Horror on TV: One Step Beyond 2.24 “The Mask” (dir by John Newland)

For today’s televised horror, we have an episode of the 1960s anthology series, One Step Beyond.  From what I’ve been able to gather, One Step Beyond was like The Twilight Zone, except that it often claimed that it’s stories were all based on fact.

In The Mask, a World War II-era fighter pilot crashes in the Sahara.  Though he’s eventually rescued, he’s forced to wear a mask while recovering from his injuries.  When the mask is removed, everyone is shocked to discover that Lt. Harold Wilesnki not only look like an ancient Egyptian prince but he also seems to have the prince’s memories as well!

The Mask originally aired on March 1st, 1960.


I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House- Review By Case Wright


Welcome to the second day of October!!! Woohoo! There are a lot of great horror movies to watch and this is not one of them!  HERE WE GO!  I will only refer to this movie as I AM because the above is too much to write unless I create some shortcut key and I am NOT doing that….EVER!

This film is a sloooooow paced artsy haunted house film directed by Oz Perkins the son of Anthony Perkins of Psycho.  The concept is that people die in homes and if they don’t have any outdoorsy interests, they remain in the domicile for eternity and mope about and not do much.  Therefore, if you’re an introvert like a political activist on twitter who always takes offense, your spirit will NEVER leave your home and your wifi service will be cancelled….BWAHAHAHAHA!

The story revolves around Lily who is a scaredy cat hospice nurse who is assigned to take care of the dying formerly famous author Iris Blum.  Iris calls Lily by the name of Polly throughout the film?  Why?  Because she was a terrible author. All she ever did was listen to this weird murder victim ghost name Polly and type out what she told her.  I couldn’t live with myself if everyone thought I was a great writer, when I was actually just a stenographer.

In any case, Polly was murdered and put in the wall of the house back in the 1800s and ever since she kinda hangs out for no particular reason except to give hack-writers storylines.  Why does Polly do this? I’m guessing because she lacked hobbies.  There’s a lesson here…get outside! If you’re going to haunt something, do the Appalachian Trail or a library at least; otherwise, you have a very boring eternity ahead of you!  Lily continues to take care of this dying author and she just doesn’t want to die.  Iris does chit-chat A LOT and Lily is introvert enough to quietly listen.  Honestly, Lily going into the great hereafter will likely not be a huge transition except for no copays for dental.

I would put this film in the elliptical watching category except it’s so quiet that you might need really good headphones.  It does have Bob Balaban in the film who must’ve believed that he was auditioning to play a lamppost, but with less feeling.  Of course, it’s hard to say if boredom wasn’t intentional! Maybe this was a brave choice on the part of Oz Perkins?  For far too long, we, the viewer, have expected to be entertained or even have our attention captured.  I would find some pharmaceutical or extra coffee to focus you while watching this or you’ll be looking up possible deductions for 2018 and miss some critical scene with an actor wandering around aimlessly.

I hope you are having a wonderful October.  Stay Spooky, My Friends!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Christina’s House (dir by Gavin Wilding)

This 2000 straight-to-video film opens with a shocking and effectively violent scene in which an innocent girl scout is yanked into a dilapidated house and bludgeoned to death.  There’s even a slow-motion shot of crushed cookies falling to the floor.  It’s excessive, tasteless, and so ludicrous that it actually makes you think that Christina’s House could actually be, if nothing else, an enjoyably self-aware exploitation film.

Unfortunately, everything pretty much goes downhill after that scene.  The rest of the film deals with Christina (Allison Lange), a teenage girl with an annoying father named James (John Savage), an annoying brother named Bobby (Lorne Stewart), an annoying boyfriend named Eddy (Brendan Fehr), and an annoying admirer named Howie (Brad Rowe).  That may sound like a lot of annoying people for one person to deal with but Christina actually manages to be even more annoying than all of them.  Absolutely no one in this film comes across as being someone with whom you would want to be trapped in a murder house.

Anyway, Christina’s mom has been institutionalized in a Washington mental hospital so James, has rented out a nearby house.  (Naturally, it’s the same house where that girl scout was previously killed.)  James appears to be almost absurdly overprotective of and strict with Christina but it’s also possible that he might just be an asshole in general.  He’s certainly not happy that she’s dating Eddy, who is the local bad boy and who does stuff like hang out on the roof at night.  James would probably be happier if Christina was dating Howie, who has been hired to help fix up the house.  Howie’s so respectful and such a hard worker.  He’s a man who really knows how to handle a hammer.

Christina, however, has other things on her mind.  For one thing, young women are being murdered and the creepy sheriff (Jerry Wasserman) keeps coming by the house and asking strange questions.  Add to that, Christina sometimes thinks that she can hear someone or something in the attic.  Of course, every time that she tries to investigate, her father comes out of his bedroom and yells at her.

(It could just be that James doesn’t want his daughter spending her nights wandering around in her underwear and searching for a vicious killer, in which case James probably has a point.  Still, he’s kind of a jerk about it.)

