Horror on TV: Baywatch Nights 2.13 “Nights to Dragon One” (dir by Richard Friedman)


Tonight’s episode of Baywatch Nights originally aired on February 16th, 1997.

In this episode of Baywatch Nights, David Hasselhoff and Angie Harmon are hired to track down a missing man and his daughter.  Their search leads to them becoming literally trapped inside a virtual reality where they either have to defeat the crazed Game Master (Vincent Schiavelli) or die!  There’s even a scene where Angie Harmon has to pick up and roll a giant die!  Taking full advantage of the inherent ludicrousness of David Hasselhoff’s screen persona, this is an episode that has to be seen to be believed.

So, watch below and believe.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: 2001 Maniacs (dir by Tim Sullivan)


A lot of people die over the course of this 2005 film but none of them are particularly likable so who cares.

A remake of the Herschell Gordon Lewis classic (though Lewis’s film only featured Two Thousand Maniacs!), 2,001 Maniacs is about a small town called Pleasant Valley in Georgia.  During the Civil War, Union soldiers killed 2,001 of the residents of Pleasant Valley so, as a result, the angry spirits of the town will not be happy until they’ve killed 2,001 Northerners.  Luckily, for them, some yankee college students come driving through on their way to Daytona Beach for Spring Break.  That means it’s time to bring out the hooks, the blades, the flames, and all the other things that can be used to dismember people on screen.  It’s a bloody good time in Pleasant Valley.

The mayor of Pleasant Valley is played by Robert Englund and, if nothing else, Englund brings a lot of demented glee to the role.  One thing that I’ve always liked about Englund is that, even though he could probably get away with it, he’s always refused to coast on the fact that he’s a horror icon.  No matter the quality of the film in which he’s appearing, Englund always goes all out and gives a memorable performance.  As played by Englund, the mayor comes across as being an affable and welcoming guy, or at least he does until he starts killing people.  The viewers automatically know that the mayor’s a bad guy because they know the type of role in which Robert Englund typically gets cast.  But, and this is the important, you can at least understand why the film’s victims didn’t automatically run in fear as soon as they met him.  The mayor is all about hospitality.  (That, and bloody revenge.)

Anyway, it’s tempting to view 2,001 Maniacs as being some sort of statement about Confederate war memorials but …. eh.  I mean, again, it’s tempting but I think it’s ultimately kind of pointless.  This is not a subversive film.  This is not a film that’s attempting to scratch the surface of any major issues.  This is just another gory film that examines the amount of ways someone’s body can pulled apart.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  There’s a lot of classic horror films that are centered around people dying in gory ways.  The problem with 2,001 Maniacs is that, since none of the people dying are particularly interesting, you don’t really care about how they die or even the fact that they’re dead.  “Oh hey,” you find yourself saying, “at least I won’t have to listen to that guy talk anymore.”

Despite being a bit on the dull side for most of its running time, 2,001 Maniacs does have an effective final few minutes.  There’s a big battle between a survivor and a ghost that is surprisingly well-directed and would have been exciting if we actually cared about whether or not the survivor was actually going to …. well, survive.  As for the film itself, it ends on a properly macabre note.  I actually laughed at the film’s ending, even though perhaps I shouldn’t have.  Again, it all comes down to not really caring that much about anyone in the movie.

Anyway, 2,001 Maniacs didn’t do much for me.  The Lewis version is still the version to go with.  Thank God for Robert Englund, though.  That man can act.

 

Witchcraft IV: The Virgin Heart (1993, directed by James Merendino)


Witchcraft IV continues the endless story of William Spanner, warlock-turned-attorney.

When this movie begins, William is no longer working for the public defender’s office.  Instead, he now handles insurance law.  He comments that it’s been years since he last used his powers and he’s happy that he is, once again, living a normal life.  However, when Lily Wild (Lisa Jay Harrington) shows up at his office and tells him that her 17 year-old brother, Pete Wild (Orien Richmond), has been arrested for a murder that he didn’t commit, William agrees to serve as Pete’s attorney.

