Horror On TV: Degrassi: The Next Generation 4.15 “Secret: Part 2” (dir by Eleanore Lindo)

When last we checked in with Toronto’s Degrassi Community School, the school was recovering from a recent school shooting by putting on a production of Dracula.  While a fake vampire drained blood onstage, his real-life equivalent tempted girls into his van at the ravine with the promise of cheap bracelets and an escape from all the trauma of the past month.

In the second part of Secret, the play is finally ready to open but, much as how Dracula has infecting the stage with vampirism, Jay (Mike Lobel) has infected the school with gonorrhea.  Can Emma (Miriam McDonald) get through the play without having a complete breakdown?

There’s a B-plot here, of course.  Jimmy (Drake …. yes, the Drake) has been in the hospital ever since getting shot in the back by Rick Murray.  With the help of Craig (Jake Epstein) and Marco (Adamo Ruggiero), Jimmy escapes from the hospital so that he can attend a Kid Eldrick show.  (Kid Eldrick is Degrassi‘s version of Kid Rock.)  It’s actually kind of a nice little story.  My favorite line is Marco’s one about wanting to look like a ninja.

That said, this is the episode will forever be known for making national news when it aired in the United States.  Though it may seem strange now, this was considered to quite a controversial show back in 2005.  (Canadians, of course, got to see the episode first, when it aired on December 7th, 2004.)

One thing I like about this episode — and the reason why I am specifically sharing it now — is the way that the school staged their production of Dracula.  It looks like they did a good job.  I especially liked the way that they faked the blood in the staking scene.


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Guru, The Mad Monk (dir by Andy Milligan)

The 1970 film Guru, the Mad Monk opens with a woman being dragged, by two men, down a New York sidewalk.  In the background, you can clearly hear the sounds of Manhattan morning traffic as people head to work or school, presumably barely noticing that a movie is being made one block over.

Now, normally, that might not be a problem.  In fact, it’s the kind of things that you tend to expect from an independent film made in the early 70s.  Cinema verite was all the rage back then and many films from that period would incorporate documentary techniques, shooting on location and making use of actual bystanders and the sound of actual traffic.  However, Guru, the Mad Monk is supposed to be taking place on the isolated (and fictional) prison island of Mortavia.  Even more importantly, it’s supposed to be taking place in 1480.  Now, obviously, all historical films require a certain suspension of disbelief.  I mean, we know that no cinematic version of the 15th Century is going to be a 100% accurate and we really should be happy about that because the the 1400s were a pretty disgusting time to be alive.  I mean, we don’t need to see people tossing a chamber pot out of their bedroom window in order to accept that a film is taking place in a certain time period.  However, what we do need is for there not to be two scenes that feature the sounds of cars driving by the film’s set.  One half expects some random person to wander into the shot and hail a taxi.

Guru, the Mad Monk was directed by Andy Milligan, who is a legendary name as far as grindhouse filmmaking is concerned.  Milligan was an off-off broadway playwright-turned-exploitation filmmaker who didn’t let a lack of money and/or discernible talent prevent him from directing an estimated 29 films.  Milligan’s films are distinguished by angry (if usually incoherent) storylines, flamboyant performances from a stock company made up of local Staten Island actors, cheap gore effects, and poor sound quality.  One reason why you especially notice the sound quality is because a typical Milligan film is surprisingly talky.  It makes sense when you consider that Milligan developed his artistic vision while working in theater but, as a director, Milligan never seemed to figure out how to break free from the inherent stageyness of his scripts.

And yet, there’s also an odd and, at times, rather dream-like intensity to most of Milligan’s films.  Some of that is undoubtedly due to the fact that a typical Milligan film lacks any sort of intentional humor.  For instance, Guru features a supporting character named, believe it or not, Igor.  And yes, Igor (played by Jack Spencer)) is a hunchback.  And typically, you would think any filmmaker including a hunchback named Igor in a horror film made after 1940 would have to be having a little bit of fun with the cliches of the genre.  But no, Guru, The Mad Monk was obviously meant to be a very serious film and very much a reflection of the negative worldview that seemed to permeate all of Milligan’s films.  Guru, The Mad Monk is a dark film where almost everyone is corrupt and guilty of something and, watching the film, you get the feeling that its darkness is coming straight for Milligan’s heart.

Notice the white scooter in the background as these 15 century clergymen hold a meeting in Guru, The Mad Monk.

As for what the film’s about …. well, that’s hard to say.  The plot is rather difficult to follow.  Father Guru (played, in flamboyantly evil style, by Neil Flanagan) is the governor of the prison island of Mortavia.  (St. Peter’s, an Episcopal Church in Manhattan, stands in for the prison.)  Guru is usually quick to execute his prisoners so that his mistress, Lady Olga (Jacqueline Webb), can drink their blood.  It’s hard to say whether Lady Olga is supposed to be a real vampire or not.  When we first meet her, she just comes across as being a Lady Bathory-type but then there’s another scene where she appear to be wearing fake fangs and declares herself to be the “Soul of Darkness” so who knows for sure?

