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.