I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Funhouse

After SALEM’S LOT but before POLTERGEIST, Tobe Hooper did a humble little teen horror movie that acts as a rickety jerry-rigged bridge between his nasty beginnings and his guy-who-works-with-Spielberg years. Filming in Florida, Hooper was able to create a vibe of sweaty southern depravity in the tradition of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and EATEN ALIVE, but bigger – THE FUNHOUSE is a $3 million Universal movie. I don’t know if it’s the sweeping aerial views from cinematographer Andrew Laszlo (THE WARRIORS, FIRST BLOOD, REMO WILLIAMS) or the ominous orchestral score by John Beal (primarily a composer for trailers), but I swear there’s a faintly classy polish on this trashy drive-in sideshow.

I suppose the influence of HALLOWEEN might’ve contributed. The opening is an obvious homage – maybe even straight up ripoff – a POV shot of what turns out to be a kid (Shawn Carson, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES) putting on a clown mask and creeping up on his naked sister (Elizabeth Berridge, AMADEUS, HIDALGO). The difference is that he’s not a psycho, just a little brat trying to scare her. This pranking and the horror movie memorabilia in his room don’t turn out to be relevant, other than that the real horror he encounters hides itself under a Frankenstein’s monster mask, and when he sees it he won’t be laughing, he’ll be crying like a baby. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dolls

After Stuart Gordon’s opening one-two punch of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, he did his first non-H.P.-Lovecraft picture, DOLLS. Produced by Charles Band two years before PUPPET MASTER, it sort of invents the template for his killer doll movies. The script is by Ed Naha, the first editor of Fangoria, who’s another important figure in the history of miniature cinema, having written TROLL, DOLLMAN and (with Gordon) HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS. He also wrote the regular-sized CHUD II and OMEGA DOOM.

The story here is your basic trapped-in-a-spooky-mansion-during-a-storm yarn. A little girl named Judy (Carrie Lorraine, POLTERGEIST II and one episode of ALF), her dad David (Ian Patrick Williams, RE-ANIMATOR, ROBOT JOX, KING OF THE ANTS) and uptight step-mom Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy Gordon, RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, ROBOT JOX, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, FORTRESS, STUCK) are driving somewhere in the woods or some shit, their car gets stuck in the mud, so they go knock on the door of the nearest gothic mansion. (read the rest of this shit…)

mother!

mother! is the new movie! from Darren Aranofsky (THE WRESTLER) and it’s marketed as horror, because… I mean I don’t know what else you would call it either. It is in the business of exploiting our fears, but it’s not exactly a genre story, unless you count the occasional bloody wound festering in a wooden floor. Mostly it’s a heightened, surreal portrait of a marriage. And a house.

Jennifer Lawrence (AMERICAN HUSTLE) is the nameless female lead (credited as “mother”), married to an older man (Javier Bardem, PERDITA DURANGO, credited as “Him”) who’s a famous poet suffering from writer’s block while she looks after him and painstakingly rebuilds his house after it was destroyed in a fire. When some random doctor dude (Ed Harris, knightriders!) shows up at their door, the husband invites him to stay without taking her feelings into account, and this is the breeze that will become a tornado of escalation intrusions, insecurities and violations. By the end she’ll be (spoiler!) caught in the middle of huge riots and uprisings even though she will never leave the house. (read the rest of this shit…)

In the Mouth of Madness

John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is as much a vibe as it is a story. It’s bewildered paranoia, fear of an impermanent reality, and the mystique of imaginary horror books with language so powerful it alters minds and taps into an ancient evil.

It starts in an insane asylum, where insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill, DAYBREAKERS) swears he’s been brought by mistake. He’s not crazy, he says. Later in the movie (and earlier in time) the idea is introduced that reality could change for everyone else, but not you, and then all the sudden you’d be crazy without having had to go crazy. Seems like just some bullshit philosophizing when he hears it, but we’ve seen into the future.

He tells a psychiatrist (David Warner, MONEY TALKS) his story. It all began when he was hired to find the missing author Sutter Cane. Cane is a giant Harry Potter sized phenomenon, described as “bigger than Stephen King” (who he shares a font with) but his stories sound more like H.P. Lovecraft with their unleashings of indescribable evils and what not. This all takes place during a rash of riots and mental health incidents across the country, one of which Trent happened to be a victim of. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Dark Half

Hollywood George Romero is not my favorite George Romero, but he’s the most underrated one. With THE DARK HALF (1993, but shot in ’90 and ’91) he’s still filming in Pennsylvania (portraying Stephen King’s Castle Rock, Maine), but funded by Orion, with enough of a budget ($15 million) for Academy Award winning movie star lead Timothy Hutton (CITY OF INDUSTRY), three months of training for 4,000 birds, and some early computer effects. It has more of a slick, Hollywood feel than we associate with Romero, less of his hand-crafted-by-local-artisans vibe, but that’s not the end of the world. It’s cool to see how well he can do a straight-forward adaptation of a book by King (“Hoagie Man,” KNIGHTRIDERS). Better than most, it turns out. (read the rest of this shit…)

The American Scream (1988)

From the cover, THE AMERICAN SCREAM (not to be confused with the documentary about people who make haunted houses) looks like a straight up comedy. It does indeed have some goofy performances, ’80s-teen-sex-comedy style jokes and what seems like a loose, sloppy swing at some kind of mild satire, but I believe it’s genuinely trying to be scary too. I don’t think it’s successful at any of those things, but it has kind of a likable vibe to it that made me at least not hate it.

