The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Wolves at the Door (dir by John Leonetti)


I’m really not sure what to make of Wolves at the Door.

I knew the film was inspired by the crimes of Charles Manson and his family before I watched the film.  Not only was Wolves at the Door specifically advertised as being “Inspired by The Infamous Manson Family Murder Spree” but just check out the plot description that was provided by Warner Bros:

Four friends gather at an elegant home during the Summer of Love, 1969. Unbeknownst to them, deadly visitors are waiting outside. What begins as a simple farewell party turns to a night of primal terror as the intruders stalk and torment the four, who struggle for their lives against what appears to be a senseless attack.

The Manson Family have inspired a countless number of films, so that’s not really an issue.  Almost all of those films either presented Manson and his followers as being the epitome of evil or they told stories that were heavily and obviously fictionalized.

Wolves at the Door, however, is different.  Other than in some news footage that is shown during the end credits, Manson is not seen in the film.  For that matter, the members of the Family don’t get much screen time either.  Mostly, they’re just seen as shadows, creeping down hallways and sometimes materializing in a doorway before vanishing.  There’s no mention of Helter Skelter or the Beatles.  I’d have to rewatch the film to say for sure but I think it’s possible that we only hear them say one or two words over the course of the entire movie.

Instead, Wolves at the Door spends most of its running time with the victims of the Manson Family, following them as they are unknowingly stalked inside of a Los Angeles mansion.  Usually, in a film like this, you would expect the names to be changed but, for some reason, that doesn’t happen in Wolves At The Door.

So, Katie Cassidy plays a pregnant actress who is named Sharon.

Elizabeth Henstridge plays a coffee heiress who is named Abigail.

Adam Campbell plays Abigail’s Polish boyfriend, who is named Wojciech.

Miles Fisher plays a hairdresser who is named Jay and who just happens to be Sharon’s ex-boyfriend.

And, finally, Lucas Adams plays a teenager stereo enthusiast named Steven, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Speaking as someone who loves horror and who has defended some of the most critically derided films of all time, everything about Wolves at the Door just feels icky, tacky, and wrong.  Many grindhouse horror films have been inspired by actual crimes but most of them at least changed the names of the victims.   You really have to wonder just what exactly the filmmakers were thinking here.

(Then again, just two years ago, NBC greenlit a show called Aquarius, which could have just as easily been called “The Adventures of Young Charlie Manson.”)

It’s not just that Wolves at the Door is offensive.  In fact some of the best movies of all time were specifically designed to be offensive.  The problem with Wolves at the Door is that it’s also just a very shoddy film.  (In fact, if the film had been well-made, it wouldn’t be quite as offensive.)  Though the actors may be talented, they’re let down by a script that’s full of some of the clunkiest dialogue that I’ve ever heard.  Though the soundtrack may feature some good songs, they’re still the same damn songs that show up in every movie set in 1969.  (Judging from the movies, everyone in 1969 just listened to the same five songs over and over again.)  Though the movie itself is only 73 minutes long, it is so abysmally paced that it feels much, much longer.

Sadly, this film was directed by John Leonetti, who did a pretty good job with Annabelle.  Again, I’m not sure what exactly he or anyone else was thinking with Wolves at the Door, which I’m going to go ahead and declare to be the worst film of 2017.  I know that the year isn’t over yet but I just can’t imagine anything as bad as this.

Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone “It’s Still A Good Life” (dir by Allen Kroeker)


Tonight’s televised horror is another episode of the 2002 revival of The Twilight Zone.

In fact, it’s a sequel to a classic episode that aired during the show’s original run!

Remember that episode about the creepy little kid in Ohio who could read thoughts and mentally make just about anything happen?  He wanted it to snow so it snowed and ruined the crops.  He got mad at someone who drank too much so he turned the guy into a big jack-in-the-box.  His aunt sang too much so he took away her mouth.  That episode was called “It’s A Good Life.”

Well, It’s Still A Good Life catches up with that boy 41 years later.  He’s still ruling that little town with an iron hand but now, he’s got a daughter.  And she might have powers of her own…

Bill Mumy and Cloris Leachman both appeared in the original episode and they reprise their roles here.

Enjoy!

Horror Film Review: The Funhouse (dir by Tobe Hooper)


1980’s The Funhouse opens with an almost shot-for-shot recreation of the famous shower scene from Psycho, with Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) getting attacked in the shower by a masked, knife-wielding maniac.

The only difference is that there’s no shrieking violins, there’s no blood, and the knife is quickly revealed to be a fake.  It turns out that the “killer” is actually Amy’s younger brother, Joey (Shawn Carson).  Joey loves horror movies.  In fact, he’s pretty much the perfect stand-in for The Funhouse‘s intended audience.  Joey was just playing a rather mean-spirited prank but now, as a result, Amy snaps that she’s not going to take him to the carnival.

