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.

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: 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

I Think I’m Back (God Help Me)

It’s been said that life happens while you’re making other plans. I’ve been having life happen when I was just trying to live.

Hi. I’m going to try to come back to the world of old men complaining about movies and other stuff that’s not all that connected to real life, because real life is rawther sucky right now.

I don’t know how many times I’ve started this post over the last (mumble mumble) months or has it been fucking years? Been dealing with the usual: depression and anxiety and the political situation in the States has not been helpful at all. After a whole lot of things blocking me from even thinking about writing were recently resolved, and the workload during this week has been light, well, here I am.

Not been a fantastic year for a lot of us. Here’s my personal 2022 Hellscape: (if I don’t think better of this oversharing and delete this)

  • 2020 finally caught up with me. I lost half my income during the lockdown, and it never came back. Then there were some very bad decisions made on my part (none of which involved crypto – I’m stupid, not totally brain-dead) and I spent most of the year declaring bankruptcy. I don’t have to tell you not to do this, right? Unless it’s absolutely necessary? It’s a lot of work. That was over as of early this month, and I am now guaranteed to be a pauper for the next five years. But at least my family and I have a roof over our heads.
  • In the final stages of that process, I took my wife to the Emergency Room with a massive days-long headache and double vision. It turned out to be a Cranial Nerve Palsy, which tends to go away by itself, but it takes weeks, even months. We got her a batch of differently colored eyepatches in the meantime, so I am now married to either a cute pirate or Elle Driver.
  • Almost immediately after that, my adult son, who was dealing with severe anxiety and depression (gosh, that sounds familiar somehow), on advice of his psychiatrist, was committed to a psych hospital for 11 days. He fucking hated it, but even he has to admit that he came out much improved.
  • So that was my last month, how was yours?
  • Oh, yeah, I’m now a card-carrying Senior Citizen. Or will be once the gummint sends me my Medicare card.

This is from SHARKULA. You shall hear of it again.

Sorry for burdening you with that, but I do feel better having vented to someone besides my family. The next five years will be, um, interesting to say the least, but if nothing else I still have approximately three billion movies in my possession that I still have to watch.

Therein lies another niggling problem, also with its roots in 2020. I have some buddies I game with online every night, which is something that kept me somewhat sane and centered during COVID and Trump, and that tradition continues. Night time was, of course, my usual movie-watching time, and as my day job requires being conscious during daylight hours, my aging body has required bedtimes earlier than my usual 2AM. This has cut down my movie-watching time drastically.

Another problem that can traced to 2020 – and I’m not the only person experiencing this – was violent damage being done to my attention span. For a while I could only watch stuff an hour long or less. I finally overcame that by watching Chinese action/fantasy movies, which had nothing to with current politics or airborne virii, which helped ease me back. Caught an unfortunate taste for “Prestige TV”, which isn’t a bad problem to have, really.

I had really meant to do Hubrisween this year, but as you know, life banged at the front door. Had a good lineup, too. If I get bored tomorrow – a distinct possibility, since we’re not traveling at all – I’ll share it with you. In the meantime:

  • I don’t have to tell you to watch Netflix’s Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, right? That’s because my readers are smart, right? Falls beautifully into the less-than-an-hour attention span trap, and it is a genuine pleasure to see horror not only done right, but done well. I still haven’t watched the last episode, because selfishly, I don’t want it to end.
  • Black Adam is a totally serviceable superhero movie. Enjoyable to see Zack Snyder’s “superheroes totally kill lol” philosophy administered to a proper character, now give me back my non-murderous Superman and Batman. The plot gets super-annoying at times (The Justice Society admitting it’s “a bad plan” from the start and then doing nothing to change that plan), but it was good to see Hawkman and Dr. Fate. I definitely want to see more of Cyclone and even Atomsmasher, and c’mon, make a Superman movie where he smiles occasionally.
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once was just as weird and marvelous as everyone said it was, and that is all I should say, in case you haven’t seen it yet.
  • Is the V/H/S franchise adhering to the even-movie-great odd-movie-sucks template? Because V/H/S 99 is a terrible letdown after 9494‘s stories were as long as they needed to be, while 99‘s are stretched unreasonably and unpleasantly long.

There. I hope that was worth the wait. Hopefully, I’ll be back later. If you’re in the US, Happy Thanksgiving. If you’re not, have a good Thursday.

