A Pause for a Number of Things

Hopefully, you’ve been enjoying my time-misplaced Hubrisween entries. It’s been a nice guide for my writing, a sort of kick in the pants it often needs. My scarcity this week has several causes: work, Life’s Rich Pageant (also known as crap that’s boring if you’re not sitting in my skin), and what is probably the worst side effect of the many times I’ve done Hubrisween: I’m starting to get tired of horror.

That is not a state I wish to be in; look at my dang collection, or my Plex server, and you are either going to think “What the hell is wrong with you” or “How did it take you so long to get tired of this?” The responses range from “You knew I was fucked up when you came in the door” to “I’m not really tired of it, I’m just bored.”

Hang around for a few paragraphs, you might get better answers.

“Now then, tell me about your childhood.”

For reasons I’ve already gone into, it was a pretty light Christmas this year, but there were some nice presents; my brother replaced my old blu-ray player with a region-free one (I think that’s a good thing) and my Mom asked if I wanted this old flatscreen they had replaced with a larger model. There was an old TV in my bedroom, which, oddly enough, my parents had given me waaaaaaay back when my son was a baby so he could watch Teletubby videos over and over again. It was analog, and one of two VHS players left in the house.

My wife requires the TV playing to get to sleep. She is not alone in this, I know, it’s not like it’s a unique quirk. I always came to bed after she had gone to sleep. so turning off that TV was a nightly ritual. Then a few years back she moved from the master bedroom to the guest bedroom, because we are both snorapotamusses. We sleep much better now, and she got a TV with a sleep timer.

God damn it, I miss you.

Anyway, since Craig Ferguson went off the air, I have no need for late night TV.

So I would retire to my suddenly too-large bed and read or something until sleep came down. But this TV opened up something of a new paradigm for me. I mentioned my wife’s need of the TV to sleep because I’m the exact opposite; it’s like when I complained to my friend that I didn’t have time to watch all the movies I’d like and he responded “Just put it on in the background while you do other stuff.” I can’t do that. I’m not wired that way. When media talks to me, I listen. I give it my attention. Using it as a sleep aid is a non-starter.

But. I have a new tool! Surely I can do something with it!

Yes, I’ve seen movies that start like this, too.

What happened actually surprised me.

oh, one of these days you’re going to get yours, bitch

I set up the TV, attached my old blu-ray and an older Roku I had replaced on my main movie-watching screen, which is in my home office (and glowering behind me as I type this, fuming about that new little hussy in my bedroom, no doubt). Then I pulled some discs I had been meaning to watch but were low-priority, like Death Machines, which I had intended to watch since seeing the TV advertising blitz for it in the 70s. It’s low-priority because I also know how those movies played out once you were in the theater (Super Infra-Man notwithstanding). Or something episodic like Ultra-Q.

And I pulled out a box I had bought at a Vinegar Syndrome sale because Its allure was really too strong: All Night at the Bizarre Art Theater. With Vinegar Syndrome, you know it’s going to be something with strong cult vibes, or smut. This is smut.

Consider that your trigger warning.

It’s the second in a series apparently, and I’m going to let VS’ own PR department lay it out:

Throughout the early to mid 1970s, the most common way to see underground feature films was to visit a ‘storefront theatre.’ Sometimes referred to as ‘mini-theatres’ or ‘shoebox theatres,’ these small venues were often converted retail stores armed with nothing more than a couple projectors and nailed down folding chairs. And, unlike larger houses like the Pussycat chain, the films screened in these small and cozy spaces were low-budget 16mm efforts, affectionately known as one-day-wonders.

Hundreds of these theatres dotted the American landscape, and with them, the most truly independent and underground filmmakers found a place to exhibit their work.

“Truly independent and underground filmmakers” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there, but it speaks to me on a level that approximates my current interest in the no-budget genre movies of folks like the Polonia Brothers or whoever thought it would be a good idea to make a found footage movie this week. Not that any of those worthies produced skin flicks.

This second volume houses 12 features with a decidedly ghoulish flavor, which I admit is what attracted my attention. Hey, it’s horror-adjacent smut!

Witnesses a sex-crazed scientist unleash his pent up desires in DR. SEXUAL AND MR. HYDE! See Satan send his sons to earth to collect beautiful women for devilish orgies in HOTTER THAN HELL! Stare in terror as a masked killer murders nubile starlets in COME DEADLY! Explore the agony of the shocking sex rituals performed by the RITES OF URANUS! Shiver in fear as a group of unsuspecting friends enter the HOUSE OF DE SADE! Gasp in suspense as a knife-wielding killer preys on an all girls boarding school MANIA!

These films, plus 6 more tales of ghosts, goblins, fiendish killers, and even Bigfoot, are all here to scare your pants off, and plunge you into a cinematic bacchanale straight from hell!