The police are convinced that Pete not only murdered his girlfriend but that he’s also a serial killer who has been responsible for killing at least six other women and removing their hearts.  With the police refusing to be of much help and also apparently withholding evidence so that it doesn’t inspire a copycat killer (?), William decides that the only way to defend Pete is to solve the murder on his own.

Searching the scene of the crime, William finds a matchbook with the word “Coven” on it.  Coven is a club and William’s investigation leads him to both a stripper named Belladonna (Julie Strain) and Santara (Clive Pearson), the club owner who makes aspiring rockers famous in return for their immortal soul.  Santara has not only a very famous father but also a connection to William.  No matter how much William tries to escape his past, he keeps getting pulled back in.

Witchcraft IV is unique among the franchise in that it features William narrating his story.   William obviously learned how to narrate by watching old film noirs but it’s appropriate because Witchcraft IV is more of a direct-to-video neonoir than a horror film.  The horror and supernatural elements are there, of course.  But Witchcraft IV is more interested in the mystery aspect of the story than the horror aspect.  Unfortunately, the mystery itself isn’t particularly challenging and it seems as if William, given his past, should have been able to figure things out quicker than he did.

The best thing that Witchcraft IV has going for it is Julie Strain in the role of Belladonna.  Strain gives a typically uninhibited and forceful performance, one that suggests that, if she had been born many years earlier, she could have had a good career as a noir femme fatale.

Witchcraft IV was directed by James Merendino, who later achieved cult success with SLC Punk!  This would also be the last time that Charles Solomon would play the role of William Spanner.  In Part V, the role would be played by Marklen Kennedy.

Game Review: Last House On The Block (2020, Jason Olson)


Last House On The Block is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of this year’s entries can be played here.

Mr. Harrison, who has lived in your neighborhood longer than anyone who can remember, has died.  Mr. Harrison was the neighborhood hermit, a quiet elderly man who lived in a big house and who rarely talked to anyone.  Everyone assumed that he had to be rich.  Because Mr. Harrison had no family, the city is going to come to his house and take everything.  That leaves you with only one chance to explore his house on your own and find the money that you’re sure Mr. Harrison had secreted away.

Just from the set-up, Last House On The Block sounds like it’s going to be horror game but actually, it’s a slice-of-life.  You explore Mr. Harrison’s house and see how the old man lived.  In order to discover where Mr. Harrison hid his secrets, you’ll have to pay attention to ever detail and start solving puzzles early.  From the very start of the game, you’re presented with a puzzle that will either lead to you having a friend to help with your search or leave you with the next-to-impossible task of doing it all by yourself.  Some of the puzzles are more difficult than others.  Luckily, the game does have a walk-through.  I had to refer to it several times but there’s not a single puzzle in the game that can’t be solved on your own.  You just have to pay attention.

Last House On The Block is a good example of a search-and-explore type game.  I appreciated and enjoyed the care that went into describing each room in the house.  By the end of the game, I could visualize every aspect of Last House On The BlockIt can be played hereThe walk-through is here.

Horror Scenes that I Love: The Basketball Scene From Deadly Friend


From 1986’s Deadly Friend, directed by Wes Craven:

Now, it should be noted that this scene was not in Craven’s initial cut of the film.  Craven envisioned Deadly Friend as being a melancholy love story about a teenage boy who brings his dead girlfriend back to life.  Elvira, the lady who loses her head, originally had a much less graphic death scene but Warner Bros. wants to take advantage of Craven’s reputation for being a horror director so they demanded a more extreme version and that’s what Craven delivered.

In my opinion, this scene is just ludicrous enough to work.  The studio’s demands were a bit silly so Craven supplied them with perhaps the silliest death scene that he ever directed.  That said, I do think Craven’s original version of Deadly Friend sounds like a nicer movie.

Horror Book Review: The Grave by Christopher Pike


First published in 1999, this is a weird book.

It opens with a college student named Ted Lovett thinking that he’s going to meet a woman in the woods, just to instead get captured by a cult who strip him naked and then bury him alive.  We then jump over to the story of Kerri, who is a typical 90s YA heroine — she’s got a job at a record store, her sister is dead, her father abandoned the family, her mom is hooked on cocaine, and her boyfriend is clingy loser.  It’s the boyfriend part that bothers Kerri the most.  She’s totally bored with him but just can’t bring herself to sit down with him and tell him that it’s over.

