Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

A Premature End to October of Horror

Posted by Trixter on October 30, 2018

I am taking on a contract programming job with a deadline this week, so I’m afraid my horror movie indulgence must come to an end.  It’s unlikely I would have made 31 movies by the 31st anyway, but I’m happy with the 25 I managed to cram in.  I found some new favorites like Return of the Living Dead III, and had some recommendations validated such as The Night Stalker and Fright Night.  Most of them were duds, but it was worth going through them to find the diamonds in the rough, such as Killer! and — who would have thought?! — Pinocchio’s Revenge.

Here’s the complete list of movies I was able to cram in:

October of Horror #1: The Visitor (1979)

October of Horror #2: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

October of Horror #3: Return of the Living Dead II

October of Horror #4: Fright Night (1985)

October of Horror #5: The Night Stalker (1972)

October of Horror #6: Warlock (1989)

October of Horror #7: Return of the Living Dead III (1993)

October of Horror #8: Evils of the Night (1985)

October of Horror #9: Infection (2004)

October of Horror #10: Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996)

October of Horror #11: The Darkest Hour (2011)

October of Horror #12: Zombieland (2009)

October of Horror #13: Killer! (1989)

October of Horror #14: The Beyond (1981)

October of Horror #15: Slaughterhouse Rock (1988)

October of Horror #16: Halloween (1978)

October of Horror #17: The Thing (1982)

October of Horror #18: The Borrower (1991)

October of Horror #19: Bordello of Blood (1996)

October of Horror #20: Meet The Hollowheads (1989)

October of Horror #21: The Wraith (1986)

October of Horror #22: Street Trash (1987)

October of Horror #23: Zombie High (1987)

October of Horror #24: Waxwork (1988)

October of Horror #25: Society (1989)

 

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October of Horror #25: Society (1989)

Posted by Trixter on October 29, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

An affluent son starts to suspect that his parents, and maybe his entire life, are not what they seem.

Opinion

Holy geebus, this movie 100% embodies the WHAT DID I JUST WATCH meme.  It’s a paranoia-induced mystery where a rich teen keeps seeing odd things out of the corner of his eye, notices people acting strangely, and can’t figure out what is real and what isn’t.  And for the first two thirds of the movie, it held my attention based on that alone.

(spoiler alert)

And then, the movie descends into a body horror fever dream the likes of which I’ve never seen.  It puts From Beyond to shame, and gives Reanimator a run for its money.  It goes into utterly bananas territory with an equally bananas victory for the hero.

Does this make it bad?  No, it truly kept me guessing and delivered the promised shocks.  The actors did a fine job, the effects were good where they needed to be and cheesy when it was warranted, and the director did a fine job for his debut.  I’m glad I saw it — but can I recommend it?

Recommendation

Society is unapologetically a body horror film, so if you are grossed out by that, do not watch.  But if you want to see something you’ve never seen before, and can handle the (bloodless!) gore, check it out.

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October of Horror #24: Waxwork (1988)

Posted by Trixter on October 29, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

Upper-class high school friends check out a waxworks museum, only to get trapped in some of the exhibits.

Opinion

Waxwork feels like it is trying to be a Charles Band/Full Moon horror movie but the final result has half the quality and even less charm.  It can’t decide if it’s trying to be a horror-comedy, flat horror, or just “quirky”, and it fails at all three.  Which is a shame, since the premise is somewhat original:  People who wander into incomplete waxworks scenes end up living the scene itself, and, if killed, becoming part of it forever.  It’s a great idea!  It’s just a shame the movie can’t pull off any of the three tiers of execution it is going for.

The low budget didn’t help.  Waxwork was filmed for $1.5 million.  If it had $1 million less money in the budget, it would have been a flawed but admirably ambitious film.  If it had $1 million more money in the budget, it would have been able to pull off more scary effects.  But what got onto celluloid just falls flat.  It’s even distracting to watch at times — some dialog gets cut together with dialog that feels like it was an alternate take with alternate lines.  One character fires a machine gun as he dies (trope alert), but since they couldn’t afford an automatic machine gun, you can see the character pulling the trigger while “dead”.  Some characters are caricatures while the two main characters play it completely straight.  It’s a mess.

Recommendation

I hate to kick a movie while it’s down (especially since, based on the commentary, everyone had a fun time making the film), but you should skip it.  For every scene that works, there are three that don’t.  Your time would be better spent watching 4 episodes of Tales from the Darkside (or even 4 episodes of Monsters).

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October of Horror #23: Zombie High (1987)

Posted by Trixter on October 28, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

Students at a prestigious boarding school start to suspect something nefarious is going on as they their friends’ personalities change into perfect students.

Opinion

If I had to summarize the film in a single sentence, it would be “Invasion of the Body Snatchers for teens.”  And that’s pretty much what it is — friends of the main characters either disappear or change into unrecognizable people, and the main members of the school board know more than they’re letting on.