Pornography is itself deadly dull, but I have to admit these filmmakers with a perverse desire to overlay incredibly risible plots between episodes of genitalia-bumping offers its own entertainment value. You’ve still got the flatly-lit clinical close-ups (some of which have been so clinical that I can see modern porn makers gasping “gaaaaaah WHY?!?!”), money shots and extremely regressive sexual politics, but there’s also an unspoken desire to do more than present bump-and-grind gymnastics. There’s at least one sex act I had thought only existed in hand-drawn illustrations for the Kama Sutra, but there it is, and man does it look uncomfortable.

“Oi! what are we doin’ on this page?”

But there’s also stuff like Dr. Sexual and Mr. Hyde that tries to look like a period piece, only to have it all undone by the female lead’s peace symbol earrings. I live for stuff like that. Also for details like the music for House of DeSade is ripped-off Pink Floyd, and it’s weird Floyd, like “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict” weird and “Be Careful With That Axe, Eugene” weird. And let’s not forget “Tubular Bells” in Sorceress. Which was probably going on during that uncomfortable sex scene I mentioned earlier.

This will also probably be my only chance ever to mention the “If-It’s-Good-Enough-For-Kubrick-It’s-Good-Enough-For-Me” use of “The Blue Danube” for Waltz of the Bat – which I will also say has the audacity to attempt art in its closing seconds with The 1812 Overture and goddammit succeeds.

I will say this – although I’m only through two-thirds of this masturbatory madness, I have to say that a) I don’t have to worry about losing the “plot” during my piecemeal viewing, and b) my sleep has been unusually peaceful, because the period between switching off the TV and actually nodding off has not been preoccupied with the antics of the multiple chucklefucks who currently feel they control our world.

That has been priceless.

The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: H-I

HOAX (2018)

We now return you to the regularly scheduled Hubrisween list of the increasingly distant 2022.

First we have six young people camping out in the wilderness of Colorado, planning to hike up a mountain the next day. After a campfire ghost story, most of them fall to doing what young people do when out in the woods in such movies, ie., various forms of screwing. My notes indicate that writer/director Matt Allen had studied his slasher movies well, because that’s certainly the vibe here. Then the IMDb trivia page informs me that at least two pieces of dialogue were directly lifted from slasher movies aaaaand now I’m really not sure how to feel about this.

Anyway, I’m fairly certain that you know all this premarital sex will end in tragedy, as the mangled bodies of five of those concupiscent cannon fodder will be later discovered, with the sixth still missing. A photo from a wrecked drone showing a furry black foot leads authorities to claim it was a bear attack.

Enter Rick Paxton (Ben Browder), a failed TV producer who hopes to get a documentary series out of the incident which will salvage his career. As he points out to an executive, the furry foot definitely has toes, but not claws. Therefore, the creature responsible for the carnage is Bigfoot, and he wants to take a crew to the site to get proof.

Paxton hires a young primate specialist (Cheryl Texiera), and the father of the still-missing girl (Max Decker) as a guide. Brian Thompson is along as an ex-Marine security guard, as well as a cryptozoologist (Schuyler Denham) and a diva-esque on-air personality, Bridgette (Shoshana Bush). Rounding out the crew is Rick’s assistant Denny (Brian Folkins) and a cameraman out of his depth (Hutch Dano).

Things will start going wrong pretty immediately. The cryptozoologist disappears while checking trail cameras, and the search for him turns up a cave with intestines hanging from the ceiling and lots of dead animal parts. Bridgette meets up with something in the woods that breaks her leg and Rick refuses to call for Search and Rescue because it’s the fourth of July the helicopter might scare off whatever-it-is they’re searching for.

And so it goes until the big pay-off, which torpedoed the movie for me. As I worship at the altar of Your Mileage May Vary, I’ll employ the ever-popular Invisible Spoiler: Guys, it was kind of refreshing and radical when Bone Tomahawk did it in 2015, but plonking our surviving cast members into the third act of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did not sit well with me at all. Once again, Allen knows his slashers, as this segment pulls out all the stops and is properly horrific – but dammit, I wanted a Bigfoot movie, not The Hills Have Eyes Vol. 15.

There. Hoax had some other minor things that bugged me, like the camera being woefully inadequate to a TV production, the lack of a sound man, blah blah blah but those were, as I said, minor – things I would have ignored had I been given a better-executed story. As it is, it gets pulled this way and that, trying to accommodate that disastrous third act and still make us think there’s a cryptid out there.

Not poorly-made at all. In fact, everything is done well enough to make me a little more annoyed. By now you know if you’re interested or not, but this isn’t a recommendation from me.

In the Woods (1999)

So firefighter Alex Kerwood (DJ Perry) is on the outs with his wife because of his drinking. There’s also a serial killer on the loose known for leaving severed fingers as a calling card. But never mind that, the Chief (Tim Jeffrey) takes Larry out to a piece of wooded property that he “married into”, hopefully to give Larry a good talking to. Except they find a burial mound (complete with wooden cross), and the Chief wants to dig it up because it might provide a clue to the local disappearances.

