The Uncanny (1977) – Ferocious Felines & Slapstick Script

I have been in a writing funk of sorts. I’ve been writing, but it’s not coherent (even for me) and it’s fragmentary. Bits and pieces of darkness splattered across the digital page throughout the days. Seemingly with no direction and no purpose.

I could blame the current state of the world. The disorder of my household (of course it’s the plumbing). Etc etc.

Now I have a cat.

Things have never been more dire. The cat has become suspicious of me because I keep squirting liquid in her eye and force-feeding her anti-histamine pills. Cat pilling is a creepy term for something such a horrific activity.

The dog thinks I’m a traitor.

In true “the enemy of my enemy is my ally,” I suspect the dog and cat are planning to slit my throat during the night. Or possibly during the day.

The dog works the day shift. The cat works the night shift. The goal is to ensure I never get any sleep. As a team, they are a rousing success. Rousing me from slumber whenever my eyes dare to close.

So we come round to the movie in question.

The Uncanny is proof positive that cats are out to get us all.

At this point, I have a hard time believing they don’t have the right idea.

Don’t let anyone convince you that this is a horrific movie. In any way. It’s a horror comedy and it’s fun. A three-part anthology that moves along at a brisk pace.

Mind, it does not hold up to modern standards despite originally earning an X rating in the UK. If you’re not capable of accepting the ridiculousness that a 1977 film entails, you best avoid it. This movie is corny as all git out.

There is nothing original in the three stories. Not in 1977 and not now. The effects border on ludicrous. The soundtrack is the kind of thing that is played as background music during CIA torture sessions.

For me, these aspects of the film serve to highlight the films comedic nature.

The movie starts with a great arty intro – surrealist cat paintings and ominous music. Cheesy one-liners hit you from start to finish.

This film knows who it is. I can respect that. The actors are smirking with you. The cats are confused and angry.

The jokes are crass for the time. The felines do not pull punches. The humans are deceitful and malicious.

An old lady gets eaten. A teenaged girl gets shrunk and stepped on through witchcraft. A bunch of actors die in gruesome fashion, their stage “props” used against them. A writer gets tripped.

OK, that’s not that bad, but the writer did nothing to those cats other than notice them. The thread tying the three tales together is Peter Cushing’s character, a writer and believer in conspiracy theories who is positive the cats are taking over the world (hint: they are). He’s assembled the evidence and is presenting it to his publisher (Ray Milland), who will be of no help because he is in thrall to his own cat. The evidence is our three stories.

The cast is chews the scenery. The cats chew the cast. Director Denis Héroux does what he does.

Who is bringing this weird film experience to life?

Peter Cushing (somehow the 3rd choice for this role), Ray Milland (once top-billed over John Wayne in Reap the Wild Wind), Donald Pleasence (who is shown in a picture as Blofeld with his white cat), John Vernon (Dean Wormer of Faber College), Catherine Bégin (Mademoiselle in the 2008 film Martyrs), Samantha Eggar (in 1966 she rented the Cielo Drive house where the Tate murders occurred in 1969, starred in The Brood and also every 70s and 80s TV show), and Susan Penhaligon (played Lucy in the 1977 Count Dracula, Kathy in the 1978 film Patrick, and looks great in a bodice ripped by angry cats).

The cinematographer threatened to leave because he thought the production was abusing cats. I don’t blame him. Did they learn nothing from this story? These cats aren’t evil, they are out for revenge.

This whole production is a glorious mess.

I watched it with the cat. She was oddly silent. I’ll be watching my step.

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Squirm (1976), the story of the worms march to the sea

Last week there was another full moon. A Super Equinox Worm Moon! They just keep coming. I’m content with this arrangement.

They are naming the full moons regularly now. These names existed but have largely been ignored until fairly recently. Like the Worm Moon.

Surprisingly, I don’t have a problem with this. I was irritated when it became the norm to name winter storms. There’s just something about a winter storm that fits in the category of nameless horror for me. Full moons, on the other hand, deserve a quality name like Worm Moon, Blood Moon, Strawberry Moon or Harvest Moon.

Why is it a worm moon? Spring is coming, the ground is softening, and the worms are coming out to play.

I didn’t notice a moon in the 1976 film Squirm, but there were definitely worms.

Angry, electrified, blood-lusting, face-eating worms.

I remembered the feeling of this movie. They played it on TBS more than a few times after Atlanta Braves baseball games. However, before watching it this time, I had no actual recollection of the film. Just an idea of worms. I almost certainly repressed the memories to maintain my overall mental health.

Like so many of the movies of its time, this film is not as flashy as a modern horror movie. Low budget would be a high estimate.

The writer/director, Jeff Lieberman, was also responsible for writing the screenplay for The NeverEnding Story 3. So there’s that. No, I didn’t know there was a third installation of The NeverEnding Story either. I will try to forget I ever found out.

Nevertheless, the two main actors are engaging enough. The location has a feeling. You can smell the drained swamp. Like sewage and mud had offspring and those offspring were made of salty assholes and rancid fish.

There were enough laughs, though they’re often subtle.

The movie started with a very basic opening text crawl. Make no mistake, this movie is no Star Wars.

“Late in the evening on September 29, 1975, a sudden electrical storm struck a rural sea coast area of Georgia. Power lines, felled by high winds, sent hundreds of thousands of volts surging into the muddy ground, cutting off all electricity to the small, secluded town of Fly Creek. During the period that followed the storm, the citizens of Fly Creek experienced what scientists believe to be one of the most bizarre freaks of nature ever recorded.”