Who is the murderer?  Is it Eddie, Bobby, or Howie?  Or could it maybe be James?  What if the sheriff’s somehow involved?  Well, don’t worry!  The identity of the murderer is revealed about an hour into this 90-minute film and it’s exactly who you think it’s going to be.

If not for the extremely odd performance of John Savage, this film would be totally forgettable.  Savage was the film’s “prestige” actor, a performer who previously appeared in films like The Deer Hunter, the third Godfather, Do The Right Thing, and The Thin Red Line before finding himself in Christina’s House.  John Savage attacks the role of James with all of the ferocity of an actor who has gone from co-starring with Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken to playing second fiddle to Allison Lange and Brendan Fehr.  Savage yells every line and glares at his co-stars with the fury of a man on a mission of vengeance.  As a result, both the actor and the character that he’s playing come across as if they’re always just one annoyance away from putting his fist through a wall.  James may be written as an overprotective father but Savage plays him as being a borderline sociopath.  It’s such a totally inappropriate and misjudged performance that it becomes oddly fascinating to watch.  It takes a great actor to give as entertainingly bad a performance as the one given by John Savage in Christina’s House.

With the exception of Savage’s over-the-top theatrics and Jerry Wasserman’s memorably creepy turn, the rest of the cast is largely forgettable.   The problem is that, as written, most of the characters are fairly unlikable and you really don’t care whether they die or not.  When the killer eventually trapped Christina and Bobby in their new home, I found myself more worried about the house than either of them.

Christina’s House is available on YouTube and sometimes, it shows up on late night television.  (I saw it on This TV.)  It’s pretty dumb but if you’re  fan of good actors bellowing in rage, you might want to watch it.

People Are Dumb: Happy Hell Night (1992, directed by Brian Owens)

In 1966, Father Zachary Malius (Charles Cragin), a priest-turned-Satanist, murders a group of frat boys who have broken into his family’s crypt as part of an initiation prank.  After he’s captured by policeman Henry Collins (Sam Rockwell), Malius falls into a catatonic state and is sent to a mental asylum

25 years later, two pledges from the same fraternity break into the asylum so that they can take their picture with Father Malius.  Why?  Because people are dumb.  Of course, as soon as they take their picture, Father Malius wakes up and goes on a rampage.  Armed with a pickax and an endless supply of one-liners that even Freddy Krueger would have turned down, Father Malius heads back to the fraternity.  Also returning to the frat is retired Detective Henry Collins (who is now played by a clearly slumming Darren McGavin).

When I was growing up in the 90s, Happy Hell Night used to be a mainstay on late night HBO.  It’s a typical straight-to-video slasher, distinguished only be a few familiar faces in the cast  and a decently scary murderer.  With his pale skin and his gaunt appearance, Malius looks like Nosferatu in a priest’s collar.  Charles Cragin has a perfect thousand-yard stare for the role.  It’s just too bad that Happy Hell Night was made at the time when every killer had to be a comedian because most of Malius’s one-liners feel out of place for a Satanist who has spent the last 25 years locked away in an asylum.

As for the familiar faces, Happy Hell Night not only features future Oscar winner Sam Rockwell in a small role but also CSI’s Jorja Fox , who shows up just long enough to get hit in the head with a pickax.  When the movie was released, Darren McGavin was the best-known member of the cast.  He has about five minutes of screen time and overacts his death scene like a real pro.


Halloween Havoc!: SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM (Universal 1933)

cracked rear viewer

The horror cycle of the early 1930’s cast its dark shadow on other film genres. SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM is one of those “old dark house/locked room” mysteries showing that influence; it’s a creepy, atmospheric little movie about mysterious murders, with horror vet Lionel Atwill front and center among the suspects. There aren’t any “monsters” here, but some good chills courtesy of director Kurt Neumann, who later directed the 1950’s sci-fi horrors KRONUS, SHE DEVIL, and THE FLY .

It’s a dark and stormy night (naturally!) at Castle von Hellsdorf, and Irene, daughter of Master of the House Robert, is celebrating her birthday with three suitors: Captain Walter Brink, Frank Faber, and Tommy Brandt, while outside, a mysterious stranger lurks. The conversation turns to ‘The Blue Room’, kept under lock and key after three strange (some say supernatural) murders occurred many years ago, always at One AM. Tommy, eager…

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Book Review: 666 by Jay Anson

Published in 1981, 666 is a book that will make you wonder, “How do people not know what 666 means?”

It’s the story of Keith and Jennifer, an attractive young couple who move into a new home and immediately become fascinated by the empty house across the way.  The empty house’s address is 666 Sunset Brooke Lane and no one finds that strange.

Keith decides to explore the house and discovers not only a coin that was minted by the Roman Empire but also a stained glass window that appears to feature someone who looks exactly like him.  Keith does find that strange but it still doesn’t occur to him that there might be a clue to be found in the address.

Jennifer friend, David, decided to rent out 666 Sunset Brooke Lane and immediately starts to have visions of not only Christians being tortured during the reign of Nero but also of a naked Jennifer standing on the house’s front porch.  And yet, David never associates this with the house’s address.