This is the sort of fractured decision-making that is going to be the norm in In the Woods, so get used to it. Larry and the Chief find nothing pertinent to the killings in the mound, but rather a burlap sack holding a monstrous horned skull. Then they hear something stirring in the woods, freak out, and get chased back to their truck by something unseen, which means they never get to see the abandoned skull starting to smoke.

Of course, Larry and the Chief get drunk out of their minds, leading to Larry’s wife leaving him, which is just as well, because now something is leaving bloody body parts at his house. So now the cops are very interested, but unfortunately every time Larry gets a cop to believe him, the something kills the cop. Then something else kills more cops and, at over an hour of run time, plops some exposition into Larry’s mind.

The skull-thing that’s ruining Larry’s life? Part of an army of killing machines created by sorcery for some long-past war. Larry handled the skull, so it thinks Larry is its master and keeps leaving bloody tribute for him. The Something Else? It killed the skull thing originally, and now wants to kill it again. There. Easy.

So Larry lures skull boy into the woods for some other plan and the something else kills it, and Larry lives happily ever after because apparently the FBI believed him about monsters killing their agents and ripping off his wife’s arm.

You always hope you might find a hidden gem when panning through older, very lesser-known movies, and sometimes you do. Other times you discover, well, there’s a reason it’s lesser known.

Rah I’m a monsta

The script’s not terrible, but it is full of dialogue that looked really good on paper but just doesn’t sing when put in the mouth of actors. Our two monsters aren’t exactly prize-winners either, and the skull-killer for some reason kept reminding me of something from a Gumby short. That skull prop, though, is totally sweet.

I’ve seen worse. But I’ve also seen much, much better.

The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: G

This one gave me more difficulty than I generally expect with a consonant that isn’t Q or X.

Original plan was to watch the Empire flick Ghost Town, but had no luck finding my copy in the stacks. Turned up another one I’d never heard of, The Grey Knight, which turns out to be a re-titling of The Killing Box, a fairly interesting Civil War tale concerning voodoo and undead soldiers… though not interesting enough to make it past the halfway point. I still haven’t watched this now-ancient copy of Graveyard Shift, mainly because I find Stephen King adaptations – particularly in that era – hit or miss with a very large percentage landing in the miss box.

So, back to another movie I watched when I was wasn’t writing about them:

Grave Robbers (1989)

Sorry, but I don’t need an “L” movie. Not yet, anyway.

Let’s start with our standard renegade priest (Agustin Bernal) trying to birth the Antichrist by magical (and not-so-magical) means and getting caught by his fellow priests and stretched on the rack. This guy was the Church Executioner and the local Archbishop decides to play the irony card by burying the offending executioner’s axe deep in his chest. But, as is the way with these movies starting in bygone days, this means the priest will curse the Archbishop, saying that one day someone will pull the axe from his chest and then he’ll birth the Antichrist using one of the Archbishop’s descendants. As one does.

Skip to the modern day of 1989, where the Archbishop’s grand-grand-whatever is now the Police Captain (still Fernando Almada, though), who has a beautiful daughter, Olivia (Edna Bolkan), which you just know is going to be significant later.

But never mind that, we’re going to spend the next half hour with a group of teenage hooligans (led by Ernesto Laguardia and Erika Buenfil, who seems to be somewhat psychic) who are trying to strike it rich by, you guessed it, grave robbing. Their psychic leads them to a grave that conceals an entrance to an old catacomb housing a very familiar rack and lots of corpses who were interred with lots of gold and jewelry.

There’s also a heavy slab inscribed with Latin that doubtless says DO NOT OPEN THIS YOU IDIOTS, but our hooligans do not speak Latin, so they open it, find a corpse with an ornate battleax in its chest, so let’s take the axe too, eh? Resulting in a massive storm, both in the catacomb and on the surface.

And, oh, yeah, the corpse of the Executioner getting up and making with the killing spree.

If the plot sounds creaky and a bit generic, well it is, but welcome to the larger body of horror movies in general. A lot of these are like comfort food to the horror fan – the satisfying taste of the familiar along with the hopeful anticipation of something exotic and original in the execution to justify its existence (and the time being spent watching it). Too often, that justification is not found – when it does, though, it is cherished.

Grave Robbers plays like an 80s slasher for most of its running time, but it’s also five years after the first Nightmare on Elm Street, so the Executioner has magical powers, most obviously when he uses a floating dagger and a wind machine to threaten a local priest and a totally outrageous and gory method used to retrieve the amulet necessary for the Antichrist ritual, a kill scene that should rank with Johnny Depp’s in the aforementioned Nightmare.

It makes you wonder why the Executioner even bothers with the Jason Voorhees stuff. but then it’s also cheaper to shoot stuff with an axe that’s had a face-shaped hole cut in its blade than a shot involving a fake human chest and lots of entrails.

As ever, it doesn’t pay to take too close a look at our comfort food. Just enjoy the tension and the gore.

