not be drama or comedy that does it. Even fantasy does not usually hold a candle to the weirdest ideas horror generates.

The first awesome part of the movie is the aesthetic. The movie starts with a comic book prologue which just dumps all of the exposition quickly so the viewer can just dive into the world. That comic book exposition comes back a few times in the movie to quickly update us on what happened in the past. The reality and look of the world hits you right away as a post-apocalyptic world should. I would describe the costuming and character design as part goth, part raver, and part Blade Runner. The makeup and hair are absolutely wild and interesting. Everything is dirty and scummy like a Halloween theme park. The CGI looks cheap but it actually works for this movie as a B movie giving tribute to B movies (sort of a B+ movie, maybe). From the jump, there is a lot of gore but it is good, old-fashioned horror movie gore. The lighting also all looks like it is out of a haunted house or, more appropriately, like a theater. It is harsh in a lot of places but looks interesting.

I really liked the music in this one. It really is an opera and pretty much all of the dialogue is sung. This can be a risky proposition if the casting has not been done correctly. The first good choice they made was casting Anthony Stewart Head because any Buffy fan knows that he can sing and sing well. His solo song was when I really first got into the movie for real. Paul Sorvino plays one of the evilest corporate CEOs in history and sings operatically in a beautiful way. His children are played by Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Kevin Ogilvie. They often sing horribly but I am sure they are meant to since they are all comic relief. A quick note here: Paris Hilton is not a bad singer when she is trying. Alexa PenaVega plays the movie’s protagonist, and she has a great young voice. The writer, Terrance Zdunich, plays a graverobber and it is easy to see why he was a fan favorite as he has such a beautiful voice. Sarah Brightman is probably the best singer (which probably makes sense as she is cast as a singer). Everything is backed by either electronica music or industrial guitars. The music is not very intrusive, making sure to give plenty of room to hear and understand the singing.

Overall, I loved this movie. It is really cheesy and goofy but I can see the appeal. A lot of the movie feels like the characters are in one big music video but that is an interesting aesthetic. Some of the music is not my jam but I feel like this was done on purpose for comic effect or to jar the listener. They proved that they can score the movie correctly and the good singers are really fun to listen to. The story is gruesome and dark but it has enough dark and dry comedy to keep it moving along without feeling too bad. It is definitely something worth seeing for horror and musical fans. At the same time, I can see why critics hated this movie. Also, do not be put off by the mention of Paris Hilton as she actually helped finance the movie because she believed in it and she is surprisingly talented.

(Written on 4/17/19)

Stage Fright (2014)

October 31, 2017

82 minutes – Rated R for blood, violence, sexual situations, music, and Meat Loaf.

I have worked in theaters that I thought at the time were haunted. For years, I worked for free at the Fells Point Corner Theater. The building is an old fire station that was converted to use as a community theater in an old part of Baltimore. As such, the brick building was quite old. In the rear of the building, there was a set of ancient stairs that were never lit but were the fastest way to get from the third floor to the second floor out of view of the audience. I would walk through almost perfect darkness and I imagined ghosts very near me every time. There was also the rehearsal space in college called The Little Theater which was rumored to have been haunted by a woman named Jane who used to manage the building. People claimed she was the reason behind the radiators always being set too high. They also said that mysteriously curtains would be drawn by ghostly hands. People in theater are superstitious anyway so these sorts of things easily caught on. I never met a ghost but I believed they were there.

The combination of the horror and the musical genres seems to be a bit strange at first glance. However, there is a long history of horror musicals. The very first stage musical I ever saw was Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. That show scared the heck out of me as a little boy because it was so tense and there were some great scares including the infamous chandelier crash and an onstage hanging. In the Venn diagram of horror and musicals, the part of horror that often does not overlap is a little thing called subtlety. Musicals are big and presentational and do not often leave room for subtle, psychological horror. That is why most of the horror musicals I have seen have leaned hard into the more darkly comic elements of horror. Little Shop of Horrors is a great example, embracing the goofy B movie elements horror and science fiction used to have at the time. More recently, Evil Dead: The Musical captures the campy nature of a classic horror/comedy/action series of movies. The scares are not exactly scary but there is a gruesome creepiness pervading the whole thing.