In between all of the eye gougings and beheadings that one would typically expect to find in a Milligan film, there’s also a love story as jailer Carl (Paul Lieber) falls in love with the latest prisoner, Nadja (Susan Israel).  Nadja is due to be executed but Guru agrees to spare her life if Carl will dig up some bodies and sell them to a nearby university.  Carl agrees but it soon turns out that he made a mistake trusting Father Guru.  It all leads to the expected bloodbath, along with Guru raving about the joys of living a life where “I preach one thing but continue to believe another!”

Clocking in at just 57 minutes, it’s a weird film.  Typically, I tend to defend films like this because, regardless of their flaws, they at least represent the director’s unique vision of the world.  That’s always been my defense when it’s come to Ed Wood, for instance.  But, when it comes to Milligan …. eh.  I mean, from a historical perspective, anyone who is interested in classic grindhouse and independent filmmaking has to see at least one Andy Milligan film.  And it can be said that you’ll never mistake an Andy Milligan film for anyone else’s.  But, at the same time, I have to admit that watching Guru was the longest 57 minutes of my life.

So, no …. unless you’re on some sort of Andy Milligan kick, I don’t really recommend Guru, The Mad Monk.

Sorry, Igor.

Everything You Know About Vampires Is Wrong: Night Hunter (1996, directed by Rick Jacobson)

Forget everything you know about vampires!

Did you think that vampires could only go out at night?  Wrong.  They can run around in broad daylight.

Did you think that you needed a cross or a stake to kill a vampire?  Wrong.  You can break their necks or use a shotgun.

Did you think that we get new vampires by vampires biting their victims late at night?  Wrong.  Vampires can only breed during a solar eclipse.

Did you think that there’s thousands of vampires hiding out across the world?  Wrong.  There’s only seven left.

That’s the idea behind Night Hunter, which stars Don “The Dragon” Wilson as Jack Cutter.  Cutter’s grandparents were vampire hunters.  His parents were vampire hunters.  Cutter was destined to be a vampire hunter.  And now that he’s the only member of his family left alive, he is determined to wipe out the last few remaining vampires.  Jack has two problems.  The first is that the police don’t believe in vampires so they just think that Jack is going around Los Angeles and killing random people.  The second is that a solar eclipse is rapidly approaching and, if the vampires breed, all of Jack’s work will be for nothing.  Accompanied by a plucky tabloid reporter named Raimy (Melanie Smith), Jack searches for the king of the vampires.  Not coincidentally, Raimy looks just like the woman that the king once loved over a hundred years ago.

For a direct-to-video vampire film, Night Hunter’s not bad.  Wilson may not have been a great actor but he was one of the best kick boxers in the world and this brings a verisimilitude to Night Hunter‘s action scenes that most direct-to-video action films couldn’t hope to duplicate.  Rick Jacobson directed the majority of Wilson’s films and, in Night Hunter, he keeps things moving along at a steady pace.  Night Hunter doesn’t waste any time getting to the vampire action and it never pretends to be anything more than what it is.  Best of all, the film’s got Maria Ford as a French vampire named Tourneur who says things like, “I will not await vengeance, the hunter will die!”

When I first watched Night Hunter, I thought that it was a rip-off of Blade but Blade actually came out two years after Night Hunter.  Unless Don “The Dragon” Wilson (who co-produced) was a fan of Tomb of Dracula, the similarities between the two films are probably coincidental.  While Night Hunter may not be Blade, it’s still pretty damn cool.

Video Game Review: The Count (1979, Adventure International)

You have just woken up in a bed in a Transylvanian castle.  Why are you there?  You’re on a mission.  What type of mission?  It’s Transylvania and the game is called The Count.  You figure it out.  You’ve got three days to figure out how to kill Count Dracula or you’ll suffer a fate worse than death.  Make a mistake and you might become a vampire during the night.  Try to leave the castle early and you’ll get torn apart by the angry villagers.

The Count is a very early text adventure game, one of the many that was created and designed by Scott Adams in the days when having a personal computer was considered to be a luxury instead of a necessity.  The Count has everything that you would usually expect from an Adams game: minimalist descriptions, silly humor (“The signs says ‘POSITIVE NO SMOKING ALLOWED’ signed Count Dracula.”), and puzzles that often take more than one run-through to solve.  It also has a simple two-word parser that, for modern players, might require some getting used to.

Historically, The Count is important because it was one of the first games to have a fixed time limit.  Timed challenges have always been my downfall, as anyone who has ever watched me play any of Spider-Man‘s side missions can tell you.  Solving The Count is not as challenging as catching Howard’s pigeons but it will still probably require a replay or two.