I had originally watched this after a viewing of director Ruben Galindo Jr’s first movie, Cemetery of Terror, and its a big jump in quality and coherence (small wonder, it’s his fourth). Cemetery was fine, if a bit scattered and a little too dependent on things playing out in real time to pad its length, none of which is evident in Grave Robbers. The compression of time still feels a bit out of whack, because this all seems to be happening in the longest night in creation, but hey, horror movie. I do appreciate the very genuine local flavor Galindo injects into the stories. These flicks obviously and unapologetically take place in Mexico, in the cusp between rural and urban areas. That’s enough of a lure for this particular gringo, especially one who spent much of his youth in heavily Latino communities.

Other extraordinary things: Police Captains have extraordinary leeway in doing their jobs, as he decides his department needs an Uzi, so he gets one; Olivia has the longest bout of hysteria in movie history (though holy shit does she have reason). And, there’s that little oddity, that story hiccup  that sticks in my craw with movies like Night of the Lepus and I Drink Your Blood – at the final fadeout, our two lead grave robbers are safe, sound and in possession of the gold they stole, which kicked off the events of the movie that killed all their friends and at least six others. This is supposed to be a heartwarming ending.

Yeah, nobody ever said horror movies were fair, either.

The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: F

Much brouhaha and a family emergency that had me travelling during my usual writing time. Everything turned out okay, but it is not a little alarming how something like that has a ripple effect that affects everything at my age. Younger me would have powered through and claimed everything was normal, but that’s not remotely true. The new strategy is to realize that I’ll get to it eventually….and then attempt to power through it.

Still waiting for that wisdom of age to settle in.

From Beyond the Grave (1974)

Why yes, this was the last of the movies I watched when pretending I was going to do Hubrisween in a timely manner and then did not power through the writing. How nice of you to remember.

I really like the Amicus anthology movies, just like I always had a soft spot for short story anthologies. What’s not to like? There is a special joy for me in a story that takes just as long as it needs to tell itself, and no more, which is where some anthology movies (and feature-length adaptations of short stories) fail. But that’s a complaint for another time.

Given how much I love these movies – I never passed up an opportunity to catch them back when local TV stations ran movies instead of informercials, or those special late-night marathons at college-town theaters where they’d schedule four of them at Midnight on Halloween or Friday the 13th. But lately I’ve begun to realize just how many of them I had not seen. They never seemed to show up on TV, despite being rated PG in release. Or crop up in those marathons. Who knows what arcane licensing restrictions were involved?

One of the missing ones was The Uncanny, which unfortunately ran into the story-stretching problem, but I also recall it cropping up on CBS’ late night movie one evening. I don’t recall ever seeing From Beyond the Grave on broadcast TV.

As is the way of these anthologies, the framing device is a curiosity shop called “Temptations Ltd.” presided over by none other than Peter Cushing, as a bit of a doddering, slightly scattered old man. There are four stories, each linked to a specific item from the store, and the ruination brought upon the customer by the various ways in which they cheat Cushing to get their items.

In the first tale, David Warner browbeats Cushing into selling him an antique mirror, claiming that it’s an obvious reproduction (it’s not, as Warner well knows), only to find out after an ill-advised séance there is a killer trapped within it that has the power to make Warner kill young ladies for their blood to unleash him from the shiny prison.

In the second, a salaryman (Ian Bannen) with an unhappy home life encounters Donald Pleasence on the street, selling shoelaces and matches as many ex-servicemen were forced to do. Bannen, finding someone who seems to honestly admire him, tries to buy a Distinguished Service Cross from Temptations, Ltd. to impress him, but is stymied by Cushing requiring a certificate to prove that he lost his own. Bannen then simply steals the medal, sealing his fate. Because if you thought that Donald Pleasence (and his daughter, Angela) might have an agenda of their own, well, you’ve seen a few of these movies as well. Kudos to everyone for the denouement not being exactly what I expected, too.

The third story is kicked off by a venal businessman (Ian Carmichael) switching price tags between two snuff boxes to get the silver one he wants for cheap. On the train ride home, he is confronted by the flamboyant Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton), who informs him that there is an invisible elemental spirit burrowing into his left shoulder, and it’s a nasty one, too. Carmichael pish-tushes these pronouncements until various dreadful things start to happen at home, at which point he is more than happy that Orloff pressed her business card into his hand.

Ian Ogilvy is the customer who kicks off the last story, buying an ornate carved door that’s languished in the store for a while. That door will cover some shelving he uses for office supplies at his home, and looks quite handsome, too, until he opens it one night and find it now leads into a blue gothic nightmare of a room, which he explores in bewilderment until something starts turning the knob on the only other door in the room. He rushes out, slamming his new door behind him. After a quick shot of brandy, he opens it again, only to find his closet once more.

Later, he will explore the room again, finding a journal explaining that the room’s original owner, a sorcerer of some power, created the room to ensure his immortality – the carven door offering a portal to the room when it – and its master – needed feeding. And guess who’s on the menu?