The movie stars Allie McDonald, who is great as a young Broadway hopeful working at a performing arts summer camp who wants to get noticed. She is instantly likable and I wanted to see this young ingenue succeed. She is the daughter of a Broadway legend who is played by Minnie Driver. The head of the camp is played by Meat Loaf himself, a veteran of movie musical/horror mashups. McDonald’s twin brother is played by Douglas Smith, who is just trying to work for the camp in an effort to save and move on with his life. The three of them are backed up by a goofy gang of misfits and downtrodden kids who go to summer camp in order to have a place where they will not be picked on. The singing is absolutely great but what really sells are the clever and dark lyrics from the songs. Even songs that are supposed to be happy end up being touched by the horror. The musical within a musical is The Haunting of the Opera and they make that parody/tribute very clear. There are also a ton of references to other musicals and the culture that surrounds theater. Also, harkening back to my youth, there is definitely a clash between musicals and heavy metal.

Of course, this is still a horror film and while there is kind of a slow burn, it does get to the horror part along with the musical part. The movie sets up a good ratcheting tension until something has to give and then it gives. The movie has great tributes to movies like Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, and (maybe unintentionally) the 1987 version of Stage Fright. The special effects on the kills are great. While a lot of it is computer generated, it was very well done. The deaths are creative and they really went in directions that I was not suspecting. After watching so many horror movies (30 so far this October alone) it is really neat to still be surprised and entertained. What I loved the best about the horror aspects actually was that it was a mystery. I kept trying to figure out who the killer was and my list kept growing instead of shrinking. I love a good mystery especially when the movie does a good job of not giving the way ending. (An ending I won’t give away here either).

Overall, I loved this movie. It was way more clever and fun than I thought it was going to be and I came in with some decent expectations. Maybe it is my history with theater or maybe it is my love of dark humor and horror but this ended up being a really great movie for me. I laughed a lot during this movie which is a great way to officially end this yearly challenge to myself. The movie is goofy and silly but then it takes nosedives into the realm of horror only to come up for breath again.

(Alright, consider this a curtain call for Halloween 2017. I really enjoyed this year even more than last year. I think I am getting better at selecting movies that I think that I will enjoy versus movies that I feel I have to cover because they are iconic. While this post kind of wraps things up, I have a tiny encore on Thursday. Now, I am off to go watch Fright Night (1985) at my cousin’s house which will officially make 31 horror movies. Break a leg this Halloween and stay safe!)

Theater of Blood (1973)

October 31, 2017

104 minutes – Rated R for blood, gore, ironic murders, and violent creativity.

Working in theater is tough. I should know, I studied to be a Stage Manager for four years until I decided I did not really want to be in charge. Instead, I got a job for five years as an electrician, a carpenter, a lighting designer and a sound designer. I took pride in my work and everybody around me took pride in their work too. We lived and died by how good a show we could put on and how many people we could get to buy tickets. We wanted those people to leave at the end of the night and go tell their friends to go see the show too. Critics can be friends of that effort or they can be enemies. A lot of people, especially casual theatergoers, respect the opinions of critics and will abandon a show that is critically panned. That loses money for a theater and consequently makes an actor less likely to be hired. A bad review hurts everybody involved. So, there is palpable fear when the reviewer arrives at the theater and again when the review is published.

I seem to have settled into a pattern with some of my picks for Halloween. I tend to start to fill slots based on what I like and what I have done before. It does not always end up that way but so far there have been some constants. One of those constants is that the last two years I have reviewed a movie starring Vincent Price. This movie is this year’s offering. Vincent Price is a very unique actor. He comes from the age of film acting where a lot of the workhorses in the industry came from a theater or a live performance background. This trained most of those actors with excellent diction and high charisma. Theater also requires its actors to make everything they do larger than life so that the audience can see and hear their emotions. Therefore, theater actors making the transition to film must be coached to pull back and be more subtle. Therefore, directors rarely have to coax more out of them which feels like it would be much less work. All of this obviously helped give Price his trademark magnetically eerie voice which he could turn on and off like a simple light switch.

