"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

Fall Guy: The John Stewart Story

A few years ago I reviewed ACTION U.S.A., an indie action movie from 1989, filmed in Waco, Texas. It was the directorial debut of stuntman John Stewart, a veteran of FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, THE HIDDEN and PHANTASM II. It was clearly designed as a showcase for stunts – all kinds of hanging off of moving cars and helicopters, falling off of buildings, cars crashing and exploding, a guy’s motorcycle catching on fire and falling off a bridge. Tons of fun.

At the time it only existed as a super rare VHS tape, but beginning this week Alamo On Demand are playing a new 4K restoration in drive-ins and virtual cinemas (tickets here), which I imagine (hope) means there will be a blu-ray too at some point. Here’s the trailer Alamo made for it:

Stewart directed three more movies in the early ‘90s (CLICK: THE CALENDAR GIRL KILLER, CARTEL and HIDDEN OBSESSION) before doing 14 episodes in the first two seasons of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. He continued to work in stunts (including as stunt coordinator for LEPRECHAUN 3 and CHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC’S RETURN) but didn’t direct another feature until 2007, when he made FALL GUY: THE JOHN STEWART STORY. Yes, an autobiopic. He’s played by Jason David Frank, the Green/White Power Ranger. (read the rest of this shit…)

Haunt

Well, now that that’s taken care of…

November 9th, especially one right after an election week that makes Halloween seem like two months ago, is not necessarily the optimal time to review a movie that takes place on Halloween. But I felt this particular seasonal viewing was strong enough it should be entered into the record.

The title HAUNT doesn’t refer to ghosts, but the term for “haunted houses” or horror mazes that have grown in sophistication and popularity in recent non-pandemic years. There seem to be many of them in the L.A. area, judging from the horror podcasts I listen to, and I think there’s a documentary about them. They’ve evolved from the old fake spider webs and a guy jumping out in a Leatherface mask to “extreme haunts” where you have to sign a waiver because they’re really going to try to make you uncomfortable. This is a film about a group of college age friends who end up at one of those places after a Halloween party. They don’t know they’re in a horror movie, but we do, so we’re more tense than they are waiting to find out which danger is not fake.

There are a bunch of similarly themed and named movies of recent vintage – this is the 2019 American one with a clown mask on the poster. I didn’t know until afterwards that writer/directors Scott Beck & Bryan Woods are the guys that wrote A QUIET PLACE. (read the rest of this shit…)

ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2

First of all, kudos to CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 for getting so close to the RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II naming scheme. If it only used Roman numerals it would match BRADDOCK: MISSING IN ACTION III. Or I guess LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III.

Despite that titelistical swagger, I found the sequel pretty disappointing. The pacing, limited locations and somewhat grimmer tone make it way less entertaining than the first one, but it’s at least admirable that it’s not at all a rehash and that it adds a bunch of weird new stuff to the mythology. I respect that. (read the rest of this shit…)

Laid to Rest

You know I love the slasher movies, but I admit that part of their magic is that most of them are transmissions from a bygone era. The ineffable chemistry of eager Hollywood outsiders trying to jump onto a specific bandwagon, either with great passion or comically overconfident cynicism, sometimes in some obscure neck of the woods we’ve never seen in a movie before, often with the freshness/awkwardness of beginners who don’t necessarily know the cinematic rules they’re breaking, is frozen in time on beautiful (or beautifully ugly) 35mm (or even 16mm) film. Most of that can’t be re-created in a computer lab. Usually when they try it looks too clean, also too cheap, they try to avoid needing many makeup FX, they’re too self conscious, or too gloomy, or too fucking boring. I’m generally suspicious of the new shit. This is all to explain why it took me eleven years to get around to LAID TO REST. In my defense it was released in 2009, the twilight of the nu metal era, with a metal skull on the cover. It was easy to make assumptions.

During the opening credits I was ready to write it off. It has the ingredients of a cool NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET style montage of the film’s wannabe-slasher-icon ChromeSkull (Nick Principe, “Slick,” AGENT CODY BARKS) preparing his implements (a shiny skull mask, a bunch of surgical tools, a camcorder), but it’s annoyingly smothered in corny fake glitches, Avid farts and shaky video of screaming and torture and shit. It lists the bands that are gonna be featured on the soundtrack before a naked lady gets graphically cut open. (read the rest of this shit…)

Programming note

I did a couple extra reviews last week, so I ran out of back log and I don’t have anything new to post like I normally would on a Monday… but I sort of need to play it by ear this week anyway. I’ll see if I’m able to concentrate enough to finish the ones I’ve been working on or if it will even feel right to post anything. Like, I might not post a monster movie review right away if a new civil war starts. Maybe wait until a couple days after the first important battle out of respect or whatever. But I promise I have some good stuff coming soon.

