Horror on TV: Thriller 2.3 “The Premature Burial” (dir by Dougles Heyes)

In tonight’s episode of Thriller, Boris Karloff not only hosts but also stars!

An adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story, this episode is about a man (Sidney Blackmer) who has very good reason to fear that he might end up being buried alive!  Karloff appears as his loyal physician, who might be Blackmer’s only hope to avoid being murdered by his wife and her lover.


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Hell of the Living Dead (dir by Bruno Mattei)

Hell of the Living Dead, a 1980 Italian zombie film, is a movie known by many different names.  Some of these names are more memorable than others.

For instance, it’s known as Virus, which isn’t a very good name.  It’s kind of boring.  Plus, a virus could lead to anything.  Sure, a virus could turn someone into a zombie but it could also just mean a week in bed.  Plus, there’s already a thousand movies called Virus.

Night of the Zombies is a bit more specific, though still rather generic.  Just about every Italian horror film that came out in 1980 was about zombies and most of them took place at night.

Island of the Living Dead, at the very least, let’s you know where the majority of the movie takes place.  That said, it’s kind of a dishonest title.  The island isn’t just occupied by the living dead.  There’s also a primitive tribe, the members of which pop up occasionally to throw spears at a group of soldiers and a journalist.

I absolutely love the title Zombie Creeping Flesh.  Seriously, I don’t know why they bothered to come up with so many alternate titles when they already had Zombie Creeping Flesh.

However, this film is best known as Hell of the Living Dead and, actually, I guess that’s a pretty good title.  I mean, it’s totally and completely over the top.  Add to that the title almost feels like a challenge being specifically issued to the fans of George Romero’s zombie films.  It’s as if the film is saying, “If you can’t handle the Night or the Dawn, the Hell is absolutely going to kill you!”

Anyway, this is an extremely low-budget film from director Bruno Mettei and screenwriter Claudio Fragasso.  The team of Mattei/Fragasso were famous for producing some of the most ludicrously silly horror films to ever come out of Italy.  (Outside of his collaboration with Mattei, Fragasso is best known for directing Troll 2.)  A typical Mattei/Fragasso film is entertaining without being particularly good.  They were never ones to allow a thing like a lack of money to stand in the way of their narrative ambitions.

For instance, in Hell of the Living Dead, there’s one isolated scene that’s supposed to take place at the United Nations.  The scene appears to have been filmed in a lecture hall at a small university.  One delegate angrily declares that he is sick of everyone exploiting his zombie-occupied country.  Someone else suggests that maybe they should take a break until tomorrow.  It’s an incredibly inauthentic scene that adds nothing to the story but that didn’t keep the team of Mattei and Fragasso from including it in the film.  They were determined to have a UN scene and they weren’t going to let a lack of money or access stop them.

Anyway, the majority of the film deals with a zombie outbreak on a small tropical island.  The island is almost exclusively made up of stock footage.  A typical scene will feature a character like journalist Lia (played by Margit Evelyn Newtown) standing in the middle of the frame.  She looks to the right and we get some grainy stock footage of a bat or something similar.  She looks to her left and we get some faded stock footage of a tiger.

As I mentioned previously, the island also has primitive natives.  Whenever you hear the drums in the distance, it’s important to toss off your shirt, paint your face, and start jogging.  Otherwise, you might get killed.  You know how that goes.

And then there’s the zombies, of course.  The zombies get an origin story, something to do with an accident at top secret chemical plant.  At the start of the film, a rat attacks a scientist.  I’m assuming the rat was carrying the virus but it’s just as possible that Mattei just decided to throw in a random rat attack.  (His best film was literally just 90 minutes of rat attacks.)  Regardless, the zombie effects actually aren’t that bad but the problem is that whenever the zombies show up, they have to compete with all of the stock footage.  When the zombies aren’t dealing with animal footage that was originally shot for a mondo film, they keep busy by eating nearly everyone that they meet.  A group of soldiers have been sent to take care of the zombies but since none of them are particularly bright, they don’t have much luck.

Hell of the Living Dead has a reputation for being one of the worst zombie films ever made.  I don’t know if I would go that far.  It’s watchable in a “what the Hell did I just see?” sort of way.  And in the end, isn’t that kind of the point of a film like this?