This came just before a creepy child’s voice sings a creepy little ditty. I transcribed this beauty for you. You can thank me later.

“I can hear the dark…if I listen hard
Watching in the garden, waiting in the yard
I can feel the dark, coming up the stair
Whispering in my keyhole
I know you’re in there
I can hear the dark, if I listen hard”

Whoa, now. Whispering in my keyhole? Settle down.

During the opening sequence, when the storm-battered “LIVE WORMS” sign at Willie’s Bait Shop fell down, I knew I was going to enjoy myself.

It’s the required attitude for this movie. If you’re going to get bogged down with everything that comprises a bad 1970s flick, then you’re going to have a bad time. Just like all those Fly Creek locals.

There is a lot to laugh at. There’s a worm in an egg cream. A guy with worms wriggling out of his face yells, “Now you’re gonna be the worm-face!” The accents. Oh, man, the accents. That moment when our scrawny ass hero takes his shirt off in the woods to make a torch (because worms hate the light – they’re like vampires!). When all the people in a bar full of hootch couldn’t manage to burn those motherfucking worms.

And crazy mama. I’m not sure she was supposed to be comic relief, but she was. Mama Sanders was sublime in her insanity and I was thankful for it.

The worms gurgled, and according to my closed captioning, they [scream], [slither], [skitter], and [screetch]. I bet you didn’t know worms could screetch. Boy howdy can they, and they are damn loud.

These are glycera, or bloodworms. Maybe, just maybe, their screetching was played up for the movie, but they’re definitely a more rugged worm than you typically see at bait shops.

We had two heroes. Mick, the city slicker boyfriend, in from New York City. And Geri, the very small town southern belle. They’re both redheads, so you know this movie is evil.

The Stereotypical Southern Sheriff was a useless dickhead. Best date ever – took his gal to Casa Roma for spaghetti and then to a cell in his jail for a little cot time – wink, wink; nudge, nudge. What woman wouldn’t jump at the chance. As you would expect, this ended with worms.

There’s a guy who runs a worm farm. Of course. His son, Roger, might as well be called Igor as the assistant to his electricity-wielding worm torturer father, Willie. Willie died off-screen, but his worm-riddled body made an appearance later. Mick needed clues and a chest cavity filled with wrigglers was definitely a clue.

Despite working with worms his whole life, including losing a thumb to enraged, electrified worms as a child, Roger wasn’t so quick to understand. Roger was busying vying with the worms for top villain status. He tried to assault Geri in a rowboat before getting a face full of worms, then crawled back to the house with his worm face to attack Mick and Geri.

You might think the hokey scene of Roger sinking into a pit of worms was his undoing, but he climbed his ass out of there, wriggled up the stairs, and went at Mick and Geri again. Roger just doesn’t know the meaning of no.

Our heroine’s mother went crazy. Comically so. She served no other purpose.

Then there’s the sister. The real heroine of this film. The pot smoking, cropped hair, wedge sandals in a muddy field wearing, funny-sarcastic chick that brightens our day. Watch out for that avalanche of worms, Alma!

All that said, the music is atrocious (is that an electronic vuvuzela?), the story is ridiculous, and the worms are a just bunch of worms. Flesh-eating or not, it’s hard to muster a shiver seeing worms on screen.

Sadly, a riot of robins did not swoop in and save the day. I would have paid money to see that version of the film. Don’t sleep on the robins, they’re a bunch of rowdy punks. I guess that’ll have to happen in Squirm 2: Slip, Slide n’ Slay.

In the end, the downed power lines got fixed and most everyone in town was dead.

And Alma survived, hidden in a clothing trunk from those beastly worms. No thanks to Mick and Geri, who left her to rot. Maybe Squirm 2 is Alma’s revenge.

Have some for yourself! Or don’t. You’ve been warned.

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Ghost Stories, a movie that has some Martin Freeman

Just some.

Ghost Stories gave me a bit of deja vu.  I may have seen it before, but that might just be a figment of my imagination.

I would opt to forget it again, but I don’t want to risk accidentally watching it again.  I find that in the aftermath of this film, even my snark is limp.  There is no blue pill for that.

It usually takes me quite a bit of time to select a movie.  We all know the pitfalls of Selection Stupor.

Not this time.

I saw a movie I seemingly had no knowledge of, it was relatively new, and it listed Martin Freeman.

I’m a fan of Martin Freeman.  I went for that movie like Bilbo Baggins running down a garden path toward an adventure.

I have some regrets.

From the movie’s Hulu details page,

“A man looking to debunk a series of paranormal events falls into a world of terror.  Martin Freeman stars in a tale that will haunt your dreams.”

The use of “stars” here is very loosely based on the actual definition.  It was based on the real definition.  Movies and “based on” have an abusive relationship.

“The brain sees what it wants to see.”  So says the movie poster.  My brain saw Martin Freeman.  If only my eyes saw as much Martin Freeman as my brain imagined.

Make no mistake, Freeman is in the movie, but he doesn’t show up until it’s about 2/3rds of the way through.  Nestled within the main character’s story are three paranormal cases we get via flashbacks.  Freeman’s character is the third case.

Our protagonist, Professor Goodman, is a skeptical professor and presenter of a debunking style TV show.  He’s also kind of a prick. Goodman is given the cases by a legendary, old paranormal investigator, Charles Cameron, who tells our hero that they are the three cases he could never find a non-paranormal explanation for.

We trudge through the three stories.

The first is fairly typical (and boring).  A security man at a disused, rusting out mental hospital.