Because, honestly, who doesn’t need more SHARKULA?

The Grumpy Old Man and The Eternals (2021)

Since I have been practicing for my late-stage career as a Grumpy Old Man since basically the inception of the Internet, I will start this by going Full Andy Rooney (a dated reference that should cement my Grumpy Old Man status) by bitching about fast food.

I know I should not be eating fast food, but as retirement is a laughable fantasy, I work all freaking hours of the day, as needed, and thus do not have time to source and cook every meal at home. And thus I have run into the scurrilous habit of the industry for Limited Time Offerings, those burgers and burritos that are extremely delicious and probably a little harder to put together so that one day, as you drive up and give your order, wanting nothing more than a Hatch Green Chili Burger to take home and enjoy, you are told that you are shit out of luck, here is the new taste treat we have decided you will enjoy for the next couple of months.

I bring this up mainly because this seems to be what happened with The Eternals.

Now, before we get into the meat (lol) of that statement, I feel I should address the elephant in the room (hi, elephant!) Yes I have noticed that over the time Marvel movies have increasingly become the pariah of social media. I get it, you’re tired of superhero movies. Totally understand. I was tired of slasher movies, zombie movies, and vampire movies, but they still kept making them. Attempting to defend Marvel movies apparently puts me in the ranks of anti-cinema barbarians.

After a quarter of a century on the Internet, I have honed a strategy for dealing with this sort of thing, and here it is, as succinctly as possible: fuck off.

That shouldn’t be necessary, unless this is the very first of my posts you’re reading, in which case welcome, and I was saying fuck off to that other guy. Have you seen the sort of movies I watch? Marvel movies are comfort food, pure and simple, like the Hatch Green Chili Burger and the Grilled Cheese Burrito. They helped me get through the Trump years. In the years to come, they’re likely to be relegated to ranks of movies like the garish musicals of the Depression years, one-dimensional stories with lavish production numbers, quaint and visually exciting.

The reason you’re tired of superhero movies is not their fault; it’s the fault of the suits who would only commit significant money where the numbers said profits would be – and we know where that was. Especially with COVID throwing theatre attendance in the garbage.

Now, as for The Eternals: what we were expecting was the usual Marvel formula of here is an extraordinary person, here is how they got that way, and here is the big rock we are throwing at them, with embellishments as necessary.

The Eternals, however, gives us eight characters, and almost dares us to figure them out and sort them as we go; I’m a big fan of movies that realize the audience doesn’t have to be spoon-fed, but I was adrift for waaaaay too long, figuring out the dynamics of the group and what was actually going on. So much so that when the scene occurred that marked a definite turning point of the Eternals’ mission that I was rather bored and didn’t catch it. That required a YouTube video.

Any undertaking to capture a story that evolved over hundreds of pages and many years, I think we can agree, is a fool’s errand. Two attempts to put Dark Phoenix onscreen testifies to that. I had read Jack Kirby’s original run back in the day, and thought I had a good basis to handle whatever Marvel Studios was going to throw at me – what I was not expecting was some lifting from Neil Gaiman’s version (okay, I was cool with that), and certainly not a whole underpinning from the Earth-X mini-series, which presented a dystopian alternate Earth, and seems like it’s going to upset the cosmology presented in earlier movies.

Not that cosmology-upsetting doesn’t happen in comics all the time.

I also kind of resent that rushing toward the denouement of the movie, everything seems to have returned to normal, prior to the Celestial Arishem’s final appearance. Worldwide earthquakes and a freaking alien giant rising from the Indian Ocean didn’t seem to make much of an impact. Then again, the consequences of the five-year absence of half of mankind was not explored until movies after Endgame and the Marvel TV shows.

This is the sort of thing that happened to me with The Suicide Squad; I didn’t much care for it the first time, but upon re-watching it – and prepared to meet the movie on its own terms – I loved it. The Eternals has earned a re-watch from me, but I really wish that urge had originated within me instead of some YouTube videos pointing out that there may be treasures hidden inside.

Z: Zombeer (2008)

We’re finally here at the tail-end of my half-a-Hubrisween observance, and what a hectic trip it’s been. You’re almost always going to be in zombie territory in an A-to-Z horror movie marathon, and because yours truly always like to game the system, here we are with a zombie holocaust movie that runs a trim 12 minutes.