Horror Book Review: Hollywood Hex, edited by Mikita Brottman

Do you believe in curses?

Personally, I could go either way as far as curses are concerned.  I went through a period of time when, though I kinda kept it to myself, I was really into learning about the history of magick and trying to learn how to cast hexes and all the rest of that but then I realized that I could continue to wear black without necessarily having to tap into any supernatural powers.  As well, I’ve never bought into the idea that karma’s going to get anyone.  To me, the universe is a pretty random place.  Not everything happens for a reason.  That said, I would never say that I’m a complete unbeliever.  A rational world is a boring world.  If I had to choose between hanging out with teacher at Hogwarts or Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I’m going with the wizard.

I may not completely believe in curses but I do find them interesting to read about.  That’s why I’ve always enjoyed reading Hollywood Hex,  a copy of which I found at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas.  (This was during the same shopping trip that led to me finding and buying A Taste of Blood and House of Horror.  It was quite a productive trip for this lover of all things horror!)

Hollywood Hex is a tour through the history of morbid Hollywood, providing details on not only the death cults that have sprung up around certain ill-fated actors but also the films that have, for whatever reason, come to be known as cursed.  Many of these films, like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, were originally sold as being cursed as a publicity stunt before real-life events caused even the most sober of minds to wonder if maybe there really were demonic forces at work.  (The chapter that covers both the production of Rosemary’s Baby and the crimes of Charles Manson is especially creepy.)  Some of the other films — like Twilight Zone — The Movie and The Crow — were cursed by onset negligence.  And, finally, there’s the incredibly tragic stories of the Poltergeist franchise.  If any films could truly claim to be cursed, it would be those films.

Hollywood Hex is fascinating reading for both the morbidly and cinematically-minded.

Horror Film Review: The Strangers (dir by Bryan Bertino)

Ever since I made the mistake of watching Wolves at the Door a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about the 2008 home invasion film, The Strangers.

I’ve always struggled with my feelings towards The Strangers.  On the one hand, this is a horror film that actually scared me.  Considering the amount of horror films that I’ve watched (not to mention the number of home invasion films), that’s really saying something.  Since a horror film is meant to frighten, The Strangers has to be considered a success.  At the same time, The Strangers always leaves me so upset that, after watching, I inevitably swear to myself that I’ll never watch it again.  And yet, whenever I see it playing on cable, I can’t help but watch at least a little of it.  Even knowing what’s going to happen and how the film is going to end, The Strangers retains a hypnotic power.

The Strangers is a simple film.  There’s a house out in the middle of nowhere.  Having just left a wedding reception, James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and his girlfriend, Kristen (Liv Tyler), arrive at the house.  James and Kristen are not having a good night.  James asked Kristen to marry him.  Kristen turned him down.  That’ll make any night awkward, regardless of how nice the house is.

James and Kristen settle into the house for the night, both of them eager to get away from each other in the morning.  Suddenly, there’s a knock on the door.  A young woman (Gemma Ward) is looking for someone named Tamara.  When told that there is no Tamara in the house, she replies, “See you later.”

The girl’s not lying.  Later, while James is out sulking, Kristen realizes that she’s not alone.  There are three strangers, all wearing masks.  They’re watching.  They’re waiting…

The rest of the film details, in excruciating detail, the rest of the night.  What makes the film particularly disturbing is that neither James nor Kristen are dumb but they’re still powerless against those three strangers.  Just as the strangers hide their faces, they also hide their motive.  The closest that Kristen and James get to an explanation for why they’re being targeted is that “You were home.”  To the strangers, it’s a game.  They’re like three cats, playing with a cricket.  They’re not going to back off until they’ve removed at least one leg.

(James and Kristen, I should add, are not the only potential victims in The Strangers.  There’s also Mike, who is James’s best friend and who is supposed to pick him up in the morning.  Of everyone in the movie, I always feel the worst for Mike.  For one thing, he was just trying to do his friend a favor.  For another, he’s played by Glenn Howerton.  Has It’s Sunny In Philadelphia done a The Gang Plans A Home Invasion episode?)

