Horror on TV: Baywatch Nights 2.14 “Ascension” (dir by Jon Cassar)

Tonight’s episode of Baywatch Nights is an odd one.  Mitch gets kidnapped.  Ryan dreams about it happening.  There’s a lot of weird torture devices.  Somehow, the Knights Templar are involved.  It always comes down to the Knights Templar, doesn’t it?

Seriously, how does one go back to being a lifeguard after all of this?

This episode originally aired on February 23rd, 1997.


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Disconnected (dir by Gorman Bechard)

Disconnected, an independent and low-budget horror film from 1984, is an odd one.

Actually, odd might be too mild of a description of this film.  It’s about Alicia (Frances Raines, niece of Claude) who works in a video store and who keeps getting strange phone calls.  Alicia has a boyfriend named Mike (Carl Koch) and a twin sister named Barbra Ann (Raines, again) and, one night, she answers her landline phone and suddenly hears Mike and Barbara Ann talking about the affair that they’re having!  She then starts having nightmares in which Mike and Barbara Ann team up to kill her.

At the same time that Alicia is dreaming about being murdered, Franklin (Mark Walter) actually is murdering women all over town.  Franklin also keeps asking Alicia for a date and, after she discovers that Mike has been cheating on her, Alicia finally says yes.  One morning, Franklin wakes up in bed, grabs a knife, and attempts to stab Alicia, just to discover that she’s already left for the day.  Franklin just ends up stabbing a pillow, which is unfortunate because it was a nice pillow.

Meanwhile, Detective Tremaglio (Carmine Capobianco) is trying to figure out the identity of the serial killer.  For some reason, Detective Tremaglio spends a good deal of the film talking directly to the camera, as if he’s being interviewed.  Tremaglio is quick to point out how cheap the police station looks and he also says, at one point, that he feels like he’s in a low-budget horror film.

It creates a rather odd atmosphere.  On the one hand, you’ve got Franklin wandering around town, hitting the bars and searching for new victims.  On the other hand, you’ve got Alicia isolated in her apartment, dealing with the phone constantly ringing and basically having a Repulsion moment.  Who is calling Alicia?  It’s hard to say.  It’s definitely not Franklin.  Is Alicia imagining the phone calls?  Or is it some sort of a supernatural force?  And how is it connected to the mysterious old man who keeps wandering through the film at certain points, popping up like a red herring from the 2nd season of Twin Peaks?

Disconnected raises a lot of questions but it doesn’t answer many of them.  And while it’s tempting to suggest that this is just a case of sloppy storytelling, there’s enough intentionally arty moments in the film that I actually think that Disconnected was intentionally designed to be a riddle wrapped in an enigma.  For instance, there’s a scene where Alicia answers the phone.  For some reason, the camera is placed directly in front of a window.  The sun is streaming in through the window, which leads to an almost blinding lens flare.  The viewer is vaguely aware of Alicia moving around the room and answering the phone but, due to that lens flare, it’s impossible to actually make out any real details.  It sounds like an error in camera placement and yet the scene goes on for so long that there’s no way it wasn’t intentional.  (It should also be noted that the scene itself wasn’t particularly important so, if that lens flare was an honest mistake, there’s no reason why the scene couldn’t have been left on the cutting room floor.)  Obviously, the director liked the effect and just decided to go with it.  And yes, it’s kind of annoying but it’s kind of fascinating too.

The entire plot of Disconnected has a kind of “let’s make this up as we go along” feel to it and it’s hard not to appreciate the film’s enthusiastic incoherence.  At its best the film achieves a sort of dream-like intensity.  In the end, it all means nothing and yet, thanks to Frances Raines’s better-than-average performance, you are invested in what happens to Alicia.  You want to know what it all means, even if it only adds up to the ringing of that cursed phone.

So, does that means I’m recommending Disconnected?  Kinda.  As I’ve said many times in the past, I have a weakness for low-budget, amateur films.  This one was filmed out in the middle of Connecticut and most of the actors were obviously not professionals.  There’s something oddly likable about a film like this, one that makes no sense but, at the very least, was still made and — 36 years later — is still being watched and reviewed.  So …. yeah, I am kind of recommending this film.  It’s weird enough to be worth at least one viewing.

