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!

S: Sea Fever (2019)

This seems to be my season to watch movies with common themes. So why not another movie with people trapped aboard a ship at sea with… something?

Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) (why yes, this is an Irish movie, could ye not kin?) is a stand-offish grad student whose program sends her off in a fishing trawler to catalog their catch and look for any anomalies. She is almost forcibly pulled off her work at a lab which is finding parasites in water they should not be in, which is why your foreshadowing sense was tingling.

The husband and wife (Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen) owner/operators of the Niamh Cinn Oir (told you – Irish) are in deep financial trouble, as witness the state of the boat. They need a massive catch, and they need it bad. Which is why Scott disobeys Coast Guard orders and steers into an Exclusionary Zone, supposedly closed off because of whales. Turns out that massive shoal they see on sonar isn’t lots of fish, it’s something preying on the whales – and it thinks the Niamh Cinn Oir is a whale, trapping it in place with glowing tendrils and pumping some sort of slime through the hull.

That slime is full of parasites that can enter the bloodstream through any open cut – and if you’ve seen any episodes of Deadliest Catch you’ll know that injuries abound on these trips, and the end result is messy. Worse news is the parasite is also in the water supply.

Sea Fever owes a lot to Alien, with its female protagonist being the only one sensible enough to see what’s at stake versus a lot of desperate working class types. They even have a callback to the trip to the alien ship where earlier victims of the parasite are found (a commercial fishing vessel floating in the Exclusionary Zone).

Sea Fever, though, is not the cover-your-eyes horror trip that Alien was; it is more a slow-burn exercise. That might have made it suffer due to a viewing immediately after [REC]4, but I was never tempted to fast forward or go elsewhere for my S entry – I wanted to see what happened next. It is well-cast and acted, and sometimes you just need that sort of variance in your entertainment diet.

The poor movie also came out about the same time as Underwater, aka the beginning of the Pandemic, so sadly it was born under a bad sign. Or, as one of the many fisherman superstitions in the movie inform us, it’s bad luck to have a redhead on board. Being something of a ginger fan, I don’t see the sense in that, so I’ll give Sea Fever the recommendation it deserves.

 

R: [REC] 4: Apocalypse (2014)

Well, at least I get to continue one of my Hubrisween traditions with the [REC] franchise. As you may recall, the first [REC] was an excellent found footage horror movie, which involved news reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) doing a ride-along with a fire department crew to an apartment building which becomes a hotbed of zombie-ish activity playing out in real time. [REC]² took up almost immediately after the first movie ends, with a SWAT team going into the quarantined building to get a specific blood sample to combat the contagion (along with some idiots breaking in for various reasons but really to keep the cannon fodder quota up). [REC]³ breaks the format – quite literally – 20 minutes or so in, as a new outbreak makes itself known at a lavish wedding.

Writer-directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza collaborated on the first two, then split up for the last two: Plaza handled the wedding, and Balaguero this last chapter. Apocalypse takes place on a freighter which has been quickly transformed into a floating lab and quarantine space. Among the quarantined are our old friend Angela, Guzman (Paco Manzanedo), a Special Forces doctor who managed to rescue Angela from the building before his team blew it up; Lucas (Crispulo Cabezas), the only other survivor from that team, and Mrs. Boda (Maria Alfonsa Rosso), the only survivor from the wedding. They have all tested clean of the contagion, but what exactly the team of scientists (and what the ship’s captain refers to as “their private army”) are doing in the ship’s hold is anybody’s guess. Whatever it is, it’s putting a strain on the ship’s aging generator, causing occasional blackouts.

You don’t suppose that will be significant later on, do you?

The scientists are trying to create an antiviral to combat these outbreaks, which of course means they have to have subjects that are contaminated, right? When someone lets a test subject loose despite numerous security precautions… well, you watch movies. I’m sure you can figure out what happens next.

Yeah, you were right.

