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.

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.

V: Very Likely Not (2021)

Back during one of these Hubrisween marathons, I recall Chad Plambeck, currently of Confirmed, Alan_01, decided in a moment of madness to do the reviews in practically real time, watching a movie, then writing the review for the next day. Given Chad’s passion for screencapping, this must have been like grinding in a video game for magic socks or something. I’m surprised he survived.

I see the Police budget passed.

So here I am, in practically the same boat. Managed it pretty well in R through U, but my work week is usually pretty front-loaded, with Wednesday being the Day of Deadlines. At least there are no City government meetings for me to mark time through this week. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss a solid chunk of the ass-end of the alphabet. Sorry.

Today was going to be Verotika, “Glenn Danzig’s directorial debut, is a horror anthology that compiles stories from Danzig’s line of comic books of the same name. Stories which focus on horror content that’s often sexual and violent in nature, usually featuring scantily-clad female protagonists.” I’m actually not sorry for passing that over, because hey, I already did Catacomba this month, and I’ve already double-dipped on boat horror and Internet horror.

I would, however, really like to watch my W choice. Hopefully I can find enough Vaseline to fit it in today.

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!

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.