Cropsey’s Revenge (The Burning, 1981)

The_Burning_PosterInspired by the urban legend of Cropsey, the Burning begins at a summer camp. A group of boys pull a prank on the camp janitor which goes tragically awry. Severely burned he undergoes multiple failed attempts to restore his face and body.  Driven mad he returns to the camp grounds to mete out his revenge.

Truthfully, for most viewers today, the Burning probably seems like just another slasher.  And, to be fair, it does not bring anything new to the genre. It came along right at the beginning of the 80’s slasher craze.

But part of what makes the Burning stand out is that it is an early Tom Savini gore fest.  He picked the Burning over the sequel to Friday the 13th, and the Burning definitely wins here.  Savini’s effects are gruesome and the look of Cropsey is memorable.

Another bit of fun trivia relates to the cast.  Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander and Fischer Stevens all made their feature film debut and the music is composed by Rick Wakeman of Yes.

The Burning is a fun old school slasher.  It does not have any real surprises, like Sleepaway Camp, but it works pretty well and has some crazy moments as Cropsey works his way through the campers.

Following In Their Footsteps (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, 2006)

BHtM_PosterFreddy. Jason. Michael. Pinhead. Leslie.  You’ve heard of Leslie right? No?  Well, of course you haven’t…yet.

The conceit of Behind the Mask is that all the slasher villains are real land live in one big old extended universe. A news team with the hopes of making a name for themselves have connected with Leslie Vernon, an aspiring slasher villain.

Leslie’s back story is that he committed some evil acts as a child, a mob threw him off of a bridge and now a couple decades later, he has returned to seek vengeance. His plan revolved around teens going to have a party at his old family farmhouse.

The movie plays with the tropes of the slasher, such as when Leslie explains to the reporter and her crew that his training is important…because while everyone is running as fast as they can…he has to keep up while making it appear that he is walking. Then there is the obsessed psychiatrist who is in dogged pursuit of Leslie, Doc Halloran. In a brilliant bit of stunt casting, the Doc is played by Robert Englund.

Part of what works so well is how you have these human moments between Leslie and the news crew. For instance, they have dinner with a retired slasher Eugene (played by the late Scott Wilson) and his wife. It is this regular setting as Eugene cooks dinner, but is reminiscing about killing and then getting philosophical about how guys like Freddy and Jason totally changed the game.

The filmmakers have a lot of fun with their premise, and it is clearly made by people who have a love for horror. This is one of those films that seemed like it might make a splash…but it seems like I don’t hear people talk about it much anymore.  Which is to bad, it is a lot of fun and makes the most of its high concept.

Stupid College Kids vs Demon Nuns (The Convent, 2000)

The_Convent_PosterThe film opens with a an attractive girl in a leather jacket and sunglasses enters a convent and proceeds to blow away nuns with a shot gun before burning the place down… all played to the strains of “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore.  This is a highly effective scene. There is a tongue in cheek tone set by this that carries through the whole film.

The film jumps ahead to the present (well, 2000). A bunch of college kids visit the convent to smoke dope, make-out and commit acts of vandalism. But some aspiring satanists show up, hoping to get power with a ritual sacrifice.  Except, these are one of the most inept groups of satanists you will likely ever meet.

As noted, the Convent is a very tongue in cheek film.  And the dialog tends to be pretty solid.  The performances are pretty good, in large part because everyone seems to be having a lot of fun with it. There is a character in the film that reminds me totally of Richmond from the IT Crowd…but, uh the movie came first. Adrienne Barbeau is also awesomely badass in the film.

It is also full of gore, though all the demons seem to have neon blood, making it all very cartoonish.

I will say, there is some humor that has not aged particularly well. It is amusing when two guys are tied up as ritual sacrifices and one character suggests they have sex. The joke plays out to long, and goes from funny to uncomfortable as it pushes the gay character into the role of a predator continuing to push the other guy for sex.

But the Convent is a whole lot of gore infused fun, and just does not seem to be recognized much anymore. I would recommend it, as it still holds up as a fun flick.

The Lost Broadcast (The Last Broadcast, 1998)

Last_Broadcast_CoverTwo guys who have a cable access show devoted to the paranormal hire a third party for their planned investigation into the veracity of the legend of the Jersey Devil…but only one of the three returned and he was put on trial for the murder of the other two.

The Last Broadcast is the Documentary that seeks to find the truth, believing it possible that the man found guilty of the murder of the other two men may be innocent…and the filmmakers may be on the verge of discovering the true killer.

While mock documentaries are nothing new, they were a rarity for horror in the 1990s. They were mostly the domain of Christopher Guest and comedy. The Last Broadcast plays itself serious for the entire film.  It is interesting to watch it unfold if you can find it.