Well, Ogilvy is the one patron who didn’t try to cheat Cushing, so he at least has a fighting chance to not become sorcerer chow. Which is good, because he’s married to Lesley-Anne Down, whom I have a personal stake in not getting hurt.

From Beyond the Grave represented a pleasant surprise for me, and I believe it’s because, unlike a lot of the Amicus anthologies I watched, the stories are not written by Robert Bloch, but the British writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes, which brings a different flavor and some freshness to the approach. All due credit to Bloch – I loved those movies, but a bit of variety is good for you. As far as I know, the only other movie using Chetwynd-Hayes’ work is The Monster Club, which is, yes, yes, another I haven’t seen.

There is always one thing you can count on with these British horror flicks: you are in an irony-free zone. The work is accorded the respect and seriousness it deserves (and all-too-frequently, I admit, even when it doesn’t). And just to do a complete about-face on that last statement, I am especially a fan of the “Elemental” story and its lighter touch carried on the able shoulders of Margaret Leighton, who is a hoot and a half, and her exorcism scene in a highly mobile set with various physical effects almost literally sings. Fantastic, delightful stuff.

Happy New Year to All Who Celebrate

For years, it was my practice to, every New Year’s Eve after midnight, to watch something beautiful to bring in the New Year. This would mean movies like Powaqqatsi, Baraka and Samsara.

I didn’t do that for 2022, and look what happened.

Primarily I think it was because I had sucked all the juice out of those fruits, and watching something overly familiar would deaden or demean the beautiful part of that.

Oh, but I had it all figured out this year. I had a copy of Terrence Malick and Godfrey Reggio’s Awaken. That should chase the demons right out of the house and into the cold and gunsmoke of the fireworks exploding all around me.

And it wouldn’t play. All my years of video experience availed naught. It just. Would not. Play.

Were I a less stable person, I would assume that this was another blow against me by the Forces of Evil. 2022 delivering its final blow from the grave. As it is, I just figured it was a byproduct of my usual practice of buying movies and putting them aside until I am ready for them, which wasn’t particularly helpful just after midnight on the first day of the year, with no way to score another copy.

So I remedied it with another instance of the same problem: Years ago, I bought a copy of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine from a now-defunct used video store, only to find when I tried to watch it months later it was from the run of defective blu-rays that played the Special Features pop-ups even if you hadn’t chosen that option. So I watched my non-defective copy of that instead. Finally.

I liked it. It was certainly beautiful. A little too long, and the third act doesn’t ideally sing, but well-made, with a hell of a cast. Eventually uplifting.

So I hope that will do.

I wish happiness to everyone in the coming year, and less bullshit overall. Me, I’m going to be waiting another year to watch Awaken.


The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: E

Eyes of Fire (1983)

Can this be? A movie I actually watched right now instead of back in July, when I was intending to do Hubrisween the “normal” way? (Don’t worry, we’re back to the last of the warm recollections stage next time)

Eyes of Fire was a staple on video store shelves back in the heyday of the 80s, yet I never rented it. I wasn’t very fond of American attempts at folk horror during the time, but in my more tolerant “Golden Years”, I’m going back and sometimes finding some gems. It also helps that Severin included an excellent restoration in its extraordinary “All the Haunts Be Ours” box set, making my viewing so very much easier and pleasant.

We’re in “The American Frontier” in the year 1750, where a French officer (Mike Genovese) is interrogating three English girls who were, bewilderingly, found hundreds of miles from their home. The story will told in flashbacks as the girls remember.

In a rustic little village there is a scandal when a woman, Eloise (Rebecca Stanley), tired of the months-long absences of her trapper husband, has moved in with the new preacher, Will Smythe (Dennis Lipscomb). Smythe already lives with another woman, Leah (Karlene Crockett), a sub-vocal redhead who he claims he rescued from a witch-burning episode. These small pre-Revolution villages being what they are, Smythe is soon rousted from his home and strung up in the smokehouse for blasphemy or something. He is only saved by a) Leah breaking the noose by apparent magic, and b) Smythe’s small but loyal band of followers bursting in with weapons.

Smythe’s followers lock the villagers in the smokehouse and proceed to steal provisions and the town’s ferry for a journey to “a promised land” prophesied by Smythe. Soon afterward, Eloise’s husband Marion (Guy Boyd), a true James Fenimore Cooper type, returns, carves a canoe out of a tree, and starts downstream to find his errant wife and the daughter Fanny (Sally Klein), who is narrating everything.

That ferry, meanwhile, has run afoul of Indians (and are saved, once more, by magic from Leah) and our potential group of Jonestowners have abandoned the boat and set off across land, still hoping for that promised land. About the time they are accosted by some Shawnee and and a nastier band of trappers, Marion catches up with them and helps them out of that spot, but now the whole group is stuck in the middle of Shawnee territory. Luckily, though, they are on the edge of a valley the Shawnee consider taboo, and so they head there, and find some ruined cabins that offer shelter.

Of course, there is a reason the Shawnee don’t go there, and that would be the Demon Witch who holds reign over the woods. So things get considerably worse.