Vincent Price was not just a national treasure, he was also a global treasure. He had a beautiful voice that was unmatched by anyone I have yet to hear. I could listen to him read the phonebook if doing so did not send chills up my spine. Like Bela Lugosi, he was a master at making the most innocuous thing sound spooky. In this, we get Price as what he was, a brilliant but underrated actor. His musical voice echoes through most of the movie, either through dialogue or narration. Never have I seen Shakespeare used to kill people but it makes so much sense. He is joined on his journey for revenge by a motley crew who do not talk much but are comically insane. They are opposed by a group of critics played by actors who are very good at acting very posh and academic. Caught in the middle is Price’s character’s daughter who is played with absolute conviction by Diana Rigg. Additionally, there are also the police who join with a newspaperman played by Ian Hendry to try to solve the crimes.

This movie was so brilliant with its kills. Really, you need to have studied Shakespeare to some extent to truly understand each kill. I would compare the kills in this movie to another set of Vincent Price movies, the Abominable Dr. Phibes. His kills are also meant to be ironic and each one is also a literary reference. In that case, it was the Judeo-Christian bible but in this case, it is Shakespeare that guides the themes of each murder. However, this movie felt far less dreamy and while it was full of fantasy, it remained grounded and on point. On top of that, there were gallons of blood used in this movie. The deaths and the blood looked really good, especially for a seventies horror film. There are few fancy prosthetics. The effects seem to use a lot of great old theater tricks which makes them all the creepier. What is more, they take great care to add some comedy in with some of the deaths which makes the more grisly deaths all the more horrible.

Overall, I really loved this one. It was such a beautiful way to approach the end of this year’s Halloween celebration. Every year, I try to find a good Vincent Price horror/supernatural film to review because he was a legend. This year, I was also looking for movies to fit my chosen theme for Halloween. What luck that I found one that was not only focused on Shakespeare but also starred the brilliant Vincent Price. A little bit of trivia, this is also Vincent Price’s favorite movie that he ever starred in.

Stage Fright (1987)

October 31, 2017

90 minutes – Unrated but definitely Rated R for violence, brief nudity, language, and atrocious theater acting.

Stage fright is actually probably my biggest reoccurring fear. Talking in front of people is intimidating for many reasons. The least of those reasons is actually a fear of judgment. I do fear what some others might think when my ideas and personality are coming out of me in real-time. Nobody wants to say the wrong thing to the wrong group of people and feel that negative energy in response. A bigger fear for me is that I might screw up an look foolish which is related to the first fear but a little bit different. Most people are actually forgiving when it comes to verbal flubs or forgotten memorization so it is a somewhat unreasonable fear but it is that fear that keeps our concentration on point. The real fear is of the spotlight. I really do not like it when too many people pay attention to me. As an introvert, that sort of things is draining like being the only one under the desert sun. In a way, I fear success. If I succeed, I will have to do it again. As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at speaking in public and shaking off the fear.

I remember being a theater kid as an isolating experience. Theater is a collaborative art form but you are only collaborative with the other people working on the show you are working on. You spend time together during rehearsals but each person is fulfilling their role so there is not much time for socializing. I started on the crew which feels even more isolating because I spent a lot of time watching the show from an enclosed booth alone or with another person. When I joined the stage management team, there was a lot of time spent alone before or after rehearsals getting the rest of the work done. Time spent sweeping or putting tape on the floor in a completely empty and eerie rehearsal space. More than anything, the theater experience separated me from the world around me. Even when I went out into the real world, it felt alien. Non-theater classes felt different and strange and it was nearly impossible to make friends outside of the make believe fantasy world of theater.

This movie is about a theater group that is trying to put on a production about a masked killer. Unfortunately, there is also a real masked killer walking around. The movie is very eighties with new wave beats and a sweet saxophone. The makeup and costumes are clearly very eighties as well. The show is also supposed to be ‘edgy’ and ‘avant-garde’ which is usually code for ‘too up its own butt’ or ‘just plain bad’ for me. That is fine, I get to sit through the movie and not the play they are making. The movie has great production values. Lighting stands out above everything as everything is lit so well. I’m not sure how intentional it is, but every shot looks very much like theater lighting. Everything is a little too crisp, a little too bright which actually works for this movie especially since most of it takes place in a theater anyway. A new wave/synth soundtrack is very much in line with a lot of horror movies of its day. I also really liked the special effects of the inevitable violence.  They are spot on and beautifully done. Each death is theatrical without being too over the top.