Like all of Scott Adams’s game, The Count has been adapted for other Interactive Fiction interpreters and can be downloaded for free..  The 1982 re-release, which came with graphics, can be played at the Internet Archive.


Halloween Havoc!: DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (Thunderbird International 1966)

cracked rear viewer

Welcome to the weird world of low-budget Florida-based filmmaker William Grefe, whose Everglades-lensed movies are always interesting. Not necessarily good mind you, but interesting. Still, the man did the best he could with what little resources he had. One of his most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) films is the 1966 shocker DEATH CURSE OF TARTU.

DEATH CURSE OF TARTU concerns a husband-and-wife team of archeologists and their students searching for a missing colleague. The teens want to “go down to the lake and roast marshmallows” (and engage in some energetic frugging and heavy necking!), when they stumble on the crypt of Tartu, an ancient Indian “witch doctor”, and his curse. Soon, teens begin to drop like swamp flies as shape-shifting Tartu turns into a snake, shark and alligator, until the lead archeologist translates the ancient tablet, and discovers the only way to break the curse…

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Horror Scenes That I Love: Caleb Meets The Witch

First released in 2016, The Witch is one of the best horror films of the past few years.

Based, so the film claimed, on actual historical records, The Witch told the story of a Puritan family living in 17th century New England and finding themselves haunted by not just a billy goat named Black Phillip but also by a baby-eating witch who lives in the forest.

In the scene below, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) meets the Witch (Bathsheba Garnett) herself and they share a rather fateful kiss.  Among my friends, this scene is actually somewhat controversial.  Some of them wish that the film had kept the Witch off-screen for its entirety, the better to leave some ambiguity as to whether the family was truly cursed or just a victim of mass hysteria.  While I see their point, I think this scene works well in the overall scheme of the film.  In this scene, the witch reveals herself to be everything that the Puritans were supposedly against and her seduction of Caleb establishes that the film is ultimately a battle between the desires of the flesh and the piety of the soul.

It’s also interesting that, if The Witch can be viewed as a cinematic folk tale, the witch is wearing a red hood, linking her to the story of Little Red Riding Hood and leaving us to wonder who the wolf really is in this case.


Horror Book Review: The Lovecraft Lexicon by Anthony Pearsall

Are you planning on searching for Cthulhu this October?

If you are, you might want to think again.  Seriously, Cthulhu does not like being woken up.  The majority of people who have gotten on Cthulhu’s bad side are dead and the one who survived have gone insane.  Add to that, it’s not always easy to track down Cthulhu.  I mean, sometimes it can be difficult to tell one lost city from another.  I guess you could try to track down your local Cthulhu cult or maybe you could summon Nyarlathotep and ask him for directions.  If I remember correct, I think that’s what Randolph Carter used to do.

If, despite all the warnings, you’re really determined to track down Cthulhu this summer, you need to order yourself a copy of Anthony Pearsall’s The Lovecraft Lexicon.  First published in 2005, The Lovecraft Lexicon contains all the information that you could possibly want about all of the persons, places, and things in the tales of H.P. Lovecraft.

It’s set up like an encyclopedia, with entries on …. well, everything.  You want to know about Charles Dexter Ward?  He’s in here.  Curious about Azathoth?  This book has all the information that you need to find.  Pearsall details the adventures of Randolph Carter and also sorts through the many legends about the Necronomicon.  This book is the next best thing to taking a course at Miskontic University.

However, the Lovecraft Lexicon is more than just an encyclopedia.  It’s also a reader’s guide, one that examines just what may have been going through Lovecraft’s mind when he wrote about some of his most infamous creations.  The book not only takes a look at Lovecraft’s work but also at the man himself and, to its credit, it’s honest about both Lovecraft’s flaws as a person and his strengths as a writer.  In the end, the book celebrates Lovecraft’s imagination and his influence on future writers.  Whether you’re a reader who is just now starting in on the works of H.P. Lovecraft or a writer looking to continue to tales of Cthulhu, The Lovecraft Lexicon is an invaluable resource.

International Horror Film Review: The Ghost (dir by Ricarrdo Freda)

The 1963 Italian film The Ghost takes place in 1910 at an isolated Scottish estate.  It’s the type of estate where the mornings are always foggy, the nights are always full of lightning, and shadows always seem to be creeping around every corner.  The film opens with a darkened seance, one in which the estate’s housekeeper, Catherine (Harriet Medin), serves as a medium.  It’s an appropriate opening because, as we soon discover, everyone at this estate is obsessed with death.

The estate’s owner, the appropriately-named Dr. Hichcock (Elio Jotta), is sickly and obviously doesn’t have much time left.  He speaks constantly of the end while his wife, Margaret (Barbara Steele) and his doctor, Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin), continually try to keep him for committing suicide.