Writer/director Avery Crounse is an award-winning photographer in his own right, and the images shown in Eyes of Fire certainly prove that – there are many sequences where you just find yourself thinking, “Damn, that’s pretty.” And the story, simple as it is, is fairly solid; some will complain of its slow pace, but the fact that Crounse and his cohorts made a very good period piece on next-to-no-money is a magic trick of its own. Some of the imagery is of necessity simple, but still striking: the trees bearing the human faces of the Demon Witch’s victims, and their mud-soaked bodies when she summons them to attack the cabins. There are times when things get downright psychedelic.

Present-day viewers are also likely to point out the story’s remarkable similarity to 2015’s The Witch, but as I said, it’s a simple story. Simple as the folklore it invokes.

There is an original cut of the film, Crying Blue Sky on the set’s disc, which has a half-hour that was trimmed out for (I presume) nervous suits. Time pressures keep me from checking it out at this time, but I should watch it to see if any of my unanswered questions are answered. I mean, Leah is quite obviously a witch, and the subject is never truly broached, even though much of the story’s time is spent on her realization that she and the Demon Witch are headed for a showdown, and she must somehow prepare while still trying to protect her friends – the young girls who are telling the tale to the French officer.

Chances are that my gorehound younger 80s self might have actually appreciated this movie, but I’m glad I instead experienced it these days, when I watch these movies more to determine how well the filmmakers delivered their vision to the screen. Avery Crounse did so very well on this, his first feature, that I would like very much to track down his other two movies, The Invisible Kid and Cries of Silence aka Sister Island, which is likely the highest recommendation I could offer any movie.

Five minutes later: Great, just what I needed. More movies to watch. Grumble gripe bitch complain



The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: D

D: The Dead Center (2018)

I hate the holidays.

I admit that I don’t hate the holiday itself, but for some reason the forces of fate keep making the run up to Christmas horrible for me. This year its workplace drama and, of course, the Arctic Blast coming through these parts in a couple of days. Houston, indeed, much of Texas, is not good about such things. I fully expect to lose power again, and people will die again, and Ted Cruz is probably already in Cancun. So bah and humbug and all that.

This was the second of the movies I watched I watched and never wrote about. The Letterboxd film diary says I watched it on August 28th. It made enough of an impression that I might only have to skip through my copy for some details, but just barely, and probably only because I knew I was going to be writing about it, no, really.

The movie opens with a body being wheeled into a hospital morgue. No sooner is the gurney placed in a refrigerated room and the light turned out than there is a animalistic growl and the body in the bag starts convulsing. Later we’ll see a dazed man (Jeremy Childs) walking through hospital corridors, shivering. He finds an empty bed, covers himself with a blanket, and passes out.

Next we’ll meet Dr. Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth, yes, that Shane Carruth, Primer and Upstream Color Shane Carruth), a psychiatrist at that very same hospital who is having some problems of his own. After this mystery catatonic man – who we will learn is named Michael Clark – is discovered in the hospital bed, Forrester bends the rules yet again to get him put in the psych ward under his care. Clark snaps out of his catatonia but remembers nothing, so Forrester begins the process of trying to regain his memories.

Our last proactive cast member is Edward Graham (Bill Feeheely), an investigator with the Medical Examiner’s office. He finds the initial stage of his investigation into Clark’s apparent suicide is a bit hindered by the fact that the body disappeared from the morgue. He continues on, heading toward the scene of death, and finding a motel room covered in blood and a bathtub filled with same. Draining it yields the kitchen knife Clark used to slash his wrists (photos will show Clark did it the right way) – and a mysterious spiral cut into the bathtub’s floor. A similar spiral-shaped weal was on the corpse’s back.

Forrester tries hypnosis on Clark, who can still remember nothing, except that he did die.

” I died, and I came back, it wasn’t the first time. I can’t kill it, it came back with me in the fire. It wanted into this world, it’s inside of me now. It comes back at night, moves around inside of me. I kept cutting cutting until I was dead.”

Graham has backtracked Clark’s timeline to that aforementioned fire, which almost completely consumed the house. Continuing to the home of Clark’s parents, he (and we) find out that the fire killed his wife, but somehow spared Clark and their two children. The parents took them in and Clark’s mental state declined precipitously, until he ran away in the middle of the night, leaving his children behind. Clark’s room at this house has the traditional wall of newspaper clippings about unexplained mass deaths throughout history, and an engraving from an old book, with the caption “I am the Mouth of Death, none are beyond my reach”, which is also the suicide note Clark left behind, although Clark appended “Forgive me.”

I think you all know where this is all headed, and the fun is going to be had in getting there. Clark is going to beg Forrester to kill him again, because when he tried to do it himself, “I just made it stronger.” Clark is trying to hold back the Mouth of Death, but will lose control enough times to get some people in the ward killed. Clark’s actual identity will be determined, and his father will show up at the hospital demanding his release. Graham won’t get there in time to stop it, either, and all we can do is watch the tragedy take its course.

