Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Revisiting The Town That Dreaded Sundown

There are two types of horror movies; there are the films that everyone knows, and there are films that you have to sort of discover along the way. I'll give you a free guess as to which category The Town That Dreaded Sundown belongs in, which is why it seemed like such a strange choice for a remake. And not just a remake, but something of a meta, post-modern, Scream-style remake. I haven't seen the new version yet, but I've heard mixed-yet-predominately-positive reviews. So while everyone is going on and on about it, I've decided to take it old school (old town?) and discuss the original, one of the first films that I managed to discover on my long road.

Our story takes place right after the second World War, in 1946, in Texarkana, Arkansas. A slew of random murders, assaults, and violent home invasions, committed by a man in a sack mask, has the entire town terrified so a Texas Ranger is sent in to solve the case. Part slasher, part police procedural,  this is one of those grubby 70s flicks that, much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, uses a documentary aesthetic(if we're being completely honest, some of that has to do with Southern-fried schlock master Charles B Pierce's lack of technical ability, but I truly believe it was a positive in this case)  and naturalistic acting to create something that feels all to real. Add in the fact this was based on a real string of unsolved murders (in fact, it all happened about 20 miles from where my parents went  to high school) and you have something that should've been just as popular as it's chainsaw-wielding relative but just never managed it. Maybe it was the admittedly slow pace, the two comic-relief cop characters, or the fact it was never able to reach that film's level of visceral intensity.

Maybe the women were just too damn good looking.

Now I want to talk about the one big part of the film that everyone remembers, The Trombone Murder. It goes like this: The Phantom (that's what everyone calls the killer in the film) comes across a couple in a car. He quickly dispatches the guy and, after knocking the girl unconscious, ties her in a tree-hug position. He searches the car and finds a trombone, to the slide of which he lashes a hunting knife. He then places the mouthpiece up to his face and pretends to play it while jabbing the knife into her back. Some people think this scene is goofy as hell, those people are stupid. This is honestly one of the most disturbing kills I've ever seen in a movie, and the big reason is just how fucking weird it is. Spoiler alerts guys, killers do some weird shit, and this is just about the weirdest.

Best picture I could find, sorry guys.

Ultimately, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, while not as prolific as a lot of the other similarly-themed 70s flicks, is a great little gem and totally deserving of a rediscovery.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Guys, I'm going to do something I've never ever done before, I'm going to try and pimp out a Kickstarter campaign.

I still remember the first time I came across the original horror comedy. It was somewhere around 1995/1996 and I was browsing the video rental section in our local Ramey's (remember when grocery stores had video rentals?) when I can across a video box featuring a weird looking guy holding an ice cream cone with a little ice cream skull sitting in it.

I of course immediately begged my parents to rent it for me, which they did, and just half an hour later I was parked in front of my little TV watching what can only be described as 90 minutes of pure madness. Buckets of gore, a kid who's suppose to be fat but is clearly a skinny kid with a pillow under his shirt, Clint Howard's unhinged and legitimately creepy performance, and just so many puns.  I can't claim Ice Cream Man is a "good" movie, but I can tell you it sure as shit is fun and entertaining.

And now, star Clint Howard is ready for a part 2! He and director Norman Apstein have personally started up their own Kickstarter campaign trying to dredge up at comparatively paltry $300,000 (compared to the reported $2 million the original cost, anyway). I've already contributed, so why haven't you? Well just head to this link and you can! Go on, do it. Don't make me get out the waffle iron.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

10 Favorite Are You Afraid of the Dark Episodes

Man, the 90s were a great time for kid-friendly horror on TV. We had the terrible Goosebumps TV show, the cult hit Eerie, Indiana, and thanks to the popularity of the severely-truncated versions of Tales From the Crypt that would play on Fox we had the animated spin-off Tales From the Cryptkeeper. However, the absolute pinnacle of early 90s horror TV for kids was Nickelodeon's Are Your Afraid of the Dark?

Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a Canadian anthology show that ran for five glorious seasons from 1991 to 1996 and then came back in 1999 for two more admittedly subpar seasons that centered around a group of kids calling themselves The Midnight Society who meet around a fire in the woods to tell scary stories (thumbs up for run-on sentences!). This show was fucking amazing, and it still totally holds up. Despite a clearly small budget it managed to be incredibly creepy, from a chilling opening title sequence to some occasionally age-inappropriate creature design. Its also genuinely well written for what it is. Most kid shows treat their child characters, and by proxy their target audience, like  one-dimensional idiots. AYAOTD (as I will be calling it from now on) made the radical choice to think of the kids as human beings, and were not afraid to explore more complex emotions and situations in their stories, including losing loved ones and even god damn survivor's guilt (that particular episode, The Tale of the Shiny Red Bicycle, only barely didn't end up on my list but it's definitely worth a watch).

