Horror On TV: Baywatch Nights 2.16 “Zargtha” (dir by Rick Jacobson)


Tonight on Baywatch Nights

A mythical wolf man from Eastern Europe is murdering runaways in Los Angeles.  Can David Hasselhoff and Angie Harmon save the day?

Watch to find out!

And remember … “Don’t go out at night, or the zargtha will get you!”

(Zargtha originally aired on April 5th, 1997)

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Shriek of the Mutilated (dir by Michael Findlay)


“The shriek of the mutilated!”

Listen, if there’s noting else that can be said about this 1974 film, Shriek of the Mutilated is a brilliant title.  I mean, it’s not only catchy but it’s honest.  The mutilated do tend to shriek.  You see a title like that and how can you look away?  How can you not watch just to see if the film itself lives up to the title?  That’s the genius of the grindhouse right there.  Promise a lot in the title.  Even if the film fails to deliver, people will remember the title.  Let’s be honest — I could say right now, “Shriek of the Mutilated is the worst movie ever made,” and the only thing you would hear me say is “Shriek of the Mutilated.”

Anyway, as for the film itself, it’s an Abominable Snowman film.  There’s a lot of bigfoot films but Shriek of the Mutilated is one of the few films that I’ve ever seen about the Abominable Snowman.  I’ve always wondered what makes the Snowman so abominable.  I mean, did he just choose that name or was it forced upon him?  Abominable doesn’t sound like a compliment so I’m going to guess that the Snowman was named that by someone who he owed money to.  I imagine if the Snowman had his say, he’d prefer to be known as the “The Wonderful Snowman” or maybe “The Triumphant Snowman” but, because he must live his days in hiding, he’s been given no choice.  It just doesn’t seem fair to me.

If it seems like I’m padding out this review, that’s because there’s more to Shriek of the Mutilated than just the Abominable Snowman but if I tell you too much about the plot, I’ll be spoiling the film.  And before you say that there’s no way you’d ever watch this film in the first place so it doesn’t matter if I spoil it, allow me to point out that not only is Shriek of the Mutilated available on Prime but it’s also been included in a quite a few of those cheap Mill Creek box sets.  So, chances are, you will be watching Shriek of the Mutilated at some point in your life.  And I don’t want to spoil it for you.  I want you to watch this film and shake your head and say, “What the Hell was that all about?”

Basically, a professor recruits four of his students to come search for the Snowman with him.  The students agree, despite the fact that one of the professor’s former students warns them against it.  As he explains it, he had a bright future until he joined the professor on one of his quests.  Now, he’s the school janitor and he’s a drunk!  That’s why the Snowman is abominable by the way.  He ruins lives!

Anyway, the Snowman does kind of make an appearance but, far more important than the Snowman, is a plot twist that’s so silly and so stupid and so out-of-nowhere that it simply has to be seen to be believed.  The entire film has a kind of “make it up as you go along” feel to it and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone just randomly thought up the twist in the middle of filming.  And listen — the film looks incredibly cheap and the acting is terrible but that twist is such a “WTF” moment that I recommend watching the film just to experience it.

I also recommend the film just because of the Snowman.  Check him out:

Shriek of the Mutilated was directed by Michael Findlay, who was one of the pioneers of the grindhouse cicruit.  His best films — like the Flesh trilogy — achieve a sort of dream-like intensity.  Even his worst films, like this one, are entertainingly weird.  He also directed a film called Slaughter which achieved a certain infamy when the producer (without Findlay’s input) filmed some extra scenes, renamed the movie Snuff, and then advertised it as being an actual snuff film.  Tragically, Findlay was killed in a helicopter accident in 1978 but his wife, Roberta, continued to direct movies through the 80s.

Shriek of the Mutilated is a frequently inept movie but it’s also strange enough that everyone should watch it at least once.

 

Cinemax Friday: Witchcraft VII: Judgment Hour (1995, directed by Michael Paul Girard)


Warlock-turned-attorney-turned-police consultant Will Spanner is back for the 7th time in Witchcraft VII.  However, the usual witches and warlocks are nowhere to be seen.  Instead, this installment finds Will and the gang battling a vampire businessman who wants to take over the world’s blood supply.

As is typical of the Witchcraft films, all of the usual characters are present but they’re all played by different actors.  Will is now played by David Byrnes while April Breneman steps into the role of Will’s girlfriend, Kelli.  Detectives Garner and Lutz also return.  However, Garner (John Cragen) is now much younger and, as opposed to the previous film, has a full head of hair.  Meanwhile, Lutz, who was a man in the previous film, is now played by Alisa Christensen.  (In a later movie, it would be explained that this Lutz is supposed to be a relative of the original Lutz but that’s never mentioned in Witchcraft VII.)

