No More Orphans In Zombieland (Zombieland: Double Tap, 2019)

Zombieland_Double_Tap_PosterSo, I loved 2009’s Zombieland. I found it largely a clever and hilarious take on Zombie movies with a terrific cast.  Amazon tried to do a series based on the film, recasting the characters with lesser known performers and a rather blah pilot episode.  I eventually gave up on the idea of ever getting a sequel…and then last year, on the heels of director Ruben Fleisher’s successful but critically maligned Venom, it was announced that a sequel was in the works…and that it would have the central cast returning. But revisiting Zombieland ten years later feels like a risky proposition.

Probably one of the original’s most notable flaws is how it feels like a lot of ideas strung together without a central story. lots of really entertaining sketches.  The film still works, just maybe could have used a more centralizing story.

However, while the film begins feeling a bit the same, a cohesive tale and goal for the group comes together.  The film adds some very fun new characters, and the jokes really land a good 90% of the time.

I appreciate that they kept a lot of the first film’s visual identity and this film feels like a surprisingly natural follow up to the first. If you enjoyed the first Zombieland, I feel confident you will have a great time with Double Tap.

Precious Memories, How They Linger (We Are Still Here, 2015)

We_Are_Still_Here_PosterA grieving couple move to the countryside beyond New York to come to terms with their loss.  But what they discover in their new home is they are not alone.

The house’s previous occupants have never left and seem intent on not only destroying the couple, but to even claim the soul of their late son for hell.

Starring Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig, We Are Still Here is a good haunted house film that sets itself apart from films like the Conjuring or Amityville Horror by its visuals.  The spirits are distinct looking with white eyes, but otherwise charred black with red and orange cracking through.

This design plays into a later reveal in the film that makes for a fine surprise.  Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie appear as friends who are believers in psychic phenomena, and this results in a solid performance from Fessenden as he attempts to communicate with the spirits.

We Are Still Here manages to be an effective and entertaining little film that deserves to be seen.

A Psycho Cop’s Work Is Never Done (Psycho Cop Returns, 1993)

Psycho_Cop_Returns_PosterIn the late 1980’s going into the 90’s, it was not hard to get the direct to video sequel horror.  So, it is not a huge surprise that, like Maniac Cop, Psycho Cop got a return.

Back in the uniform of Officer Joe Vickers is Robert R. Shafer. Unlike the first film, which was a bit more self serious, Director Adam Rifkin and writer Dan Povenmire opt for a much more comedic tone.  Kind of the Hangover with a slasher killer.

A bunch of coworkers plan to have an after hours bachelor party, but attract the attention of Joe Vickers. After the building is locked up for the night and the strippers have arrived, Joe starts wandering the building and killing folks.

 

Compared to the previous film, Psycho Cop Returns a lot more fun. Everybody clearly is in the same film, and the acting is largely over the top.  This is especially true of Miles Dougal who is the quintessential 80’s office nerd.

This film is pretty crass with a lot of gore and nudity. But it is pretty mindless slasher fun.

He’s Not a Maniac Cop-He is a (Psycho Cop, 1989)

Psycho_Cop_PosterA year after Maniac Cop hit screens, we were greeted by yet another killer cop.  The titular Psycho Cop is Officer Joe Vickers. A bunch of disposable kids go to a remote house to party and get picked off one by one by Vickers.

There is not a lot to say here, the film is not all that special. It follows the standard of the wise cracking killer. The kills are not terribly unique. The dialogue is pretty standard.

Vickers is a servant of Satan, out killing people for sacrifices, but it does not make a lot of sense… his victims are people being punished for transgressions, would he target the innocent? Why does he care if people are misbehaving?

Truthfully, the only memorable part of the film is Robert R. Shafer, who is pretty obviously having fun with the role. But this is not a memorable slasher at all.

Frat Monster (Pledge Night, 1990)

Pledge_Night_PosterIn this cautionary tale about frat hazing, we meet the next horror icon… Acid Sid.

Or maybe not, as I bet for most people, even horror fans, that elicited a bit of a “huh” reaction.

Pledge night tells the tale of Bonner, a college man who is pledging the biggest frat on campus. They are the standard “humiliate and terrorize your pledges” type of group.  And somehow, they have raised the ire of the spirit of Acid Sid…a hippie pledge who died in a pledge prank in the 60’s.

Acid Sid gets his name because he was thrown in a tub in which the frat had poured a bunch of ingredients…including some acid (by accident). So, he has a gooey visage and one liners. Sid works his way through the frat trying to kill everyone including Bonner, who the audience already knows is the son of Sid, as his mother stopped by to fill him in.

Sid seems like he has the power of Freddy Krueger, able to cause crazy deaths, but people can still run and hide from him. You add to that, he almost rape’s Wendy, the love interest of Bonner and when Bonner stops him, he tells him the murder spree was only to protect him. Are we suddenly supposed to see Sid through a sympathetic lens? He did not just target the frat brothers, he targeted the pledges as well. Wendy clearly did not support the hazing, why was she a target?

The one liners in this film do not stand out much, and Acid Sid fails to capture the imagination like other 80’s monsters and slashers. So, after several days of this month highlighting forgotten or at least lesser remembered gems, I have to say…there is good reason people don’t talk about Pledge Night.

As Little Children (Dolls, 1987)

Dolls_PosterCharles Band really loves his little monsters. Sometimes you get Skull Heads. But other times? You get Dolls.