The second is interesting and funny, but too shallowly explored to enjoy.  An unlicensed teen driving his parents’ car runs over a satyr-like creature on a dark, wooded lane.

In the third story, Martin Freeman is an asshole financier at home alone in his cold, modern steel and glass home while his wife struggles with a dangerous birthing experience at the hospital.  There’s some uninteresting poltergeist activity centered around the empty baby’s room.

The clues are all there – the real haunted person is, surprise, our hero Goodman.  Nothing is explicit enough to know what happened to him, but we can guess this is all related to Goodman and his past.

Figuring it out isn’t intriguing or fun.  The ending is worthless and trite and devalues whatever good filmmaking happened up until that point.  Even a devilish Martin Freeman can’t save us at this point.

Hint – the movie tagline already told us what the movie is about.

We just had to knit the very obvious elements in each of the three cases together to arrive at…something less interesting than any of the three stories.

I can tell you that Martin Freeman was excellent.  He didn’t have enough to do.  There is a scene with a shotgun that was the best one minute of film I’ve seen in a while.  In that moment, Freeman nails the character’s state of being with physical and emotive acting.  The result is a breathtaking combination of acting, filmmaking, and scenery.

Then we got back to the drudgery of Goodman’s story.  Where he’s comatose in the hospital.  This is hardly a spoiler, you saw it coming a kilometer away.  Through a foggy blizzard.  While blind.

Eventually it ends.  Hallelujah.

Toss in some horrendously hackneyed dialogue tying it all together and we fade with the song “Monster Mash”, which feels like a distinctly bad choice despite it fitting the music throughout the film.

Now go wash your mind out with something beautifully horrific, if you can.

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Turkey Shoot (1982) – there and back again

It’s time for another Hunter’s Moon and so we take a look at hunting horror, specifically human’s hunting humans.

Turkey Shoot.

The true start of the humans hunting humans movies was the 1932 film The Most Dangerous Game, based on the 1924 short story by Richard Connell.  A crazy big game hunter hunts people for sport on an island.  Simple concept, well-executed (har har), and with a great ending.

That famous film was pretty well-received for creating suspense and having good acting.

Obviously, that’s not a movie world I’m going to drag you into.  There have been plenty of other hunted human movies.  Various films of the Predator franchise, Race with the Devil, Southern Comfort, The Hitcher, Series 7: The Contenders, Deliverance, Battle Royale, The Naked Prey, Surviving the Game, The Woman Hunt…you get the idea.  They run the gamut of quality, falling mostly on the crap end.

The movie we’re here to talk about, Turkey Shoot, is definitely on that crap end if for no other reason than being exactly what a 1982 futuristic horror film should be.  This film is known for being gory, violent, and sadistic.  It was called “garbage” and “unfit for human consumption”.

With that said, I enjoyed the film.  For the most part.  It’s bad enough to entertain in that certain way, if you let it.  There’s no help for those of you who can’t allow yourself to love in spite of obvious flaws.  You probably hate the world’s ugliest dog too.

Naturally, it’s not on an AFI list of films you have to see to sound pretentious while discussing the best films of all time.  However, this film has some hackneyed social commentary, 1980s electronic riffs, and a game effort at horror movie gore.  The kind of film that is made to retrospectively laugh with (and at, but definitely with).

The film is about a “future” society where deviants are sent to an island camp for reeducation at the Reeducation and Behavioral Modification Center.

Our hero, Paul (Steve Railsback who’s been in everything, including Lifeforce, Barb Wire, Disturbing Behavior, and once played Ed Gein), is a pirate radio dissident who the powers that be want to break.  He joins up with Chris, an attractive brunette woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time (played by Olivia Hussey – Juliet in the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli version of Romeo & Juliet); Rita, an immodest blonde woman who will do what she must to get by; Dodge, a crazy, orange-haired, coke-bottle glasses-wearing weirdo who surely got lost leaving the Mad Max film set , and a classic prison troublemaker named Griff.

Deviants are people who don’t do what they’re told.  According to Thatcher, the head dude at the RBMC, “Your reeducation depends on your unquestioning acceptance of any and every order given by the state.”  Further, “Disobedience is treason. Treason is a crime. Crime will be punished.”

Promiscuity is A-OK, but pregnancy is punishable by abortion, sterilization, and castration.  Homosexuality is punishable by death.

So, we have a government rounding up undesirables into camps.  We have a small posse of elites blithely deciding the fate of said undesirables for their own amusement.  Control of the media and control of the workforce through violence and indoctrination.

The motto of the times is “Freedom is obedience. Obedience is work. Work is life.”

It all sounds so comfortably familiar and relatable.

The Gang of Four rich folks (Thatcher, two men, and a femme fatale (Carmen Duncan) with exploding-tip arrows) each get a prisoner to hunt (Paul, Dodge, Chris, and Rita), plus Griff who is being punished with death.  The prisoners run into the cane fields in their orange jumpsuits and matching Converse high tops.  Things go poorly for the hunters, as you would expect.

Now, I know you’ve been waiting to hear about the sickening horrors that got everyone’s panties bunched back in 1982.  What you’ll find is that there are none.  Yes, there is movie violence, nudity, and gore.  It is nothing you wouldn’t see in a Friday the 13th movie, but even more laughably fake looking.

Let’s run down the tally:

Nudity:  1 shower scene, with absolutely no salaciousness.  Men and women in a communal shower, shot tastefully from above.

Rape: 2 incidents where rape is hinted at as a punishment, but never happens.  1 incident where it is explicitly explained, but we never see the act of sexual violence, just the before and after (it also happens to be woman on woman violence).

