Friday, October 19, 2012

Quiet House: A Halloween Story

If you are in the mood for a little seasonal reading at a great price, I would recommend “Quiet House: A Halloween Short Story” by Norman Prentiss, author of one of my favorite novellas, Invisible Fences. This story of psychological horror tells about the first year Jeremy is old enough to trick-or-treat, his anticipation at being able to visit the legendary Myrick house, his disappoint, and the consequences of a thoughtless act of revenge. The story is only 99¢, and can be ordered through Cemetery Dance or Amazon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Final Destination

The Final Destination movies (of which there have been five to date, with further installments planned) have always been a guilty pleasure. The theme of inescapable fate, with death coming to those who thwarted it with various Rube Goldberg-esque machinations, was fairly repetitious, but there was a certain fun-loving quality amidst the gore, and I enjoyed the first three installments to some degree. Not enough, I suppose, since the fourth movie, titled The Final Destination*, sat on my shelf for over a year until I finally got around to it this week.

A group of vacuous twenty-somethings – who are supposed to be students, I guess – go to a track together to attend an auto race. None of them seems very interested in it but Hunt (Nick Zano), who is only there because he wants to see a wreck, and who is a dear friend to the others despite having a personality that makes you want to run over him with a steamroller. He gets his wish when a car wrecks, spins into the crowd, and kills the entire group along with various other bystanders in grisly fashion. Boy, that was a short movie, can’t say I’ll miss them thou – oh, it was just a premonition by Nick (Bobby Campo). He manages to get his friends, some of the bystanders, and a security guard out before the fatal accident. Well, that’s a more disappointing end, bu – oh, yeah, it’s the same setup for the other films. They have cheated death, but death doesn’t take that lying down, and will get them in the sequence they were supposed to have died. A few gory deaths, a trademark scene of gratuitous nudity, and a fiery climax at a 3D movie (how meta!) and it ends the same way as the others did.

Gallagher has gone too far!

There are a couple of differences. Nick continues to have vague premonitions (unlike the first specific one he had) although that mostly leads to frustration because his friends absolutely refuse to believe him. After all, his vision only saved their lives. There is also a minor twist that someone who has cheated the reaper can’t die until it’s their turn in the sequence again, which would allow you to have a pretty exciting day or two. I can’t see that these additions add or detract from the movie, but one change does: Tony Todd is not in this film. If you have seen the first three, you know he appears as a mysterious character to explain things to the victims-to-be and to thoroughly creep them out. Todd had a scheduling conflict that kept him out of this one, and the film suffers for it, for as I’ve said before, a movie should have as much Tony Todd as possible.

The big failing here is there is no reason to care if the cast survives, with the possible exception of George (Mykelti Williamson), and in the case of Hunt and Racist (that’s the only way he’s referred to in the film or credits) you actively root for them to get it. If you don’t care about characters, you won’t care about the movie, and The Final Destination definitely falls short of the guilty pleasure status of its predecessors.

The Final Destination was the first in the series to be filmed in 3-D, but I watched it in 2-D since I’m not a fan of splitting headaches.

* I’m sure it’s an example of some form of OCD, but I can’t express to you how much it irritates me the other movies are titled Final Destination, Final Destination 2, Final Destination 3, and Final Destination 5, but this one is called The Final Destination. Consistency, people! It makes my shelf look unorganized.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Faculty

Back in the 1990s, Kevin Williamson probably did more than anyone to bring horror movies back to popularity. The writer who was best known as the creator of the angsty teen drama Dawson’s Creek also created the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer franchises, making slasher movies hip for Generation X. In 1998, he turned his formula to a re-visioning of the alien body-snatching subgenre, with The Faculty, directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn).

In a typical high school in Ohio, we find a fairly standard collection of students. There is Delilah the mean girl (Jordana Brewster), Zeke the slacker drug dealer (Josh Hartnett), Stokes the goth girl everyone thinks is gay (Clea Duvall), Stan the jock who wants to be known for more than his physical skills (Shawn Hatosy), and Casey the hopeless geek (Frodo Elijah Woods). We are introduced to each in short illustrative vignettes, most notably a group of students picking up Casey and slamming him crotch-first into a flag pole, over and over. As a confirmed hobbit-hater, I approve of this. The kids have little in common except the usual teenager’s belief that adults are aliens. In this case, they’re right.