Keith’s brother is a priest (!) who is investigating a local Satanic cult and yet somehow, it never occurs to him to be concerned about 666 Sunset Brooke Lane.

Anyway, it all ends in (tame) sex, violence, and tragedy, as these things often do.  The main lesson that I took away from this book was that you should be concerned if a notorious murder house suddenly appears in your backyard.  It’s a lesson that I won’t forget.

666 was written by Jay Anson, who had previously written a “non-fiction” book called The Amityville Horror666 is a story about four incredibly dumb people, all of whom inspired me to shout, “Why don’t you just leave the damn house!?” more than a few times.  That said, it’s also enjoyably pulpy and the main characters are all so thinly drawn and unlikable that you really don’t mind when they start dying.  Though you’ll be shaking your head at many of the book’s implausibilities, the final chapters are crudely effective and, when it’s time to describe the torture techniques of ancient Rome, Anson goes all out.

Plus, the book has a really cool inside cover!

Italian Horror Spotlight: Hatchet for the Honeymoon (dir by Mario Bava)

“My name is John Harrington. I’m 30 years old. I am a paranoiac.”

So declares John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) at the start of the 1969’s Hatchet for The Honeymoon.  Along with being a paranoiac, John Harrington is also handsome, charming, and apparently quite successful.  He owns a bridal dress factory in France, a business that he inherited from his mother after her untimely death.  On the outside, everything looks perfect but appearances can often be deceiving.

John’s wife, Mildred (Laura Betti), knows that John is hiding secrets.  She regularly taunts John, reminding him that he’s not only impotent but that he’s also has an unhealthy obsession with his memories of his mother.  John’s mother died when he was very young.  He witnessed her death but he’s repressed the memory of who actually killed her.  John is determined to recover those memories.

So, what does John do?

Does he go to a hypnotist?  Does he dig through old police files and search for clues?  Does he ask someone to analyze his dreams?  That’s what you or I might do but John, you must remember, is a paranoiac.  Somehow, John has realized that, whenever he commits a murder, he remembers just a little bit more about the night his mother died.  So, in order to learn the truth about his mother’s death, John is murdering the models who work at his bridal salon.  Apparently, it’s very important that his victims be wearing a wedding dress when they die….

Okay, now you’re probably already thinking that this sounds like a somewhat bizarre movie.  Well, believe it or not, things are about to get a lot stranger.

After John meets a new model named Helen (Dagmar Lassander), he decided that he doesn’t need Mildred yelling at him anymore.  So, he puts on a wedding veil and murders Mildred.  However, even in death, Mildred won’t leave John alone.  Mildred’s ghost shows up and announces that everyone will be able to see her but John.

So now, John is having to deal with everyone assuming that his wife is with him, even though he can’t see her.  As you might guess, this makes it a bit difficult for John to convince potential victims to come back to the salon with him.

And, from there, it just keeps getting stranger and stranger….

Hatchet For The Honeymoon was written and directed by one of the most important figures in the history of Italian cinema, Mario Bava.  A master technician with a wry and occasionally self-mocking sense of humor, Bava worked in every genre, from peplums to spaghetti westerns to poliziotteschis, but he’s best remembered for his work in the horror genre.  Bava is often credited with having directed the first giallo film and his often-violent thrillers are still influential to this day.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon is often described as being one of Bava’s lesser films but I don’t agree with that judgment.  If nothing else, Hatchet For The Honeymoon is probably one of Bava’s more playful movies.  From the increasingly bizarre twists and turns of the film’s plot to John Harrington’s wonderfully overwrought narration, the entire film has an almost improvisational feel to it.  One gets the feeling that Bava is poking fun at the conventions of the giallo genre.  The usual omnipresent, black glove-wearing killer has been replaced by an impotent wedding dress designer who can’t even escape the ghost of his dead wife.

(Reportedly, Mildred wasn’t originally in the script and was only added because Bava wanted to work with actress Laura Betti.  Perhaps that explains why Mildred often seems to be standing outside of the story, mocking not only John but also the mechanics of the thriller plot.)

As one would expect from a Bava film, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is frequently a visual marvel, a pop art-inspired mix of dark shadows and red blood.  The wedding dresses are to die for and so is the cinematography.  I especially liked the darkly ominous shots of John surrounded by the lifeless mannequins in his salon.  Early on, when we get a shot from John’s point of view, the image is slightly blurred and the angle seem just a bit off, a reminder of John’s twisted impression of the world around him.  When John walks up stairs to the kill his wife, the sound of his movement seems to echo through his ornate but sterile home.

If Stephen Forsyth sometimes seems to be a bit stiff in the role of John, it’s an appropriate reminder that John is an empty shell and all of his feelings and emotions are manufactured.  Laura Betti does a wonderful job nagging him in life and her palpable joy about getting revenge in death is one of the best things about the movie.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon is an exuberantly weird film and definitely one that needs to be seen by anyone seeking to fall in love with Italian horror.