The Strangers is an absolutely terrifying film, specifically because it’s so easy to relate to Kristen and James.  They remind the viewers of their friends.  They remind the viewers of themselves.  Watching them, we’re reminded of every time that we’ve heard a strange sound in the night and tried to tell ourselves that it was nothing.  We live in an increasingly unstable world and The Strangers perfectly captures the feeling of living under the shadow of death.  It’s a bit like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, without any “it’s just a movie” moments to provide us with any sense of security.  The film starts with a message telling us that we’re about to see a true story.  Even though we know that might just be hyperbole, we also know that what we’re seeing could very well have happened.  In fact, it could happen to us as soon as the movie ends.

That’s the hypnotic dread of The Strangers.


A Movie A Day #288: Bikini Island (1991, directed by Tony Markes)

This is another one that can be best described as being dumb.  Just dumb.

With a title like Bikini Island, you might think that this movie is about the atomic bomb tests of 1946.  No such luck.  Instead, Bikini Island is about five models who are competing to be the next covergirl for Swimwear Illustrated.  They have gathered on an island off the coast of California, along with a makeup artist, a photographer, an assistant, and the publisher of SI.  The competition is fierce but it gets even fiercer once someone starts murdering the models and the magazine staff.  Since the killer forges goodbye notes, no one suspects the truth until a random arrow attack, much like the one that took out Albert Hall in Apocalypse Now, is launched towards the end of the movie.

In the 90s, Bikini Island was a staple of late night Cinemax.  No one will admit to having watched it but every male who grew up in the 90s did.  It pretends to be a slasher film but mostly it’s just concerned with getting the cast in their bikinis as quickly as possible.  The movie tries to generate suspense over who the murderer is but eventually gives up and just keeps killing people until there’s only one suspect left.  If Bikini Island is remembered for anything, it is the scene where the killer uses a toilet plunger to suffocate a victim.  That’s about as imaginative as things get.

Usually, when I don’t have much to say about a movie, I’ll find an excuse to share that picture of Burt Reynolds giving the thumbs up at the end of Shattered: If Your Kid’s On DrugsBikini Island is not worth even that much effort.

Dumb.  Just dumb.

Halloween Havoc!: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (Vanguard 1977)

cracked rear viewer

Wes Craven (1939-2015) left us with many nightmares: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SCREAM. But you haven’t lived until you’ve met Papa Jupiter and his feral family of cannibals in Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES, as outlandish and frightening a horror film as there ever was. HILLS was so shocking the censor board gave it an X rating until it was cut enough to qualify for an R. It still packed enough violence and brutality to make even the heartiest exploitation enthusiast squeamish.

The Carter clan has travelled from Cleveland to the Nevada desert on their way to California. They stop at a gas station where an old geezer is about to leave. The geezer warns them about his son, born mutated and mean as the devil, living somewhere in the hills. While driving down the long. lonesome highway, fighter jets from a nearby airbase cause…

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Horror Film Review: The Sentinel (dir by Michael Winner)

Here’s the main lesson that I’ve learned from watching the 1977 horror film, The Sentinel:

Even in the 1970s, the life of a model was not an easy one.

Take Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) for instance.  She should have everything but instead, she’s a neurotic mess.  Haunted by a traumatic childhood, she has attempted to commit suicide twice and everyone is always worried that she’s on the verge of having a breakdown.  As a model, she’s forced to deal with a bunch of phonies.  One of the phonies is played by Jeff Goldblum.  Because he’s Goldblum, you suspect that he has to have something up his sleeve but then it turns out that he doesn’t.  I get that Jeff Goldblum probably wasn’t a well-known actor when he appeared in The Sentinel but still, it’s incredibly distracting when he suddenly shows up and then doesn’t really do anything.

Alison has a fiancée.  His name is Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) and I figured out that he had to be up to no good as soon as he appeared.  For one thing, he has a pornstache.  For another thing, he’s played by Chris Sarandon, an actor who is best known for playing the vampire in the original Fright Night and Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride.  Not surprisingly, it turns out that Michael’s previous wife died under mysterious circumstances.  NYPD Detective Rizzo (Christopher Walken) suspects that Michael may have killed her.

(That’s right.  Christopher Walken is in this movie but, much like Jeff Goldblum, he doesn’t get to do anything interesting.  How can a movie feature two of the quirkiest actors ever and then refuse to give them a chance to act quirky?)