Now, [REC]³ had triggered my old zombie movie fatigue, because minus the novelty of the found footage approach, that is what it was: simply another zombie movie. Apocalypse, though, returns to the claustrophobic pressure cooker of the first two movies, and is all the better for it, even cribbing a bit of paranoia from John Carpenter’s The Thing. You get your usual betrayals, acts of cowardice and acts of heroism, all driven forward by bad circumstances: the venture is a succeed-or-die mission, the lifeboats are all disabled, the ship is rigged to explode in case of what happens does, and, oh yeah, we’re in the middle of a Force 8 gale.

Also seemingly jettisoned is the thread running through the first three movies, that the cause is a medical version of demonic possession – in [REC]² a zombie is trapped in a room with a crucifix, and in [REC]³ the zombies are held by a clergyman reading scripture. None of that is present here, and I really kind of miss it. It was different, and I liked it.

But it is a nicely done series ender, and Balaguero and Plaza have both stated that this is indeed the end of the series. I’m thankful they have enough sense to not go the full franchise route (I really don’t need a Twitter war about [REC] Kills five years from now), and that this final chapter was good enough to make me actually care about what happens in a zombie movie.

Q: Quiet, You (2021)

Please see this post for an explanation of why we’re so spotty for this year’s Hubrisween.

If you don’t care to click over, rest assured the reason is work. My commitment to improving government transparency actually pays me money; in other words:

P: Probably Not (2021)

Oh thank the sweet lordy Jesus, I finally found the “Classic” WordPress Editor, aka “The Editor That Actually Does What You Want”.

Just in time for another skip day. Of course. (I will miss that big Drop Cap, though).

I was going to do the 2013 Malay film Penanggal: The Curse of the Malayan Vampire for today, but the accelerated Hubrisween viewing schedule I had chosen for myself worked against it. A third of the way through, I realized that the movie was too Malaysian; there were bits and pieces that a native would instantly recognize and know their significance. If I had employed my usual leisurely approach to these things, I could research and hopefully find the cultural touchstones. I don’t have the time to do that currently. Sorry.

I will say that the movie is well-shot, and frequently beautiful. I may circle back later and try again later, mainly because Islamic horror movies exert an exotic fascination for me. But alas, today is not that day.

O: Ooga Booga (2013)

If I could, I would like to take a moment at the start of this post to ask a question of this particular movie; to wit: “What the FUCK?!?” I would then like to go on to my follow-up question, “No, really, what the actual fucking FUCK?!?!

I fear these questions will remain rhetorical.

The movie starts with the last day of children’s TV show host Hambo (Chance A. Rearden), who will be fired for drinking on the job, cursing out his audience, and molesting the nubile co-host (Amber Strauser). But never mind that, let’s meet Devin (Wade F. Wilson), a young black man who just got admitted to medical school. After a phone call from a distraught Hambo, Devin begs off an evening with his girlfriend, Donna (Ciarra Carter), to meet with his childhood idol and longtime friend.

Hambo has plans for his post-TV life, he tells Devin. He has designed a line of figurines called Badass Dolls, which will have voice chips installed in mass production. He shows Devin his line, with figures like Joe Cracker, The Crack Whore, and the bucktoothed bespectacled Gook (“There’s a steering wheel, because you know those people can’t drive. And there’s a camera because you never see ’em without one.”). What he feels will be his biggest seller (especially in Asia) is Ooga Booga, basically every racist trope about Africans boiled down to one figure. Devin seems surprised that his longtime idol is a racist.

Good freakin’ grief

In gratitude for his support, Hambo gifts Devin the prototype for Ooga Booga, larger (and frankly better looking). Devin is still carrying it when he stops at a store to get Donna a promised Rhubarb Slushy, only to have three lowlife scumbags come to rob the store and shoot the cashier. Devin lies low, and after the scumbags leave, tries to administer first aid to the cashier, until the cops arrive and totally not-ironically-named Officer White (Gregory Niebel) shoots him for being black.

There are strange doings at the Circle K, though, as electricity from the malfunctioning Slushy machine arcs to Devin’s blood and the Ooga Booga package, resulting in Devin’s spirit being transferred to Ooga Booga.

