Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 1.28 “A Nice Place To Visit”


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In this episode of The Twilight Zone, a thief is shot by the police and finds himself in the afterlife. After a life of struggle and crime, the thief finally finds himself with the opportunity to have everything that he’s ever wanted. Even if you’ve never seen this episode before, you’ll probably be able to guess the twist after a minute or two. But it’s still a pretty good episode, featuring good performances from Larry Blyden and Sebastian Cabot and an typically fun script from Charles Beaumont.


A Nice Place To Visit originally aired on April 15th, 1960.


The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Don’t Answer The Phone (dir by Robert Hammer)


Nicholas Worth in Don't Answer The Phone

Nicholas Worth in Don’t Answer The Phone

AGCK!

As a self-described lover of grindhouse and exploitation films, I have seen my share of truly icky films.  But Don’t Answer The Phone, a 1980 mix of police procedural and serial killer horror, is in a class all by itself.  It is not only exceptionally icky but it’s distressingly effective as well.

After I watched Don’t Answer The Phone, I actually checked to make sure all the doors were locked.  Before I got into bed, I searched all the closets to make sure there wasn’t anyone hiding in there.  And, as I fell asleep, I found myself thinking that maybe I should follow the advise of both Arleigh and my sister.  Maybe it was time for me to finally get a gun of my own and learn how to use it.

Seriously, Bowman, I thought as I waited for sleep to come, you live in Texas.  It’s totally legal to carry a gun down here so you need to take advantage of the law and make you’re ready to blow any pervert losers away!  Even if you shot the wrong person, you’re cute.  The jury would never convict…

That’s the type of effect that Don’t Answer The Phone had on me.  It’s not necessarily a good film.  With one notable (and important) exception, most of the acting is terrible.  The film’s few attempts at intentional humor largely fall flat.  Even with a running time of only 94 minutes, Don’t Answer The Phone feels overlong and full of unneeded padding.  And yet, this is a very effective film.  It did freak me out, largely because it was so crude and heartless.  It strikes at the most primal fears of the viewer, that feeling that — even within the security of our own home — we may not truly be safe.

As Don’t Answer The Phone opens, Los Angeles is a city being stalked by a madman.  That, in itself, is not surprising.  Just taking a quick look at Wikipedia will reveal that Los Angeles has been home to a large number of serial killers.  In fact, if there is anything shocking about Don’t Answer The Phone, it’s the suggestion that Kirk Smith (played by Nicholas Worth) is the only serial killer in town.

Who is Kirk Smith?  He’s an overweight, bald photographer who always wears an army jacket and is obsessed with candles, body building, and strangulation.  He also enjoys calling up a local talk show host, Dr. Linsday Gale (Flo Gerrish).  (One wonders if Dr. Gale’s name was specifically meant to make the viewer think of The Wizard of Oz.)  “Hello,” he says in an outrageously fake accent, “this Ramon!”  He tells Dr. Gale that he has frequent headaches and bad urges.  When he’s not pretending to be Ramon, Kirk can usually be found staring at himself in a mirror and yelling, “Do I measure up, Dad!?”

Kirk is killing women across Los Angeles and it looks like he might never be caught because Don’t Answer The Phone features some of the most incompetent cops ever!  These are the type of cops who smirk at the victims and shoot anyone who doesn’t get on the ground fast enough.  These are the type of cops who open fire and then say, “Adios, creep.”  Civil liberties!?  BLEH, THESE COPS DON’T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR RIGHTS!  Of course, they do end up shooting and killing the only witness who can identify Kirk Smith as the murderer.  Whoops!

If there’s anything that sets Don’t Answer The Phone apart from all the other serial killer films, it’s the performance of Nicholas Worth.  Far more than the slick and erudite serial killers who dominate contemporary thrillers, Nicholas Worth is a frighteningly believable lunatic.  He’s scary because we’ve all seen his type wandering the streets.  We’ve all felt his stare linger for a few seconds too long and we’ve all had the same feeling of dread when we saw him approaching us.  Reportedly, Worth did a lot of research on actual serial killers before taking on the role of Kirk Smith and his performance is terrifying because it is so real.

It’s icky to watch but, at the same time, it do serve to remind us that there are real life Kirk Smiths out there.

Agck!  Seriously, it makes me shake just thinking about it.

I’m getting a gun…

DAtP

Horror Film Review: Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (dir by Albert Band)


Were you aware that Dracula owned a dog?  And that dog was a vampire?  And that dog’s name was Zoltan?