Then, one day, the mysterious and handsome Oscar shows up in the record store and soon, Kerri is spend the night over at his place and kind of cheating on her boyfriend.  I say “kind of” because Kerri doesn’t really consider him to be a boyfriend, despite the fact that they’re dating and they’ve slept together a few times.  With her mother still abusing drugs and Oscar acting all mysterious, Kerri has a lot to deal with but all of that drama is nothing compared to what happens when Oscar tosses Kerri into a freezer.

So, is Oscar a part of the cult that buried poor Ted Lovett?  Or is he the ghost of Ted Lovett and this all a part of grand plan to turn Kerri into a half-dead, half-living zombie who is pregnant with the modern day equivalent of Pan, a hooved God who will maybe save the world but maybe not?

Yes, The Grave is an odd book.  There’s a lot going on in The Grave.  In fact, there’s probably a little bit too much going on.  The Grave is only a 194 pages long, which means that Kerri is often surprisingly quick to accept the strangest explanations for what’s going on.  If you learned that you had been selected to give birth to a satyr that’s going to save the world but, in order to do so, you have to basically die first, you’d probably demand a bit more of an explanation than Kerri does.  I know that I would.

Speaking of Kerri, how much drama can one person have in their life?  Abandoned by her father, haunted by her sister’s death, and forced to deal with her mom’s cocaine addiction, just one of those would have been enough but tossing all three in there just feels like overkill.  And that’s eve before she becomes pregnant with Pan.

With The Grave, you get the feeling that Christopher Pike just tossed a bunch of random stuff at the wall to see what would stick.  It’s a mess but occasionally, it’s entertaining in its messiness.  If nothing else, it has an important lesson to impart about not putting yourself in a situation where you can be buried alive.  That’s an important lesson to learn.

 

International Horror Film Review: Dark Forces (dir by Bernardo Arellano)


How one reacts to this film from Mexico will depend on what one prioritizes when it comes to watching movies.  Do you watch movies for their plot or do you watch them for their style?  Do you care about what the filmmaker has to say or do you just want to see how they say it?

Of course, this doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.  Just because a film is heavy on style, that doesn’t mean that it’s thematically shallow.  At the same time, just because a film has something to say, that doesn’t mean that it has to be dry and boring.  It’s just that, in the case of Dark Forces, the film is almost all style and that seems to be by design.

The plot of Dark Forces is not always easy to follow and what can be followed is often pure nonsense.  A former (or maybe current, it’s never really clear) criminal named Max (Mauricio Aspe) is searching for his sister, who is being held hostage by a gangster.  Max checks into a hotel and searches for clues to where he sister is being held.  There are a variety of eccentric people living in the hotel, some of whom appear to be supernatural in origin and some of whom are probably just sleazy hotel denizens.  There’s a mysterious, femme fatale-style waitress.  There’s an albino who is also a psychic because movies like this always seem to feature an albino psychic.  And then there’s this mysterious man played by transgressive filmmaker Nick Zedd.  Zedd’s character is named Demonio and he says that he can help Max for a price and can you guess what’s going on?

So, if you’re watching for a coherent plot, you’ll probably be disappointed.  If you allow yourself to get in any way emotionally invested in Max’s quest, you’ll probably be disappointed.  Narratively, Dark Forces somehow manages to be both totally incoherent and totally predictable at the same time.  That’s such an accomplishment but I can’t help but think that it was somewhat intentional on the part of the filmmakers.

Where Dark Forces succeeds is as an exercise in pure style.  Between the Argento-inspired lighting scheme, the combination of neon and shadows, the constantly skewed camera angles, and the dream-like mix of flashback and the present (or, at least, I assumed some of what I saw in the movie was meant to be a flashback), Dark Forces plays out like an extremely flamboyant dream.  Visually, it’s enjoyable to take in and, at 81 minutes, it ends right before all of the stylistic excesses gets exhausting.  Unfortunately, all of that style doesn’t make it any easier to follow the plot but at least there’s always something to look at.