All this takes up the first third of the movie, incidentally. The second third will be filled with Devin convincing Donna that he is actually more than a Zuni fetish doll rip-off (yeah, I saw Trilogy of Terror too, Band), and Donna trying to track down the scumbags. Turns out the scumbags are actually in the employ of amazingly racist Judge Marks (Stacy Keach), and Officer White is his main enforcer. So we get to see White also track down the scumbags so we can have a lengthy scene of him threatening the scumbags if they don’t get their numbers up. It is not only lengthy to take up some time, but because there is a topless prostitute involved.

Scumbags in their natural habitat.

So most all our Ooga Booga mayhem will be confined to the final third of the movie, which makes sense in a structural way. We are allowed a bit earlier on when a racist neighbor breaks into Donna’s apartment to say racist things (Ooga Booga is playing music too loud, it seems, while Donna is out) and get Ooga Booga-ed. What the little guy does with the body, we’ll never know.

Coming soon to a rally near you!

As you can imagine, something titled Ooga Booga (really, what the fuck?!?) is going to be problematic, even beyond Charles Band’s weird fetish for toys committing murder. The toy is at least presented as being created by an unrepentant racist, but this… look, it reminds me of a local lady who attends the annual School Board budget meeting, one of the things I cover for my day job. She gets up during the Public Comment section to say that she and her friend attended last year’s high school graduation, and her friend commented that it was sad that so few of the graduates were white. You see, she’s not racist, it’s her friend. That’s the kind of logic at play here, having your cake, crapping all over it, and eating it too.

I usually don’t criticize the acting in movies, because honestly, I usually feel I don’t have to. Online reviewers seem to feel it necessary 98% of the time, and 95% of the time it isn’t warranted. Is the actor doing something in a scene that drops me out of the movie-watching experience? No? Then that actor is doing his/her/their job, dammit. But the acting in Ooga Booga is so stereotype-driven and so one note, it draws attention to itself. I’m going to blame a rushed production schedule, because the acting is just good enough to churn out product. The only nuance needed for most of the characters is hatefulness, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to thoughtful character beats.

It also doesn’t explain how Donna becomes a vengeful Blaxploitation avenger, putting bullets between asshole’s eye without blinking hers. Keach’s scenes were likely shot in a day or less. But the real stunt casting – and the best acting job in the movie – is Karen Black, as the soap opera-obsessed Mrs. Allardyce, owner of the trailer park where the scumbags live. I’m grateful for any dab of difference in this exercise, but it turns out Mrs. Allardyce owns some racist statuettes of her own, so she will get Ooga-Booga-ed. Charles Band never got the note about the downfalls of reminding people of better movies.

And just to wrap things up in a racist fashion, it turns out that Hambo was right and he is now filthy rich, leaving a suitcase full of money to help Devin with his medical school expenses. Maybe this is just the ultimate nihilist movie, and I’m just too out of touch to get it – but I strongly doubt this is the case.

N: The Night Walker (1964)

As I mentioned earlier in this busted-ass jalopy version of Hubrisween, you always hope to shed some light on some obscure flick from days gone by, something unjustly neglected, so you can aid in the betterment of mankind, or at least your strange clan who appreciate such things. So it is with The Night Walker, which I know I watched on TV as a kid, because it had pictures in Famous Monsters. Turner Classic Movies put out a DVD of it on a double bill with Dark Intruder, which I love, then Shout Factory split that double bill up into two blu-rays. So, not quite so obscure any more.

But I really didn’t remember a single thing from that long-ago viewing, so why not?

We will start once more with a mistreated woman, Irene Trent (Barbara Stanwyck), cooped up in a massive house with her blind husband, Howard (Hayden Rorke). Howard is obsessed with the notion that Irene is seeing another man, because she talks in her sleep at night about a wonderful lover. Howard is convinced it’s his attorney, Barry (Robert Taylor), an accusation both deny; and the truth of the matter is that Howard’s oppression is causing Irene’s dreams. After a particularly bitter argument, Irene runs from the house to spend the night at a hotel. Howard goes up to his mad scientist lab and blows himself up, and good riddance.

