Jan 182021
 
Faithful immortal servants of darkness are so hard to find.

Stefan and Valerie are newlyweds on their way to enjoy their honeymoon. Valerie wants to meet Stefan’s mother. Stefan makes excuses and is very reluctant. Their train breaks down and they are forced to stay at an empty hotel in a tourist town during the off-season. Marital tensions rise.

But look, another guest arrives! It is Countess Bathory and her sexy secretary! The Countess is so charming and glamorous and takes a shine to the the young couple. Oh joy!

Stefan is suspicious. He is the first character in a vampire movie to actually know enough history to get nervous around someone named Bathory. Besides, he has heard there are young women dying in the town and he is getting visibly aroused by the news. This frightens Valerie but she doesn’t know what to do.

Quite frankly, Stefan is such a lying psycho that I had even money on whether he or the Countess would kill Valerie first.

Daughters of Darkness is an erotic vampire movie with perhaps the best clothing ever. Instead of tight corsets and puffy Hammer-film shirts, the Countess dresses like she is attending Fashion Week in New York. Her secretary is delightfully androgynous and wonderfully submissive, except for a few pleadings to be released from the Hell of her life. If you were a vampire, or kinky, you couldn’t pick a better movie to base your looks on.

That being said, the movie takes its time. There is a lot of sexual tension. There is a lot of the Countess insinuating herself into the newlyweds’ lives. Quite frankly, it reminded me a lot of my poly days when I would see people try their best to seduce couples into their lifestyles. It has that same awkward sexual energy and I found it very entertaining.

I don’t know if I would call it a good movie, but is a damn pretty looking movie and the tension between the couples was completely believable.

You can watch it for free on Tubi.

Jan 042021
 

Alice in Borderland is a television show about a strange world of killer games. Three friends come out of a subway restroom to find that everyone in Tokyo has disappeared. Their phones have no signals, the power in the buildings have been cut off and food is rotting on restaurant tables. Where the fuck did everyone go?

When night falls, billboards begin to light up. They direct the friends to the nearest “game arena”. Once there, they find other people who have been taken from Tokyo earlier than them. Cell phones waiting at the building explain a game. Try to leave the game and an orbital laser punches through your hear. Fail at the game and you die. Winning the game allows you to live.

The players that survive get a playing card and a few days off depending of the number of the card. The suit of the card determines the skills used in the game. When your days off expire, you have to play a game to renew them or you get a laser in the head.

As you can imagine, this is a series with a lot of questions. Who kidnapped these people? How is Tokyo deserted and yet contains personal items like a wedding ring someone stashed in a hiding place before they were taken? Who are the gamemasters? Why are they running the games?

For a series that sometimes plays like Saw meets Maze Runners, it is surprisingly gore-free. There is a lot of psychological horror, as friends sometimes compete against each other and tensions rise. Main characters get introduced and die. It is a lethal show.

It is also a fast moving show. The first season has eight episodes and has two story arcs that other shows would have stretched out for sixteen episode seasons. Some answers do get revealed, but for every answer, another mystery is introduced.

But unlike Lost, the answers in this show are satisfying. It is a singular joy to find something odd, chalk it up to maybe fuzzy storytelling, and then find out later, nah, there was something going on there and you were right to be suspicious. It is the rare show about smart people that is actually smart itself.

The description of the show, where they mention one of the main characters is a videogame player, turned me off at first. I expected the guy to be a gamerbro who thrives because of his experience, but that did not happen at all. The young man lost his mother and has been escaping his grief by playing games. He doesn’t apply himself and even his semi-loser friends urge him to do better. His experience with games helps him in this world, but what really saves him is his own cleverness.

I binged this show rather quickly and am still thinking about it. Currently it is on Netflix and I recommend it.

Dec 072020
 

Porno is a horror-comedy movie set in 1992. Four young people and an older straight-edge guy work at a movie theater run by an uber-Christian boss. After the theater closes for the night, the boss leaves and the employees find a hidden door leading to an abandoned theater under the building. Inside this theater they find a film canister covered in arcane symbols. Curious, they decide to watch it.

