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.