The film is notable as an early major role for Virginia Madsen, and also stars Paul Feig in a bit part serving comedy relief.  Unfortunately, there’s just not much for either of them to do:  There’s not enough scares, things move slowly, and you start to recognize padding.

Recommendation

It’s merely ok.  I can’t really recommend it.  I feel Feig is a better actor than director (I have enjoyed exactly 1 of the films he’s directed) so if you like Feig and want to see him acting, you could do worse than Zombie High.

If you want a decent horror film starring Virginia Madsen, see the much better Candyman instead.

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October of Horror #22: Street Trash (1987)

Posted by Trixter on October 28, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

Homeless people start melting when drinking “Viper”, toxic hooch discovered after being locked away for 60 years.

Opinion

This film is all over the place.  It goes from black comedy, to body horror, to action film, to Vietnam veteran drama, to the plight of the homeless, to gore/splatter pic, to gangster humor, to… it’s just all over the place.  I keep writing sentences about it and then erasing them because I honestly can’t understand what the fuck I just watched.

I’ll defer to “RevRuin” from IMDB, who in 2001 summarized the film better than I seem to be doing right now:

One day someone said, “I’d like to make a movie featuring a bottle of hooch that makes people melt into multi-colored ooze. I think I’ll also add “sub-plots” about insane homeless vets, murder, necrophilia, gang-rape, castration, and police brutality. Oh, and it’s a COMEDY.”

Anyone who blasts the movie probably had no idea what they were getting into. Yeah, the story – if you want to call it that – is flimsy at best, but the film is punctuated by some inventive effects, some nice camera work, and a hysterical mostly-improvised Doorman character played by James Lorinz.

Summed up, if you like your movies dispicable, reprehensible, obnoxious, offensive, crude, and downright nasty, pick this one up.

That’s about right.  It’s downright odd how it switches subjects and tone every 5-10 minutes.

Recommendation

I guess if 30% of more of the above appealed to you in some way, watch it, I guess?  50%, maybe?

Actually, there is one good reason to watch it:  Tony Darrow.  Darrow was a lounge singer until, at age 50, he was cast in this picture as a gangster, which he was familiar with having grown up around gangsters his whole life.  He did an ok job, but what is surprising is that Martin Scorsese somehow saw Street Trash and cast Tony in Goodfellas, which then led to a number of gangster characters until he found himself in The Sopranos where he played “Larry Barese” for the entire show’s run.  If you’re a Tony Darrow fan, you’ll enjoy him in this picture improvising some funny scenes with James Lorinz.

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October of Horror #21: The Wraith (1986)

Posted by Trixter on October 28, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

Members of a car gang are challenged to races by an anonymous newcomer with a car nobody has ever seen before — and when they race for their lives, the newcomer always wins.

Opinion

I had never heard of this film until a few years ago, when some co-workers and I talked about cheesy teen action films from the 1980s (especially the silly BMX films like BMX Bandits and Rad), and someone mentioned The Wraith.  When I learned it starred a young Sherilyn Fenn, Charlie Sheen, a ton of 80’s music, and a Dodge M4S with a serious paint job — and believe me, all four of those are equally the stars of the film — I had to check it out.  Amazingly, I found a 1080p print of the film and set out to watch it.  As I watched it, I felt like I had picked the wrong picture for October Of Horror, but was surprised by how much I wanted to see it through to the end.

So what makes this barely classifiable as horror?  (Spoiler alert!)  The plot involves the ghost of someone killed by the car gang coming back to take revenge on the gang.  Kids are killed by a car with supernatural powers.  “But wait,” you say, “Wasn’t that the plot of The Car 9 years earlier?”  Yes, but that movie — strange as it was — was a true horror film where the car is the physical embodiment of a demon and it kills a lot of people for seemingly no reason (which is the best kind of reason to kill people in a horror film).  The Wraith is more of an 80’s revenge picture for teens.

Recommendation

If you like any of the following:

  • Clint Howard playing the role of a nerd completely seriously (and well)
  • An 80’s soundtrack featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Stan Bush, Robert Palmer, Bonnie Tyler, and Billy Idol
  • A futuristic-style car creating ludicrously gigantic explosions

…then The Wraith is worth your time.  If not, skip it.

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October of Horror #20: Meet The Hollowheads (1989)

Posted by Trixter on October 27, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

Witness a day in the life of the Hollowhead family, which takes place in a reality very similar to our own — if our lives relied on strange creatures and pipes filled with goo.

Opinion

I was attracted to The Hollowheads when I learned it was Anne Ramsey’s (The Goonies, Throw Momma From The Train) last film.  I looked further and saw it also starred a young Juliette Lewis, and with very strange creatures and setting thrown in, I felt it was worth my time.

After watching it, I guess I have to say it’s not for everyone.  It’s also not horror — I suppose it technically qualifies as a black comedy mixed with fantasy, maybe?  It’s hard to classify.  It plays like a gross, dark version of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse where every talking piece of furniture was replaced with a hose spouting goop or a frog-like creature that gets chopped up for a snack.