Witchcraft V: Dance with the Devil (1993, directed by Talun Hsu)

Warlock-turned-attorney William Spanner is back and he’s getting dumber all the time.

In this, the fifth film of the improbably long-running Witchcraft sage, William Spanner is no longer played by Charles Solomon.  A considerably more bland actor, Marklen Kennedy, has taken over the role.  William is still an attorney and he’s still dating Kelli (Carolyn Taye-Loren).  He’s also still in denial about how impossible it is for a former warlock to live a normal life.

Usually, franchise heroes get smarter with each film but William gets progressively dumber.  This time, he allows his girlfriend to take him out to yet another club that’s secretly a front for Satanism.  Though he should know better than to put himself in the situation, William allows a hypnotist to call him on stage.  The hypnotist is Cain (David Huffman), who uses his power to take control of William’s mind and use him to kill his enemies.  In order to keep William from breaking free, Cain’s servant, Mala (Nicole Sassaman), frequently sneaks into William’s house in the middle of the night so that they can take part in the type of softcore sex scenes that would, for most people, eventually come to define the future entries in the Witchcraft franchise..

Realizing that something is wrong, Kelli goes to her minister, Rev. Meredith (Lenny Rose).  Rev. Meredith sends over a white witch who is played by Aysha Hauer, the daughter of Rutger Hauer.  The white witch doesn’t do much but the Hauer connection is cool.  Another cool thing is that Greg Grunberg has a small, uncredited role as a bartender, proving that everyone had to start somewhere.

Although the first four Witchcraft films were passably entertaining, Witchcraft V is too dumb to be believed.  For someone who doesn’t want to be a warlock, William has a really bad habit of getting involved in stuff that only a warlock could get involved with.  Given his long history of dealing with Satanists and sleazy club owners, there’s no way that William should have been dumb enough to allow someone named Cain to have a chance to hypnotize him in the first place.

Probably the best thing that the previous Witchcraft films had with them was the idea of William being both an attorney and warlock.  He had the potential to be an interesting character.  Unfortunately, in Witchcraft V, William is not just stupid but also reduced to being a supporting character.  He doesn’t get to do much, which seems unfair to the three or four people who might actually be invested in his story.  Instead, most of the movie focuses on Cain and, strangely, Reverend Meredith.  Neither one of them is really interesting enough to carry a movie.

William Spanner would return, albeit played by a different actor, in Witchcraft VI.


Here’s The Trailer for All Joking Aside!

All Joking Aside is a new film from Quiver Pictures, which will be released, on demand, in November.  November 13th, to be exact!

It’s a film set in the world of stand-up comedy.  Raylene Harewood plays a young, aspiring comedian who develops an unusual friendship with an older, jaded comic after he heckles during her first open mic.  The film was directed by Shannon Kohli.  To quote Kohli from the film’s press release, “While more and more funny women are breaking through and establishing a presence in popular culture, it’s a trend that needs to be supported and I really hope that this film can play a part in that.”  That sounds good to me!

Here’s the trailer!

All Joking Aside will be released on November 13th.

Here’s The Trailer For Hillybilly Elegy!

Here’s the trailer for Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy!

This film has been getting some Oscar buzz, which I guess you would expect from a film directed by Ron Howard and starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams.  It’ll be released, by Netflix, on November 24th.  I’m actually looking forward to it, just because I’ve got relatives who live a similar life to the people in this movie.  To be honest, though, the trailer looks almost too Oscar bait-y.  Sometimes, when it’s way too obvious that you’re going for the awards, it can backfire.

We’ll see.  Amy Adams is one of my favorite actresses.  I can’t believe she hasn’t already won an Oscar.

Here’s the trailer:

Game Review: Ascension of Limbs (2020, AKheon)

Ascension of Limbs is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction competition.  You can browse and play all the entries here.

In Ascension of Limbs, you play the owner of a mysterious antique store.  You may have bought the store.  You may have inherited from a relative.  You may have gotten it in some other mysterious way.  There’s a lot of randomization involved in Ascension of Limbs, which means that you can play the game several times and have a totally different experience each time.

