October Music Series: Falkenbach – Heathen Foray


If there is one artist I have consistently returned to every October for the 15 or so years that I’ve had a clue what I’m talking about, it’s Vratyas Vakyas. I first discovered Falkenbach via Audiogalaxy–a long forgotten site that stood out back in the Napster days for a design which allowed users to easily explore non-mainstream genres. I had never heard anything remotely similar to Falkenbach at the time, and I fell in love with the plodding hymns that seemed to turn black metal on its head and generate a spirit of reverence rather than darkness.

Of course, in hindsight Falkenbach fits into a broader historical progression, but his sound is still entirely unmistakable. Vratyas Vakyas was one of the earliest artists to really latch on to the ‘viking metal’ ideal that Bathory began in the late 80s, before too many stylistic norms were standardized, and the sound he landed on has never ceased to captivate me. “Heathen Foray” is the opening track to his fourth studio album, Heralding – The Fireblade (2005), and it also makes an appearance in somewhat grimmer form on his second album, …Magni blandinn ok megintiri… (1998). How far back the basic idea of the song dates is hard to say; there is a ton of earlier demo material available going as far back as 1989. I could have chosen any of dozens of stand-out songs to showcase here without any reservations, but this one has been speaking to me lately. Enjoy!

Horror on TV: Twilight Zone 3.76 “Still Valley”


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In this episode of The Twilight Zone, a Confederate soldier (Gary Merrill) meets an old man (Vaughn Taylor) who claims that, through magic, he can help the Confederacy win the Civil War. However, as often happens when it comes to weird old men and magic, there’s a price that must be paid.


I like this episode, largely because I’m obsessed with three things: history, the Civil War, and magic. And this one has all three!


It originally aired on November 24th, 1961.


Halloween Havoc!: EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Lido Film 1959)


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From the early films of Georges (A TRIP TO THE MOON) Melies, to the horrors of H.G.Clouzot (LE CORBEAU, DIABOLIQUE), to the vampire madness of Jean Rollin, France has a long history with le cinema fantastique. EYES WITHOUT A FACE is one of the most eerie of all French horrors, it’s dreamlike quality capturing the viewer, even with subtitles. I’m not a big fan of foreign films, but EYES WITHOUT A FACE stood out to me as a perfect example of how quiet horror can be just as effective as full-throttle terror.

The story unfolds slowly, deliberately, as we see a woman (Alida Valli) driving down a lonely highway. There’s someone or something in her backseat, bundled up in a hat and topcoat. The woman pulls over when a car comes behind her, nervous, scared. When it passes, she carries what we now see as a female corpse, dropping it into the Siene River…

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TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Don’t Go In The House (dir by Joseph Ellison)


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1980’s Don’t Go In The House is one of the many “Don’t” films to come out in the 70s and 80s.  These films all had titles that warned viewers not to do something.  Don’t Answer The Phone!  Don’t Stand Near The Window!  Don’t Go To Sleep!  Don’t Go Into The Woods…Alone!  Don’t Go In The House!

And I have to admit that whenever I come across one of these titles, my initial response is to get a little offended because I don’t like being told what to do.  A grindhouse movie about me would be called Don’t Give Lisa Orders.  Seriously, you’re going to tell me not to go into the house?  I’m going not only going to go into the house but I’m also going to stay for however long I feel like staying.  If you don’t like it, buy a new house.

But, that being said, these Don’t titles do make it very easy for a lazy reviewer.  A title like Don’t Go In The House practically invites a critic to be snarky.  “Don’t go in the house?  How about don’t watch the fucking movie?”

Seriously, it’s fun!

But, at the same time, that’s a bit unfair to Don’t Go In The House.  As far as crazed serial killer films go, Don’t Go In The House is one of the most disturbingly effective entries in the genre.  Dan Grimaldi (who later played Patsy Parisi on The Sopranos) stars as Donny Kohler.  Shy and awkward, Donny lives in a dilapidated mansion with his mother.  When Donny was a child, his mother’s favorite punishment was to burn him and, as a result, Donny has grown up both fearing and loving fire.

Though Donny is obviously disturbed from the first minute we see him, it’s not until his mother dies that the true extent of Donny’s madness becomes apparent.  Now living alone in that huge house, Donny starts to hear whispering voices.  The voices tell him to “master the flame.”  Soon, Donny is luring victims into his house, where he chains them up in a specially made room and uses a flame thrower to set them on fire…

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Seriously, this movie is soooooooo disturbing!  Not only is the film full of ominous atmosphere but Dan Grimaldi gives an all-too realistic performance in the role of Donny.  Much like Nicholas Worth in Don’t Answer The Phone, Grimaldi turns Donny into an all too familiar monster.  The fact of the matter is that we’ve all known a potential Donny.  Don’t get paranoid?  Well, that’s next to impossible after you watch a movie like Don’t Go In The House.