Burned alive: 2 people (discounting anyone that suffered in the final shootout).  One bad guy during the hunt, one unfortunate prisoner as a punishment.  Neither is shown in much detail.

Gun play: plenty, there is a massive battle between the prisoners and the guards at the end, complete with vehicle-mounted high-caliber rounds, rocket launchers, grenades, and the usual automatic weapons.  The explosions look like low-level fireworks, nobody actually aims, and there is little blood.  Jets bomb the island and some temporary-looking structures burn.

Miscellaneous fun:  A man’s head explodes (clearly a mannequin), a man gets bisected by a plow, and a man has his hands removed with a machete.  All involve very little blood and the removed hands are obviously fake but twitch wonderfully on the ground.  I think you can buy similar rubber hand Halloween decorations at the grocery right now.

Did I mention that one of the rich men has some sort of hairy man-beast named Alph?  Because that’s a thing.  Alph isn’t really explained, but know that we can expect giant, orange-eyed man-beast valets in the future.  That’s something to look forward to.

[I guess I should mention there was a redo in 2014, but it’s not actually worth mentioning.]

So, what did we learn other than the joys of watching those uppity elites get what’s coming to them?

This film was seen as gory, sickening, unfit trash in its day.  Its violence and gore is laughable compared to modern films.  We have become inured to it.  These taboos have become normalized.  Believe it or not, that’s not the death of society.  Films are not real (except that one you heard about from a friend of a friend’s uncle who frequents the dark web, but not for anything untoward, he’s just looking for the Truth).

And so we arrive in our current climate.  Fresh off the fever dream of an Australian film set in 1982 into a world where things have been normalized, freedom is obedience, and work is life.

The film ends with the following quote by H.G. Wells,

“Revolution begins with the misfits…”

I don’t think the filmmakers knew exactly what Wells meant, but that is fine by me.

Deviants unite (for wholesome fun, obedience, and long work hours)!

Thank you and good night.

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The Valley of Gwangi – or Parque Jurásico Vaquero

I finally saw the newest Jurassic World movie.  Fallen Kingdom.  Yeah, sure, it’s like the real fallen kingdom is all the dead rich fellers.  Killed by their own hubris.  Death, uh, finds a way.  Sure, sure.

Look, I love dinosaurs.  The Jurassic Park franchise, from the first movie on, has provided me some pretty nifty visuals.  Regardless of if they are accurate to current scientific consensus or not, I like those dinos.

But the stories are just ridiculous and bordering on boring at this point.

What do we get this time? – big corporate avarice, sleazy men of power, a child key to the plot, dinosaurs whose exuberance can’t be contained, lessons never learned.  They did add an explosive volcano and a dino pet show/auction this time, but neither added much.

People can still outrun dinos in this one, and now falling ash too, because we are indomitable!  Except when it comes to figuring out a way to pen in large animals.  Then we’re utter shit.

So, let’s turn back the clock to 1969, dude.  A simpler time.  When dinosaurs were stop-motion animated and horses did their own stunts.  When we still weren’t successful at penning in dinosaurs for the amusement of the masses.  Pan y circos.

The Valley of Gwangi isn’t a great story, but it’s got as much oomph as Jurassic World.  A sketchy old flame (James Franciscus as Tuck Kirby) reconnects with the ex he left (Gila Golan as TJ Breckenridge), who runs a cowboy show in Mexico.

Fun(ish) Fact: Gila Golan had such a strong Israeli accent that her lines are dubbed by a voice actress.  This is noticeable the first time you hear her speak.  Noticeable enough that people like me immediately go look for an explanation.  I got over it, but I bet it was annoying for 1969 audiences.

A tiny horse named El Diablo leads them to a secret valley of dinosaurs.  Called an Eohippus, but shown to be about the size of a cat.  They tried.  It still looks cool.

They built it a tiny barn, with a tiny fence, and a tiny trough of hay.  Star of the show type treatment.  If only the little guy knew how quickly they would toss him aside for something with better box office potential.

Naturally, a serious of ridiculous events ends in the capture of a giant lizard (supposedly an allosaurus, but you know how that is), which they plan to put in a new, more spectacular show.  It doesn’t work out.

The gang is filled out by Lope – a local boy acting as Tuck’s guide for a few pesos, a crank paleontologist, Carlos – TJ’s handsome second in command who certainly has some unrequited and unspoken love issues, and guys named Champ, Rowdy, and Bean.

They are opposed by a crazy, blind, old witchy woman (living out in the desert in some sort of Romani campsite with blazing fires, dancing women, and caravans), a dwarf (uncredited and called The Dwarf), and some locals directed by the old witch who are trying to prevent the curse of Gwangi.  They do so by releasing Gwangi from his cage while the whole town is in the arena.  Because the resulting disaster is obviously better than whatever else might have happened.

The greatness of this movie is in the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion effects and the horses.

Sure, a ten-year-old today would scoff at these jerky looking plastic dinos, but I love them.  The sword-wielding skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts were a revelation to me as a youngster.  I rooted so hard for those boney troops.  Besides El Diablo and Gwangi, Harryhausen gives us a pteranodon, an ornithomimus, and a styracosaurus.  Gwangi even fights an elephant.

Those special effects took a year.  That’s some serious work.  The scene of Gwangi grabbing the ornithomimus was even rehashed in Jurassic Park with a tyrannosaurus and a gallimimus.

The horses did an amazing amount of stunt work.  They ran, stumbled, and tumbled over backward through the landscape.  Tossing the cowboys all over the place.  Hell, the OG stunt in TJ’s act is the old horse jumping into a pool bit (that part was special effects).  Every major character has their own color horse, which pleased me more than it should have.