Of course, Amy isn’t supposed to be going to the carnival either.  Her parents have strictly forbidden it.  Everyone knows that traveling carnivals are dangerous and, at the last town the carnival visited, two teenagers disappeared!  There’s no proof that the carnival has anything to do with those disappearances, of course.  But still…

Amy does exactly what I would have done in her situation.  She tells her parents that she’s going over to a friend’s house and then she goes to the carnival anyway!  Accompanying her is her boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), who is so cool that he has a name like Buzz.  Also along for the ride: Amy’s best friend, Liz (Largo Woodruff), and her boyfriend, Richie (Miles Chapin).  Richie’s kind of a loser but that’s to be expected.  Every group needs at least one idiot who can do something stupid that gets everyone else killed.  We all know how that works.

The carnival turns out to be just as sleazy as Amy’s parents thought it would be.  There’s a fake psychic (Sylvia Miles).  There’s a magician who dresses like Dracula.  There’s a barker (Kevin Conway), whose deep voice is constantly heard in the background.  And, of course, there’s a funhouse!  Still, everyone’s having a good time.  Either that or they’re all just stoned.

For his part, Joey sneaks out of the house and goes to the carnival himself.  He doesn’t have quite as much fun as Amy.  In fact, his experience is pretty scary.  Weird carnival people keep yelling at him.  He keeps getting lost.  Still, things could be worse.  By the time his parents arrive to pick Joey up, Amy and her friends are all trapped in the funhouse.  They’re being pursued by the barker and his deformed son (Wayne Doba).  Needless to say, it’s all pretty much Richie’s fault.

Richie.  What a dumbass.

With its teenage victims and its lengthy chase scenes, The Funhouse is often dismissed as just being another early 80s slasher film.  However, The Funhouse is actually a fairly clever, entertaining, and occasionally even witty horror film.  Much like director Tobe Hooper’s best-known film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Funhouse gets its scares by convincing audiences that they’re actually seeing more than they are.  Hooper emphasizes atmosphere and performances over gore.  While The Funhouse has its share of jump scares, it mostly succeeds by convincing us that anyone could die at any moment.  It’s an intense film, with excellent performances from both Elizabeth Berridge and Kevin Conway.

After kickstaring the slasher genre with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper used The Funhouse to poke a little fun at it.  From the opening shower scene to the electrifying finale, Hooper plays with the genre-savvy expectations of the audiences.  Our four victims even do the smart thing for once — they try to all stay together.  Needless to say, that doesn’t work out too well.

The Funhouse is an entertaining thrill ride and, seen today, it’s more evidence that Tobe Hooper deserved better than he got from the film industry.

 

 

Horror Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello


57 years after it was first released, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho remains one of the most influential films ever made.

Certainly, every horror film ever released since 1960 owes a debt to Psycho.  The infamous shower scene has been duplicated so many times that I’ve lost count.  Whenever a big-name actor is unexpectedly killed during the first half of a movie, it’s because of what happened to Janet Leigh in that shower.  If not for Psycho, Drew Barrymore would have survived Scream and that shark would never have eaten Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea.  Every giallo film that has ended with someone explaining the overly complex psychological reasons that led to the killer putting on black gloves and picking up a scalpel owes a debt to Simon Oakland’s monologue at the end of Psycho.  Psycho is so influential and popular that, decades later, A&E could broadcast a show called Bates Motel and have an instant hit.

What goes into making a classic?  That is question that is both asked and answered by Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho.  Starting with the real-life crimes of Ed Gein, Rebello’s book goes on to examine the writing of Robert Bloch’s famous novel and then the struggle to adapt that novel for the screen.

This book is a dream for trivia lovers.  Ever wanted to know who else was considered for the role of Marion Crane or Sam Loomis or even Norman Bates?  This is the book to look to.  Read this book and then imagine an alternate world where Psycho starred Dean Stockwell, Eva Marie Saint, and Leslie Neilsen?

(That’s right.  Leslie Neilsen was considered for the role of Sam Loomis.)

The book also confronts the controversy over who deserves credit for the shower scene, Alfred Hitchcock or Saul Bass.  And, of course, it also provides all the glorious details of how Hitchcock handled the film’s pre-release publicity.  Ignore the fact that this book was cited as being the inspiration for the rather forgettable Anthony Hopkins/Helen Mirren film, Hitchcock.  This is a fascinating read about a fascinating movie and a fascinating director.

First published in 1990 and still very much in print, Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho is a must-read for fans of film, horror, true crime, history, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and Psycho.