Anyway I just want to say stay safe everybody, take care of your mental state, we’re in this together, nazi presidents fuck off, let’s blow up this stupid Death Star and get ready for the next one.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

Two Halloweens ago we discussed Tobe Hooper’s first masterpiece. This is his second. He didn’t even want to direct it at first, sort of got pushed into it, but damn did he rally. In many ways THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is the Tobe Hooperest movie ever made.

I don’t blame you if you’re skeptical during the opening scene where two obnoxious “senior boys at Wheeler High” calling themselves “Buzz and Rick the Prick” drunkenly drive a Porsche, fire guns, and harass the K-OKLA request line until they receive a drive-by chainsawing on a bridge that must’ve been built by the same people who made that endless runway from the climactic chase in FURIOUS 6. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sleepwalkers

A rare movie-watching phenomenon that I love: rewatching one I saw decades ago, and have always believed sucked, but discovering that I really like it now. It happened with THE MANGLER, Tobe Hooper’s crazy adaptation of a Stephen King short story, and it’s happened again with SLEEPWALKERS, the first movie written by King that’s not based on a previously published work. Maybe it’s something about King’s stories, but more likely it’s that my tastes in horror have evolved since I was a teenager and saw this in the theater.

The mythological premise is established with a little text at the beginning: there are these fuckers called sleepwalkers, they are nomadic shapeshifters who are like vampires but instead of blood they suck the lifeforce of “virginal females,” and instead of sun or garlic or whatever they’re susceptible to cat scratches.

It’s a Stephen King thing. Just go with it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Night Screams / Phantom of the Ritz

Earlier in this year’s too brief Slasher Search, I reviewed OPEN HOUSE, and I wrote about the interesting career of its director, Jag Mundhra. And I saw that he directed HACK-O-LANTERN, which I had considered watching for many years, but I felt like it no longer qualified for Slasher Search, because it has a fancy remastered Blu-Ray release with extras and everything. And then Joe Bob Briggs played it on Shudder, so it became more notable, but was clearly not something that required searching.

Never fear. I’ve managed to find a substitute double feature, another director who did two obscure late ’80s horror movies. The first is on DVD (but an old and crappy one), the second only on VHS.

The director’s name is Allen Plone, and his first film was NIGHT SCREAMS (1987). It’s fairly serious and straight forward, very often laughable, but strange and vaguely competent enough to be entertaining. And filmed and set in Wichita, Kansas, giving it its own regional flavor. Pretty much the kind of thing I’m looking for here. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Shape of Evil: Confronting darkness through the ‘Halloween’ series

Two years ago, but it seems closer to ten, a nice deputy editor for a new publication approached me to write a piece. He had been reading me forever and was working for this company with a bunch of money invested in it, could pay pretty well and expose me to some new readers not only on the web but a print magazine he compared to Rolling Stone. I said yes and we were going back and forth about what my first piece should be, and then my mom died.

Freelance gigs are usually a little stressful and all-consuming for me, but for some reason I still wanted to do it. Looking back at my emails, I was literally trying to schedule around the days off I had other than the one for the funeral. I agreed to write about the Halloween series, in conjunction with the upcoming David Gordon Green sequel. I watched all ten existing movies (including remakes) and came up with this piece that ties them all together thematically, at times addressing the grief and fears I was dealing with at the time. I took longer than I was supposed to and ended up with twice the agreed upon word count and I was so unsure anybody else would be interested that in my email I said, “If you don’t want it I understand, just let me know and I’ll use it on outlawvern.com and we’ll come up with something else for me to work on for you.”

Then the magazine (you will never see this coming) ran out of money, all the editors resigned, I don’t believe I ever got paid and the article could only be seen on the Wayback Machine. But I got no regrets because working on this helped me in a tough period of my life and gave me a better understanding of my relationship with the genre. So I’m proud to repost it here.

(I’ve kept their edits, so you’ll notice some British spellings in here.) (read the rest of this shit…)

The Man Next Door

THE MAN NEXT DOOR is a 1997 film that only came out on VHS. The cover has a big skull, a scary house and a very dated font choice. It’s written and directed by Rod C. Spence, known for his raw suspense. Or perhaps he’s known for editing 2000s reality TV shows like Survivor, The Apprentice, American Chopper and Jersey Shore, which he did for a while after this (and his websight says he writes screenplays and novels).

It was released as part of First Rites, which was an imprint from Hollywood Video (the biggest American video store chain besides Blockbuster) for low budget independent movies from new directors. Showcasing new voices or whatever. It fascinates me because it doesn’t seem to me like they would earn any more money from having THE MAN NEXT DOOR available than just having more copies of CON AIR or whatever. With some research I learned that it was someone else’s deal that partnered with Hollywood in the U.S. and Rogers in Canada, but still, there must’ve been someone within the shitty corporate structure of Hollywood Video that really believed in this mission and convinced someone to get behind it. That’s pretty cool. (read the rest of this shit…)