Friday, October 24, 2014

Sean Gill and Rachel Klein's THE SUMMONERS at Spooky Fest 2014

Seven more days till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween....  THE SUMMONERS, a new horror short I co-directed with Rachel Klein, will be premiering on Monday, October 27th as a part of Video Mass' Spooky Fest II.  It's a free event at Videology (308 Bedford Avenue) in Brooklyn, and the sixteen film program will be screening twice: once at 8:30 P.M., and again at 9:45. Come check it out and start yer Halloween week off right!

Video Mass Presents Spooky Fest II: Video Massacre from Carl Conway Maguire on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... MUTANTS

Only now does it occur to me... that I've now literally seen Junta Juleil hall-of-famer Michael Ironside phone in a performance.

Indeed he spends more than an hour of this film in the back of a van, earpiece firmly attached, gabbin' on the phone, and occasionally molding his eyebrows into expressions of surprise or concern.  Sorry to see you like this, Mike.

So what are we looking at here?  This is MUTANTS (2008), essentially a SyFy Channel-caliber film  about zombie mutants in an evil sugar factory.  There's everything from poorly-considered Russian accents, meager lighting, and several explosions whose CGI would compare unfavorably to that of an early 90s screen-saver.

 FOOOOOSH... better to have blown it up with flying toasters, I think.

The other "name" in the film, if we can call him that, is Brian De Palma-alumnus Steven Bauer, who can't even be bothered to phone in his performance– he delivers it via webcam:

A classic one-liner that will live on in the annals of film:  "Get to the cane mill and put an end to it."  Might I submit instead: "Blow 'em up into sweet nothings!" or "Go raise some cane!"

Anyway, back to Ironside: he plays the typical paramilitary badass we know and love ("Colonel Gauge"), but, as stated previously, the budget confines him to the back of a van for more than 75% of the run-time.  In the final twenty minutes, he boldly exits the van and kicks some righteous ass:

–er, no he doesn't.  He just wanders around an empty warehouse for a couple minutes and stabs a fat man.

And not the good kind.

Then there's the indignity of the end credits, whereupon his military rank is misspelled:


In closing, I shall sum up the film– and Ironside's involvement– with a screen capture of Iron Mike staring in disbelief at an empty clip of ammunition, reflecting on the impotent futility of human endeavor:

"Ah, shit.  At least I got paid.  ...Whaddya mean the check's in the mail?"


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Film Review: THE INITIATION (1984, Larry Stewart)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Tag-line: "They pledge themselves to be young, stay young... and die young."
Best One-liner: "Sometimes I think that man would forget his head if it wasn't attached."

The best laid plans of mice and men...  I wanted to like this one.  Its reputation is that of a "bottom of the barrel slasher" and while indeed it delivers on that promise, I had hoped for something a little better, especially with classic Hollywood performers Clu Gulager and Vera Miles headlining the thing (spoiler alert– they're barely in it).  

THE INITIATION is essentially many different movies packed into one, none of which are particularly engaging, scary, or fun.  It begins like an Argento movie, with a childhood trauma illustrated by flashback, then melds into witch/coven movie with a group of gals who take their sorority a little too seriously,

but before you know it, it's an insane asylum movie that begins building atmosphere,

and then, as our heroine Daphne Zuniga suffers from recurring nightmares,

And, yes, that is Princess Vespa from SPACEBALLS.

it develops into a medical thriller, like those lab test scenes from NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or THE EXORCIST, and then suddenly it's just an 80s college party movie,

and that's all well and good, but finally it settles into a mediocre slasher, set after hours at a department store.  So in the end this is a "mall slasher with a twist," but it's not as good as CHOPPING MALL.  It was also the first and only theatrical feature written by Charles Pratt Jr., who then ran screaming in the direction of soap operas (prime time and daytime alike!), working as a head writer on shows like GENERAL HOSPITAL, ALL MY CHILDREN, MELROSE PLACE, and MODELS, INC.  Whew.

A few observations:

#1.  Clu Gulager.  Gulager is one of my all-time favorite actors.  I wrote about him most exhaustively (I think?) in my review of THE KILLERS, but you can also read a fascinating profile of him and his amazing, artistic oddball family here.  Clu is the main reason why I watched this film, but you definitely get the idea that Clu and Vera were on set for maybe three or four days, tops.