Will is still tortured by his past and his powers but it’s less of a problem in this film because he’s not battling a warlock.  Instead, while he’s visiting friends in the hospital, he just happens to spot Rachel (Ashlie Rhey) coming back to life.  Rachel, who was the latest victim of vampire Martin Hassa (Loren Schmalle), is now a vampire who preys on joggers but only after having sex with them because this is a Witchcraft movie, after all.  It won’t be easy for Will to defeat Hassa because Hassa has a mansion full of frequently naked vampires.  In fact, it’s so difficult that Will ends up dead.

That’s right, Witchcraft VII was originally meant to be the end of the series.  Realizing that there was nothing left to do with Will Spanner, Witchcraft VII had him battle a vampire and then killed him.  The next Witchcraft film would not feature Will in any way.  However, you can’t keep a good warlock down so Will would eventually return in Witchcraft IX.

Witchcraft VII would not have been a bad film to go out on.  Even with its low budget and its softcore aesthetic, Witchcraft VII is better than the previous few Witchcraft films.  David Byrnes is the best Will Spanner since Charles Solomon and Loren Schmalle is a good villain.  Though it may seem strange that a film called Witchcraft wouldn’t actually feature any witches, the vampire angle actually brings some new energy to the franchise.  Will gets to go out a hero and the world is a little bit safer for joggers.

Unfortunately, nothing ever truly ends in the world of direct-to-video.  Witchcraft would return with Witchcraft 8, albeit temporarily without the character of Will Spanner.

Game Review: Tavern Crawler (2020, Josh LaBelle)


Tavern Crawler is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be played here.

Tavern Crawler is an incredibly addictive Twine Game.  It starts out with a typical Dungeons and Dragons style set-up.  You and your two companions meet a wealthy man in a tavern.  The wealthy man is named Walter Barnes (not much of a fantasy name but that’s the point) and he offers you a fortune in gold.  All you have to do is find a dragon’s lair, kill the dragon, and then return with its head.

Sounds simple right?  The problem is that you were quite drunk when Walter approached you so, even though you heard about the dragon, you didn’t really hear the name of the tavern where you were supposed to meet him afterwards.  Though finding and dealing with the dragon is a part of the game, Tavern Crawler is more concerned with what happens after the quest.  Will you be able to find Walter or will just get spend all of your time wandering from tavern to tavern, getting progressively more sloshed as you search?

Tavern Crawler is unique just for the amount of options that you’re given.  Every decision you make has a consequence and effects how the game will end.  There’s not single throw away decision to be found and, as a result, you can play Tavern Crawler over and over again without once playing the same game twice.  Will you remain relatively sober and not only find Walter but also discover the secret of the dragon?  Or will you get so drunk and obnoxious that you’ll end up penniless, bloody, and abandoned by your companions?  The choice is yours!

I liked everything about Tavern Crawler.  There’s several side quests that you can chose to get involved with and the town, its residents, and its taverns are all described so precisely that you feel like you’re right there, drinking ale and wondering whether or not to get involved in the knife game that’s taking place in the back of bar.  Tavern Crawler creates a world that you’ll want to explore and the game rewards experimentation.  As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to replay it just to see how many bad decisions I can make before dying.

Tavern Crawler can be played here.

 

Horror Book Review: Whisper of Death by Christopher Pike


The 1991 YA horror novel, Whisper of Death, tells the story of Roxanne and …. Pepper.

That’s right, Roxanne’s boyfriend is named Pepper.  Actually, Pepper is just a nickname but still.  Personally, I don’t think I could have ever dated anyone with an nickname that bad.  I did once dated a frat boy who was nicknamed Smiley and my sisters have never let me live that down.  I will say that I steadfastly refused to call him “Smiley” which is one reason why we broke up.  (The other reason was that he was a member of a frat.  Drinking beer and smiling all the time is not a substitute for a personality.)

Anyway, Roxanne and Pepper are two teenagers in love.  Pepper’s a rebel.  Roxanne’s a hard-working seamstress who only has one night a week free.  When Roxanne loses her virginity to Pepper, she gets pregnant because this is a YA novel from the early 90s and no one loses their virginity without either getting pregnant and being stalked by a judgmental madman or both.  Though Roxanne wants to keep the baby, Pepper wants her to get an abortion.  In fact, he’s pretty adamant about her getting an abortion.  Reluctantly, Roxanne agrees.  Pepper and Roxanne drive out to another town and then, on the way back, refuse to pick up a redhead hitchhiker.  (Booo!  Anyone who would leave a redhead stranded in the desert deserves whatever karma does to them.)   When Roxanne and Pepper return to their hometown, they discover that the entire place is deserted!