In this movie, we meet probably the world’s cattiest theater group. I have worked with several theater groups and most of them are fairly chill even during crunch time. These people are constantly sniping at each other. In my experience, you were unlucky to get one of these people on your cast but this show has pretty much an entire cast full of unreasonable people. None of them stand out but that is only because none of them are famous and they are equally good at setting up a playground for the killer to play in. The killer is largely silent but he is using the old faithful tool of the slasher film: a mask. Like most, the mask seems silly at first but the killer really makes it work for him. Once the action starts, the cast’s collective IQ drops and death is imminent. While I wish death on nobody, these Halloween months have taught me that they can really try to make it easier to watch people get killed. Watching people lose their minds with fear is really fascinating, at least in this movie.

Overall, I liked this movie. While some parts dragged a bit, there was never a shortage of action. The movie follows two Italian traditions that I am barely familiar with. It is a combination of the Giallo and Italian Horror subgenres. However, it did not feel so simple as that. The movie starts as a slasher movie but the last third of the film becomes more slowly paced and is much more of a tense thriller. While the acting may not be top notch, its melodramatic air definitely makes for a good change of pace for a horror movie.

Candyman (1992)

October 30, 2017

99 minutes – Rated R for gore, psychological trauma, language, and NOT THE BEES!

I remember walking to the comic book shop when I was younger and carrying home a bundle of comic books. When I was ten, there were ads on the back of some of those comic books for a movie called Candyman. I had not yet watched any horror movies yet but I already appreciated the darker imagery. However, what scared me immediately was that there were bees on the mini poster. I have been deathly afraid of bees for a long time now. I never had a good relationship with the stinging insects but that relationship took a dive when I was little. I was hanging out in my family’s backyard near the woods and I pulled on a vine, probably to test it for Tarzan-like properties. Immediately once I yanked the vine, I was swarmed by a whole nest of bees. All of my senses were overwhelmed with pain and chaos and I had to be told what happened next. My mother ran to the rescue, pulled my shirt off and swatted the bees away with it. It took a long time for me to physically recover but I have never looked at bees the same way again after that.

The nineties seemed to be full of both slasher movies and urban legends. The early nineties were pre-internet and we got a lot of our urban legends from word of mouth. That meant that they spread slower but it also meant that a lot of them stayed less pure. As we saw with old fairy tales, as soon as cultures collided, tales seemed to merge. Perrault and Grimm seemed to dominate over any other tellings of other stories. Certain versions of tales are probably lost to time as certain authors or storytellers became more popular. Similarly, we learned one basic version of certain urban legends like Bloody Mary or the Guy With a Hook for a Hand. When the internet really fired up, these urban legends came to be called ‘creepypasta’ and you could immediately google the original version and every variation anybody ever wrote. While one author dominated, they no longer overwrote all previous versions. I am not sure which one I like better but there is something scarier when somebody is telling you a story across a campfire than reading it on the screen of a computer.

The movie was made in 1992 so the film quality is not that great. For some reason, movies started to look a little washed out in the 90s. Still, as long as you’re expecting it, it’s not a problem. Much of the movie is set in and around Chicago’s legendary/notorious Cabrini-Green projects. There is so much attention to detail in a lot of the sets. A derelict set of apartments looks as decrepit and dirty as real derelict buildings I have been in. Special care is given to really awesome (and creepy) graffiti related to the killer. Much of the filming was done in the real Cabrini-Green to make it more realistic (actual gang members were used as extras). The blood effects and the prosthetics are so good but of course they are, it’s a Clive Barker movie. So, how were the bees? They were absolutely terrifying every time they were on screen and each appearance was worse than the last. Way more terrifying than those TV movies about real-life killer bees even. The thought that they are all real and were specifically bred for the movie is even scarier. Finally, the atmosphere was definitely helped by the addition of a spot-on Phillip Glass organ, voice and piano score.