Why, indeed?

This was around the period where they started to pigeonhole Clu as a horror actor (See also: NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, UNINVITED, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM, HUNTER'S BLOOD, etc.) instead of a TV actor.  Clu doesn't really get the chance to do anything flashy here, though he does rock out some old-man-science-teacher glasses:

and he looks pretty happy cracking out some bubbly:

But the writer soon introduces two new plot threads, painting Clu's character as a philanderer and a possible land developer-villain.  To the audience, this means one of three things: A. his character is being tarnished because he's about to die a deserved death, B. he's slowly developing into the film's big baddie, or C. he'll be the impotent rich guy who accidentally causes widespread destruction, like Richard Attenborough in JURASSIC PARK.  Unfortunately for us Gulager fans, it's A., and by the thirty-three minute mark, he's been dispatched with a garden implement and decapitated.  Goddamit.

Clu does take his death scene for all it's worth.

Little did we know it all was a lead-up for Vera Miles' chuckle/groan-inducing one-liner:

Vera Miles:  "Thankya ladies and germs, I'll be here all week.  Er– I mean, I'll be back for about twenty seconds at the end of the movie."

#2.  I must give special mention to this simultaneously repulsive and low-rent penis costume:

which is probably the most mortifying/identity-obscuring costume since Scout went as Ham in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Pass the damn ham.

#3.  Unlicensed Wendy Carlos?  In the film's first scene set at the sorority house, I swear we hear an electronic Bach adaptation from Wendy Carlos' SWITCHED-ON BACH series (she also worked on the soundtracks for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and TRON), but there's no mention of her in the end credits.  I only bring it up because it actually establishes a nice, spooky mood, and for the only time in the film.   

#4.  What the hell are they drinking here?

The picture above depicts a sorority babe combining what is clearly a watery keg beer on the right with whatever green shit that is on the left.  And don't tell me it's green beer, because why would you sully regular beer with green beer?  Maybe it's Kool-Aid?  But that seems like an even more hideous misstep.  Perhaps Créme de menthe?  Mouthwash?  Why in God's name would anybody want minty beer?  Perhaps it is a metaphor for the movie itself: a cruel concoction of simultaneously low-quality and incongruous ingredients served up to horror fans who've already resigned themselves to taking whatever cruel swill is handed to them.  Eh, maybe that's a bit harsh.  But then again, drinkin' mouthwash always makes me surly!

That's about all, folks.  Two stars.

–Sean Gill


Friday, October 17, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... SONS OF ANARCHY

Only now does it occur to me... that Stephen King's "Bachman" character, who appears in a just a few minutes of one season three episode ("Caregiver"), ought to have his own spin-off series.

Without giving away any substantial SONS OF ANARCHY spoilers, I'll say that it's a show about violent biker gangs that somehow combines the sensibilities of STONE COLD and HAMLET.  It's a veritable playground for some great character actors like Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal, William Lucking, and Kim Coates to ply their trade.  It's a guilty pleasure that occasionally approaches art, like CON AIR.

In any event, in this particular third season episode, circumstances arise that demand the talents of a "cleaner," that old crime-scene-erasing cliché of hardboiled stories, a profession perhaps most popularly depicted by Harvey Keitel in PULP FICTION.  The "cleaner" that they call here is "Bachman" (the name itself a nod to King's nom de plume "Richard Bachman")

King shows up, riding his real-life motorcycle and wearing his own biker attire.  What follows are three or four minutes of spectacular television, as King kookily creeps us out in a very reserved, soft-spoken way.  He demands "80s music" before descending below to dispose of the body– while the actual disposal is left to the imagination, the viewer certainly imagines hacksaws, vats of acid, or worse.  Later, he demonstrates hilarious taste in home decor during a brilliantly bizarre coda that I shan't spoil here.