I also have to say that I have never actually seen anyone burned alive, though, when I was nine, I did see my Dad accidentally set himself on fire.  (Before anyone freaks out, he did that whole drop and roll thing or whatever it is and he was absolutely fine.)  That said, the immolation scenes in Don’t Go In The House felt totally and completely authentic.  They were pure nightmare fuel, truly some of the most disturbing scenes that I have ever seen.

Am I recommending Don’t Go In The House?  I don’t know.  It’s thoroughly unpleasant but, at the same time, it’s a very well-made film and surprisingly well-acted film.  And, despite being about a serial killer and featuring very graphic violence, the film itself is always on the side of the victims.  No attempt is made to make Donny into some sort of Hannibal Lecterish antihero (from the minute we first meet him until the film’s final scene, Donny is presented as being a total loser) and, as a result, Don’t Go In The House emerges as a grindhouse film that has a stronger moral center than most mainstream features.

But my God, is it ever disturbing!  I saw the film once and that was more than enough for me.  If you’re a fan of grindhouse and exploitation films, Don’t Go In The House is a film that you’re going to have to see eventually.  If you’re like me, you’ll probably end up watching it through your fingers.

Seriously, don’t underestimate the disturbing experience of watching Don’t Go In The House.

Netflix Halloween 2015 : “An American Ghost Story”


Trash Film Guru

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If only I’d known something about this flick back when it first came out (on home video — it never screened in theaters as far as I know) in 2012, I’d have been cheerleading for it a lot sooner.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that director Derek Cole’s An American Ghost Story (also released under the title of Revenant) is necessarily all that great, but damn if it isn’t plenty good, and it gets a lot more from its $10,000 budget (yes, you read that right) than most Hollywood “efforts” with ten times, one hundred times, or even one thousand times the money to burn. Any movie that packs a punch this far above its weight class is one worth crowing about, so let me take a few minutes, in the spirit of “better late than never,” to do just that.

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Struggling-and-broke writer Paul Anderson (played…

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Horror Film Review: Slaughterhouse Rock (1988, dir. Dimitri Logothetis)


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Earlier this month Lisa posted a scene from Slaughterhouse Rock that she likes, but she said she hadn’t actually seen the movie. She might as well have slapped me across the face with a steel gauntlet. Well, I’ve seen Slaughterhouse Rock now. Twice in fact. Probably three if you count all the rewatching of segments I had to do while writing this review because I was still confused. I can assure you that scene is the most entertaining thing about this movie. Lisa is right, that scene does show parts from earlier in the film. I love that it even flashes back to pointless scenes like when one of the kids slips while climbing up onto Alcatraz Island. Or a quick shot of one of the girls talking in a restaurant. It’s like they reached that part of the film and ran out of money because they blew it on effects from earlier in the film. That, and it was probably in Toni Basil’s contract that they let her dance a little in this movie. Oh, by the way, this is one of two rock horror films that star Toni Basil. I already reviewed Rockula. Why are there two of these?

So let’s get this review over with so I can subject myself to more films of questionable quality. The film starts out with some dreamlike scary scenes that end with someone’s hand getting chopped off. Then a guy wakes up to find his hand missing. Of course he wakes up again because he was still in a dream. Cut to the opening title card. We find out that not only Toni Basil was involved in this, but Devo too. And then we find out that the cinematographer on this movie is Nicholas Von Sternberg. The son of famed director Josef Von Sternberg. I bring that up because the first film he is credited with shooting is Dolemite (1975). That film is famous for numerous reasons including the boom mic popping in from the top of the frame.

I mention it since I’m pretty sure there is a scene in this movie where the boom mic pops in on the left hand side of the shot. I wish I had watched a higher quality copy of this movie, but here’s the shot anyways.

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But back to the story. That kid is Alex Gardner (Nicholas Celozzi) who has been having some weird dreams lately. Cut to the outside of a college building and we learn that Alcatraz has been closed down temporarily because of a tragic incident. A rock band called Body Bag broke off from the tour group and was later found dead. That’s Sammy Mitchell’s (Toni Basil) band. Since his dreams seem like they are taking place in a prison, his friends think there must be a connection. The next group of scenes are either stupid 1980’s teenagers in a horror movie stuff, creepy unreal stuff, or one of the very few shots in this movie that are actually of Alcatraz.