It’s true!  Or, at least, it’s true according to a low-budget 1977 film called Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula.

Zoltan opens with a bunch of Russians unearthing an underground tomb that, we’re told, once housed Dracula.  Inside the tomb, they find two coffins.  One contains a man with a stake in his chest.  The other contains the body of a dog that has a stake in its chest.  Foolishly, the Russians remove the stakes and bring back to life both Zoltan and Veidt Smit (played by a very creepy-looking actor named Reggie Nalder, who also played the vampire in the made-for-tv adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot).  Veidt is a former servant of Dracula who can walk around in the daylight.  As for Zoltan — well, he’s Dracula’s dog.  His eyes glow.  He has gigantic fangs.  He’s a vampire dog!

It turns out that, in order to survive, Veidt and Zoltan have to find the last human descendant of Dracula and turn him into a vampire.  So, Veidt and Zoltan had to Los Angeles and start to stalk family man Michael Drake (Michael Pataki).  Drake (and yes, his last name was shortened from Dracula) has little knowledge of his heritage.  Oddly enough, we’re told repeatedly that he’s the last member of the Dracula bloodline but he has two kids so it seems like they would actually be the last descendants of Dracula and…

Oh, who cares!?  Why are we worrying about logic when it comes to reviewing a film called Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula?

Michael and his family leave Los Angeles so that they can spend the weekend at a campground and, needless to say, they are followed by Zoltan and Veidt.  Soon, Zoltan is turning every other dog in California into a vampire and chasing Michael and his family.

Fortunately, a vampire hunter (played by Jose Ferrer) shows up and offers to help Michael survive.  But will his help be enough?

Okay, so Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula is technically a pretty bad film.  The budget is very low.  Director Albert Band doesn’t really bother much with things like subtext or suspense.  With the exception of the genuinely intimidating Reggie Nadler, the actors pretty much just go through the motions.  But, with all that in mind — how can you not love a film called Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula?  It’s fun because the film is just so ludicrous.  Criticizing a film like this for being bad ultimately feels like being way too much of a scold.

Add to that, there’s a vampire puppy!  And yes, he is just adorable!

I have to say that I am very disappointed that Zoltan did not make an appearance in last year’s Dracula Untold.  Hopefully, any future Dracula movies will make room for Zoltan. He may have been a vampire but seriously, Zoltan was a good dog!


Halloween Havoc!: DEAD OF NIGHT (Ealing 1945)


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The horror anthology film has been around since the silent era. German cinema began the trend with Robert Oswald’s EERIE TALES (1919), Fritz Lang’s DESTINY(1921), and Paul Leni’s WAXWORKS (1924). Things were quiet on the anthology front during the first talking horror cycle of the 1930’s, but the format was revived by Julien Duvivier in his 1943 FLESH AND FANTASY, linking three tales of the supernatural. Britain’s Ealing Studios came up with one of the best in the genre ever when they released 1945’s DEAD OF NIGHT. This influential classic chiller and is still the gold standard for horror anthologies, with many of its themes and its wrap around storyline being used by horror filmmakers for years to come.

Architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) is summoned to a countryside home by Eliot Foley (Roland Culver). Craig has the strange feeling he’s been here before, and is filled with a sense of dread. He recognizes the people…

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Halloween Film Review: Halloweentown (1998, dir. Duwayne Dunham)


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By the time this came out in 1998 I had long since stopped watching the Disney Channel or celebrating Halloween. And apparently, I didn’t miss much. I’m not sure how this spawned three sequels.

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The movie begins with Gwen Cromwell Piper (Judith Hoag) telling her daughter she can’t go celebrate Halloween like all the other children. Now of course I figured it was because she didn’t want her daughter to be sacrificed to Satan and participate in a holiday that cannot be divorced from it’s Pagan origins. Law Enforcement Guide To Satanic Cults and Part 1 of The Pagan Invasion taught me that. However, it’s nothing fun like that. It’s just that they come from a family of witches and she married a human so she wants to raise them all like humans.

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Enter Debbie Reynolds on The Magical School Bus, Marry Poppins style. After showing off to the kids magic grandma style, she leaves to go back to her home. By the way, have you ever noticed that in these kid friendly witch things, their powers are genetically inherited rather than acquired by invoking some sort of non-human entity?

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Anyways, after the movie reminds us that Universal still has a trademark on the Wolfman, the kids follow Reynolds back onto the bus.

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After seeing some supernatural creatures on the bus, they arrive in Hill Valley…I mean Halloweentown. The kids meet the mayor and that’s important, but who cares cause we now meet the cabby.