Below you'll find my 10 favorite AYAOTD episodes in no particular order. I'm not saying these are necessarily the "best" episodes or anything, simply my faves. Oh, and for those interested, you can find every single episode on YouTube!

The Tale of Laughing in the Dark

Would you believe the most popular and well-known episode of the entire series was only the second episode of the first season? Well it's true. Our story centers around a kid who doesn't believe the legend of the ghost of Zeebo, a clown/bankrobber who burned to death in the local fun house, haunts the place of his death. To prove he aint afraid of no ghosts, or clowns, he steals the nose off the creepy-ass Zeebo dummy at the end of the attraction. As you can imagine, this is a bad decision. What I love the most about this episode, aside from that.......thing up above there, is the fact that we never actually SEE Zeebo, we only see the little mind games he plays.

The Tale of Midnight Madness

One of several episodes that involves the sinister Dr. Vink (with a v-v-V!), Midnight Madness is about a small theater on the brink of closing that obtains a copy of the incredible 1922 classic Nosferatu and hopes that a midnight showing will help put some asses in the seats. Unfortunately, seems the film is a bit more LIVELY than one might hope for. I love this one mainly because I still think Nosferatu is the best vampire film ever made even damn near 100 years after if was made. Also I just think Aron Tager, the gentleman who plays Dr. Vink, is really cute.

The Tale of the Frozen Ghost

 So, another of the many reasons I love this show is they have absolutely no problem whatsoever with killing kids, and this episode about a rich kid and his babysitter who encounter a child ghost at his aunts' country home is a prime example. This was also one of those magical episodes where they showed they weren't afraid to eschew scares in favor of making you feel all weird and melancholy.

The Tale of Cutter's Treasure Parts 1 and 2

One of only two multi-part episodes and starring well-known actor Charles S. Dutton, this episode is about two brothers who unleash the spirit of a crew of pirates after opening an old chest at Sardo's (aside from Vink, hes the only other character that makes multiple appearances in the actual stories themselves) Magic Shop.

The Tale of the Bookish Babysitter

This episode is about a kid who's obsessed with TV, but he has a new babysitter who wants to get him interested in reading, even if it kills him (dun dun DUN). This episode has one particular scene that scared the ever-livin' shit out of me as a kid and still makes me a tad uncomfortable when rewatching it now.

The Tale of the Water Demons

An old boat captain, who also use to moonlight stealing things from shipwrecks, is being haunted by the spirits of the drowned victims he robbed who come for him when he sleeps. When two cousins working at the local grocery store bring him food he ordered, one of them takes some of the stolen jewelry and becomes haunted himself. The puffy, waterlogged design of the titular creatures is a great example of AYAOTD sometimes going perhaps a tad more gory than was appropriate for the age group it was focused on.

The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner

A young wannabe comic artist is giving a super rare comic book featuring the clearly Joker-inspired villain The Ghastly Grinner. Through an unfortunate microwaving accident, he releases the inky ne'er-do-well into the real world.

The Tale of the Dead Man's Float

Another great example of both murdering children on screen and wildly inappropriate gore, this story is about a haunted school pool (spool?) and two kids, a swim team member and a science nerd, who have to figure out what to do about it.

The Tale of Station 109.1

This episode is about a young kid who is completely obsessed with death, obsessed to the point his room is decked out to look like a wake and he dresses exclusively in a black suit and tie. His older brother wants to snap him out of his obsession so he locks him in a hearse and leaves him there. While still locked in he hears a station he never heard of on 109.1 that was not meant to be heard by the living. Upon finding where its being broadcast from he is mistaken for a recently deceased man. Taking a cue from Beetlejuice, Station 109.1 deals mostly with the bureaucracy of death and its wonderful. Fun Face: This episode stars comedian Gilbert Gottfried and a little baby Ryan Gosling!