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In here is one of the dumbest scenes in the movie. They obviously thought it was really cool and built atmosphere, but it’s actually just really frustrating and confusing like most of this movie. It takes place in a restaurant where the scene starts with this person picking up some food to take to a table. The camera moves in slow motion around this restaurant for what feels like an eternity. Then a voice kicks in. Who is saying it? Is it the people we are looking at? The camera is still moving so I guess it can’t be. It takes close to another 10 seconds before the camera slow motion moves some more and finally settles on a girl and Alex talking at a table. My god! Was it so hard to cut that shorter? This is especially frustrating because the rest of the scene is actually done rather well. It uses close ups of his eyes and other peoples faces combined with angles and playing with the sound to build up to a hand breaking through the wall behind him. None of which required that unnecessarily confusing roam through the restaurant. Likely, that stuff was padding. There’s a lot of stuff that feels like padding in this movie.

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Now apparently these kids are taking some sort of class on the metaphysical in college because of course we can’t just have the kids go to Alcatraz of their own volition. No, Alex’s teacher finds out about his dreams after he freaks out in class. It’s her and this Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) scene that finally push them to take a small boat out to the island.

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Once we arrive on the island then the film really starts to have issues. The problem is since this was obviously not shot on the island, what you are seeing are small separate sets. In a well directed movie, this wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but here it is. You never really have a sense of space. How long is that hallway? Where is this exactly? Where is it in relation to the other sets? All of these problems are what make the film feel like a lot of just people walking and talking. To where? Who knows? And who cares.

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After getting grabbed by a hand and pulled somewhere else, we meet Sammy Mitchell. She starts to tells us the story behind all of this and that she has been reaching out to him in order to bring him to the island. Expect there to be a reason she reached out to him specifically? Only in your dreams. We now learn about her fascination with the occult and that she let some demon out. Apparently, all the people who have died on the island are the source of his power and are trapped on the island by his power. She then explains how this guy allowed in something more evil than the guy could have imagined. Then it cuts away to someone else for a bit. We then come back to her, and he asks why she chose him. Her answer is that she needs a living being to open a door at the end of a tunnel in order to release all the souls trapped on the island. Now comes the stock footage dance that Lisa posted.

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While all this is going on, we have the other kids wandering around the island. One of them includes Alex’s brother Richard (Tom Reilly). Richard becomes possessed by this demon. I love the scene with this one girl that he has shortly after getting taken over. It’s like that ridiculous dry hump sexual assault scene from the game Phantasmagoria. Only this scene actually makes some sense since the bad guy did have a history of that sort of thing whereas in the game it’s really random.

With Alex out of his body, the movie now has an excuse for how it can show us, and him, scenes from the past really explaining things. Okay, what’s going on is that apparently Alcatraz was a military outpost before it became a prison. And of course there was a really nasty guy who liked to hire girls, then eat them. After he couldn’t hire hookers and eat them anymore, he fed off the locals. The Native Americans finally got fed up with him and burned him. Unfortunately, he apparently had learned enough about magic that this didn’t do him in really. He had made a pact with the devil according to Sammy. I love the dialogue from the ghosts that almost sound like Sean Connery’s famous opening credits lines from Highlander (1986) that were recorded in a bathroom. Also, I love the quick anti-drug line they threw in with Basil’s exposition dump.

After Basil finally shuts up, although she keeps popping in from now on, the movie basically comes down to a D.W. Griffith cross cutting sequence. On one end you have people fighting the demon and on the other you have Alex (out of body) walking down the tunnel to open the door. Just as the camera seemed to take forever to move through the restaurant, Alex takes his sweet time walking through this tunnel. Almost like they shot all the other scenes of the kids fighting the demon, figured out how long they ran, then shot enough of Alex walking down the tunnel so they could keep cutting back to it. During this is where this lack of a sense of space really comes into play. The demon keeps pounding against a wall in some place and that somehow has an effect on Alex in the tunnel. The demon is hitting his hand against the wall, and then it cuts to Alex’s body to show his hand twist, which then seems to have an affect on his soul moving through the tunnel. It’s all very confusing, and since it’s the climax, it really damages the movie.

At the end, as far as I can tell, Basil joins souls with Alex in some fashion. There’s something there because he can suddenly play the piano at the end. I don’t care.