I'd dare to say King's performance is nuanced, which may come as a shock if you've only seen him as Jordy Verrill in CREEPSHOW or "Hoagie Man" in KNIGHTRIDERS.  Though SONS OF ANARCHY is not a horrorshow in the traditional sense, I think that Stephen King's alter-ego doing unspeakable things in a basement warrants mention in the midst of a Halloween countdown!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Television Review: WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM (2007, Tom Holland)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 57 minutes.
Tag-line: "I scream... you scream..."
Notable Cast or Crew: Based on a short story by John Farris (THE FURY).  Starring Lee Tergesen (WAYNE'S WORLD, OZ, GENERATION KILL), Willliam Forsythe (CLOAK AND DAGGER, EXTREME PREJUDICE, THE ROCK), Quinn Lord (TRICK 'R TREAT, Joe Dante's THE HOLE), Ingrid Tesch (REPLICANT, MVP: MOST VALUABLE PRIMATE), Colin Cunningham (BEST IN SHOW, THE SIXTH DAY), and Brett Kelly (BAD SANTA, TRICK 'R TREAT).  Executive produced by Mick Garris (THE SHINING '97, THE STAND '94).  Special makeup effects by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (DAY OF THE DEAD, ARMY OF DARKNESS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN).  Directed by Tom Holland (FRIGHT NIGHT, FATAL BEAUTY, CHILD'S PLAY).
Best One-liner: "It's time for dessert... just dessert!"

 In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"Heya, bud."
–"What're we watching now?"
–"Oh, come on, I thought we were done with these."
"We're not done till I say we're done.  Come on, they're not all bad."
–"But now we're in the dregs.  We're in the dregs, man."
"Is Tom Holland the dregs?  Tom 'CHILD'S PLAY' Holland?  Tom 'FRIGHT NIGHT' Holland?"
–"Well... no.  But MASTERS OF HORROR doesn't really have the best track record.  I mean, Mick Garris is calling the shots."
"Yeah, but there's been some pretty good ones.  John Carpenter's CIGARETTE BURNS, Lucky McKee's SICK GIRL, John Landis' FAMILY...  plus, it finally brought together Dario Argento and Steven Weber under the same freaky flag!"
–"Okay, okay.  So how's WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM?"
"Erm... not too good."
–"Then why are we doing this?"
"Because we're completists, goddamit!  And because it's Halloween."
–"Fine.  So what's it about?"
"It's based on a short story by John Farris, but the shadow of Stephen King looms pretty large over this one.  Holland is no stranger to King, either– he adapted THE LANGOLIERS and THINNER, and is currently in pre-production on THE TEN O'CLOCK PEOPLE.  Anyway, the plot goes like this: nearly thirty years ago, a group of kids were involved in a traumatic event involving a clown.  Today, the last of the children returns home to his small town where the clown may or may not be back, attacking them one by one.  Did I mention that there's stuttering and vintage bullies as well?"
Vintage bullies.  Pretty frightening.  The one on the left is pretending to smoke, and yes, the one on the right is the kid from BAD SANTA.

"Does any of this sound familiar to you?"
–"Uh... it's IT."
"Exactly.  And as our lead, they've cast Lee Tergesen, who definitely reminds me of Richard Thomas, the actor who played 'Stuttering Bill' in the 1990 miniseries of IT."

 Richard Thomas in IT.


 –"Well isn't that something?"
"Yeah.  Plus, CHRISTINE even shows up."

"Unfortunately, all the Stephen King references in the world can't make this a great movie.  But it's still somewhat decent because of the killer clown."
–"Isn't that 'Killer Klown'?"
"Not in this instance."
 –"Wait... don't tell me... Tim Curry?"
"Nah, but nearly as good:  unhinged character actor extraordinaire William Forsythe.  He worked on a Tom Holland script previously, the dark 80s kiddie spy thriller CLOAK AND DAGGER.  But you may know him better for smokin' crack and scarin' Seagal in OUT FOR JUSTICE, stabbin' rats and killin' things in EXTREME PREJUDICE, or smackin' nuts and shootin' beer cans with an Uzi in STONE COLD."

–"Hot damn!"
"And that picture above is when he's the living, 'nice guy' clown.  See, Forsythe is so good, he can fluently deliver tear-jerkin' pathos or petrifyin' sadism– or, if need be, a combination of the two.  At first, he plays 'Buster the Friendly Clown'– a mentally disabled, ice cream truck-drivin' friend to children.  He's legitimately likable.  You'd trust your kids with this guy.  Theoretically.  Later, when he's 'Buster the Undead Revenge-Seeking Monster,' not so much.