Young Judy is on a road trip with her father and step-mother.  Neither seem to thrilled to have young Judy along and they constantly belittle her for…well being a kid. After their car breaks down, a sudden storm forces them to seek shelter.  They come across a remote house occupied by an elderly couple. The storm also brings in two young punk chicks and a driver who had offered them a ride. He is a bit of a doofus to all the adults, and the girls accuse him of being a sex creep.

The couple give everyone a place to sleep that night, and that is when it all gets strange for them. Each room is packed full of dolls. Now, Judy is thrilled when the old man offers her a doll for the night to take the place of her lost teddy bear.  But the adults show the dolls no respect. And that leads to mayhem.

Playing off a certain creepiness of the uncanny valley with dolls, director Stuart Gordon effectively plays the story out making the most of the creepy ambience of the setting. Ed Naha has written a story that manages to be both fun and creepy.  The old couple are doll makers with a dark secret, while the supposes sex creep turns out to be a decent guy (which is definitely to his benefit as they try and survive the night).  But the reveal of the truth behind the toy makers doll is good old creepy fun. It also leads to a darkly happy ending.

Dolls is a great little 80’s supernatural horror film and worth a watch.

Hunting Opener (The Prey, 1983)

the_prey_poster.jpgOpening with a middle aged couple camping in the wood being being murdered after finishing their dinner, the credits play over a forest fire. The film  never makes it fully clear what this has to do with things.

This one is probably even more forgotten than the Burning, though they share a premise of a severely burned man stalking and killing people.  The film credits him as the Monster and the promotional materials claim he is not human and he has an axe.  But being severely burned does not make you less human.  But I guess I am nitpicking.

Apparently, the European cut of the film chops out a lot of the nature shots and adds 20 minutes about a Romani Colony that is burned to death and that is the full origin of the killer.

This is a basic slasher film, a group of friends go into the woods, most of them are going to die…but it is really nicely shots with some great nature footage that makes it stand out. It also has a really dark ending, never showing what becomes of the final girl…but audio that indicates her fate.

Odd little fact, the film stars Jackie Coogan who played Uncle Fester in the original TV series and Carel Struycken who played Lurch in the two Addams Family theatrical films.

While the story itself is nothing special, this is a pretty good slasher from the birth of that part of horror.

Spikes (Splinter, 2008)

Splinter_PosterPolly and Seth are looking for a cheap motel after ruining their tent while camping, only to run across Dennis and Lacey, criminals on the run whose car has broken down.  After they hit an animal on the road, they have to replace the tire, only for one of them to contract a bizarre virus or parasite that looks like an oily splinter.  It takes over the host, turning them into some sort of strange spike covered creature.  They then find themselves trapped in a gas station trying to keep the monsters out and determine a way to escape.

This film very smartly keeps it’s premise small.  A weird zombie inducing parasite could easily be used in a big actioner, but the focus on the four characters trapped allows their arcs to  build dramatically.

The visual of the monster is really cool and unnerving. It has a take on Evil Dead 2’s severed hand that is less comedic, but still effective.

I really enjoy this film, it is a great bit of indi horror and deserves more recognition.

 

All In the Family (American Gothic, 1987)

American_Gothic_PosterA rowdy group of young adults take their friend on a weekend getaway only for their small plane to have engine trouble. Landing on a small island to try and determine the issue.

They search the island and come across an empty house. While exploring the house, they are startled by the homeowners, Ma and Pa. The couple offer them a place to sleep for the night, with Pa saying a friend is coming to the island who could help them with the plane.  Ma and Pa seem a bit trapped in the past and a bit on the wacky side of religious.

But the biggest surprise is the couple’s three grown children Fanny, Woody and Teddy.  While clearly pushing 50, the three behave as if they are children.

The next day, we discover that the kids are not merely mentally imbalanced…they are homicidal. As the young friends begin to disappear, the friends think that tragic accidents have befallen them until the eccentric family’s darkest secrets are revealed.

American Gothic is one of those films that I found back in the days of VHS. It never seemed to achieve the notoriety of other 80’s horror…but it has a solid twist at the end and boasts great creepy performances from Yvonne DeCarlo (known best for her role as the sweet and kind Lily Munster)  and Rod Steiger as Ma and Pa, as well as the “children” played by Janet Wright, Michael J. Pollard and William Hootkins.

American Gothic is one of those good little horror films that I feel deserve wider recognition.

The Process of Grief (Midsommar, 2019)

Midsommar_PosterDani and Christian’s four year relationship is dying out, but neither has the strength  to end things, especially after Dani faces a horrifying tragedy. They are invited by a friend, Pelle, to visit his home land for a unique festival. Christian and Dani are joined by Josh and Mark and the five make their way to Sweden.

What seems to be a fun time of hallucinogenic experiences and communal partying, turns out to be a frightening series of trials.

Midsommar is the second film from Ari Aster. Hereditary was a masterpiece of dread and so the question became…could he manage it a second time?  Well…yeah. Right from the start, this film pummels the viewer with the pain and heartbreak Dani is having to confront.

When we arrive in the small and remote Swedish village, it seems almost mythically wholesome. Everyone is kind and friendly. They want to share their celebration. But as the film progresses, things begin to become unnerving and the film starts build the sense of dread.  The threat is real and horrifying.

The characters are compelling. This is due more to what we experience than what we learn about their background.  Really, the only Dani, Christian and Pelle get much history.  But William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter both turn in performances that allow you to care about what happens to them.

But Florence Pugh really shines as she runs the gamut of broken pain and grief and joys.

Visually, the film is gorgeous.  The setting really draws you in, even when you know something terrible is bound to happen.

Aster really has impressed me with both of his efforts and I look forward to his next exploration in horror.

 

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