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He’s like Manny from Grim Fandango! He is the best character in this whole movie. I really hope he’s in the sequels. I can’t say enough good things about him. Well, of course some bad things are happening in Halloweentown and Reynolds is trying to get the mayor to listen, but he doesn’t. The mother also shows up to complain and act worried about the kids. After showing off the town a bit, Reynolds comes to a theater.

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I would say that means something bad is going on, but I’ve been told that’s what screenings of Oogieloves (2012) looked like.

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But then this guy shows up and freezes Debbie Reynolds and the mom. This leaves the kids to run around town collecting ingredients for a spell to help them. Ultimately, it takes the whole family to deal with the evil. Blah, blah, blah. It’s not a bad setup, but they just don’t do much of anything with it. Disappointing.

Hallmark Review: Smart Cookies (2012, dir. Robert Iscove)


IMG_6335This is the second Hallmark movie in row I’ve watched where a woman in expensive clothes falls in mud. Why? I guess if kids can beatbox in R.L. Stine’s Monsterville: The Cabinet Of Souls, then this movie can also fall back really tired and old things such as rich peopling falling in mud.

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That butt belongs to real estate agent Julie Sterling (Jessalyn Gilsig). This movie was made in 2012 and was meant to commemorate 100 years of the Girl Scouts. This movie doesn’t even try to give an excuse for Sterling to get involved with the Girl Scouts. Her boss played by Patricia Richardson just shows up in her office, says a girl scout troop needs a leader, and that she has to go be it for 90 days. End of story. I like it when a Hallmark movie doesn’t bullshit, but just says, this is a thing that’s happening, so onward with the movie. The Gourmet Detective: A Healthy Place To Die did that too.

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Julie may not be good with kids, but she does come prepared with a purse big enough to hold a severed head in it. As I’m sure you already know, she isn’t assigned the “good” girl scouts, but the ones who really need help. Kind of like herself. Bailee Madison plays one of the scouts and once again she is cast just to be super cute.

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While she is working with the scouts she is also trying to sell a house. That part is really just a barometer so we can tell at what stage in her character arc she is based on how her professional life is affected by her time with the kids. Also, it’s how she runs into a handy man played by Ty Olsson who kind of reminded me of tech journalist Patrick Norton. Only with more hair.

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His performance really is the highlight of this film. Of course he is also the father of Bailee Madison’s character. He’s nice, he doesn’t act zany, he cares about his daughter, etc. He’s the best part of the movie.

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Since the Girl Scouts are probably best known for their cookies. The end of the film becomes her troop facing off against the best scouts to sell the most cookies. The scenes where they are fighting each other in street for sales by changing their deal every few seconds till they finally capture the crowd are the majority of these parts. I wish they had cut some of the unnecessary adapting scenes such as the mud part and given us some scenes of her doing the work that the scouts are supposed to be doing. Instead, we get a brief flash of her coming out of a Kinkos type place and then the kids are complaining about her doing everything for them. Would have been nice if they had shown that rather than just telling us it happened.

Honestly, what this movie did for me is remind me of why I enjoyed watching Troop Beverly Hills (1989) as a kid. However, there is one last thing to mention and that is that for once in a long time, the romance part really takes a back seat to the stuff with the scouts. Yes, she warms up to the father and we can see that they are good friends and are going to see where that takes them, but it’s not forced down our throats. He never proposes at the end or anything. The end is her realizing that her boss has helped make her a better person by giving her these 90 days with the girls and that she would like to continue doing it.

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Is it worth watching? Not really. It won’t kill ya, but I certainly wouldn’t seek it out.

October Music Series: Gorgoroth – Procreating Satan


Part of the ‘appeal’ of the second wave of black metal as it manifested in Norway is the feeling that you are listening to a product of truly deranged minds. Granted most of the artists in the scene were fairly normal kids who matured and went on to enjoy long-term musical success, the genre’s focus on the occult, Satanism, and all things traditionally “evil” brought a few real wackos into the fold. Most of them wound up dead and behind bars. Gorgoroth pressed on.

This is a band that continues to project itself as dead-serious Satan-worshiping masochists long after their peers evolved away from the genre’s early image or else dropped sufficient hints to be recast as a sort of warm cuddly metal-spiked parody. Does their sound reflect this? I like to believe it does. “Procreating Satan” is the opening track to Twilight of the Idols, the band’s sixth studio album, released in 2003. It features the most notorious of the many vocalists the band has had over the years: Gaahl.