Starting with the teachers, people are taken over and controlled by alien entities that love water and conformity. Our gang of misfits are the only ones who tumble to the truth before it’s too late, and it is up to them to stop the alien takeover. They have two advantages. Stokes is a science fiction reader, so she knows they only have to find the alien queen and kill her to end the reign of terror. They have a weapon when they discover Zeke’s homemade speed is lethal to the invaders (Nerdism: Zeke says his power works against the water-based aliens because it is a diuretic. I think he means it is a dessicant, because it doesn’t give the ETs an uncontrollable urge to pee.).

This is not a terribly well-regarded movie. Robert Rodriguez has mostly disavowed it, saying he only did it to learn how to work with CGI and to satisfy a contractual obligation. It is the only one of his movies without his distinctive special features on the home video release, and has little of his individual style. It currently has just a 6.3/10 rating on

Still, I love this movie. It doesn’t take itself very seriously and try to be something it’s not. It is, I think, a lot of fun. Williamson was the first screenwriter to write a slasher movie where the characters realize they are in a slasher movie, and here, thanks to the character of Stokes, they are aware of the science fictional precedents. Stokes quotes Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters and Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers, even getting the name right on the later. Curiously, she doesn’t mention John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, but that maybe because The Faculty steals/pays homage to it so directly. For instance, when our heroic band decides to test themselves to see if any of them are aliens, it is virtually the same scene as the test sequence from The Thing, right down to the couch and the revealed alien crashing through a wall to get outside.

If this sort of a thing interests you and you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to give The Faculty a try. If you are a political conservative, you will probably be delighted when Jon Stewart gets stabbed in the eye. (In the interest of political balance, liberals should watch Anaconda, where Jon Voight gets eaten by a snake.
The police say they have some questions for Bill O'Reilly

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Wicker Tree

The 1973 movie The Wicker Man is probably one of the more beloved cult movies of the horror genre. It had a very spotty distribution record outside of the U.K., and in some places only made it to the screen after 10 years or more.) The story of an upright, religious, and sexually repressed policeman who investigates the case of a missing girl in the Hebrides and has his faith challenged and his life taken by the pagan locals was very daring for its time. Home video increased its notoriety, and for years the original writer-director, Robin Hardy, has struggled to make a sequel. A big-budget remake was released in 2006 that has become legendary for how awful it is. Look for youtube clips of Nicholas Cage wearing a bear suit and screaming “Oh no! Not the bees!” if you dare.

In 2010, Hardy finally succeeded in filming a sequel, entitled The Wicker Tree, adapted from a novel he wrote called Cowboys for Christ. Was it worth the wait? Let’s just saying I was really missing those bees before the end.

Steve and Beth (Brittania Nicol and Henry Garret) are two sincere young Christians living in Texas, where all the men wear cowboy hats and everyone speaks with an exaggerated Southern accent. Beth used to be a successful country singer with songs about drinkin’ and whores (like all good country songs) but she saw the light and now sings turgid religious songs. Steve and Beth are engaged and wear silver rings as a promise they won’t have sex until they are married. They are the people you hope you won’t have to sit next to at the company picnic, but end up having to do so anyway.

Scotland, it seems, has a chronic shortage of evangelical Christians, so there is a Lend-Lease type program called Cowboys for Christ that sends Protestant missionaries over to witness to the heathens. It’s a shame Scotland doesn’t have Protestant churches of their own. They could even call their church The Church of Scotland if they wanted to. But, I digress. Beth and Steve arrive in Tressock, Scotland and begin preaching and singing to those sinners. They learn the locals worship Sulis, a version of Minerva, and accept it calmly, rather than freaking the hell out like real evangelicals would. A Scottish hussy flashes her boobs at Steve, his chastity ring flies off at the speed of light, and he begins the forbidden boning. He could have remained pure if he hadn’t traveled to Scotland, the land where women have breasts.

A tender, romantic moment

It turns out the pagan-ness is the result of some manipulation by the local bigwig. He owns the local nuclear power plant, which has been leaking a peculiar kind of radiation which apparently makes men sterile without any other effects. Lest the townsfolk turn against the power plant since they can’t have children, he has convinced them to wear silly masks and practice cannibalism and human sacrifice to restore their fertility. Groundskeeper Willy would be offended by this depiction of the Scots. In due course Beth gets her bare butt buttered (!), Steve is part of a very special meal celebration, a tree gets torched, and Beth has a chance to escape if she’s smart enough to do so. I’ll leave you to guess how that turns out.

This is a terrible movie, and it’s hard to believe the same person who made the first one is responsible for this as well. The stereotypes of Texans and Scots are painful to watch, and it has the depth of a puddle. The original presented the culture clash of an authentically religious Christian against true pagans, but here, no one really seems to be much of a believer. You know all along where this is heading, and the only suspense is how they get there. Hardy is supposedly working on a third film in the series, but my expectations are now low.