After the funeral, Irene has a nightmare about the explosion and seeing Howard’s horribly burned (for 1964) face. She then makes the decision to move back into the small apartment in the back of her hairdressing salon until she can sell the house. Changing locations doesn’t end the dreams, though; her imaginary lover (Lloyd Bochner) visits once more in the night, and every night thereafter. Then Burned Howard starts showing up, too, and soon people are dying in real life.

Uncle Forry says, Don’t ask! Just buy it!

Okay, let us once again indulge in SPOILERS FOR A FIFTY YEAR-OLD MOVIE and reveal that this is all part of a bizarrely elaborate plot to gaslight Irene, driving her insane so that Howard’s considerable estate can be divided up. Except that we’ve seen a few movies ourselves and we figured that out perhaps a half-hour into the movie, if not sooner. I will compliment director William Castle and writer Robert Bloch for keeping me in the dark about the extent of the conspiracy, until the last segment.

Past that, The Night Walker is pretty dull and toothless; it cribs from the aforementioned Gaslight, Midnight Lace, and others; Castle also lifts a pretty powerful image from The Man Who Knew Too Much, all to not much gain. It is painfully pedestrian, and could have easily been a TV movie. This is, in fact, Stanwyck’s last theatrical movie. After this she moved to exclusively TV roles, which usually presented her with a better showcase for her talents, at a difficult stage for movie actresses of her era (in fact the role was originally offered to Joan Crawford, going through a similar phase).

Not suspicious at all.

I know there’s a couple of online Halloween lists of “Movies That Aren’t Too Scary” and “Horror Movies With No Gore”, and I guess The Night Walker would fit into either of those – if your forbearance for “not particularly exciting” is also high.

I now know why I didn’t remember much from that original viewing, is what I’m saying.

The trailer below begins with excerpts from “Experiment in Nightmares”, a short Castle made with a professional hypnotist for ballyhoo purposes, segueing right into a bit of animation narrated by Paul Frees, which forms the first four minutes of the movie. This is the only place that extremely boss illustration from the poster, of the gargoyle perched on a woman, appears in the movie.

M: Malignant (2021)

What? I do watch recent movies, you know.

I was told I needed to go into Malignant cold, with as little knowledge as possible. That the plot started out batshit and only got more batshit from there. Now, I like James Wan as a horror director (and I absolutely loved his Aquaman), so I saw it before it could get spoiled for me. So I’m going to take the same tack in writing about it, trying to not give away too much, which is going to look absolutely quaint in a week or so when everybody knows everything about it.

First we have Madison (Annabelle Wallis), a troubled woman who is having a stretch of bad life; she’s pregnant again after three miscarriages, and her husband is an abusive asshole (Jake Abel doing a too-good job in the role). An argument culminates in him smashing her head into a drywall, apologizing copiously and running to get some ice. Madison, bleeding from the back of her head, locks the bedroom door behind him and collapses onto the bed.

That night, somebody comes into the house and murders the husband, leaving his body a twisted wreck. Madison discovers his body the next morning, and if you watch any true crime shows, you know she is instantly the prime suspect, although she doesn’t remember much from the previous night, just a dream about a mysterious black-clad figure doing the killing.

Of course, since we have a movie to fill, there will be more murders, and each time Madison finds herself paralyzed as she has a vision of the murder happening. The murders are connected to something in Madison’s past, and, as is traditional, Madison’s sister Sydney (Maddie Hanson) proves a better detective about this past connection than the cops assigned to her case (George Young and Michole Briana White).

There’s a nice little horror show prologue that gives you an important clue to the nature of this mysterious assassin (and more clues are even dropped in the opening credit), so although horror movie aficionados will be fairly certain that they know what’s going on, the actual mechanism and nature of the killer has to be unfolded throughout the story, and that’s where the fun lies – at least for me. And the movie certainly doesn’t lack for mayhem and action.