"Yeah, Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero do a pretty good job with this one.  Elsewhere, people melt down like ice cream, and the effect is convincing:

 it reminds me of something out of FRIGHT NIGHT or EVIL DEAD.  But they must have run out of money along the way because what should be the show-stopping final effect is instead some pretty lazy CGI."
–"That's too bad."
–"Anything else?"
"Yeah, sure.  Like the horror classic HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, which incessantly plays a version of 'London Bridge is Falling Down' with the lyrics 'X more days to Hallo-ween, Hallo-ween, Hallo-ween...' etc., WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM repeats the eponymous song (in William Forsythe's creepy, a cappella drawl) over and over and over again."
–"Hey, I like HALLOWEEN III.  Don't you like it?" 
"No.  I love it.  But that's beside the point.  By the fiftieth time I heard "I scream, you scream, we all scream..." etc., I started wondering if I was wrong about the Stephen King pastiche."
–"Whaddya mean?"
"Since it was Tommy Lee Wallace who did the adaptation of IT and who directed HALLOWEEN III, and who did FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2, the sequel to the Tom Holland original, what if this thing is the world's first Tommy Lee Wallace pastiche?"
–"That's ridiculous."
"Yeah, you're right.  Two and a half stars."

–Sean Gill


Monday, October 13, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS

Only now does it occur to me...  that EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS ain't that bad!  For years, I'd judged this film by its (SyFy-channel?) cover and deemed it an unwatchable CGI shitstorm.  While, in fact, there is more CGI than you can shake a severed spider leg at, I really admired its goofy sensibility. 
It's a throwback to the classic creature features and is fun in a very sincere way– it never self-consciously draws attention to its apparent "badness" –therefore, it's more "TREMORS" than "SNAKES ON PLANE."  Other clear points of reference are ARACHNOPHOBIA (killer spiders in a small town), JURASSIC PARK (a kid expert proves invaluable), DAWN OF THE DEAD (they hole up in a mall), and GREMLINS (the spiders eventually start making 'yippee!' and 'humuna-humuna-humuna' noises, not unlike the evil Mogwai).  All of this is appreciated.  

Anyway, I guess my point is: the world needs more giant killer spider movies.  

Also of note: David Arquette goes whole hog, screaming things "THEY'RE HEEEEEEEEERE!" and "YOU EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS!" 
with legitimately insane élan.  I'd grown used to thinking of David as the least of the Arquettes, but between this, the SCREAM series and his channeling of Steven Weber in RIDING THE BULLET, he's making a strong case for himself.

I also really like this tableau, whereupon a man in a Jason Vorhees-style hockey mask hacks away with a chainsaw, Leatherface-style, at a horde of CGI spiders.  And I daresay we're looking at a nearly Argento-ish color palette.

Finally, I must give special mention to an uncredited Tom Noonan (character acting legend and part-time horror film personality, thanks to MANHUNTER, THE X-FILES, and THE MONSTER SQUAD).  He first appears as a cricket-obsessed creepster (with shades of Dwight Frye in DRACULA?)
who we then discover is only a lovable spider expert and mentor-figure,
though he's still got the eerily calm, nearly threatening vocal intonations Noonan fans have grown to love.  By the eight minute mark, he's killed by an entire room of spiders
...but that's okay.  I'll tip my hat to ya, EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS!


Friday, October 10, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... FULL MOON HIGH

Only now does it occur to me...  that in a film starring Adam and Alan Arkin,
the character of "Adam Arkin's Dad" is played by... Ed McMahon!
As far as I know, FULL MOON HIGH and the incorporation of "Heeeeeere's Johnny" into THE SHINING are Ed McMahon's two contributions to the horror genre.

In any event, FULL MOON HIGH is one of the weaker entries in the Larry Cohen canon, a wonderful body of work which includes IT'S ALIVE, THE STUFF, Q, and GOD TOLD ME TO.  It's a werewolf spoof movie that updates I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF for the 80s, and a full four years before TEEN WOLF.
 This teen wolf plays football.

There's a smattering of laughs, some vaguely engaging inter-generational commentary, bit parts by Bob Saget and Pat Morita,
Pat Morita as "The Silversmith"

and I really like the low-rent map used for travel montages, which you'll note is so half-assed that they've mixed up Bulgaria and Romania.
Nice work!