Well, actually, it’s not totally deserted.  They search around the town for a while and they discover that a few of their classmates have apparently been left behind.  There’s the nerdy guy who may not be as good-looking as Pepper but who, at the very least, doesn’t have as stupid of a nickname.  And then there’s the beautiful quirky girl who rebellious Roxanne can’t help but like despite the fact that she shouldn’t because Roxanne is poor and has to work as a seamstress 6 night as week.  And finally, there’s a delinquent who has an even worse nickname than Pepper.  His name is …. seriously, I’m not making this up …. Helter Skater.

Anyway, it’s all connected to yet another classmate, Betty Sue.  Betty Sue killed herself at the gas station and it turns out that her diary is conveniently available for anyone who wants to read it.  Is it possible that the strange disappearance of the world is somehow connected to Betty Sue’s suicide?  And is it also possible that maybe Pepper has more of a connection to Betty Sue than he’s willing to admit?

Of course, it is!

Whisper of Death is an odd little book.  Since the entire plot, more or less, is set in motion by Roxanne getting an abortion, it’s interesting to witness the amount of effort that Pike puts into not coming down on either side of the issue.  Roxanne makes the point of saying that both the hardcore pro-lifers and the hardcore pro-choicers are too extreme for her tastes.  I actually agree with Roxanne but, as the story progresses, it feels more and more like Pike is trying too hard to keep both sides happy.  And, as we all know, that’s an impossible task.  Suggest that women have a right to choose and you get accused of being a baby killer.  Suggest that partial birth abortion is barbaric and you get accused of being Serena Joy Waterford.

That said, the story itself was effectively creepy and the fact that it featured a shadowy force of evil called Fat Freddy is definitely a point in the book’s favor.  Most of the characters were petty annoying but, then again, the majority of them were dead by the end of the book so it’s all good.  Whisper of Death held my attention and it made me think about issues of life, death, hitchhikers, and terrible nicknames.

International Horror Film Review: The Washing Machine (dir by Ruggero Deodato)


Yuri the pimp is dead and his body has been stuffed into a washing machine …. or has it?  The body’s missing.  Did the cat eat it?  Is someone lying about finding the body?  Or is there something else going on?

Those are the questions that are raised by the 1993 Italian film, The Washing Machine.  Directed by Ruggero Deodato (of Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park fame), The Washing Machine takes place in Budapest.  It tells the story of three sisters.  Vida (Katarzyna Figura) is a prostitute.  Ludmilla (Barbara Ricci) is a percussionist who often emerges from the shadows, carrying a triangle with her.  Maria (Ilaria BorellI), who is also known as Sissy, works with the blind.  They all live together in a rather nice, two-story building and they have a washing machine located on the first floor.  Yuri (Yorgo Voyagis) is Vida’s pimp and sometime lover.  When Via discovers that Yuri has a piece of jewelry with Sissy’s name on it, it leads first to a fight and then to makeup sex in the kitchen, all while Ludmilla watches from the staircase and plays the triangle.  Later, Ludmillas calls the police, claiming that she has discovered Yuri’s bloody body in the washing machine.

Inspector Stacev (Philippe Caroit) is sent over to investigate but, by the time he arrives, Yuri’s body has disappeared.  There’s a rather self-satisfied black cat wandering about.  “Did the cat eat the body?” I asked, just to then have another character in the film suggest the exact same thing.  Stacev isn’t sure whether or not Yuri is actually dead but then again, it quickly becomes apparent that Stacev is more interested in the three sisters than he is in solving the case of death of a pimp.  Despite the fact that Stacev has a loyal girlfriend named Irina (Claudia Pozzi), he is soon cheating on her with the sisters.  When Irina finds out, she commits suicide.  Stacev just shrugs it off.

So, you may have guessed that Inspector Stacev is not a particularly likable character.  Normally, that might be a problem but it fits right into The Washing Machine‘s chilly view of a world that’s defined and ruled by greed and lust.  Set and filmed in Budapest, The Washing Machine is full of shadowy and gothic images.  Every location looks as if it’s hiding a hundred secrets and every shadow seems like it’s on the verge of coming to life.  An atmosphere of continual menace haunts nearly every frame of The Washing Machine.  It helps, of course, to know something about the history of Hungary.  The Washing Machine is set just a few years after the collapse of Soviet-style communism in Eastern Europe.  The characters in The Washing Machine move, speak, and act like people who lived too long with secrets and paranoia as their most valuable possessions to give them up now.