I will tell you the killer’s name is Gabriel (the trailer does that, anyway), and that I’ve seen it mentioned online that he should be the star of a new franchise, and I say naaaaaah to that. He’s an interesting character, truly bizarre to watch in motion, owing more to the Crooked Man in Wan’s Conjuring 2 than anything else; completely disturbing to the human eye. But not everything is franchise fodder, for the love of God. The Crooked Man is already getting his own movie, you should let Malignant be what it is: a decent giallo-adjacent horror movie that would be all the better for being a one-and-done.

Less than 500 words. And there is why I don’t usually do recent movies.

L: The Laughing Dead (1990)

I really have no idea how long this VHS copy of The Laughing Dead has been in my collection, unwatched and unloved. Since Vinegar Syndrome is putting this out on blu-ray (as far as I know, the first legitimate video of the movie domestically), I say it’s time to dust off that box and give it a watch. I also thought that the flick might benefit from a grainy VHS bootleg ambiance.

(I was wrong about that, incidentally. No film deserves a 4×3 image with slapdash video quality)

So you have the traditional priest who has lost his faith, Father O’Sullivan (Tim Sullivan), still soldiering on despite his lingering love for Tessie (Wendy Webb), a nun with whom he had an affair and a son, which caused her to be booted from the convent. O’Sullivan is also an amateur archeologist, who leads an annual bus tour of Mayan ruins during “The Festival of the Laughing Dead”. On this year’s tour is the usual bunch of stereotypes, along with Tessie and O’Sullivan’s son, who has turned into a figurative bastard to match his literal status.

“I may be evil, but I’m FABULOUS!!!”

Turns out all this has been set up by the villainous Dr. Um-tzec (writer/director/composer S.P. Somtow), to gain all the pieces and sacrifices he will need to become the living personification of the God of Death after whom he is named. Gore and carnage follow.

The Laughing Dead does provide you with an interesting case study: Somtow is an award-winning writer and accomplished musical composer. Branching out into movies probably seemed a savvy move, but is, in this case, an unfortunately over-reaching one. Dialogue that looks good on the printed page can sink leadenly when spoken aloud, especially when the writer and director are the same person and likely feels nothing needs to be changed, or doesn’t appear to have much experience working with actors.

Also not helping: when a lot of them aren’t actors, they’re fellow writers that were convinced to come along for the ride. Admittedly I didn’t spot most of them until the closing credits, but I’ll give Edward Bryant props for being memorable as the Southern Deadhead Bus Driver, who gets a great death.

Aaaaah, these guys again.

I also give Somtow credit for using a non-typical mythology to drive his story forward, though the lines between Aztec and Mayan gets crossed a few times. The FX work is practical, gooey in that late 1980s way, and mostly excellent – some of it downright nasty. Alas, most of the fun stuff is loaded into the second half of the story, with a whole lot of – well, not character building but cardboard dialogue that hopes it accomplishes the same thing (a truly amazing amount of people seem to know about that convent scandal). There are a number of characters you earnestly hope will die, and rather quickly, but you’re going to be disappointed. The crystal-worshipping New Age couple that informs us that “The Mayans invented the harmonic convergence!” among them. Okay, okay, they wind up being germane to the plot, but Odious Comic Relief is still Odious Comic Relief. At least the worst example is the first to die. (Yep, 3 OCRs for the price of one)

There are, incidentally, bigass monsters, if that helps.

Still, a lot of these criticisms can be leveled at a certain other low-budget movie with the initials F.E., so I can’t bring myself to hate it – it’s more like I sympathize with it, and I’m actually looking forward to Vinegar Syndrome’s cleaned-up version. It’s not truly a buried gem, but it has enough interesting stuff going on in the final act that I’d like to see it under better circumstances.

K: Know, Knothing (2021)

Please see this post to found out why this is only a semi-Hubrisween.

The answer, as always, is work.