The Tale of the Night Shift

A teenage girl who recently started working as a volunteer at a children's hospital, begins to notice both patients and employees disappearing. It seems a vampire, who I assume had plastic surgery to look like Vigo from Ghostbusters 2, has taken up residence at his own personal blood bank. This episode is a particular favorite around the Death Blog and it's affiliates, not least because it the hospital seems to be staffed entirely with teenagers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Sacrament; Or, If You Can't Trust a Cult Leader

Ok everyone, real talk time. I hate Ti West. There, I've said it, and I don't care who knows it. I have despised everything he has done from The House of the Devil to The Innkeppers, and even his incredibly lazy segments in VHS and The ABCs of Death are almost unwatchable. So you can imagine my surprise when I popped his latest film, The Sacrament, into the media playing device of my choice and quite enjoyed it.

The story is a simple one; A tiny news crew accompany a friend whose sister has gone to live in a secretive commune in an undisclosed part of Africa. After some minor trouble getting into the place they do some interviews with some of the members who all say meeting Father, the leader of the commune, is the best thing that ever happened to them and their somewhat egotistically named Eden Parish is a literal paradise on Earth. As I'm sure you've figured out by now, what with this being a horror movie and all, it is in fact NOT a paradise on Earth.

There's a surprising amount of things to like about this movie, one of the biggest being the portrayal of the cult members. Its easy to play a cult member in a film as laughably over-the-top, dumb, inbred hillbilly types, but Ti West has written these followers as generally intelligent, well educated people from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. I also really appreciate that the term "cult" is never once uttered, even by the film crew.

The acting is surprisingly strong in this as well, including his fellow "mumblecore" cohorts Amy Seimetz (who acted opposite West in Adam Wingard's You're Next), the always adorable AJ Bowen (co-star of West's The House of the Devil and also acted with him in You're Next), and actor/director Joe Swanberg (honestly, I think he's one of the best indie actors out there right now, whether hes playing a villain in You're Next or a grieving parent in the incredible Proxy). Really the only actor who didn't pull their weight was the improbably named Kentucker Audley as Amy Seimetz's brother. The real standout of the film, however, is the magnetic Gene (No Country for Old Men) Jones as the charismatic Father. In fact the best scene in the entire film is an interview between Father and Bowen's Sam, where Jones slides back and forth between down-home folksy wisdom and barely cloaked threat with shocking ease.

 The film in general is a thinly-veiled telling of the story of another real-life cult, but I feel if I were to tell you which one it would spoil the ending for you. Then again, surely you've seen other movies about cults and they all tend to end the same way so I suppose letting it slip that this is basically about the Jim Jones cult isn't giving away to much. And let me tell you, that ending is just as upsetting as the real video footage I've seen of the aftermath of the Jones cult.

I'm happy to say that Ti West has finally made a film that didn't irritate the living shit out of me, I give The Sacrament 8 out of 10 packets of Kool-Aid 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Annabelle; Or, Does WD-40 Not Exist in this Universe?

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make; I didn't really care all that much for last year's The Conjuring. No offence to anyone involved, but it was kinda dull with only a few good scenes here and there to living it up. I'm sad to say that Annabelle, prequel spin-off thing (spinquel?), follows very much in the same footsteps. I had a feeling it would be like this the moment this movie was announced. My hopes were momentarily raised when some pretty good trailers were released only to be dashed upon the rocks like the head of an uppity child in a Bible story when seeing Annabelle on opening night.

Bashed just like the title doll's ridiculous trying-way-to-hard-to-be-scary head would be if I found it in my house.

Our story begins in the home of John and Mia, pregnant couple living in 1960s California. Their idyllic life is interrupted one night when a couple of violent Satanic cult members invade their home, injuring both expecting parents before the male attacker is shot down by the police. Before they can find the female, she has slit her own throat and drawn a strange symbol on the way, her blood dripping into the eye of the new doll John bought for his wife's doll collection.

As you might imagine, some predictably spooky shit starts happening, even following the couple to a new apartment in a new town.

I have two main problems with the movie, and they both stem from the writing. One is how wildly derivative the film is. I suppose since it was written by a man who's only other credits include such derivative garbage as Blood Monkey (I've already seen Congo, and don't need to see it again with far shittier effects) and In The Spider's Web. I mean, if you've seen Insidious and The Conjuring, congratulations, you've seen almost all the scares this film has to give, with the exception of a few new and effective scenes. My other problem is organic flow, or the lack thereof more appropriately. It was very clear our writer had certain scares he wanted to hit and come Hell or high water he was going to fit them in regardless of how many characteristics and motivations he was going to have to change, sometimes mid-scene, to make them fit.

In case you were wondering, this is what the real-life Annabelle looks like, and as you can see it does NOT look like something Tim Burton carved while on mescaline.