Frustratingly, there are hints of a good film in there, especially when the boys venture outside to go to the pumping plant.  You get glimpses of an entire interesting world that wasn’t fleshed out due to budget and time constraints.

Recommendation

It’s interesting, but it’s not horror.  But if you like learning the deep inside details of how films are made from proposal to celluloid, read The Edgewise Guide to Filmmmaking which is a production diary of Meet The Hollowheads from one of the writers, Lisa Morton.  It gives a glimpse into the film they were shooting for, and how it turned into the film we got.

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October of Horror #19: Bordello of Blood (1996)

Posted by Trixter on October 24, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

A private investigator stumbles into a plot by vampires to lure victims to their deaths by posing as a brothel.

Opinion

Going into this, I had unreasonably high expectations:  It’s a horror comedy, starring Dennis Miller (whose political beliefs I disagree with, but have always found funny), Erika Eleniak, and some actors in ironic reversal roles, such as Corey Feldman (who plays the opposite of a Lost Boys vampire hunter) and Chris Sarandon (who plays an evangelical preacher instead of a Fright Night vampire).

With my expectations set so high, it took a long time for them to wear down, and they never got down to any level of disappointment.  I’ll say it:  I had a fun time watching it and I’m glad I did.  There’s nothing truly special in it, but it had a certain charm, as it doesn’t take itself seriously at all.

BUT:

What I enjoyed way, way more was the featurette Tainted Blood: The Making of Bordello of Blood.  Holy crap — The process of making the film was just as interesting as the actual film!  Stars who were divas and assholes, extremely questionable producer choices, pleas for help from a relief special effects team, and more.  And throughout it all, Corey Feldman weaves a thread of trying to reach out to other actors to make the set a fun place, only to get denied at every turn.  It’s a miracle the film turned out as well as it did.

Recommendation

If you like comedy and naked women in your horror, you could do a lot worse.

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October of Horror #18: The Borrower (1991)

Posted by Trixter on October 23, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

An alien convict sentenced to life imprisonment on Earth finds that his human body isn’t functioning properly, and needs additional heads to survive.

Opinion

Back when video rental stores were a thing, I remember seeing this on the shelf, but never getting around to renting it.  It seemed like an sci-fi horror film that I could sink my teeth into:  Head stealing! Aliens! Rae Dawn Chong!  Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas!  Directed by the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer!

The end result of all this is a giant mess that defies explanation.  I should have known something was up when I learned it was filmed in 1988 and sat on the shelf for 3 years before finally getting a video release.  Let’s go over a few things:

  • There are multiple seemingly-inexplicable cuts to a couple watching the Garbage Pail Kids movie in bed.  (This one actually has an explanation: The original distributor of the film also financed the Garbage Pail Kids movie, and probably insisted putting clips into The Borrower.)
  • There is a nearly 1-minute-long sequence where we watch the alien (sporting a stolen head) and Antonio Vargas getting lunch in a lunchline, saying very little and not attempting physical humor.
  • The Alien’s body is white.  Vargas is black.  When the alien steals Vargas’ head, they made no attempt to apply white makeup to Vargas below the torn neckline, or exposed skin.  The alien just simply turns black.  They keep forgetting this minor detail with every new head the alien possesses.  This is a distractingly gigantic oversight.
  • There is a secondary plot about a serial rapist completely unrelated to the main alien plot.  That character is much more horrifying than the actual monster is supposed to be.  When your secondary, minor plot is more interesting than most of the film, you should assume you’ve majorly screwed up as a writer/filmmaker/editor/producer (whoever was responsible).

How a laserdisc of this exists is beyond comprehension.

Recommendation

DO NOT WATCH.

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October of Horror #17: The Thing (1982)

Posted by Trixter on October 21, 2018

(For an explanation of what these posts in October are, see the parent post.)

Synopsis

Researchers at an isolated arctic outpost slowly come to discover that not everyone in their group is who they say they are.

Opinion

Confession time:  I’d seen The Thing before — I love it, I own it on Blu-ray.  So, this particular entry in my October of Horror experiment is technically cheating, as I wrote earlier I would only watch films I’d never seen.  But, Melissa hadn’t seen it in decades, and Sam loves it, so we decided to watch it together tonight.

Like Halloween, The Thing is a nearly perfect slow burn.  In 90 minutes you’re treated to  confusion, accusations, adrenaline, trying to solve a mystery against time, science-fiction, shock, disgust, dread, and horror.

You may be shocked to learn it didn’t do well at the box office.  Well, E.T. had been released the week before, and Poltergeist the week after… might have had something to do with it (sarcasm).

Recommendation

Required viewing.  And then watch it again with the commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, as it’s both informative and, at times, hilarious.  And then watch it a third time, because you form new theories about who was an impostor and at what times every time you watch it.  Who was the first to get assimilated? When was Blair taken over?  Was Blair an alien the whole time?  The IMDB Q&A section for The Thing is one of the longest on the entire site.

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