The story itself is nothing unusual for monster flicks.

We see poor TJ in financial distress and heart-broken by Tuck, but willing to take him back.  She agrees to shack up at some homestead in Montana as soon as Tuck busts out his flimflammer’s smirk.  To be fair, Tuck is the Liberace of fancy cowboy outfits and probably counts for debonair in the Mexican desert – even if Carlos is a smoldering Latin lover who can match any heroics Tuck gets up to.  Until he gets eaten.  Sorry, Carlos, it just wasn’t in the cards for you.

The great “twist” in this dynamic is that TJ bags out on Tuck when it seems like the dino in a cage will save her show.  Turns out, she didn’t really need no man.  Just a big lizard in a cage.  Same thing, really.

As I mentioned, Gwangi doesn’t stay in his cage.  He tramples and roars and eventually ends up in what must be the largest church in the land.  The church burns with some help from Tuck and it all comes down on poor Gwangi.

Tuck, TJ, and Lope make it out of the burning church alive, but feeling a bit forlorn and definitely suffering from smoke inhalation.

There is no happy ending.  For anyone.  As is proper.  Especially not for Carlos, who became allosaurus turds.  Poor, Carlos.  He was my favorite.

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Tree slaughter, Tree revenge, and the Navy

It seems like every other day, one of my favorite trees gets hacked down.  I’m told by the gub’ment that it’s because of the dreaded Emerald Ash Borer beetle, but I think it’s probably the anti-squirrel lobbyists at work.

Pour a little out for my fallen neighborhood sentinels (Spirit provided for scale).

You might think it’s weird to have favorite trees, but it’s not.  I’ll fight you over it.  When I was a kid, I was rooting for the apple trees in the Oz movie of 1939.  The Ents always seemed like they had their shit together, even if they were a bit isolationist (that’s hip among the idiocracy these days if you didn’t know).

The majesty of these big ass trees will not be replaced in my lifetime.  The giant willow trees, oaks, and elms leave a massive hole in my soul.

Naturally, I fill this hole with thoughts of revenge.

Not all trees are harmless.  Take for example the grabby tree outside the Freeling’s home in Poltergeist.  Then again, maybe it really was a wise, old tree.  Robbie was kind of a sniveler and they built that pool right in the middle of a skeleton sleepover.  Rude.

The rapist tree in Evil Dead is just a dick.  Obviously.  ‘Nuff said.

That kite-eating tree was yet another bully Charlie Brown had to deal with.  Sometimes life sucks, Chuck.  At least your psychiatric help is only five cents a pop.

Old Man Willow is an angry sort, but it’s hard to blame him.  The Ents may have their shit together, but they’re not an inclusive bunch.  I don’t see any Ents coming to the Old Forest to take care of that old Huorn.  Besides, I’ve been told Hobbits are quite nutritious.  Maybe people should stop chopping things down and the old crotchety survivors wouldn’t have to put them to sleep in the strong embrace of their roots.

There aren’t that many evil tree movies (as compared to the 100 asslodes of shark movies).  It’s not easy to make a tree scary.  Poltergeist sort of succeeded, but we were naive and easily frightened in 1982.

Forests are scary.  Because of the implications.  Because of what is concealed.  Because of the ancient nature, the wobbling of time, the darkness, and the closeness.  But a murderous, walking tree is sort of goofy.

There are unintentionally funny shit movies like The Crawlers and Dark Was the Night.  You get the sense they might have wanted to be scary, but they gave up – cued the chainsaw sounds, squeezed some ketchup out of a rubber tree trunk, had a woman scream, and called it a day.

There are weird movies like The Guardian.  I remember liking The Guardian but I don’t remember anything about it.  I have a feeling it wouldn’t hold up.  However, I’m a fan of feeding children to trees.  Or maybe I just have a soft spot for evil nannies and magical nymphs and am willing to look the other way.  Either way, this isn’t about an evil tree.  Not really.

Treevenge straddles the comedy/horror line just like all Christmas movies do.  Family dinner and psycho, man-eating Christmas trees are both bloody and tragic to the point where you have to laugh or lose your mind.  Treevenge is funny and it’s short.  Two solid positives.

Lumber vs Jack is just, yeah….”Just when you thought it was safe to have wood.”  That isn’t worth much more discussion, but I had a hard time not laughing with it, despite the very low budget.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, those of you who would watch such a thing already know who you are.

Non-tree-specific eco-horror is mostly a failure (The Happening, Seeds of Destruction).  With a few exceptions, like Long Weekend and its acceptable remake.  Bad relationships are a fact of life and we all know Australia is out to kill us anyway, so Long Weekend seems more like a documentary than a horror film.  The Ruins is decent enough.  The proverbial “they” tell me the novel is better.  Regardless, there are no murderous trees.  This is a trend I don’t appreciate.

Swamp Thing and Man-Things don’t fit the bill either.  Those aren’t trees.  They might be tree-adjacent, but that’s stretching the concept beyond its limit.

I tried to watch The Crawlers.  I couldn’t find a version to stream.  I even searched under all its names – The Crawlers, Creepers, Contamination .7, and of course, Troll III: Contamination Point 7.  A 1989 toxic waste movie would have really done it for me.  Some things are just not meant to be, I guess.  Just like the EPA’s attempt to eradicate the town of carnivorous tree roots.

I watched Acacia: Root of Evil and Devil’s Tree: Rooted Evil.  Roots get so much shit, but they do a lot of the hard work.  Why do we hate them so?  Ask me in the spring when I’m having my pipes rodded.