Herman (Rogier Schippers) is the head brew master for Mokum Blond beer. He loves beer. Which is why he is drunk on the job every day. He is finally transferred to the night shift, so he won’t embarrass the company during tours. Of course, his first night he drunkenly falls into a tank and drowns, and the Mackenzie brothers will tell you that sucks. This also turns him into a zombie, because of course it does.

The day shift samples the beer and finds it a bit off, but they have to ship it out anyway, because it’s the Queen’s birthday (we’re in the Netherlands), and not shipping it out would be like closing Amity Beach on the Fourth of July. The first tour group to come through is a bunch of Japanese tourists, and they drink their free samples of the beer as Herman climbs out of the tank for some bitey vengeance on his boss and the day shift goes berserk.

Which is pretty much the end. Credits roll, with a Japanese newscast, featuring an interview with the only guy in the tour group to not drink the beer because he was too busy videoing everything. The newscast then shows his footage, starting with him trying to stop people from drinking the beer (to put it in more identifiable domestic terms, this would be like telling hordes of drunken sombrero-wearing gringos to stop drink margaritas on Cinco de Mayo), to the ensuing carnage, and that where you’re going to get your prime zombie fix. This stuff is well-staged and executed, and totally worth your while. Even the interview is nightmarish, with background screams and sirens and the world ending in general.

So congratulations to Berend de Voogd and Rob van der Velden, for not only having awesome names, but proving that an effective zombie movie can be done in 12 minutes.

Now can I finally watch Dune?

W: The WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

This one has been on my list for a long while, jumping up and down from behind my boxes of discs and going “Yoo hoo! Yoo Hoo!” so I’m glad I finally sat down and watched it – there are quite a few others waiting to take its place.

It’s ostensibly a videotape from October 31, 1987 capturing that night’s evening news and the titular special immediately following, complete with commercials for local businesses. Local TV personality Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) is going to enter the Webber House, shut up since some axe murders twenty years before. Accompanying him will be husband and wife paranormal investigators the Bergers (Brian St. August and Helenmary Bell) and a Catholic priest (Robert Long II). They intend to hold a “Call-In Seance” in the basement.

With any sort of genre awareness you’re immediately going to leap to comparisons with Ghostwatch, but let me stop you right there. That was done with the full powers of the BBC behind it, and played perfectly straight. This is a movie done by a bunch of guys who decided to make a movie with very little money – which doesn’t mean that it’s a slapdash enterprise, at all.

I’m not sure what it took to find older video cameras so the footage would have the right look, but there is a ton of work evident in the movie just in the ads and graphics. The IMDb states the filmmakers got a lot of stock footage for cheap – maybe a local station cleaning out old tapes or something, because that B-roll of carpet warehouses, petting zoos and video arcades is real period stuff. As for the graphics, I’m almost willing to bet that an ancient Video Toaster was resurrected – I recognize at least one transition from that venerable platform.

They work really hard to capture the moment in 1987 – there are at least two of those damned 1-900 phone call spots, the Satanic Panic is in full swing with a local band of fundamentalist crazies based on the Westboro Baptist Church waging a war on Halloween (their organization is called H.A.R.V.E.S.T., which is never explained, and I’m curious).

And as I said, Ghostwatch was serious, whereas The WNUF Halloween Special is largely not – from the oh-god-shoot-me-now japes of the newscasters to the ads, which never quite play as satire, but it’s there. I particularly like the anti-drug ad sponsored by “Parents Against Partying” and the spots for dreadful syndicated action and sci-fi shows that were the mainstay of independent UHF stations before they all got bought by conglomerates.

Like Ghostwatch, there a flock of looky-loos in various costumes outside the Webber house that Stewart interviews, but as they are Americans, they are all idiots.

There’s another level of self-referential humor in there, too. The IMDb states that:

The commercial for “High Pike Farms”, which is located on “Mundra Drive” is a nod to HACK O’ LANTERN, which starred Hy Pike and was directed by Jag Mundra

The police officer who gives a lengthy lecture on how to not fall into the trap of eating candy bars containing needles “laced with the AIDS virus” (this segment is sped over by whoever’s watching the videotape, thankfully) is named Officer Bookwalter, which seems a nod to low-budget guru J.R. Bookwalter. There are more in the movie, but I’m not chasing all of them down. When I start wondering if “Frank Stewart” is a nod to Fred Mustard Stewart, who wrote The Mephisto Waltz, I also wondering if I am too genre-aware.