The film shows a ritual being performed by a naked trio of people. The straight-edge employee declares that it is porn and shuts it off. One of the hornier male employees decides to turn it back on. Weird shit happens and before long, there is a sex demon running around and people are getting their dicks ripped off.

I liked this movie. It starts slow and most of the tension for the first half of the movie is between the employees. The boss sets the tone with his Christian self-righteousness which creates a sort of self-surveillance state where no one wants to step out of line for fear of losing their job. Even when the boss leaves, that fear permeates the theater to the point that they resist escaping out of a dangerous situation because no one wants to get in trouble for breaking the glass door.

But this movie also doesn’t preach that faith is a bad thing to be mocked. The boss is an asshole, but the other employees are semi-decent Christians with courage, a sense of responsibility and loyalty to their friends. This is the rare horror movie with young Christians as characters that doesn’t treat them as fools or naïve saps.

Once the killing starts, the movie kicks into high gear and keeps it there. There is a surprising amount of bush and penis, although there are a few scenes of genital mutilation that will scar my memory for a while. Some of the scenes are a bit too dark but with the low budget, I assume it was to help conceal some of the sets.

I do want to give a shoutout to the cursed film that summons the demon. It feels like I have watched a lot of movies lately with cursed films within the movie and some of them rely on fast cuts and gross images to freak out the viewer. This film was a nicely done ritual that wouldn’t look out of place in an occult music video. I liked it, and wanted to see more.

Oct 052020
 

Scare Me is a different kind of horror anthology movie. The frame is straight forward. Two writers, on a best selling horror author and the other is an aspiring horror writer with ad writing experiences, are renting cabins next to one another. The power goes out and the two hang our to swap scary stories.

In other movies, these scary stories they tell would take place somewhere else with different actors playing out the story. This movie stays with the two characters telling stories in their cabin. It is entirely oral story-telling. The writers might act out what they are doing, but it stays an oral tradition. Other than some subtle special effects like a clawed hand, or convenient thunder, it feels much the same as if you were really in a cabin telling stories.

Now, that won’t be for everyone. My wife checked out at the first story but I was enraptured. It is an actor’s showcase mixed in with a lot of commentary about the work of writing. The best selling horror is a bit abrasive, but you can see why she is a successful writer with her comments. The aspiring writer is better at acting out the stories but he could learn a lot from the other writer.

I felt like anyone watching this could learn to be a better storyteller, and I would rank this movie among my favorite “how to write” books.

Scare Me is currently playing on Shudder.

Sep 252020
 

Lovecraft Country is a television series on HBO. It is the adaptation of the book of the same name. The plot concerns several African-Americans struggling with weird shit and the racism of the 50’s. The evil in this show is vile, disgusting and horrific, and that is just the racists.

I got to tell you, I am a bit burned out on H.P. Lovecraft. He had great ideas, but these ideas had their genesis in his racism and fear of outside cultures. As I get older, that root racism becomes more and more obvious. I am a big fan of how he created new mythologies and horrors, but I find most fiction written about his universe to be predictable and too familiar. In short, I think I am over him.

So I was pleasantly surprised when Lovecraft Country decides early on to explore some of Lovecraft’s themes without direct references to his fiction. This is Lovecraft Adjacent, or like the title says, in the same country as his fiction, but not a slavish recreation. In other words, the monsters, mythology and horrors are in a similar vein, but completely original.

And of course, the biggest change is having African-American heroes. Holy shit, i feel I have waited my whole live for African-American pulp heroes. Not only are they tough and sexy, but most of the heroes are outright nerds. It is their mastery of knowledge as well as their bravery that carries them through. Lovecraft would have died of fright at the notion.

In the world that this takes place, the heroes better be brave because America is racist as fuck. The first episode is about three African-Americans travelling the northeast of America encountering cruel hostility and outright attempts at murder. The sickening thing is how similar these period piece acts of racial aggression are not all that different from what you encounter today.

The big difference is that at five episodes in, the racists have suffered some pretty terrible fates. This is not a show about black people suffering. This is a show about black people TRIUMPHING and I am all here for that.