Devil’s Tree was not bad for a low-budget film.  The story is basic but generally stays on track.  The main actress kept the thing moving.  I was intrigued because I have been to the park in question in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  Nothing particularly bad happened to me there, but I was subsequently late to a St. Lucie Mets game so that’s something.  This is a “based on true events” movie.  It gets the legend correct, but the “based on” part gets pretty thin by the end.  Spoiler – the ghost did it.  No surprise.

Acacia is an interesting film if for no other reason than the family’s home is pretty slick looking.  Scandinavian modernist design with a Korean flair.  The wife does woven tapestry art and her loom is cool as hell.  It’s a movie with a particular style and sound.  Feels like you’re watching a 1970s made-for-television soap opera horror film.  It feels like Burnt Offerings got shoved into a small Korean house.  I can’t dislike the mood it creates even if it seems dated.  Dated isn’t all bad.  Major Spoiler – the ghost did it, with help from the parents.  This might be a bit of a surprise, but you can figure it out if you’re paying attention.  It’s still a solid ending.

The bad – neither of those films involved evil trees.  There were trees, yes, but they were falsely accused.  Go figure.  Never trust the children.  Ever.  You’ve been warned.

What’s left for me is the glorious early days of horror.  The Day of the Triffids.  The Woman Eater.  The Navy vs the Night Monsters.  Maneater of Hydra.  From Hell it Came.

All variously close to what I was looking for.

The Navy vs the Night Monsters got the nod.  It was amazingly enjoyable for how ridiculous and bad it was.

I had a hard time even finding a streaming copy to watch.  After aborted viewings of a Spanish-language version and a copy with sound out of synch by nearly a minute, perseverance and dogged determination pulled me through.  I found what I needed.

The original material came from the novel The Moster From Earth’s End.  I know, the book is probably better.  I’ll let you know after I read the other 69,000 titles in my to-read list.

This film has Antarctic exploration, penguins, tiny acid-spewing spider-like root creatures, Molotov cocktails, plenty of flirting, and one-punch-knock-out fisticuffs.

The $178,000 total budget and 10-day filming schedule were certainly impacted the final product, but looking back, the f/x are going to look schlocky to present day viewers no matter what and the acting is about what you would expect.

There is a noticeable objectification of women going on in this film.  A sign of the times.  It’s pretty blatant.  It’s so blatant as to be nearly hysterical.  There are some creepy scenes with the men talking about the available women on the island.  The funny aspects come about when, as in one exchange, our beautiful, blonde nurse (played by Mamie Van Doran in a sweater, who had been looking forward to being eaten by the monster, but sadly was not) tells the hero, “Chuck, I’m in love with you.”  His response?  “Give me some time, baby.”  Ash Williams would have been proud.

The Antarctic exploration of a hot lake under the ice brought back specimens.  The plane transporting that obviously dangerous stuff crashed at a Naval base on an isolated island.  They planted the strange plant specimens on the island.  As you do.  Naturally, having come from under the ice, these trees are nocturnal and were just waiting for the sun to go down.  Growing up without sunlight, they ate other stuff.  Those walking, carnivorous trees made tiny offspring and tried to take over the island.

Your basic Navy island weekend.  Naturally, the Admiral is peeved, sitting in his office far from this island.  But they have an answer!  Napalm.  Of course.

By this time, the tiny root-spiders have grown into cute two-foot tall walking stumps with wavy little twigs.  This will not save them from the napalm.  Navy firebird leader fired at will, strafing the beach full of cute little crawlers.  It was like watching the air show, but with more napalm.  That’s probably because they used colorized stock footage of the Blue Angels.

Send in the narrator…

Gow Island, in the past, virtually unknown to the rest of the world.  Today a famous landmark in man’s struggle with the unknown. Another step forward in the march of science.”

Who doesn’t love a cargo of deviltry, devastation, and death?  Yes, that sailor’s arm got ripped off.

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Blood Moon

I didn’t get to see the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st Century here in the outlaw town of Chicago, but I did get a Blood Moon, as you would expect.

A one hour and 43-minute totality.  That’s the kind of event that creates gods.  Bad horror movies just create naps.

My lack of lunacy didn’t stop me from watching a shitty werewolf movie.  I would have watched a good werewolf movie, but good werewolf movies are rarer than full lunar eclipses.  They say there are good werewolf movies out there, but that’s just legend.  Tall tales told by ancient folk.

I love werewolves, but they don’t seem to translate well to film.

Blood Moon is a 2015 cowboy werewolf movie.  Outlaws versus lawmen versus skinwalkers.  The Navajo skinwalker legends have been hot the last few years.  Werewolves are passé.

The most interesting thing about this film besides the fact that they got the term “yee naaldlooshii” correct is where it was filmed.

This paranormal Western shoot-em-up was filmed in England.  Laredo Wild West Town, Kent, England to be precise.

The mysterious man in the black hat is named Thomas Calhoun, who coincidentally is also the name of a cricketer from Kent in the early 1800s.  I guess he moonlit as a demon hunter in between matches.

Besides those interesting quirks, the story was typical in every respect.  Hell, it starts with an old man eating beans from a tin plate while a player piano tinkles out an appropriately wild west-sounding ditty.

New Deputy Marshall, his new wife – who is, unknown to him, a former lady of the evening, the saucy woman saloon owner, the mysterious stranger, the outlaw bank-robbing brothers, and a few short-timers who are there just to get killed.

Just add a skinwalker in a bigfoot costume and stir.  Now we got us a horror flick!