The movie stars Virginia Madsen, a woman whose voice I have heard a lot of in cartoons. She is a dogged academic trying to research urban legends and she gets intrigued by a killer known as Candyman. There is a joy and excitement in her performance early in the movie as she pursues stories and does the necessary research. She is joined by her research partner played by Kasi Lemmons. Now, usually it would not be important but Madsen is white and Lemmons is black. Candyman himself is also black (played by Tony Todd). So, the movie is about a white academic delving into black urban legends and quickly getting over her head. The acting really reflects that as Madsen happily acts clueless while Lemmons often acts as the voice of reason, trying to protect her oblivious white friend. We also have Vanessa Williams giving a great performance as a resident of the projects who provides them with more information. Madsen is perfect as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Tony Todd is so great as Candyman. It takes a lot of charisma to be horror movie monster without something obscuring the face like a mask or a disfigurement. A handsome slasher is hard to pull off but this movie definitely did it.

Overall, I really liked the movie. I had been lead to believe that the movie was just another nineties slasher movie but it felt like a lot more than that. The movie was psychological in ways that I was not expecting. The story also had a bunch of twists that I did not fully expect. It also attempted to approach the subject of class and race differences, even including references to slavery. The same cultural power imbalance that led to places like Cabrini-Green being constructed and getting as bad as they have.

Green Room (2015)

October 27, 2017

95 minutes – Rated R for gore, racism, violence and extremely tense situations.

Authority is naturally pretty scary. The people who have power over us, even if we are the ones who gave them that power, have an enormous trust placed in them. We attempt to give them that trust but more importantly other people also place trust in them. There is an assumption that if somebody is in charge then they are doing the right thing. When that power is being abused, it can be difficult to convince other people that the abuse is really happening. Societies throughout history have been built on the principle of submission to authority because otherwise there can be chaos and anarchy. This is why people in charge only occasionally get caught for doing terrifying and inhuman things. They only rarely get caught because their victims are largely powerless. When the weight of authority is bearing down on you, nobody can help because they are already carrying their own weight. It happens every day and goes unpunished most of the time.

I love music but I have been to only a handful of concerts and I have been to even fewer clubs. Once I am there, I enjoy myself but it is hard to get out there. Crowds scare me a bit. Being alone in a crowd makes me tense. A person is usually a reasoning, compassionate human being. A crowd, while made up of these human beings, becomes its own animal which can turn crazy in an instant. A panicked crowd, an angry crowd, or even an excited crowd can be a violent force. I worry about being pushed down or trampled or lost and separated from whoever I am with. At sporting and pro-wrestling events, I definitely have been caught up in the crowd and I know how easy it is. You feel lonelier if you do not pick up on the group behavior. So, my experience with the music industry is an experience from a distance. For example, I love punk and heavy metal music but I recognize that these are the shows that can easily get too rowdy for me. I am content to listen to albums, watch music videos, and watch live performances on television. I know it is not the same but I feel more comfortable and less scared.

From the start, I could tell that this movie was shot really well. The lighting is pretty dark and gritty which is befitting a movie in the horror/thriller genres. Even scenes shot in the day seem to have a dark film over everything that gave me a foreboding sense as the movie headed towards the main event. As one would expect from a movie about a band, the sound is excellent. From the first mumbled lines to the cranked up concert speakers, everything is clear as a bell and just sounds super rich. The production values are great as everything looks gritty and real and they did a great job of creating this world just beyond our own. As I stated above, I love punk music but I was never part of the scene and this made me feel like I was right there in that world. I am a huge fan of horror movies like the Nightmare on Elm Street series which is almost in technicolor. It was nice to see another movie grounded in reality that also had production values grounded in reality. There was nowhere to escape to because this felt like the real world. The special effects and prosthetics were almost too real.