I highly recommend this show and when the season ends, I’ll be buying the book. The mythology is cool and the heroes are cooler. I can easily see these stories being the gateway for a generation of fans into the worlds of pulp.

May 182020
 

Since we are stuck at home, my wife and I tried the streaming service, Shudder. As horror fans, this has been a blessing. Shudder has a wide range of horror from the popular franchises like Friday the 13th, to Giallo movies, to weird shit that feels like it came from a video rental store. We have had it for two months and it barely feels like we have scratched the service.

One of those finds was Hell House LLC. Five people who build haunted house attractions come to the small town of Abaddon (first clue this was a bad idea)for their next Halloween-money maker. They buy/use an abandoned hotel (2nd clue) that has some creepy pentagrams already drawn (3rd clue!) in the basement. Hey, free decorations! What could go wrong?

Yeah, a lot. On the first night, people die and others go missing. The town shuts the house down. A group of investigators interview the only surviving member of the original five. Footage from the original five is mixed in with footage from the interviewers to make this movie.

This was a slow movie, but it uses its small budget well and it does some interesting things with your expectations. Turning the group’s asshole into the most sympathetic character is quite a transformation. A lot of the scares are lowkey and darn creepy. One of the best scares is a simple room transformation that still freaks me out to think about it.

Hell House 2 picks up a few years later with another investigative group looking into the Hell House. At this point, Hell House has become an urban legend and the town has had to set a police car outside the house to keep people from going in. The new group of heroes includes a psychic, the surviving member of the previous movie’s investigators, and some video journalists who really should have known better.

To my surprise, this movie does a great job of expanding on the mythos of Hell House and gives us a better idea of what exactly happened in the first movie, without demystifying the creepiness. I feel like if you didn’t like the first movie, you should wait until seeing the second to pass judgement.

This movie also does a great bit where it plays off the idea of the house becoming an urban legend. We get a lot of found footage scenes of other people going into the house for YouTube dares and other terrible reasons. It is almost a weird anthology of micro-short stories of Hell House trespassers. I could almost watch a movie that was just these short stories on their own.

In Hell House 3, a producer decides to stage Faust at the Hell House hotel. Two documentary people are there to film it. More weird shit happens. The fate of the Earth is at stake.

This movie has the largest budget as well as the largest cast. I didn’t find it as creepy as the 2nd movie, but to my great delight, it wrapped up the series in a very plausible and satisfying way. How many times do you get to say that about a horror franchise? The ending was great, and it almost warrants a second watch to see how everything lines up.

Now I will be honest. One of my comfort food genres is stupid people going where they don’t belong. The Hell House series scratches that itch and does it well. All three movies are found footage, which is another weakness of mine. I know some people can’t stand those movies but since a lot of the footage is from fixed cameras set up by the various groups, there is a lot less shaky camera nonsense than you get in other movies.

I highly recommend checking Hell House out.

Feb 172020
 

Under the Silver Lake is a 2018 movie about conspiracies in 2011 Hollywood. The main character, Sam, is a piece of shit who investigates his hot neighbor’s disappearance. By investigating, I mean consulting conspiracy zines, interrogating sex workers and engaging in ruthless violence to those who are weaker than him.

Did I mention Sam is a piece of shit? I almost quit this movie because Sam is the type of narcissist hero that i find really distasteful in today’s modern age. He sleeps around on his girlfriend, ignores his responsibilities, literally beats up children and thinks he’s smarter than anyone else. He is a walking Twitter Troll.

Once I realized that the movie thinks he’s a piece of shit too, I was able to truly enjoy the movie. Sam might be the main character, but he is in no way the hero. If anything, he is a walking indictment of the type of anti-hero loser investigator that fiction seems to love so much.

As for the rest of the movie, holy crap is it fantastic. Weird shit is happening in Hollywood and there are clues, signs and secret messages everywhere. Sam is just the right kind of damaged person to pick up on the clues and his investigations lead to the secret deaths of billionaires, a Homeless King, an assassin with an Owl Mask and the true origin of Pop Music. Once the movie gets going, weird shit is uncovered on a constant basis.