Remember how I mentioned Kolobos get steamrolled by the Blair Witch Project? Weeeeell… The Last Broadcast was made at about the same time as the Blair Witch, but it actually came out first. Maybe if it had come out a year or two later it could have ridden the wave.  Instead it became largely forgotten.

My only big criticism with the film is upon revealing a twist to the story, it just drops the documentary format entirely for conventional movie story telling.  And this fails to make much sense.  But otherwise, this is a bit of a lost gem.

The Cruelest Joke (Joker, 2019)

Joker_Movie_PosterThis review is going to focus on the movie itself…the final product.  I will be including a post soon that gets into the controversies.  But most of my issues with the Joker are, in fact, not with the film itself.  They are with the director and how he has reacted to the controversies with the movie.

The Joker is a character with a long history, both in print and film. He is, really, nearly as popular as his great nemesis Batman.  Of all of the comic book villains, it was always likely that he would get the movie treatment as “the star”.

Enter Todd Phillips, of Old School and the Hangover fame and Joaquin Phoenix with a decidedly retro take. Set in a pre-Batman Gotham City, Arthur Fleck is a man who is struggling with his own darkness and delusions.  He wants to believe he is here to bring joy and happiness, but every day pushes him further into believing this world is too far gone.  It has lost its way and people treat each other terribly, society favors the rich and the rich don’t care about the rest of us. And yet, at times, this just seems like a cover that Fleck uses to fool himself.

It is after committing an act of self defense that sets off the city pitting the citizens against each other that he starts to just give up and tumble towards the darkness.  And it is indeed a dark tale.  The Joker becomes a cult hero to the oppressed citizens of Gotham, used to fight back against economic injustice.  Citizens wear clown masks and paint their faces in solidarity with the mysterious “vigilante” who stood up to the 1%.

The cinematography of the film is amazing.  There are so many beautifully dark and unnerving shots framed in this film.  It all feels very late 70’s Scorcese grit.  It is hard to turn away.  And yet, at times, you really want to.  Phoenix gives an impressive performance as Fleck.  He is constantly unnerving (much like the best moments of Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight). There are scene that are shocking and scenes that are genuinely scary.

While Phoenix carries the film, The Joker has an excellent supporting cast as well. While largely a stand alone, a few of the moments that kind of bring the film down a little are connections to Batman.  It is not the mere presence of the Wayne family, but rather certain ways they are used.

The film is also struggling at times with how it wants us to perceive the Joker.  He is clearly dangerous, and flat out commits murder, but he also is treated as an anti-hero.

Overall, however, this is a very good movie.  It is not as groundbreaking as some want to make it out to be (It is literally “what if Scorcese made Taxi Driver, but with the Joker, instead of Travis Bickle). But the cinematography and the performances definitely make for  a challenging but engaging watch.

Lovecraftian Re-Lives (The Resurrected, 1991)

The_Resurrected_PosterThe wife of scientist Charles Dexter Ward has hired the private investigator John March ti find out what secret her husband has been hiding.  She knows he has been conducting mysterious experiments at an ancient home he has recently inherited.

What they discover is that his is exploring paths mankind should not dare…and the results are potentially blasphemous.

One of two films ever directed by Alien screen writer Dan O’Bannon, the Resurrected never gained the status of his other film, Return of the Living Dead. And, to a certain extent, I get it. Unlike Return of the Living Dead, this is based on a Lovecraft story.  It is also set in genre of a Detective Noir.

Lovecraft can be very tough to adapt, and the screenwriter Brent Friedman’s decision to make it a Detective Story allows the basic structure to stay in place, since the original story is a doctor investigating the disappearance of Ward.

The performances are good in the film, with the small cast being made up of familiar supporting players and headed up by Fright Night’s Chris Sarandon.

The visual effects are quite good, with some very good creature designs.

This was meant to be a theatrical release, but the studio that produced it went bankrupt, which led to a home video release. In addition, apparently, the studio made rather large edits against the wishes of O’Bannon.  But the released version is a good little supernatural detective yarn worth a watch.

Games People Play (Ready or Not, 2019)

Ready_or_Not_PosterGrace is engaged to Alex, a son in the Le Domas gaming, uh, Dominion. Alex is quickly revealed to b very unlike his family.  Kind and rather unhappy with his family’s status as ultra-rich. The family is quirky, save Alex’s mother who seems to understand Grace’s nervousness at marrying into the family.