Since it is a horror film, they all end up stuck in a building while something horrific prowls outside.

I should have just followed along live with people viewing the eclipse.

But, I didn’t.

There was some silver shot out of a shotgun.  A twist we all saw coming.  And the best performer in this movie, Anna Skellern, didn’t have nearly enough scene to chew and ended up dead by the end.

Despite the translation of the Navajo term, the skinwalker didn’t actually walk on all fours.  Frankly, it wasn’t much of a foe.  It was ugly and I bet its wet, muddy pelt smelled like Satan’s bunghole, but it wasn’t a skilled killer.

Ah, well, it’s over now.  I can go back to watching shark movies.


I know that hurt, but we always have symphonic metal bands to make things, if not better, at least louder.


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Return of the Moonwalker

It’s Friday the 13th and we have ourselves a supermoon, whether you see it or not.  It’s also hot as Hades and I have a migraine.

In my brain addled state, I thought it was a good idea to watch Return of the Moonwalker, a 2011 film that had a petition with 105,000 signatures seeking to prevent its release.  Apparently, these people thought the movie sullied the legacy of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

The movie is certainly a parody, but among the folks that got insulted in it, Michael Jackson was one of the least insulted.  Either way, he’s unlikely to watch the movie and memories are oblivious.

Low budget and bizarre is not something I shy away from.  If that kind of movie is a problem for you, you aren’t reading this.

If you are feeling existential right now, put that feeling aside.  The King of Pop has risen from the grave, with help from the Magician Cagliostro, and he’s leading a revolution.

I’ve been smelling revolution boiling up out of the sewers lately.  It smells like durian flavored lube, melted credit cards, and conceit.

This film is the kind of zany that defies explanation.  There is a plot, of sorts, but it hardly matters.  Viewers are assaulted by scene after scene of tasteless, but marginally funny, ridiculousness.

Freaks of all sorts converge on Cagliostro’s Punk Circus, where undead MJ starts his revolution.  It turns out to be an apocalyptic zombie sort of revolution and nobody wants that, not even Cagliostro.

Dicks explode, kinky sex is had, clowns cavort, blood is drunk, Hitler’s ghost haunts, a crucifixion is called for, and the Illuminati are functionally impotent.  Undead Michael Jackson smokes a blunt.  Everyone gets skewered by this film and rightly so.

Maybe this movie sucks.  I laughed anyway.  Sometimes that’s enough.

If you think exploding dicks are a bridge too far, you’re not alone, but it’s too late to sign that petition.

[The trailer is NSFW.  You should have expected that.  Grab a big fat doobie and check it out.]

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Uncle Sam

Happy Independence Day and Canada Day and boiling hot summer.  Everything’s just great.  Pick up a tariff on your way out.  Everyone gets one.

Let’s talk Independence Day horror movies.

Then again, maybe we shouldn’t.  They’re mostly about sharks and aliens and alien sharks.  With a smattering of knowing what teens did one summer or other.

Those are all movies that I’m not going to talk about.

I watched a movie called Uncle Sam, which came out in 1996.  It comes up on a lot of lists about Independence Day horror films.  I read reviews that said it was fun.  One of those bad slasher films that are a joy to watch.  I was promised great one-liners.

As is de rigueur, it was all damnable lies.

What I got was something that would happen if Lifetime made horror movies in the late 1980s.

I’m having a hard time even being snarky about it.  I couldn’t wait for it to end.  The kills were weak and not just because of budgetary issues.  There’s no tension and no fun.

A kid with a broken leg doesn’t even whimper as the bone pokes through his jeans.  An ax to the face happens off camera.  A lawyer dressed like Abe Lincoln got shot in the head with a gun used for the carnival shooting booth.  I think that was supposed to be funny or edgy.  It wasn’t anything.  I didn’t care.  I doubt anyone else did.  Including Lincoln.

The big fireworks scene was watched by a creepy, smiling crowd of yokels.  Seeing a dirty congressman get blown up has never been so emotionless for me or the townies.  No crowd could enjoy that fireworks display, no matter how many politicians got blown up.

The filmmakers have clearly never been to a fireworks warehouse off the highway at a state border.  I think my neighbors have better rockets.  I can hear them now.  Chicago parks and alleys sound like a war zone tonight.

I’m surprised the congressman didn’t suffocate under a giant black snake ash pile.  That might have been funny at least.

The main kid was thoroughly unlikeable.  I was disappointed that he wasn’t going to die at the end.  He would probably be the killer in Uncle Sam 2 if it is ever made.  I don’t expect that to happen.  There could be no greater evil than making a sequel to this film.

I guess I should mention that Isaac Hayes is in the movie, but it’s hardly a fact worth mentioning.  He plays a guy with a wooden leg.

I could draw some parallels with the current political climate, but why pile that shit even higher.

Maybe they tried to make a statement about crass patriotism, sketchy citizens, or pointless wars, but it was mostly just a really boring movie that didn’t succeed as a decent slasher or a horror parody because it wasn’t committed to either.  Even the musical score was uninspired.

I knew I should have watched Raging Sharks.


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Bloody Mary, say it like you mean it – shaken, not stirred

Once again, I’m not going to watch any of the Friday the 13th movies just because it’s Friday the 13th.  Probably.  Don’t judge me.

What I did was give some thought to superstition and then watch Urban Legends: Bloody Mary because apparently, I don’t know what’s good for me.  I have watched the two previous Urban Legend films and remember precisely enough to know I have seen them and no more.

Finding a good horror film about superstitions is dicey at best.  A lot of it has been covered before, but rarely well.