There is a lot of great acting in this. First, I have to start off with praise for Patrick Stewart who, for the first time in memory, plays a truly evil character. I have to respect a guy with range like that. This movie was also the last movie starring Anton Yelchin to be released before his death. He leads the protagonists and he is instantly likable. There is also Alia Shawkat (of Arrested Development fame) who does a great job as just another punk musician. Imogen Poots was great as a stranger girl who gets caught in the mix. I also really liked Eric Edelstein as a skinhead minion. He almost seemed reasonable until you remember that he is a skinhead. Yeah, this movie is about a bunch of punks who run afoul of a lot of Nazis. Skinheads are a super violent sub-culture/terrorist group and they make the perfect bad guys. The actors do a great job of making them human but strangely inhuman at the same time. They act perfectly reasonable and argue about stuff that normal people argue about but they are full of such alien hate. It is a story of gray characters getting terrorized by very black characters but there is nuance there.

Overall, I loved this movie. My first thought was that it felt kind of like a Nazi version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but it ended up being so much more. Of course, it has the same culture clash that Massacre has but there is so much more story and humanity to it. This was an intense movie that latched on and did not let go until a minute into the end credits. I definitely felt like I had been on a journey by the end of it. This movie really made me scared as well because of the rising Nazi sentiment in the United States. If the guys from this movie spread, we are screwed.

The Witches (1990)

October 25, 2017

92 minutes – Rated PG for body horror, macabre ideas, child murder, and dark themes.

I have said it before but Roald Dahl was a very big part of how my mind formed at a young age. He lived in an ugly world and the fiction he wrote reflected that. He lived in England throughout World War I in an almost Dickensian childhood. What was already a scary time for all classes, due to being in a war zone, was even scarier being a child. Despite that constant fear he experienced, he grew up and had kids of his own. He also fought in World War II and famously was sent on an expedition to the United States to do anything possible to get the US government to agree to enter the war. He somehow made it through the horrors of a war-torn childhood, English boarding schools, and combat in World War II among other things. He was able to take this darkness and put it into children’s literature which stood out against some of the more saccharine things I was offered as a kid. His books were always unsentimental and the child characters were put into real danger. As dark as things got, there was always some desperate hope present.

Body horror is when a character’s body is magically or mechanically transformed, degenerated, or destroyed. Usually, the altered person has to then live with these horrific changes. A milder example is the body changes seen throughout Beetlejuice. Not only the changes the Maitlins make to themselves but also the flattened civil service worker and the premature aging near the end of the movie. A more relevant set of examples begins with Kafka’s Metamorphosis in which a man slowly turns into an insect. That same thought was brought into the various versions of The Fly which has a definite science fiction bent to body horror. The real horrific example there is the version made by Cronenberg who is a true master of body horror. What scares me most about body horror is the loss of self. For better or for worse, I am who I am and I do not want anybody forcefully taking that away from me. The thought sickens me that I might lose myself through fate or somebody’s cruel machinations.

This was the last movie that was personally overseen by Jim Henson. It really shows. By 1990, Henson and his crew had really perfected their art. The movie is full of over the top costumes and special effects that are absolutely terrifying. However, the movie also has a lot of more subtle effects such as more realistic animal puppets. I was absolutely blown away by the mouse puppets and how well they switched between puppets and real mice. Also, they synced the dialog up so well. I love puppets and they really outdid themselves on this one. As for the other effects, they are full-blown body horror. The prosthetics and costumes for the witches are very well done. They are grotesque and absolutely something right out of a child’s nightmare. They look a lot like how I imagined they would look like from Dahl’s description and the illustrations. The transformations are frightening but so smooth that it’s hard not to admire them even as I am creeped out.

The casting was really good for this one. Roald Dahl was upset by some of the changes in the movie but the one thing that got him to accept this adaptation was the casting of Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch. Huston always put out an absolutely magnetic performance. Here, she is so good at being evil and arrogant. Her performance often adds a menacing air of tension and others a fever pitch of insane evil where the change happens with the flip of a switch. This brilliant casting is backed by a mostly English cast. Mai Zetterling is great as the grandmother and former witch hunter, tasked with watching over her grandson. The movie is dominated by the voice of Jasen Fisher, who plays the traditional Dahl child hero. He is great at playing that pure-hearted kid who tries his best to do the right thing. Part of the ensemble is Rowan Atkinson who adds a lot of the comic relief as only a legendary comedian can.