I admire the ambition of this movie. Most conspiracy movies have red herrings or preach the idea that things you think are connected, really aren’t, you wierdo. This movie rejects the idea of red herrings. Almost every clue, no matter how stupid or random, leads somewhere. It creates a world that justifies the most paranoid theory you can come up with, but then suggests that with so many weird things happening, shouldn’t you really be focused on your own issues instead?

The movie also has its own secrets that you will have to work out for yourself. Who is the Dog Killer that terrorizes the neighborhood? What is the purpose of the naked murderer with the Owl’s Mask? What the fuck is that parrot saying? The movie never says, except it does if you put together the right clues and maybe read this one Reddit thread . . .

I think Under the Silver Lake is the modern Foucault’s Pendulum when it comes to conspiracy fiction. Instead of trying to prove a specific theory, it is a wonderful take on the people who are drawn to conspiracies, which includes the kind of people who would enjoy such a movie.

May 062019
 
The Emperor of Darkness has a familiar tan.

Orgy of the Dead is a 1965 movie written by legendary shitty director, Ed Wood. The premise is that a couple have a car crash near the wrong graveyard. At least, I think it is a car crash as the budget didn’t allow money for a car or a crash so we just have to rely on sound effects and a spinning camera. The couple wakes up and the woman blames the man for the accident. They stumble towards the graveyard where they hear music.

See, this isn’t your normal graveyard. No, this is a special place where the ‘Emperor’ rises from a coffin, gives a long monologue about the forces of darkness, and is then attended by a Vampira knockoff. Together they sit and watch as damned souls entertain them.

How do the damned entertain the Emperor? With burlesque acts of course! Each act is preceded by a short bio from the Vampira knockoff. For example, “She killed her husband on her wedding night, and now must dance with her husband’s skeleton forever!”

The damned soul then comes in a costumer, dances a little, then the camera cuts away and when it returns, the woman’s clothes are gone except for her panties. She then dances for way too long. The Emperor says whether they please him or not and we move on to the next dancer. Rinse, wash, repeat.

At one point, the couple gets caught by a Wolfman and a Mummy, who bring them to the Emperor. The couple is then tied up and forced to watch more burlesque acts. The drama of the film is whether the Emperor will let the Vampira knockoff kill the woman before the sun rises.

Now, I hope that what I described does not sound interesting because this movie was super dull. The burlesque acts go on way too long and though some of the women clearly have talent, the emphasis of every act is the dancer shaking their boobs as much as possible. The acting is worse than you can imagine. The graveyard is so cheap looking that I have seen better presentations at Party City. The Wolfman and the Mummy are the comic relief, and are remarkably not funny at all.

The only upside to this movie was the Emperor and the Vampira knockoff. The Emperor is played by Criswell, a psychic known for some of the stupidest predictions ever. Criswell flips back and forth between being a master of evil and a slightly bored narrator. He does have a good voice and if he was more well known, he would the source of a dozen memes.

The Vampira knockoff was played by Fawn Silver. Unlike Vampira, Fawn can act and she might be the only one acting in this movie. She doesn’t have Vampira’s extreme features but her more curvier body makes her nice to watch. Her eagerness to strip and stab the living woman brings the only real sexual friction to the movie. It is a shame that she is not more remembered.

Orgy of the Dead ends with the sun rising and the couple waking back up. Was it a dream? Nah, more likely it was a cheap movie made to sell tickets by showing tits.

Jan 292019
 

Tampopo is a 1986 Japanese comedy about the delights of food. A milk truck driver wearing a cowboy hat comes across a single mother who is about to go out of business because her noodle shop sucks. The truck driver decides to help and because this movie was heavily inspired by Westerns, he assembles an unlikely group of experts to save her shop. Think of the Magnificent Seven except it is more like the Delicious Five.