Anyway, Dark Forces is a film that I obviously had mixed feelings about.  The plot annoyed me but the film’s visual style held my attention.  At its best, the film is vibrant pop art.  At its worse, it’s an empty exercise in tilting the camera.  As to whether or not you enjoy this film, it all depends on what matters the most to you, style or coherence.

4 Shots From 4 Wes Craven Films: Last House on the Left, Deadly Blessing, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream


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’ve been using 4 Shots From 4 Films to pay tribute to some of our favorite horror directors!  Today, we recognize the father and master of modern horror, Wes Craven!

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Last House on the Left (1972, dir. by Wes Craven)

Deadly Blessing (1981, dir by Wes Craven)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, dir. by Wes Craven)

Scream (1996, dir by Wes Craven)

 

Horror Film Review: Night of the Lepus (dir by William F. Claxton)


There’s really only one lesson to be learned from the 1972’s Night of the Lepus.

There is absolutely no way to make a rabbit look menacing.

Oh sure, you can film them in slow motion.  And you can add a lot of weird sound effects and you can do a lot of extreme close-ups to make them look bigger than they actually are.  You can do a lot of stuff as a part of your effort to make a rabbit into a scary monster but you’ll pretty much be wasting you time.  Rabbits are simply not intimidating.  There’s a reason why the idea of a killer rabbit was so funny in Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m enough of country girl that I know the damage that wild rabbits can do.  They eat crops.  They eat bark.  They chew on irrigations lines.  If you’re a farmer or even just someone who wants to maintain a nice garden, you know that rabbits can be a nuisance.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that there’s nothing really menacing rabbits.  Rabbits are cute and, for the most part, they’re fairly timid.  They’re aware that, in the brutal world of nature, they’re designated prey and, as a result, they try to stay out of the way.  Rabbits are shy and they hop around and there’s absolutely nothing frightening about them.

(We actually have quite a few rabbits in my neighborhood.  It’s not unusual for me to see one hopping through the front yard.  Whenever I go for a run in the early evening hours, it’s not unusual for me to see several rabbits hopping through a nearby park.)

Night of the Lepus is a strange film that attempts to make rabbits frightening.  It takes place in the southwest and it features a bunch of mutated, giant rabbits who hop around the desert in slow motion and who savagely kill everyone that they meet.  The plot makes it sound like a spoof but Night of the Lepus takes itself very seriously, which needless to say is a mistake.  It even opens with documentary footage that’s designed to make sure that we understand that rabbits are actually very dangerous.  It’s all very odd and you have to wonder why, out of all the wild animals in the southwest, the filmmakers decided to go with the least intimidating creature possible.  I mean, there are coyotes and Gila monsters in the desert.  Imagine having a giant coyote coming at you.  That would be scary!

Instead, we get giant rabbits, attacking a cast of actors who definitely deserved better.  Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelly, they’re all talented actors and, in this film, they’re reduced to fighting a bunch of giant rabbits.  No one comes across particularly well, though just about everyone in the cast does manage to keep a straight face.  Still, the problem is that the rabbits are just too damn cute.  Even after they’ve killed half the cast, you still don’t want anything to happen to them.  When Whitman and Calhoun opened fire on a group of rabbits and killed a few of them, I actually found myself getting mad at the humans.  Leave the rabbits alone! I thought.  You humans have had your chance!  This the land of rabbits now!

Anyway, Night of the Lepus is silly but it’s kind of fun, just because the giant rabbits are cute.  They’re kind of like the giant guinea pigs that attacked South Park a few seasons ago.  They’re murderous but they’re adorable!

 

 

 

 

Horror on the Lens: Satan’s School for Girls (dir by David Lowell Rich)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a 1973 made-for-TV movie called Satan’s School For Girls.

After her sister turns up dead, Elizabeth (Pamela Franklin) refuses to accept that official conclusion that it was a suicide.  Instead, Elizabeth is convinced that it was murder and that it has something to do with the exclusive school that her sister attended, the Salem Academy for Women.

Well, honestly, the Salem part is a dead giveaway.  I think we can all agree on that.

Anyway, this movie features a Satanic cult, an old school clique, and plenty of early of 70s fashion choices.  It may be silly but it’s also definitely entertaining.

Enjoy!