3. ...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Film Review: MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935, Tod Browning)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Tag-line:  None.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Lionel Barrymore (THE DEVIL DOLL, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE), Bela Lugosi (DRACULA, THE BLACK CAT, GLEN OR GLENDA), Carroll Borland (SCALPS, FLASH GORDON), Lionel Atwill (CAPTAIN BLOOD, TO BE OR NOT TO BE), Elizabeth Allan (THE HAUNTED STRANGLER, CAMILLE), Jean Hersholt (GRAND HOTEL, GREED), and Donald Meek (STAGECOACH, THE INFORMER).  Cinematography by James Wong Howe (THE THIN MAN, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS).
Best One-liner:  "There is no more foul or relentless enemy of man in the occult world than this dead-alive creature spewed up from the grave!

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is most notable for reuniting director Tod Browning and actor Bela Lugosi under the auspices of a "vampire picture" for the first and last time, post-DRACULA.  I reviewed DRACULA at length a few Halloweens ago, and while MARK OF THE VAMPIRE does not quite approach the ecstatic and otherworldly heights of its predecessor, it's still an extremely fun and stylish horror picture that ought to be of interest to any horror fan.

A loose remake of Browning's (now lost) silent film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, which in turn was based on his own short story "The Hypnotist," MARK OF THE VAMPIRE was heavily edited by the studio to remove incestuous undertones (er, let's be honest– this is a Tod Browning picture, let's call them overtones) and as a result it is not as coherent as it should be.  However, the visuals, the glorious visuals– shot by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe– transform the picture into one of tone and feeling: a sensory, hypnotic experience.

I won't attempt to explain the plot, which is sort of beside the point, so instead I'll offer my five favorite elements of MARK OF THE VAMPIRE:

#1.  A charmingly hammy Lionel Barrymore performance.

Essentially playing a "Van Helsing" character, Barrymore is a Professor of the Occult and a fearless vampire hunter.  He's also chowin' down on the scenery with incessant eyebrow action that calls to mind Christopher Lloyd's "Doc Brown" from BACK TO THE FUTURE.

And I really adore the moment when he's explaining, in a moment worthy of dinner theater, that not even an "army of police or a hurricane of bullets" could stop a vampire

and he pronounces the word "hurricane" as "hurri-kin."  Well done.

#2.  "Bat-thorn."  As far as I know, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is the first film to unleash "bat-thorn" onto the world.  (Feel free to correct me in the comments section!)   Essentially, it looks kinda like dried sage or rosemary, but has the same alleged effect on vampires as garlic would.  –Huh?  Was Tod Browning sick and tired of all the free product placement in vampire movies for those greedy bastards in the garlic racket?  Maybe.  Who's to say?

#3.  Peculiar animal choices.  I mentioned this in my review of DRACULA, which notably transposes armadillos from Texas... to Transylvania.  In MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, there are plenty of pertinent creepy-crawlies in the vampire's castle,

but for every spider and beetle, there's something unexpected and out-of-place, like an opossum wandering around.

There are 'possums in DRACULA, too!  Why does Tod Browning so desperately want us to associate the opossum with the vampiric urge?  Speculation is encouraged.

#4.  Speaking of creatures, I think Tod Browning gets more milage out of bats on strings here than in any film, before or since.

Many would dare to call this a cheesy effect, but I find it quite endearing and tremendously atmospheric despite the trappings of artificiality.

#5.  Carroll Borland.  As Lugosi's vampiric daughter, Ms. Borland is fantastic, wandering graveyards with raven tresses, scary-eyes, and macabre stink-face all the while.

Note: her scene partner is a bat on a string.

She's eerie, silent (save for one line, delivered off-screen), and a major inspiration on cinema's subsequent vampiresses, even Vampira in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.  And I must give a special tip of the hat to a magnificently creepy tableau (and the most complicated special effect in the film) whereupon she flies down from above on fleshy, human-sized batwings:

That is spectacular.  Here's a closeup, for all of you planning on commissioning a painting of her for the next album cover of your Goth-Black-Doom Metal band.


In closing, I recommend MARK OF THE VAMPIRE as atmospheric Halloween season viewing; however; without giving away the end, I'll warn that Browning manages to shoe-horn in his own obsessions with carnies and con men in a zinger of a finale seemingly designed to piss off the audience– though it delighted this viewer.  Four stars.

–Sean Gill

1.  FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2: TEXAS BLOOD MONEY (1999, Scott Spiegel)
2. ...