There are plenty of movies about Ouija boards.  They need a whole discussion of their own.

Other topics I wasn’t up for included black cats, hook hands, phone calls from inside the house, monkeys’ paws, witches’ revenge, and phantom hitchhikers.

There was Candyman way back when.  I want to love it for the Chicago connection, but it always felt a little forced and I like bees.  Bloody Mary is the OG mirror chanting badass.  She didn’t need a hook hand or a swarm of bees.

There is more than one movie featuring Bloody Mary, but I went with UL:BM because I didn’t know it existed and I thought Kate Mara and Ed Marinaro (you may know him from such shows as Hill Street Blues, Laverne & Shirley, and Falcon Crest) would mitigate somewhat.

Upon reviewing this line of thinking, I’m not sure why these two actors would lead me to believe this movie would be more than bad.  I saw Fantastic Four and I still haven’t recovered.  On the other hand, I like football.  Ed is in the College Football Hall of Fame.  Kate is football ownership royalty…maybe that’s not such a great endorsement.

Whatever, I made the decision and forced myself to watch UL:BM mainly on the strength of fond childhood memories regarding the Bloody Mary legend.

Some of us kids went into a dark bathroom, lit some matches, and chanted Bloody Mary three times in front of a mirror.  It was definitely a legendary experience and not about expelling waste after a vicious Sunday morning drunken football watching bender.  Not that I would know anything about such activities.

It is a fact that I don’t like Bloody Marys.  I don’t drink tomatoes.  V8 makes me gag.  I still have nightmares about once accidentally ingesting V8.

I love tomato sauce.  There is an infinite number of culinary uses for tomato sauce that I heartily approve of.  It’s not the same thing.

No amount of hot sauce can save a drink based on tomato juice.  Adding another foul “juice” to it is not a solution.  Mixing clam juice into that liquid hellscape is not fixing a damn thing.

I can understand why Bloody Mary is pissed that her good name was besmirched with such a foul witch’s concoction.

It turns out the Bloody Mary legend isn’t what I thought it was when I was ten.  Who woulda thunk?

I thought she was Mary I of England, who was called Bloody Mary for killing Protestants to save their eternal souls from damnation.  My Catholic upbringing was getting in the way of reality again.

At least I hadn’t mixed that blood-bathing Bathory woman into my Bloody Mary mythology.  For me, Mary was just an irate royal who would fuck you up for calling on her ghost.  That made sense to young me.  Who wants to be called back from the grave into some asshole’s bathroom mirror?

It turns out she was supposed to be a witch called Mary Worth, who was put to death for dealing in the black arts.  Or possibly a woman who died in a car wreck and fucked up her face.  But definitely not a misguided, murdering Queen.

There is some belief that chanting “Bloody Mary” in a mirror thirteen times will summon the ghost.  Certainly not.  You only have to do it three times.  Who came up with this thirteen nonsense?  That’s a lot of chanting.  You would need a peasant or two to help keep count.

As I mentioned, in my time, you lit a candle (or a small flashlight or a lighter or fireplace match, glow stick…whichever) and said her name three times.  Usually alone, but that could be tweaked for more fun.  Then you would get scratched.  At some point.  I’m still waiting.

My recollection is that we followed this up by going outside and running around in the woods.  Nobody was murdered on that day, inexplicably or otherwise.

No early demise saved me from growing up and watching UL:BM.

The movie poster for UL:BM looks awful.  Even the font is bad.

The story is slow and predictable.  The special effects are low rent, but not so low rent as to be funny.

In 1969, some girls get “pranked”.  This involves roofies, accidental death by violence, and almost certainly rape.  If you’re going to have a Bloody Mary, her origin story has to be harsh.

In the present, things seem to repeat themselves.  Samantha (Kate Mara) is a victim of a similar prank sans the rape and death angle.

Then we get deaths by urban legend, courtesy of Samantha calling out Bloody Mary during a teen girl sleepover complete with a pillow fight and a weird brother (David, Sam’s twin brother – don’t worry it doesn’t matter).

How do they die, let me count the ways – a spider lays its eggs in some skin, an electric fence gets pissed on, that thing licking your hand by the side of the bed isn’t your dog, tanning beds are bad for you.

The good:  The science teacher talking about gorilla biology and behavior in the background as the football players contemplate their prank.  The only girl still alive from the 1969 incident (Grace) is a cool as ice, pot-smoking hippie artist with a sweet afro and a flower painted Vanagon.  Power to the people, man.  The heroines get right down to business without needing no man.

The horrible:  Viewers are thought to be so stupid that we don’t know instantly that Sam’s stepfather Bill is the 1969 villain “Willie” all grown up.  All of the movie’s failures pale in comparison to viewers being treated like we’re morons.

The music plays.  The movie ends.  Nothing is a surprise.  Nobody cared about David.  Grace survived.  Groovy.

It felt like the movie’s running time was about 13 hours.

The same song played throughout.  Mary’s song.

Niki Haris has a great voice, but the song makes me think of James Bond walking away from wrecking his Aston Martin in the rain after a few too many vodka martinis and a bad run at the craps table.  You never see that motherfucker drinking Bloody Marys.

But Domino did in Never Say Never Again.  Domino’s brother got killed and her boyfriend was the highest-ranking agent of the terrorist organization SPECTRE.  Bloody Marys – devastating people’s lives since 1554.

Let’s never talk about Urban Legends: Bloody Mary again.

Happy Friday the 13th.  The first of two this year!

I hope Jason Voorhees likes the 1960s musical vibe.  He’s definitely a man who never says never.



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