Overall, I loved this movie. While much of it is not very scary, some of it is downright frightening. It is a great adaptation of a classic children’s novel. While there were changes, it was only to make the movie a little less scary than the book was. The book and the film are both parts of that older tradition of both scaring and delighting little children. While Dahl’s works are dark, they usually have at least a bittersweet ending.

The Love Witch (2016)

October 23, 2017

120 minutes – Unrated but I would rate it R for nudity, explicit sexuality, eerie atmosphere, and death.

Love is terrifying if literature and popular culture are to be believed. I have not felt romantic love yet but I have heard all of the stories. On the other hand, I have experienced crushes and physical attraction and they are definitely scary too. There is that moment when the chemicals kick in and I feel like I am losing mind. Like Madeleine Kahn, I feel the flames on the side of my face and I need to calm myself down. It is both a great and a horrible feeling at the same time. Kind of like taking an upper and a downer at the same time. Wires get crossed and things get confusing. Then comes the fear of indecision of whether to actually do something about it. It can be a maddening bag of emotions. That chaos can be terrifying as you stand on the precipice, wondering what comes next. I remember I once crushed hard on a woman much older than I was. I would see her several days a week. In fact, I would sit next to her. I both was both full of excitement and dread everytime we would meet.

We are all taught from a young age that confidence is a great thing to have. Of course, they are right. When I was a child, I had very little confidence and people often asked me why I was silent most of the time. Eventually, I found my courage and my voice and I am fine talking to people. Confidence drives us to go after what we want in life and also gives us the strength to protect what we have. However, as with all things, too much confidence can be a bad thing. Do you know who has unshakeable confidence? Serial killers. Serial killers cross the boundaries society set for the proper amounts of confidence. They are so sure of themselves that they feel that they are right no matter what. Killing people is no problem when you feel like you are right all of the time. Some of society’s rules definitely deserve to be challenged but murder is a boundary we do not want to cross.

The first thing that struck me about the movie is the excellent production design. Everything is just perfect looking. Everything in every scene has a purpose and fits together so well. That sort of thing is eerie. The real world (and most films) are messy and sloppy in some way. None of us match our outfit to the decor and there is almost always one or two things just a little out of place in our homes or apartments. The movie is a seventies technicolor throwback to a time where Wicca and magical cults were a big thing in the public’s imagination. The movie is full of that imagery. It is absolutely covered with pentagrams, daggers, nudity, men and women with capes, and all sorts of other strange images. The titular love witch always has portrait perfect makeup which I have never seen in real life outside of a fashion show. It adds to the overall creepy atmosphere of the movie. Everything but the witch looks fairly normal, put together but slightly imperfect. They also did a great job of filtering the footage so it looks like it comes from that time but still looks very clear. The movie has so many vibrant colors that sometimes almost hurt the eye which just adds to the madness.

The witch herself is played by Samantha Robinson and she is so awesome in this movie. Her voice is so alluring that it drew me in immediately. Her eyes are also striking and she spends a lot of time gazing deeply into the camera but I get the feeling she is not looking at the viewer but through them. The cadence of her speech is off, somewhat alien but not enough that she is completely out of place. She has a way of drawing the perfectly normal people around her into her weirdness. It makes her look incredibly powerful and magnetic and that in itself is scary. There is something dominant in her performance but it is unlike performances like Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman or Scarlet Johannsen as Black Widow. It is somehow stronger and less vulnerable. Her inner monologue is so much fun to listen to but also, again, kind of frightening. To know what someone like her is really thinking is disturbing. The rest of the cast does a great job as the unwitting normal people this woman meets, victims or near misses.

Overall, I thought this was an excellent horror movie. The movie tackles the troubling themes of gender roles in today’s world through the lens of seventies culture. The patriarchy is a very real thing that is scarier than any monster we might see in a horror movie. Male dominance should not be a thing and most feminists (myself included) only want human equality and not female dominance. A lot of this movie is about women finding their power. However, these are issues that we continue to try and tackle and I was happy to see a horror movie address it in an intelligent way from a different angle.

 

(As a side note, this film had its US premiere in my hometown.)


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