Naaaaaaah, probably not.

So I find myself curiously torn by The WNUF Halloween Special. On the one hand, it looks like a fairly lackluster found-footage film. But on the other hand (and it is a large, imposing hand) there is so much work obvious in its making, a deliberate intention to grab the cheesiness of the concept and totally commit to it, that I am truly impressed.

U: Unfriended (2015)

Well, it looks like this is also my season for Internet horror movies.

A group of high school friends get together for their regular Skype party (is this a thing? Or was? Haha, I’m old) and someone using the default avatar is along for the ride. Unable to hang up or otherwise get rid of the interloper, a little research reveals it is using the account of one of the group who had committed suicide a year before, on that very night – Laura Banks (Heather Sossaman).

Laura shot herself after a particularly humiliating video was posted, followed by a torrent of cyberbullying. Our main Skyper, Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is starting to receive text messages from Laura. And as the evening progresses, our participants find that not only can they not get rid of her, but she can post equally humiliating stuff to their Facebook accounts and Instagrams, even control their peripherals and their lights. Laura is seeking blame for her suicide, and moreover retribution. And she seems to know a lot about our doomed band of Skypers.

“A vengeful ghost story played out in real time, and only on a computer screen” seems like a thought exercise or a dare between filmmakers, but it has to be confessed that Unfriended manages it beautifully. This the sort of movie I would have expected to get made during the Pandemic (and probably would have done pretty well if released during the first lockdown), and I was surprised to find the date was 2015. Honestly, the fact that Chatroulette shows up as a plot device would have tipped me off eventually, but the movie is so full of familiar icons, bloops and beeps that it mostly assumes a timeless quality – at least until there’s some sort of major UI overhaul or other technical revolution.

Maybe it’s best if you watch it as I did, on a computer screen. I was occasionally disoriented, wondering why my mouse cursor was going nuts, but it wasn’t mine, it was Blaire’s. And I have to give props to anybody who can demonstrate thought processes by using mouse movements. The steps she takes and the tabbing back and forth between windows proceeds logically, and I think anyone could follow this with only rudimentary knowledge of the Web and social media. I think that is another plus to assign to director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves – widening the appeal of a concept that screams niche into something that non-Webheads could appreciate.

Also, I had never even thought about suicide by blender, so thanks for putting that in my head, movie.

T: Terrified (2017)

Former police forensic investigator Jano (Norberto Gonzalo) is roused from his sleep by a phone call from his old colleague Funes (Maximiliano Ghione); there is an incident in a Buenos Aires neighborhood, and Funes absolutely needs his help. What Jano finds upon his arrival is two rattled policemen (three, if you include Funes), a catatonic mother, and what appears to be her five year-old son risen from the grave.

And that’s only the most recent weird shit going on in this particular neighborhood. Jano notices a woman taking pictures of a house across the street, and recognizes her as Dr. Albreck (Elvira Onetto), a paranormal researcher of some note. The occupant of that house had sent her pictures of some vaguely human thing crawling out from under his bed. That occupant has gone missing, about the time his neighbor’s wife was murdered, the husband claiming by forces unknown.

Eventually, Jano, Albreck and her associate, Dr. Rosentok (George L. Lewis) will spend the night in each of these houses in an attempt to discover what is going on. Yep, one person per house, with Funes reluctantly tagging along. Albreck and Rosentok are particularly excited, because this may prove some particularly wild theories. As one might assume, oh boy, do they ever.

Terrified will jump back and forth in its earlier segments to lay out the timeline of this weirdness and the connection of these events. I always like storylines with serious paranormal investigation going on, and man does Dr. Albreck have some lovely supernature detection equipment, all brass and wood and beautiful. I’m jealous.

Is Terrified actually terrifying, though? There are the required jump scares, certainly, but mainly I would have to say it is mainly creepy as fuck, which is sort of the same thing, right? A constant state of dread and unease is certainly the basis, if not one of the definitions, of terror. This is another crawling chaos story, as things from outside make their ways into our world, and the most explanation you’re going to get is “These beings like blood.”

It’s not often Argentinian horror movies cross my path, and the experience is even better when it’s a good one. Thanks to Shudder for bringing it over!