Christopher Lee was supposed to be one of the leads in The Wicker Tree just as in the earlier film, but an injury restricted him to a completely unnecessary cameo.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Poster for the new Carrie

The remake of Carrie starring Chloë Grace Moretz has a new poster. I have no idea if the movie is going to be good, but the poster is pretty cool. Amazing how often Ms. Moretz has (movie) blood on her face.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Way back in the late 80s/early 90s, when there was money to be made in the direct-to-video market, Full Moon Features was the biggest name in the B-movie market, at least for horror fans. They had several lengthy series, the best known of which is the still-going Puppet Master films. In 1991, they ventured into vampire movies, with Subspecies, which spawned three direct sequels and one kinda sorta sequel.

In rural Romania, vampires are still thick on the ground (The characters in the movie mention there being many vampires, although we only see three. The recession is hitting every profession.). The local vampire king is one Vladislav (Angus Scrimm from Phantasm in a cameo scene). He has a generally pro-human policy, and has left the local populace alone. He has two sons, Radu (Anders Hove) who is more the typical bad-guy vampire, as evidenced by his amazing finger extensions, and his wimpier son Stefan (Michael Watson). Vladislav is in possession of the Bloodstone, an acorn-shaped jewel from which drips the blood of saints. All the vampires crave the Bloodstone because…well, I didn’t really catch that part. Maybe the blood of saints has a chipotle flavor? I thought the blood of saints kept vampires from needing to drink human blood, but this is contradicted by the movie.

Careful where you scratch.

Anyway, Radu decides to kill his father for the Bloodstone, but is thwarted when his dad hits a switch that releases an overhead cage exactly where Radu is standing. What luck. Vladislav’s victory is temporary, however, as Radu breaks off his own fingers (!) and they turn into tiny demon-looking creatures. I swear I was not on any medication, legal or otherwise, when I was watching this. Seeing this, Vladislav obligingly runs to the other side of the room so the homunculi can get to the switch to re-raise the cage, instead of, you know, stepping on them. Radu is released, Vladislav is skewered.

(Incidentally, the little creatures are apparently the subspecies of the title. I assumed it referred to vampires, but no, it’s a group of four-inch high toadies.)

Coincidentally, there is the arrival in town of four graduate students to study local folklore. They are played by three attractive young ladies, hired more for their willingness to forego a no-nudity clause in their contracts than their acting ability. Well, two-thirds of them, anyway. They could not behave less like graduate students if they tried. It’s sort of Valley Girls in Eastern Europe. Stefan shows up, falls in love with one of the girls, and they fight to end Radu’s (short) reign of terror. Radu is disposed of, although if you remember where I mentioned sequels, you know this doesn’t take.

Subspecies is a victim in many places of the film’s microbudget, but it is a good bit of fun. Director Ted Nicolaou does a good job of setting the mood, and was strongly influenced by Murnau’s Nostferatu, most obviously with Radu’s long fingers, and the creepy way the shadows of those hands look thrown against walls and across of the faces of sleeping victims-to-be.

Subspecies was the first movie to be filmed in Romania following the fall of Communism. The featurette on the blu-ray disc shows a number of Romanians being asked if they believe in vampires. All say they do not, and think it a frivolous question, no doubt partly because they had just gotten out from under the thumb of Nicolae Ceaușescu, a dictator so beloved that when he fell from power he was given a two hour trial and an immediate three minute execution. One of the interviewees stated that Dracula was a myth made up by a “stupid American.” I don’t think Bram Stoker was stupid, and I know he was an Irishman.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Not the famous brand of Chili in Cincinnati. Not the small northern Alabama town where everyone seems to hate each other. This is Skyline the movie.

By far, the easiest type of movie to review is one that is completely awful. The jokes basically write themselves. It’s also easy enough to rave about a movie you love. The hardest movie to review, in my opinion, is one that you never form a strong opinion about and neither like it well enough to particularly recommend it or hate it enough to mock it. This is also Skyline the movie.

An artist named Jarrod (Eric Balfour from Haven and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) and his girlfriend Elaine arrive in Los Angeles for a birthday party for Jarrod’s best friend Terry (Donald Faison from Scrubs). Terry has hit it big, and wants Jarrod to move from New York to work for him. We are treated to a dullish party where we learn Elaine is pregnant and doesn’t want to move, Terry is cheating on his wife with his personal assistant, and the building super objects to loud music. It’s a very special episode of Party of Five. If you’ve ever watched one of those TV shows about angst-ridden yuppies and wished aliens would invade and kill them all, this might be your kind of movie, because Jarrod and Elaine have arrived in L.A. just in time for a big alien invasion.