The directing by veteran cinematographer John R Leonetti and the acting were quite good, I just wish the producers had insisted upon the same level of quality control when in came to hiring a screenwriter. I give Annabelle 6 out of 10 pregnancy cravings.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Looking Beneath

Man, you know who I love? Larry Fessenden, that's who. I love him as a producer (Stake Land, Chilling Visions), an actor (I Sell the Dead, Jug Face), and especially as a director. I love both Habit and The Last Winter, and Wendigo is one of my favorite movies. That's why his name being attached to such a bad movie really hits me where it hurts.

 It hits me right in the comical fish tail.

Here are two questions for you: Have you seen Creepshow 2? Do you remember the segment titled "The Raft?" If you answered yes to those two questions, congratulations, you've seen a significantly better version of Beneath. For those of you who haven't, let me explain. The senior class at the local high school have just graduated so a Johnny Depp impersonator invites some "friends" on a camping trip across a private lake, MAYBE to get all but his ex-sweetheart eaten by a giant killer fish (they never bother to help us solve that little mystery). As you'd imagine, they promptly lose their paddles and are left with only their wits to find a way back to shore. As I'm sure you'd also imagine, there aren't a lot of wits to go around on that little dingy of theirs.

This is the second worse decision in Johnny Depp's life, right after Dark Shadows.

"But JP, you noble King-among-men, why did you place the word "friends" in quotation marks, much like I've just done here?"

First of all, how did you get in here? Second, this group of six really seem to hate each other. I've noticed this in a bunch of horror flicks the past couple years actually. Why do so many movies have a group of friends that have nothing in common and openly despise each other now? Why is that a thing? Someone please answer this burning question for me!

So yeah, the writing of this film is pure garbage. The characters are all essentially walking talking diarrhea people (the acting certainly doesn't help any), and the screenwriters seemed to go out of their way to make sure they speak and process information in a way no human has ever done before. This means we as the audience are left cheering for the killer fish, to bad he's not so hot looking either.

*Imitates Goofy's voice* Well HEY everybody!!!

The fish is sort of an odd duck. You see, for the most part it looks good, but there's something so lame about him it keeps it from ever rising above passable in my book (My Book, coming summer 2032 from Penguin Publishing). In other words, it looks to good to enjoy it for being bad, but its to bad to enjoy if for being good. I think its the eyes, specifically the color they chose to paint them. The majority of the eyes are painted a bright, flat yellow, and one can only assume a slight change to that would make all the difference.

Good directing and cinematography sadly aren't enough to blanket the shit pile that is every other aspect of this movie. I give Beneath 3 out of 10 Go-Pros.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

As Above So Below

I'm just so happy As Above So Below wasn't another PG-13 found footage possession film I was tempted to give it a 10 out of 10 just for that.

 Our story follows Scarlett, archaeologist daughter of a once famous expert on all things alchemy who committed suicide after being laughed out of all professional circles for claiming the fabled Philosopher's Stone is in fact real. During her travels in Iran, she finds something that seems to suggest her father wasn't crazy and after a series of DaVinci Code-type events she finds herself in the vast and uncharted catacombs underneath Paris with her cameraman, an old engineering friend who can read ancient Aramaic for some reason, a young French guy who leads illegal tours of dangerous parts of the underground mass grave and his girlfriend, and one random guy who seems to be their only to make it an even six cast members.

There's a lot here to really like. If you're a fan of history in general but with a particular interest in the wonderful world a alchemy, like I am for example, the story alone will immediately hook you. The writers really seemed to actually do some research too, as they excitedly filled this script with tons of esoteric dialogue about Egyptian puzzles and ancient Babylonian symbols and whatever.

  Fucking ancient Babylonains and their symbols.

So I was totally into this movie until about the last 20 minutes or so where it just devolved into a clusterfuck of nonsense. Before that there was some spooky stuff, but it was mostly like a found footage Indiana Jones movie and I really wish it had stayed like that. Instead they largely abandoned that in favor of just throwing a ton of shit at you, shit that has nothing to do with anything. In fact I feel like almost all the spooky elements just don't really work in this movie. For instance, our characters are in the catacombs for literally under 30 seconds before they see a creepy cult with Holy-Wood-era Marilyn Manson makeup in a side chamber, and then they never make another appearance. They never even reference them again which really makes you wonder what the point was.

Thought we did get to see some curly-headed fuck in a burning car.

So, while it has some real problems and arguably doesn't work as a horror film, the basic plot is interesting enough to make me not hate it. I give As Above So Below 6 out of 10 booby traps.