Of course, just because Margaret and Charles seem to be committed to keeping Dr. Hichcock from killing himself that doesn’t mean that they aren’t willing to do the job themselves.  Margaret and Charles are lovers and are eagerly looking forward to getting their hands on Hichock’s fortune once he actually does die.  When Margaret suggests that maybe Charles could help the process out while still making Hichcock’s death look natural, Charles is, at first, a bit hesitant.  But, he finally goes through with it.

So, now, Dr. Hichcock’s dead!  They have a moodily-photographed funeral and everything!  However, Margaret and Charles are shocked when the doctor’s assets are revealed to amount to very little money.  Figuring out that he must have hidden his fortune somewhere in the estate, Margaret and Charles start to search but find themselves wondering how much they can trust each other.

Making things even more complicated is that it appears that Dr. Hichcock might not be done with either one of them.  Soon, both Margaret and Charles are hearing the dead doctor’s voice echoing throughout the house and other strange things start to happen.  Even the housekeeper gets possessed and starts telling Margaret not to trust Charles.  Is Dr. Hichcock haunting them from the grave or is Margaret being driven mad by her own greed and guilt?  Or is there another solution?

The Ghost is a moody and enjoyable gothic mystery story, one that is dripping with atmosphere and which features a typically fierce and compelling performance from the greatest femme fatale of Euroshock cinema, Barbara Steele.  Take the murder at the center of the plot and then add in the creepy housekeeper and you have a film that feels almost like a cross between Rebecca and Double Indemnity.  It’s not a perfect film, of course.  Especially when compared to other Italian horror-thrillers of the era, the pace is a bit slow and you’ll probably figure out the story’s big twist before anyone in the film does.  But no matter.  Once you get used to it, the slow pace actually adds to the film’s creepy atmosphere and, if the plot is familiar, it’s familiar in the way that the best fairy tales and other cautionary legends are familiar.  It’s an enjoyably creepy film and a perfect example of why Barbara Steele remains one of the most revered icons of Italian horror.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Carrie, God Told Me To, The House With Laughing Windows, The Omen

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, we’re using 4 Shots From 4 Films to look at some of the best years that horror has to offer!

4 Shots From 4 1976 Horror Films

Carrie (1976, dir by Brian De Palma)

God Told Me To (1976, dir by Larry Cohen)

The House With Laughing Windows (1976, directed by Pupi Avati)

The Omen (1976, dir by Richard Donner)

Joker, Book Review, By Case Wright


Happy Horrorthon! 2008 – Barack Obama was becoming a household name, I still had some hair, and Heath Ledger’s Joker brought the absolute evil of clowns to the silver screen.  I understand that some of you might think that the comic Joker is not a horror comic, but guys it’s got a clown right there on the cover; they are ALL trying to kill you. IT COUNTS!

Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo sought to bring Ledger’s Joker into a comic form and dig a little deeper into the psychology of Joker and why someone would follow him.  The story is narrated by Jonny Frost – a small time gangster- who wanted to be big.  Jonny figures that he himself is not larger than life, but by being near bright evil, he too could shine like the moon does with the earth.  He picks the Joker.

Christopher Nolan described the Joker as an absolute. He is an id of Corruption and destruction.  In this story, the Joker has gotten out of Arkham….again.  SIDE NOTE: what’s with Gotham?! They must have the single party liberal governing that we have in Seattle because you’d think they’d have a Three Strikes Rule or the Death Penalty by now.  I mean, why let the Joker continue to keep breathing? I get how Batman has this weird code- he wears rubber, cape, lives in a cave, and is all kinds of weirdo, but why do the rest of Gotham’s citizens have it? Do they not vote? Do they have only one ballot choice? So, the Joker meets Jonny Frost the second that he leaves Arkham and Jonny works as a toady and hanger on for the majority of the book.

Jonny narrates the Joker’s return to power as he reaps through the underworld, but he burns most of his possessions down and kills all of his own henchmen and even shoots Jonny at the end.  Really, the story depicted the Joker as a force of Anti-Creation.  While it was a deeper dive into this Super Villain, it left me wanting because it was told through the lens of this mediocrity Jonny Frost.  It says Joker right there on the cover so you’d think it would be all about the Clown Prince of Crime, but instead it was this tangential view of him.  I would’ve been more captivated by a story just about the Joker without a go-between.

The story was strong and depicting LOTS AND LOTS of gore.  In fact, the Joker kills more people than the Spanish Flu.  He’s Lucifer and Death combined to cause havoc.  In the end, we get the obvious conclusion that he’s just this disease of evil and that Batman is really just a treatment, but not a cure.  It seems that Gotham’s real disease is a soft on crime public policy.