The night after the wedding ceremony, Alex explains that there is one last ceremony. The family has a tradition in which the new member of the family selects a game that the family must play.  While most of the time it is something casual like checkers, on this night, Grace draws a card Alex dreaded… “Hide and Seek”. At first, Grace finds it all silly…until it is clear that losing the game means she dies.  If she survives the night, the family is certain something unknown and truly awful will befall the family.

Ready or Not is a film with its tongue firmly in cheek.  The family is rich and inept, having gone for years without actually having to have played Hide and Seek. One of the family members struggles to learn use of the crossbow. His coked up wife is so freaked out she cannot shoot straight. They argue over the value of tradition.

Grace, on the other hand, is trying to find her way out of a house full of hidden passages and no idea who she can trust. The help? Alex? Alex’s brother who seems to be struggling with his conscience? Alex’s nephews?

The humor is dark, but effective. Its targets being ultra rich fools obsessed with keeping their wealth, their actions often have comical results. The film is so stylish, and the character and set design so full of personality, it really enhances the film. The visual sense of Aunt Helene perfectly encapsulates this.  Her hair is strikingly short and spiky. She wears a permanent scowl and really stands out.  Nicky Guadagni is wonderfully dark in the film.

I also found Samara Weaving’s performance really good.  She often gets mocked as being indistinguishable from Margot Robbie, which I think is unfair to both actresses…for one thing? Weaving has spent most of her career getting drenched in buckets of blood.  But she is great as Grace.

Ready or Not was a surprise gem of a film this year, deserving of someday being a cult classic among thrillers.

Blood On Screen (Kolobos, 1999)

Kolobos_coverSo, in the early 90’s, MTV decided they needed to expand their programming. One of their first greatly successful experiments was an “unscripted show” that put a bunch of young people from all over the country into a single house that would film the events. The Real World became a phenomenon.

In the late 90’s, three young filmmakers were trying to make their first film…their original idea was a road movie which was then ruined by weather that would have made outdoor shooting really tough. The filmmakers came up with a horror movie idea that could be set in one location and mostly indoors.

The result the thriller Kolobos. Several reality show wannabes seeking fame show up at a home and goof around, but then things get serious. Not like on the Real World, where personalities clashed-not that clashes don’t happen- but rather the sudden terror that they are trapped in the house and it has a who lot of traps meant to kill them.

At the center of the film is Kyra, a withdrawn artist, who keeps seeing faceless killers. Has Kyra lost connection to reality? Is she the killer? Or is there someone else? Is the hulking scarred man real?

Long before Saw, Kolobus explored the potential of watching people suffer horribly for entertainment (and honestly, are less preachy about it, the filmmakers do clearly have fun coming up with crazy death traps).  The film has decent gore effects, and the acting is passable for the horror genre.

So, why does nobody talk about the film? One of the first to toy with the idea of reality-TV based horror? Well, it got released directly to DVD…right before this little movie called the Blair Witch. Blair Witch ushered in the era of found footage and steam rolled right over Kolobos.  Arrow films recently re-released the film on Blu-Ray (for the first time in HD, it had been out of print for some time otherwise).

I recommend the disc and the movie, it deserves wider recognition.  A lost indie horror film from the late nineties, you really should check this one out.

Welcome to October!

Well… the last couple of Months got away from me. It seems every August tends to slip away and my Septembers go silent.  This year I have started trying my hand at selling art and August and September saw me run into some crunch. I was at the Crypticon Minneapolis Convention. I had some prints to sell and some original art.

crypticon_doug_bradley
Doug Bradley and Me
crypticon_ashley_laurence
Ashley Laurence and I
crypticon_Caroline_Munro
Caroline Munro, Joshua Kennedy and myself
crypticon_pennywise
Insert “Floating” joke here.
crypticon_mihm
Christopher Mihm’s table…

Here is some samples of artwork I had.  There were prints…

it_pic_300_sm

some original art…

I am going to GalaxyCon here in Minnesota next month and I am trying to get a few more prints ready to go.

Add to this, Christopher Mihm (a local film maker and friend) cast me in a supporting role in his film that is in Post Production, the Phantom Lake Kids in the Beast Walks Among Us. I am also going to be appearing his film that follows, That Which Lurks in the Dark. If you want a refresher, I went through Chris’ films back in 2017.  I have held back on reviews since I have gotten more interconnected to Mihm’s film making.  I may do some write ups to talk about experiences and feelings on the films, but as Chris is a friend, I want my bias to be clear.

So, what is the plan for October? I probably will not be having quite the same past output as previous Octobers.  But there will be more than one review this month.  One of my themes will be “Less Talked About Gems”. Good little horror films I rarely see talked about.  I also am going to get some reviews of recent films (Ready or Not and Haunt, for example) and a few…non-gems.

 

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