The Dead Center is not a bad movie, by any definition of that word. It is competently made, well-shot, and very well acted. I truly love it when methodic investigation slowly uncovers what is going on in any story, and when it’s in service of a horror story, I am ecstatic. It delivers on that aspect.

You may looking at the plot synopsis and thinking, this is a whole bunch of people talking in rooms, isn’t it? Sounds abysmally low budget and yes, you would be correct. It doesn’t look low-budget though, and it looks like most of the money was spent in the final act (where, according to Sam Fuller rules, it should have been), where a panic-stricken Forrester is running through a twilit neighborhood full of houses with the front door ripped off its hinges, full of fresh corpses harvested by the Mouth of Death.

There are several of The Mouth’s kill scenes in the ward where there were more explicit versions filmed, but writer/director Billy Senese felt that went against the “grounded approach” he wanted to take to the story. Unfortunately, that is likely where Senese will lose quite a bit of his audience, who look for such visceral thrills, and will just add to the complaints of low budgetry.

But it’s not a bad movie, not at all, especially if you’re kind of into lo-fi horror.

The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: C

C: Canaries (2017)

So this week we have a problem that will crop up again next week and more: Back when I was serious about participating in Hubrisween in 2022, I watched a few of those movies. Canaries, for example, I watched on July 9, according to Letterboxd. Did I write about it then? No, for reasons already discussed. Do I have time currently to dig it back up and re-watch it? Again, no. So this will likely be a pretty bare-boned post. At the very least, Canaries was memorable enough to allow this. Honestly, going through my Film Diary, there were several instances of I watched this? I don’t recall that at all.

So what we have here is a bunch of time-hopping aliens, who keep leaving behind corpses in areas, not to mention times, they do not belong. There’s a Department of Defense spook who’s chasing them around, but the only clue as to where they might appear next is a photo of a New Years Eve party that hasn’t happened yet.

Say that three times fast.

Which brings us to the Welsh community of Lower Cwmtwrch, where a DJ recently fired from his London station is hosting a New Years party (ooh, convenient!) in the hopes of impressing a rich bloke enough to finance a nightclub venture. Trouble is, his friends couldn’t scare up many people to attend the party, there’s a massive rain storm, and, oh yeah, an alien invasion.

As the DoD guy tells us, that’s not rain – it’s a device used by the aliens to create footsoldiers. The corpses they’ve been leaving behind were failures, as the rain kept killing them. It wasn’t until they abducted a fishing boat’s crew that they found their yellow slickers protected their victims long enough for the necessary mutation to take hold. So there’s a sudden influx of slicker-wearing murderers out and about.

You’re going to be getting a lot of Shaun of the Dead vibes over most of the movie, and that is totally justified. Don’t make the mistake of getting attached to any of the characters (like I did), because they’re going to be whittled down pretty quickly. What elevates Canaries beyond mere imitation is that it also tells the other side of the story; turns out the Depart of Defense made a deal with the aliens, as long as they stayed out of the bounds of America (like, say, Lower Cwmtwrch), but an actual invasion wasn’t supposed to happen, and our DoD guy is faced with losing his men on the ground or his job.

What I can’t fault Canaries for is its attempt at scope. The Defense and conspiracy stuff is what prevents me from dismissing it as a mere Shaun of the Dead rip-off. Its ambitions outstrip its means, but it tries, dammit. I have my doubts that a brief scene was actually shot in Viet Nam, as the credits allege, but hey. What do I know.

I also have to give kudos to the makers for finding a cost-effective way to create a lot of monsters – yellow slickers, finger extensions and some face makeup, voila! I’m a hard sell on comedy, but it actually made me laugh out loud a few times. Most importantly, after the movie ended, I felt a need to see more of some of the surviving characters. It may not be a great movie, but it is a surprisingly good one.

Especially since one of its alternate titles is Alien Party Crashers, under which, I can assure you, I never would have watched it.

The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: B

According to my master list, the letter B was going to be represented by The Body Snatcher (1945), because I have a personal tradition that each Hubrisween should include a Boris Karloff movie.

Instead, you’re going to get a movie I actually did watch.

B: Black Friday (2021)

First of all, do you now, or have you ever, worked retail?

Oh, God, I am so sorry.

There was a year or so, back in college, when I worked retail. At a small record store in a small college town. It was eventually obvious that for the sake of myself and the health of the commonweal, that I should not be in a position to interact with the public. Honestly, most people are fine. It’s just that the ones who are not are the ones that stick in your craw, or your memory’s craw, however that works. I’m not even sure what a craw is.

So Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving (or, as we shall see, the evening of), with ballyhooed bargains, first come, first served, seems engineered by capitalism to provide an excuse for gladiatorial games between consumers, giving rise to horrific spectacle and schadenfreude-laced news stories.

It’s really kind of amazing that it’s taken this long for a horror movie to use it as a backdrop.