The plot alone would make this movie a classic but what elevates this movie to greatness is that the many segues the director takes from the main story. Like a sketch comedy show, the camera will drift away to follow a passing character who stars in their own vignette. We see a business lunch at a French restaurant where none of the senior bosses know what to order but then the junior (and much abused) member shows them up with his mastery of the menu. At several points we see a gangster and his moll having the most sensual food sex scenes ever filmed. My favorite story might be the harried mother who rises from near-death to cook one last meal while in a walking coma for her begging family. These self-contained stories have nothing to do with the main plot except for showing another way that people interact with food.

This movie is a delight. It is amazing that it was made in 1986 because it feels like a prophecy of food culture, and food television, of the 2000’s. It explains the difference between a bad noodle place and a good one. There is a renovation scene where an expert describes the proper height for a noodle bar that could come from any current restaurant rescue show. Every other scene is filled with tips on improving your ramen soup that feels completely natural for the movie.

There is a new 2016 restoration of the movie now available. I highly recommend it as it looks gorgeous. My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you have plenty of food on hand because you will get hungry.

Jan 232019
 

In Phantasm 4, we pick up right after the thrilling events of Phantasm 3. Remember how Ice cream vendor, Reggie, was surrounded by a hundred killer spheres and Kid Shooter got ripped through a window by a Jawa? Well, I’m glad you do because the movie shows the Tall Man letting Reggie go but at no point does Reggie look for or mention Kid Shooter.

That kid is dead.

Anyhoo, Reggie doesn’t know why the Tall Man let him go and Reggie doesn’t care. He’s tired of this shit. He just wants to go back to being a cool middle-aged ice cream man and forget all this dead body/killer sphere shit. The ghost of Jody tries to talk some sense into Reggie but Reggie is done.

Meanwhile, Mike is his own and keeps having flashbacks to when he was a kid. The reason for this is the director found three hours of unreleased footage from the last movie and by the ghost of Vincent Price, he is going to get as much of that footage into this movie as possible.

That sounds harsh from me, but the result is kind of interesting. Mike is having several existential crises moments as the Tall Man appears, says something cryptic, and then Mike remembers something that may or might not have happened. Half of the movie is Mike sitting in the desert, wondering if any of this is real. You know, the Phantasm brand of not understanding shit about what is going on.

The other half of the movie is Reggie running into weird shit. He gets pulled over by a monster in a cop car, with the original cop crammed into the car trunk like a broken Transformer. Reggie also finds a hot chick way out of his league who is another obvious trap but at least she has a sensible name like Jennifer before her boobs come to life and try to kill him. Honestly, Reggie has the cool adventures while Mike has all the trippy weird shit.

Reggie and Mike finally reunite and find out some secrets about the Tall Man. See, the Tall Man was once a kind and gentle Civil War-era mortician who did some experiments in dimensional portals as he tried to understand the afterlife. One day, The kindly doctor makes a portal, steps through but then the Tall Man comes back wearing his body. Oops! Went to the wrong dimension, buddy.

At least, I think that is what happened. It’s Phantasm so your guess is as good as mine.

In the end, Mike uses his psychic powers to blow up the Tall Man, killing him for sure thi-nope, the Tall Man literally re-appears a few seconds later. The Tall Man rips a golden sphere out of Mike’s head, perhaps killing Mike, and then stepping through a portal. Reggie chases after the Tall Man through the portal.

As Mike lies dying, he remembers/imagines riding with Reggie in his ice cream truck when Mike was a kid. They hear sounds from the present day but dismiss them as the wind.

This is the cheapest of the Phantasm movies, made with a mere 650K. It certainly shows, but it actually helps the story. The 2nd and 3rd movie were action movies while this has dialed back down to personal horror. Reggie will always be getting jumped by monsters while Mike will always struggle with not understanding the fuck out of anything. Is Mike even human? Is the Tall Man real? Is anything real? Maybe the entire movie franchise is Mike’s nightmares as a child, still mourning the loss of his brother and family. We don’t know! Mike sure as fuck doesn’t know.

Which is maybe why Phantasm is my favorite movie franchise. It is illogical, callus with characters’ lives with an inscrutable near-invincible villain: just like a nightmare.