I liked The Washing Machine.  The plot doesn’t make much sense but Deodato does such a good job of creating a sense of dread that it doesn’t have to make sense.  A work of existential horror, The Washing Machine takes place in a world that’s governed by chaos and where men like Yuri and Stacev arrogantly assume that their place in society will somehow protect them.  In the end, no one is innocent, no one is safe, and willful blindness is the downfall of everyone.

4 Shots From 4 Tod Browning Films: West of Zanzibar, Dracula, Freaks, Mark of the Vampire


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 honor the legacy of the great Tod Browning!

4 Shots From 4 Films

West of Zanzibar (1928, dir by Tod Browning)

Dracula (1931, directed by Tod Browning)

Freaks (1932, dir by Tod Browning)

Mark of the Vampire (1935; dir by Tod Browning)

 

Horror Film Review: American Nightmares (dir by Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff)


I’m always a little bit cautious about anthology films.  There’s been a few that I’ve liked.  (I recently enjoyed Tales From Parts Unknown, for instance.)  But most of the time, horror anthology films tend to leave me feeling rather disappointed.  The good segments always seem as if they’re too short while the bad segments seem to go on forever and it’s hard not to feel that the only reason the film was made was because the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to come up with a full-length story.  Plus, there’s always some wrap-around segment and, more often than not, it’s usually kind of stupid and it leaves you feeling as if the film wasted the talents of whoever it was they hired to host the film.

And that brings us to American Nightmares.

In American Nightmares, two dorky guys who might as well have millennial tattooed on their foreheads, find their perusal of internet porn interrupted by the appearance of Mr. Malevolent (Danny Trejo), who proceeds to introduce not one, not two, not three, but SEVEN stories about terrible Americans getting their just deserts.  The two dorky guys are rather blase about it all, being more concerned with watching twerking videos than really considering Mr. Malevolent’s stories about hypocritical people getting what they deserve.

Some of the stories are okay but there’s seven of them so it’s hard not to feel that the film is overstuffed.  Plus, when you’ve got seven stories in one film, it just takes one or two clunkers to make the whole thing feel pointless.  For instance, the first story — which deals with the perfect man and what he turns out to be — is okay and the second story — about a D.A. getting bitten by karma — is cartoonish but crudely effective.  But then you hit the third story — which is about racists going to a fantasy world where “no blacks” are allowed — and the story is so heavy-handed, poorly acted, and slow that you kind of tune out.  You end up ignoring several of the stories that come after because that third one was so dumb and poorly executed.

Danny Trejo is not a bad choice to play the host of a horror anthology.  As is always the case with Danny Trejo, he brings a lot of energy to the role and he seems to be having a great time.  His co-host is Nicelle Nichols, of Star Trek fame.  She doesn’t get to do much other than nod approvingly as Trejo introduces each story.  The stories themselves are full of familiar faces, though the film could hardly be called “all-star.”  Instead, it’s more like, “Here’s a bunch of people who you might recognize and who needed the money.”  In other words, the film is full of people like Jay Mohr, Chris Kattan, Vivica A. Fox, and Brendan Sexton III.  Most of them give rather broad performances, as if they want to make sure you know that they’re just appearing in this movie as a favor to someone and not because they were desperate for work.  It’s a bit like Movie 43, just with a less prestigious cast and more dead babies.

Anyway. American Nightmares is not particularly good.  It’s overstuffed with stories and none of the stories are really as clever as the film seems to think that they are.  Danny Trejo, though, is a badass.

 

Horror On The Lens: The Phantom of the Opera (dir by Rupert Julian)


Today’s horror movie on the Shattered Lens is both a classic of silent era and one of the most influential horror films ever made.  It’s one that I previously shared in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2108, and 2019 but it’s such a classic that I feel that it is worth sharing a second (or fifth or even a sixth) time.

First released in 1925, The Phantom of the Opera is today best known for both Lon Chaney’s theatrical but empathetic performance as the Phantom and the iconic scene where Mary Philbin unmasks him. However, the film is also a perfect example of early screen spectacle. The Phantom of the Opera was released during that period of time, between Birth of the Nation and the introduction of sound, when audiences expected films to provide a visual feast and Phantom of the Opera certainly accomplishes that. Indeed, after watching this film and reading Gaston Leroux’s original novel, it’s obvious that the musical was inspired more by the opulence of this film than by the book.

This film is also historically significant in that it was one of the first films to be massively reworked as the result of a poor test screening. The film’s ending was originally faithful to the end of the novel. However, audiences demanded something a little more dramatic and that’s what they got.