It’s about a suburban family, the Benzigers, but playing off the phrase “The American Dream” for the title is kind of an odd fit. It’s about them taking a vacation to some small, snowy mountain town around Christmas time. The parents, Barbara (Jennifer Darling) and Ben (Pons Maar) are goofy comedic characters, because the actors playing them are a couple of hams. Darling is primarily a voice actor (The Dukes, Poochie, Centurions, New Kids on the Block, the computer in DEMOLITION MAN, etc.) and Maar is kind of the opposite – a puppeteer and costume performer (he played Saurod the snake-man in MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, the lead Wheeler in RETURN TO OZ, best friend Roy on Dinosaurs, and the title dino in THEODORE REX).

(read the rest of this shit…)

The Mangler

THE MANGLER (1995) is a potent mix of silly Stephen King short story premise and unhinged Tobe Hooper fever dream. That means it has  killer inanimate objects, but with the late Texas horror master’s sweaty, depraved lunatic tormenters stirred in like a salted caramel swirl.

Yes, this is a movie about a possessed industrial laundry press that seems to fold more people than it does sheets. You got a problem with that? I sure did in the ’90s when I saw this on VHS and thought it was the dumbest shit I ever saw. This time I was not so closed-minded. In today’s world we need to have more empathy for everyone, including murderous haunted laundry machines.

You may be wondering how the hell this Mangler (actual tagline: “It has a crush on you!”) manages to rack up a body count since it’s not exactly Christine rolling around town listening to George Thorogood, it’s a big-ass metal machine at least the size of a half-length bus and looking three times the weight, with no wheels. Well, I’m happy to report that there’s a part where (SPOILER) the heroes are hauling ass down a mysterious subterranean staircase squealing “We’re fucked!” as the Mangler chases and snaps at them like an angry pitbull. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blade Runner 2049

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s hard to imagine a better sequel to BLADE RUNNER than BLADE RUNNER 2049, especially after seeing Ridley Scott’s two interesting but sloppy prequels to ALIEN. Here Scott acts as producer, wisely handing the reins over to Denis Villeneuve (PRISONERS, ENEMY, SICARIO, ARRIVAL), so we get the gorgeous visuals and elliptical philosophizing, but with a stronger narrative and more coherent ideas than Scott prefers these days. It couldn’t exist without building on the 1982 film’s world and style and feel, of course, so I’m not saying it’s better, but to me this detective lead and the mystery he’s solving are much more absorbing than the earlier version.

Not that it’s trying to be accessible. Doesn’t seem too long to me, but it’s 2 hours and 43 minutes, or one DAWN OF THE DEAD plus a sitcom including commercials plus 6 more minutes. It’s mostly slow and quiet, though Benjamin Wallfisch (IT) and Hans Zimmer (BROKEN ARROW)’s Vangelis-inspired score sometimes builds to a tempest, and a few great action beats spring up among its handfuls of violence. What excites me most, though, are the simple atmospheric touches, like the gentle burble of a pot of garlic boiling on the stove as fugitive replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN) is ambushed by an intruder sitting quietly in the dark, confronting him calmly.

It’s K (Ryan Gosling, ONLY GOD FORGIVES), an LAPD detective who is (opening scene spoiler) himself a “skin job,” but working to track down all remaining replicants that aren’t programmed to die. His powers of observation on this case lead him to a shocking discovery that “breaks the world” according to his boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright, BEOWULF), so she assigns him to cover it up. To maintain order. (read the rest of this shit…)

Generation Ax

Okay, I’m not naive, I know a no-budget regional slasher nobody’s ever heard of from the advanced year of 2001 was a long, long, loooong shot for kicking off Slasher Search 2017, this year’s quest to find a great obscure slasher movie I’ve never seen before. But I don’t know, man. The title GENERATION AX always intrigued me. That was a pretty good exploitation title for its time, or at least for several years before its time. The opening credits spell it out “GENERATION aX,” as if we might not get the play on “Generation X” without typographic hints. In that case it’s a misnomer, because this is a movie about 17 year olds in a year when the youngest Gen Xers were 25. In the movie’s defense, though, the entire cast looks closer to 30.

The story opens with Todd (Brian Kelly, “Jacobi Boy #2,” MANHUNTER), sort of a young Shea Whigham type, in a lone containment cell being taunted by a completely-by-himself cop or sheriff or whatever (Robert Steinmeyer?) who complains about having to fill out reports and helpfully talks about “those teens” and “those cheerleaders” Todd is accused of killing. Of course Todd escapes and the story jumps back two weeks. This tension-by-telling-us-the-future is maybe the closest thing to a successfully executed technique in the movie. If we were invested in the character Leslie (Jennifer Peluso, coach for The Firm: Total Body series of workout videos) it would be suspenseful as it goes back and forth about whether or not she’ll make the cheerleading team. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tobe Hooper’s Night Terrors

TOBE HOOPER’S NIGHT TERRORS (or THE MARQUIS DE SADE’S NIGHT TERRORS according to the menu of the German DVD I watched – it’s VHS-only in the States) is a lesser known one from Hooper’s disreputable ’90s period. This was 1993, when he was doing alot of TV, but theatrical-movie-wise it came between SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION and THE MANGLER.

I’d actually never seen this one before and I’m glad I waited until now because I can at least respect its place in Hooper’s filmography and its rejection of normal horror ideas. Can’t really say I like it, though.

What is the premise? I’ve seen it, so I have a good guess. It’s about Genie (yes, that’s how it’s spelled), a young American woman played by Zoe Trilling (DR. GIGGLES, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2) who goes to Alexandria, Egypt to stay with her archaeologist father Dr. Matteson (William Finley, THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, EATEN ALIVE, THE FUNHOUSE), meets a few people, experiments with her sexual boundaries and then gets chained up by some sadists. (read the rest of this shit…)