So we have a toy store that has a staff trying to gird its loins for the doors to open at 9PM to a waiting line of potential combatants. What they don’t know (but we do, because we saw the movie’s prologue) is the recent spate of meteor showers are not space debris at all, but an invasion of fairly grotesque alien creatures that infect and absorb earthlings – think The Thing except it doesn’t care much for concealment, it goes for the gusto. Soon every shopper is a mutating beastie that wants to either kill or infect (sometimes both) everybody else, and our crew find themselves locked in a store that is not terribly secure and trying to survive the night, with varying degrees of luck (mostly bad) in the process.

First of all: as an alien invasion flick that takes most of its inspiration from the first third of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, it’s pretty good. Second of all, realize it’s a horror comedy, with all that entails. Unfortunately it seems to entail getting our characters from the Stereotype Rolodex, so I hope you asked Santa for some forbearance.

One of our main characters, Chris (Ryan Lee) is a germophobe, which gets really tedious. Ken (Devon Sawa) is a divorced dad and slacker who somehow wound up working in the store for ten years. Marnie (Ivana Barquero) …is a cipher, but it falls to her to be the voice of reason for most of the picture. And so it goes.

Your big marquee values are Bruce Campbell as Jonathan, the store manager, and for the most part manages to not play him as a version of Ash who made it to management, but he does use all the chops he’s been honing over the years to a fine edge, playing a guy who is always in way over his head. Also onboard is Michael Jai White as Archie, a maintenance guy, which means he’s always walking around with a bunch of tools that will come in handy. I mean, he’s Michael Jai White. Does that mean he’s going to be kicking some alien ass? What do you think? (Spoiler, though: not as much as you’d like)

Probably the actual best scene in the movie is when our core of survivors have boarded themselves up in a back room, and Marnie has found a pack of turkey cold cuts, allowing them to have what might be a final Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a scene that actually has some character development – bare as it may be – and felt like a welcome relief after the hectic preliminaries. Then things go to hell all over again.

I like Black Friday well enough – it’s entertaining all the way through, when you’re not rolling your eyes at Chris’ crippling germophobia being played for laughs. The effects are good, but a lot of horror fans are going to complain that they’re not gooey enough or sufficiently gross. It’s likely not going to be part of my regular holiday movie rotation. I could be wrong about that, and it’s certainly worth a look if you’re a fan of any of the actors or horror comedies in general – or especially if you work retail and would like to see some customers worked over with a nail gun.

As a PS, I will also add that the story’s Hot Toy of the Season is Dour Dennis – a plush Teddy Bear with a business shirt and tie, who says things like “I’m so tired” and “I’m not doing very well.” He’s being recalled because he has a tendency to burst into flames. Maybe he’s made by Tesla or something.

Filmmakers, it is pronounced “doer”, not “dower”. You made me yell at my TV and hurt its feelings.

The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: A

As mentioned in the last posting, I fully intended to do Hubrisween this year. I shouldn’t let what pitiful amount I did get done go to waste, so here goes. I’m also going to handle this in a different way than I originally intended, cuz I’m fickle that way


A: AM 1200 (2008) is the directorial debut of David Prior, better known for The Empty Man and “The Autopsy” on Cabinet of Curiosities. Well, his debut as a fictional storyteller, he has some heavyweight credits on video documentaries on filmmaking. I can’t seem to find it streaming anywhere except YouTube and Vimeo – probably because it’s only 40 minutes long – and that is a shame. It deserves a wider following.

We meet our main character, Sam (Eric Lange) on the run. We find he acted on drunken advice from an associate at his financial securities firm (the always welcome Ray Wise), and made off with a bunch of money, resulting in the suicide of said associate. The increasingly paranoid Sam’s escape plan is apparently to drive as far as he can, continuing on into the night, until he falls asleep at the wheel.

Turning on the radio to keep himself awake, he finds he’s so far into the boondocks that the only station he can pick up is on AM 1200, an evangelical station, and that just barely. On that, he hears a call that there’s a medical emergency at the station, and if anyone is listening, please help. Sam realizes that he has gotten himself totally lost, there is no cell phone coverage out here, and oh, look – there’s that radio station. He looks down the dark, wooded path to the station and utters the deathless horror movie line, “No fuckin’ way” and drives on.

Only to find the road he’s on is a dead end. driving back, his overtaxed car finally craps out. In front of that radio station. Odd, that.

Well. Nothing left to do but go up there and see if they have a phone.

And thereby hangs the tale.

I really enjoyed AM 1200 the first time I saw it, and I enjoy it more every time I see it. Prior’s direction and visuals are both extremely assured, and he is able to conjure dread out of the simplest things. I tracked it down after seeing The Empty Man, hoping to find more cosmic horror done well, and boy was I rewarded. I wish Prior the best, I hope he continues in this vein for a long, long time.

Looking back over my archives, I see that when I link to YouTube on here, the file inevitably goes away. So hurry up and watch. Like I said, it’s only 40 minutes long, and far more rewarding than hate-watching another episode of whatever you young people are hate-watching these days