Alien spacecraft descend and produce bright lights. If you look at them, you become all veiny and are drawn into the light and sucked up into the spacecraft, no doubt for a nefarious purpose. The military is no match for the alien menace, and soon Jarrod, Elaine, Terry, and company are attempting to survive the attack and get the hell out of town.

The obvious connection to be made here is Cloverfield, a similar and better movie about a group of affluent young things trying to survive horror. In both movies, the main characters (and the viewers) never get the full story about what is going on, and seem to be a side story to the main action. In this one, the characters seem a little less sympathetic, and the ending tends toward the confusing side.

More interesting than the movie itself is the back story of how it came to be made. The co-directors are successful in the field of computer-generated special effects and self-financed the production, spending $500,000 to shoot the live action before adding $10,000,000 of special effects in post. (The movie was shot in one of the co-directors condominium building). It does look great.

I suppose this is one of those films that should be seen by viewers who love alien invasion films, a group of which I am a member. A sequel has been rumored to be in the works since this came out, but has not yet materialized.
It will clear up. Just give it time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Vampire Ad

Original source unknown.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

This Dark Earth

I’ve been a horror fan for a very long time, since I was old enough to read, but it has been only in the last few years that I’ve really interacted with the people who write the books and make the movies I’ve enjoyed. Some of those interactions haven’t gone so well, like the actress who was offended when I mentioned she’d been in a horror movie or the writer who blew a gasket when I complimented, but for the most part those who make it their business to give you nightmares are surprisingly nice. In some cases, this has led to true friendship, as is the case with the writer of the book I’m reviewing here, the multi-talented John Hornor Jacobs. I’ve known John since well before he published his excellent debut, Southern Gods, and I cherish his friendship.

I don’t remember exactly how long it’s been since I read his recently published novel This Dark Earth. I know it was before Southern Gods was sold, and I remember telling John he probably didn’t want me to read it, since I’m several years past enjoyment of zombie novels. (I realize this makes me an outlier amongst horror readers, many of whom don’t read anything much except zombie novels, but I felt for a while they have exhausted their appeal.) He wanted me to read it anyhow, and I’m glad it will. It may be the last zombie novel I will ever like, but like it I did.

Lucy Ingersoll is an ER doctor in Arkansas when a mysterious disease begins transforming people into maniacal creatures. The military tries to contain the problem by killing the infected and uninfected in the hospital, and Lucy narrowly escapes. She is helped in her escape by a trucker nick-named “Knock-Out”, and manages to reunite with her son Gus, just before the powers-that-be make things worse by nuking the area. Lucy, Knock-Out, and Gus survive, although at a cost. They join forces with a small military force led by Lieutenant Wallace, who can use Lucy’s medical skills.

The story fast forwards by about four years. Gus has proved to be quite a prodigy, and has helped the survivors establish a settlement (imaginatively placed on a bridge, ideal for defensive purposes). The zombie threat is still there, although the greater danger in this post-apocalyptic world is other human survivors.
So, why should you read this novel instead of other zombie stories? Because Jacobs does a masterful job creating believable characters. Lucy, Knock-Out, Gus and the rest come to life. Whether you like them or not, you understand them, and you care what happens to them. If you are a zombie fan, you definitely don’t want to miss this, and if you aren’t, you will probably be surprised how compelling it is.

I’m not really a fan of the cover, although it does look better up close than in a photograph, but if it sells the book, then that’s all it’s meant to do. Also, there is plenty of evidence that taste in book covers doesn’t reflect the zeitgeist.

I also keep calling the book This Dead Earth, but I blame that on David Wilbanks.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

R.I.P. Herbert Lom

Czech-born character actor Herbert Lom passed away last week at 95. He was probably best known for playing the long-suffering Dreyfuss in the Pink Panther films, but he made a number of horror movies, including the Hammer Films version of The Phantom of the Opera, Asylum and Now the Screaming Starts for Amicus, Mark of the Devil, and many others. He was also in a sci-fi movie that creeped me out as a kid called Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, although I doubt many people remember that one.


So it’s the season again, and I’m going to try to get back to regular posting. Remember, for us Halloween lasts a month long. We deserve it, particularly since Christmas goes on for about two and a half months. If any of those weirdoes who think Christmas is a superior holiday give you any flack about extending the best holiday, point out to them how strange it is to celebrate a creepy guy in a red suit breaking into your house after you fall asleep. Word.