Maybe Alison’s life will improve now that she has a new apartment.  It’s a really nice place and her real estate agent is played by Ava Gardner.  Alison wants to live on her own for a while.  She loves Michael but she needs to find herself.  Plus, it doesn’t help that Michael has a pornstache and may have killed his wife…

Unfortunately, as soon as Alison moves in, she starts having weird dreams and visions and all the usual stuff that always happens in movies like this.  She also discovers that she has a lot of eccentric neighbors, all of whom are played by semi-familiar character actors.  For instance, eccentric old Charles (Burgess Meredith) is always inviting her to wild parties.  Her other two neighbors (played by Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo) are lesbians, which the film presents as being the height of shocking decadence.  At first, Alison likes her neighbors but they make so much noise!  Eventually, she complains to Ava Gardner.  Ava replies that Alison only has one neighbor and that neighbor is neither Burgess Meredith nor a lesbian.

Instead, he’s a blind priest who spends all day sitting at a window.  He’s played by John Carradine, who apparently had a few hours to kill in 1977.

But it doesn’t stop there!  This movie is full of actors who will be familiar to anyone who enjoys watching TCM.  Along with those already mentioned, we also get cameos from Martin Balsam, Jose Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Eli Wallach, Richard Dreyfuss, and Tom Berenger.  There are 11 Oscar nominees wasted in this stupid film.  (Though, in all fairness, Christopher Walken’s nomination came after The Sentinel.)

Personally, The Sentinel bugged me because it’s yet another horror movie that exploits Catholic iconography while totally misstating church dogma.  However, the main problem with The Sentinel is that it’s just so incredibly boring.  I own it on DVD because I went through a period where I basically bought every horror film that could I find.  I’ve watched The Sentinel a handful of times and somehow, I always manage to forget just how mind-numbingly dull this movie really is.  There’s a few scary images but mostly, it’s just Burgess Meredith acting eccentric and Chris Sarandon looking mildly annoyed.  If you’ve ever seen Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, or The Omen, you’ll figure out immediately what’s going on but The Sentinel still insists on dragging it all out.  Watching this movie is about as exciting as watching an Amish blacksmith shoe a horse.

There’s a lot of good actors in the film but it’s obvious that most of them just needed to pick up a paycheck.  I’ve read a lot of criticism of Cristina Raines’s lead performance but I actually think she does a pretty good job.  It’s not her acting that’s at fault.  It’s the film’s stupid script and lackluster direction.

Jedadiah Leland’s Horrific Adventures In The Internet Archive #11: Anchorhead (1998, Michael Gentry)

Continuing my adventures in the horror section of the Internet Archive, I played Michael Gentry’s Anchorhead (1998).

Anchorhead is a thoroughly immersive text adventure of Lovecraft-style horror.  Think of it as being the interactive fiction version of a movie like The Dunwich Horror.

Anchorhead is the type of isolated New England village that should be familiar to anyone who has ever read any of Lovecraft’s work.  Other than the mysterious obelisks that dot the town, the most interesting thing about Anchorhead is the small university.  The library is full of ancient texts, the type that can drive a man mad just from reading them.  You and your husband have just inherited a mansion on the outskirts of the town.  The previous owner, a distant relative of your husband, recently died under mysterious circumstances.

Anchorhead has an interesting plot, strong writing, and challenging puzzles but the best thing about it is the amount of detail that goes into creating the town, the mansion, and all the characters that you interact with over the course of the story.  Not all of the details were necessary to solving Anchorhead‘s mysteries but they did all serve to bring the story to life.  After just a few turns, I felt like I was in Anchorhead.  I could fully visualize both the town and its inhabitants.  Anchorhead also works as a horror story, capturing both the tone and style of H.P. Lovecraft.  Considerably more violent and graphic than most text adventures I’ve played, Anchorhead is definitely meant for adults.

Anchorhead is challenging but worth the effort.  Several walkthrough can be found online but exploring this story is so rewarding that you might want to take your chances without them.


Art Profile: The Shocking Covers Of Dime Mystery Magazine!

Dime Mystery Magazine was one of the first of the so-called “weird menace” pulp magazines.  Weird menace magazines featured heroes pitted against sadistic villains and cults and were distinguished by their graphic scenes of brutality and torture.  Dime Mystery started out as a typical true crime magazine until the editors realized that there was money to be made by mixing crime with horror.

In the 1930s, Dime Mystery was notorious for its controversial covers.  If you dare, look below to find out why.