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This film was disappointing. I wasn’t a fan of the opening stuff, but they should have stuck with it all the way through. Yes, they could have improved on the sense of space issue, but I could have forgiven that if I felt trapped and held in a suspenseful atmosphere. Instead, they had to explain things, bring in Toni Basil, the dance number, the ridiculous outfits on her, and comedy bits from other dead people.

In other words, you can skip this one. If you must have Toni Basil in a rock related horror film, then go with Rockula. It’s not great, but it’s better than this. Plus you also get Thomas Dolby and Bo Diddley in that one.

Horror Film Review: The Last Exorcism (dir by Daniel Stamm)


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First released in 2010, The Last Exorcism is one of the best films of the past 5 years.

I know that a lot of people are going to disagree with that statement.  When The Last Exorcism was released, a lot of people were so angered by the way the film ended that they dismissed the entire movie.  Add to that, The Last Exorcism is yet another found footage horror film and that genre has produced a lot of truly terrible movies.  Whether fairly or not, a lot of people have judged The Last Exorcism on the basis of the sins committed by films like The Devil Inside.  With all that taken into consideration, it’s perhaps not surprising that The Last Exorcism only has a rating of 5.6 on the IMDb.

However, those who casually dismiss The Last Exorcism are making a mistake.  The Last Exorcism is a hundred times better than it has any right to be.  If nothing else, it’s probably one of the best found footage horror films ever made.

Produced by Eli Roth and directed by Daniel Stamm, the film opens with footage of the Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) leading a revival meeting.  We quickly see that Marcus is a showman, a born actor who knows how to manipulate and control an audience.  In interviews with a mostly unseen film crew, Rev. Marcus also explains that he’s both a highly successful exorcist and a complete fraud.  As he explains it, he has lost his faith and is participating in a documentary to reveal how he and other evangelical exorcists con and exploit their followers.  He’s agreed to perform one last exorcism, specifically so he can reveal just how much of a fraud that he really is.

One of the more interesting aspect of this setup is that it’s based on an actual documentary.  Released in 1972, Marjoe followed a former child evangelist named Marjoe Gortner as he conducted his last revival tour.  Talking directly to the camera, Marjoe would explain the tricks that he and other preachers would use to cheat the faithful out of their money.  The documentary, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1973, painted an intriguing picture of a con artist and The Last Exorcism does the same thing.

Marcus and the documentary film crew go out to a small rural community where farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) claims that his daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell) has been possessed by a demon.  Nell’s brother, Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones)  is openly hostile to both Marcus and the documentary film crew.  Marcus, meanwhile, is convinced that Nell is faking.

However, as both the film and the exorcism progress, we are given reasons to suspect that Nell might actually be possessed.  While a good deal of the film’s scares will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a found footage horror film (there’s the usual loud noises in isolated parts of the house and the menacing shadows glimpsed in the corners), the question of whether or not Nell is possessed is given extra importance by what the answer means to Cotton Marcus.  If Nell is faking, then Marcus’s own loss of faith will be justified.  However, if it turns out that Nell actually is possessed than it will mean that Marcus hasn’t merely been a con artist for his entire life.  If Nell actually is possessed, it’ll prove the existence of a God that Marcus claims to no longer believe in.

Indeed, it’s the character of Cotton Marcus who elevates The Last Exorcism over other entries in the found footage horror genre.  Much like Father Karras (as played by Jason Miller) in the original Exorcist, Marcus is a conflicted protagonist, a former man of faith who isn’t quite as ready to give up on his belief as he originally seems.  As played by Patrick Fabian, Cotton Marcus is an intriguingly ambiguous hero.  At the beginning of the film, Fabian is spell-binding and believable as a fire-and-brimstone evangelist.  (In perhaps his best scene, he impishly sneaks a recipe for banana bread into his sermon.)  As the film progresses, Cotton Marcus goes from being an arrogant charlatan to being a very vulnerable and scared man and Fabian is both believable and compelling throughout the entire film.  Patrick Fabian elevates The Last Exorcism from being just an average (if effectively atmospheric) horror film to being a truly intriguing piece of pulp art.

As for the film’s ending, I may be in a minority but I think it works.  The most common complaint about the film’s final 15 minutes is that they tend to contradict everything that came before them.  I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.  You have to remember that we’ve only seen the film’s events through the perspective of the documentarians and we’ve only heard Marcus’s admittedly biased interpretation of what’s going on.  Perhaps the worst possible thing that you can really say about the ending is that it reveals that Marcus wasn’t as clever as we previously assumed him to be.

The Last Exorcism was followed by a far less successful sequel, which I reviewed here.