Your goal in Ascension of Limbs is to not go broke, to not go insane, and to not end up poor and destitute.  That’s not as easy as it sounds.  There are some dangerous things in that antique shop and, if you’re not careful, they can sap away your sanity and lead you to do some terrible things.  (Losing a point of sanity limits what you can do in the store, sometimes at the worst possible moment.)  If you can’t find anything to sell, you’ll lose money.  Lose all your money and the game is over.  It’s not easy to make money when you’re also losing your mind.  Lose your mind and the game is also over.  Balancing both money and sanity will be challenge but the game offers a lot of ways to do it.

Make your choices.  Do you promote your store or do you hope the customers will just find you?  Do you call the police about criminals or do you use them to commit insurance fraud?  Do you build up a strong base of loyal customers or do you murder them, for either their money or as an exchange for forbidden knowledge?  The choice is yours!

Ascension of Limbs is a challenging game but I can’t recommend it enough.  For those with patience and a tolerance for the occasionally macabre, Ascension of Limbs is a game to play again and again.

Play it here.

The Thrilling Covers of Thrilling Mystery

Thrilling Mystery ran from 1935 to 1951, though, like many pulp magazines, it would change its name a few times towards the latter part of its run.  Thrilling Mystery started out with supernatural-themed stories.  In the 40s, it shifted away from the supernatural and became another hard-boiled crime magazine.  The covers below are all from Thrilling Mystery‘s early, horror-themed days.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any information on who was responsible for doing any of these covers.  If any of our readers can help shed some light on who should be credited for these covers, please let us know!

Horror Film Review: The Grudge (dir by Nicolas Pesce)

Eh, who cares?

Released way back in January (and, in fact, I think it may have been the first horror movie released in 2020), The Grudge is the latest film to tell the story of a house where ghosts compel inhabitant after inhabitant to kill themselves and their families.  Look, we all know how it works.  We’ve all seen Ju-on.  We all know that it begins with someone dying while extremely angry or extremely sad and then a curse being passed on from person to person.  The original Japanese films are frightening while the American versions tend to get bogged down in all of the usual horror clichés.  We all know how these things work.

Anyway, this version of The Grudge takes place, for the most part, at 44 Reyburn Drive, where a number of people die over the course of the film.  The Grudge is told in a nonlinear fashion, so we hope back and forth in time.  We meet a lot of different people and sit through a lot of different stories but none of them are particularly interesting.  Two real estate agents discover that their unborn child is going to have a rare genetic disorder.  An elderly couple prepare for an assisted suicide.  A nurse is haunted by the things that she saw while she was working in Japan.  A detective obsesses on all of the murders.  In the present day, another detective (Andrea Riseborough) tries to figure out why so many murders are connected to the house.  It’s difficult to really get caught up in her investigation because we already know the answer.

It’s all pretty dull.  Maybe if I had never seen any of the other Grudge films, I would have found this movie more interesting but The Grudge doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.  All it really does is remind you of how formulaic the American version of franchise has always been.  Of course, everyone’s going to die and, of course, there’s going to be a shock ending.  (Interestingly enough, the international version has a different ending.)  It’s all rather boring and it’s hard not to get annoyed that the film assembled a truly amazing cast and then basically didn’t anything with them.  Consider some of the people in this film: Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Lin Shaye, Jacki Weaver, William Sadler, Frankie Faison.  Wasting a cast with that much talent really does amount to cinematic malpractice.  It seems like it should be an impossible mistake to make but The Grudge somehow manages to do it.

The film’s nonlinear format doesn’t add much to the story.  I mean, you know everyone’s going to die eventually so having the story told in random chunks and pieces doesn’t really add any sort of suspense.  One could argue that the film does deserve some credit for being as dark as it is.  I mean, it does kill the type of sympathetic characters who, normally, would survive other horror films.  But, even with that in mind, it’s all just kind of boring.  I don’t hold a grudge against anyone for trying to reboot the franchise but this film just doesn’t bring anything new to the table.