A Movie a Day #280: Mikey (1992, directed by Dennis Dimister)


Dumb.  Just dumb.

Mikey (Brian Bonsall) is a little boy who kills people.  Over the course of this movie, he kills eight people.  He gets away with it because everyone that he meets is extremely stupid.  When his teacher notices that Mikey is drawing pictures based on his previous murders, no one thinks anything of it.  When she sees that Mikey is now pushing thumbtacks into his arm, no one is too concerned.  When the principal goes looking for Mikey, he takes a gun which he then leaves unattended on the kitchen counter.  When Mikey tells his teacher that he wants her to teach him “how to die,” everyone figures out that something’s wrong with Mikey but, by then, it’s too late.

For a few years, Mikey had a strong cult following because of the killer kid theme and a few scenes of Josie Bissett in a hot tub.  But it really is a dumb movie and Brian Bonsall gave a lousy performance as Mikey.  Bonsall has a good psycho stare going but whenever he has to speak, he is so wooden that it is impossible to take him seriously.  It takes a good deal of stupidity for an adult to get murdered by a ten-year old and this movie proves it.

Horror Film Review: The Girl With All The Gifts (dir by Colm McCarthy)


It says a lot about the state of things that movies about the end of the world have recently become not just popular but also extremely plausible.  It seems like every time I look at a list of upcoming films, I see predictions of fear, desperation, and apocalypse.  Almost every end of the world scenario now seems to come with zombies.  Perhaps people are taking that famous line from Dawn of the Dead to heart.  When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk with Earth.

The British film The Girl With All The Gifts is one of the latest examples of the apocalyptic genre.  It has everything that we’ve come to expect from films like this: flesh-craving zombies, blighted urban landscapes, soldiers trying to maintain order as the world collapses into chaos, sinister scientists, children faced with rebuilding the world, and that one lone idealist who doesn’t want to give up on the present.  It’s a familiar story but The Girl With All The Gifts tells it well.

In this case, the end of the world has been brought about by a fungal infection.  Those afflicted not only lose the ability to think but are also transformed into flesh-eating maniacs.  Interestingly enough, the term zombie is never used in the film.  Instead, the infected are called “the hungries.”  I assume that’s because the infected aren’t actually the living dead.  In fact, even after transforming them, the infection still eventually kills them.

(If you really want to freak yourself out while watching The Girl With All The Gifts, consider that the fungal infection is actual thing, though it only affects carpenter ants.  For now…)

In an isolated army base, a group of children are kept in cells and guarded over by soldiers, like the gruff Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine).  They are experimented on by scientists, like Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close).  And they are taught by a kind-hearted teacher named Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton).  One of the most intelligent of the children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who often asks Helen to tell the class a story.

The children are often bound and required to wear masks.  The adults are under strict orders not to touch or even get too close to the children.  Why?  Because the children are hungry too.  Born after the end of the world, the children are unique in that they crave flesh but they also retain the ability to think and speak.  The soldiers view them as freaks and potential enemies.  Dr. Caldwell views them as test subjects.  Only Helen views them as children.

You can probably already guess where this is going.  When the hungries overrun the army base, only a small group of people manage to escape — Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks, another solider, and Melanie.  They eventually make it to London, which is now overgrown with vegetation.  Some of the film’s most haunting and tense moments come as the group attempts to maneuver through a crowd of docile, unsimulated hungries.  They know that making the wrong move or the least little sound will result in the hungries waking up and attacking.

It’s in London that a lot is revealed about both the nature of the disease and why Melanie is, as the title states, the girl with all the gifts.

For the most part, it’s all very well done.  The film has such a strong opening and powerful ending that it’s easy to forgive the fact that the middle of the film occasionally drags.  Director Colm McCarthy creates some haunting images of the post-apocalyptic world and, even if he does borrow a bit heavily from 28 Days Later, at least he’s borrowing from the best.  He makes good use of his cast, too.  Glenn Close is as perfectly sinister as Gemma Arterton is perfectly idealistic.  Sennia Nanua is both sympathetic and a little bit frightening as the girl who might eat you as quickly as she might save you.

The Girl With All The Gifts is a good movie but it left me feeling incredibly depressed.  Post-apocalyptic ruin no longer seems as safely far-fetched as it once did.

Horror Scenes That I Love: The Pendulum Starts To Swing From The Pit and The Pendulum


Today’s horror scene that I love is from the 1961 Roger Corman film, The Pit and The Pendulum!

Not only is that pendulum nightmarish as Hell but check out that set design!  One can see that Corman definitely took some inspiration from Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein films.  Watching this scene, it is easy to see why Corman devoted so much of the early 60s to directing Vincent Price in various Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.

Enjoy!