Game Review: The House on Highfield Lane (2021, Andy Joel)

The House on Highfield Lane is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

Mandy has always been frightened by the forboding house that sits on Highfield Lane but, when she’s walking home from school one day and comes across a letter that’s been addresses to the house’s owner, she decides to finally conquer her fear. What starts as a simple quest to deliver the mail turns into a long adventure as Mandy explores the house, solves puzzles, and even helps to reanimate the dead.

The author of this game described its genre as being “horror without the horror,” because, even though the game is about exploring a creepy old house, there aren’t any of the elements that usually come with a haunted house game. (There is a mad scientist but he’s not such a bad fellow.) This is actually kind of an old-fashioned game, where the emphasis is on exploring and solving puzzles. There’s a lot of puzzles. Solving puzzles has always been my weak spot when it comes to playing IF games. I’m the type of player who always ends up asking for hints or looking at a walk-through. The House on Highfield Lane does come with hints. It wasn’t long after I started playing that I started to use them but again, I’m terrible at puzzles. I think most experienced IF players will be able to solve the majority of the game’s puzzles without having to ask for help.

This is an enjoyable and engaging game. The descriptions of each room were so well-written that I could easily picture them in my head as I played, This game was partially designed to show off the new Quest 6 engine and it does a good job of doing just that. Content-wise, it feels like a throwback to the old text adventures that you would play for hours, experimenting with different verbs and seeing what you could do in each room of the house. If you like exploration-centered games and don’t mind having to figure out several puzzles, this is a game you should enjoy.

Play The House on Highfield Lane.

Scenes that I Love: Tor Johnson In The Unearthly

We continue to honor the memory of Tor Johnson with today’s scene of the day.

Even though Tor Johnson is playing a character named Lobo, today’s scene that I love isn’t from Ed Wood’s 1955 film, Bride of the Monster. Instead, it’s from 1957’s The Unearthly. In this film, Lobo is now John Carradine’s servant. (Lobo made quite a career out of working for mad scientists.) The Unearthly was directed by Boris Peftroff, a friend of Wood’s, so it’s not improbable that this film’s Lobo was meant to be the same Lobo as the one who appeared in Bride of the Monster and Night of the Ghouls.

Anyway, in this scene, Tor does his usual Lobo stuff while John Carradine plays the piano. “Time for go to bed,” Lobo says at one point, a much-mocked line but one that is delivered with a bit of gentleness by Tor Johnson. My point is that Tor did the best that he could and bless him for it.

4 Shots From 4 Tor Johnson Films

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.

Today is Tor Johnson’s birthday so it just seems appropriate to present….

4 Shots From 4 Tor Johnson Films

Bride of the Monster (1955, dir by Ed Wood, DP: Ted Allan and William C. Thompson)

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957, dir by Ed Wood, DP: William C. Thompson)

The Unearthly (1957, dir by Boris Petroff, DP: W. Merle Connell)

The Best of Yucca Flats (1961, dir by Coleman Francis, DP: John Cagle and Lee Strosnider)

Horror On The Lens: The Beast of Yucca Flats (dir by Coleman Francis)


Since today is Tor Johnson’s birthday, it only seems appropriate that today’s Horror on the Lens should be one that he starred in, 1961’s The Best Of Yucca Flats.

My friend, the writer and chef Tammy Dowden, claims that this is the worst movie ever made.

Well, technically, she may be right.  The Beast of Yucca Flats is a thoroughly inept film that makes next to no sense and has massive continuity errors.  It’s a film that also features the legendary Tor Johnson as a Russian scientist who gets mutated by radiation and becomes a monster, but not before taking off almost all of his clothes while walking through the desert.  For that matter, it’s also a film about a family that comes together though adversity — namely, being shot at by the police after the family patriarch is somehow mistaken for Tor Johnson.  And finally, it’s the story of how a dying monster can find comfort from a rabbit and that’s actually kind of a sweet message.

Here’s the thing — yes, The Beast of Yucca Flats is bad but you still owe it to yourself to watch it because you will literally never see anything else like it.  Plus, maybe you’ll be able to figure out what the whole point of the opening scene is.

Because I’ve watched this film a few times and I still have no idea!


Music Video of the Day: Let’s Go by The Cars (1979, directed by ????)

On August 1st, 1981, MTV premiered. Over the course of 24 hours, 166 unique music videos were played on MTV.  Yes, there was a time when the M actually did stand for music.

The 85th video to premiere on MTV (and, if you count the videos that were repeated throughout the day, the 100th to appear on the station overall) was this simple but energetic clip of The Cars performing Let’s Go. Like so many of the videos made before MTV changed the face of the music industry, the emphasis here is on the band and their ability to play.


The First Videos Shown on MTV:

  1. Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles
  2. You Better Run by Pat Benatar
  3. She Won’t Dance With Me by Rod Stewart
  4. You Better You Bet By The Who
  5. Little Suzi’s On The Up by PH.D
  6. We Don’t Talk Anymore by Cliff Richard
  7. Brass in Pocket by Pretenders
  8. Time Heals by Todd Rundgren
  9. Take It On The Run by REO Speedwagon
  10. Rockin’ in Paradise by Styx
  11. When Things Go Wrong by Robin Lane & The Chartbusters
  12. History Never Repeats by Split Enz
  13. Hold On Loosely by .38 Special
  14. Just Between You And Me by April Wine
  15. Sailing by Rod Stewart
  16. Iron Maiden by Iron Maiden
  17. Keep On Loving You by REO Speedwagon
  18. Better Than Blue by Michael Johnson
  19. Message of Love by The Pretenders
  20. Mr. Briefcase by Lee Ritenour
  21. Double Life by The Cars
  22. In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins
  23. Looking for Clues by Robert Palmer
  24. Too Late by Shoes
  25. Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  26. Do Ya Think I’m Sexy by Rod Stewart
  27. Surface Tension by Rupert Hine
  28. One Step Ahead by Split Enz
  29. Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty
  30. I’m Gonna Follow You by Pat Benatar
  31. Savannah Nights by Tom Johnston
  32. Lucille by Rockestra
  33. The Best of Times by Styx
  34. Vengeance by Carly Simon
  35. Wrathchild by Iron Maiden
  36. I Wanna Be a Lifeguard by Blotto
  37. Passion by Rod Stewart
  38. Oliver’s Army by Elvis Costello
  39. Don’t Let Me Go by REO Speedwagon
  40. Remote Control and Illegal by The Silencers
  41. Angel of the Morning by Juice Newton
  42. Little Sister by Rockpile with Robert Plant
  43. Hold On To The Night by Bootcamp
  44. Dreamin’ by Cliff Richard
  45. Is It You? by Lee Ritenour 
  46. Tusk by Fleetwood Mac
  47. He Can’t Love You by Michael Stanley Band
  48. Tough Guys by REO Speedwagon
  49. Rapture by Blondie
  50. Don’t Let Go The Coat by The Who
  51. Ain’t Love A Bitch by Rod Stewart
  52. Talk of the Town by The Pretenders
  53. Can’t Happen Here by Rainbow
  54. Thank You For Being A Friend by Andrew Gold
  55. Bring It All Home by Gerry Rafferty
  56. Sign of the Gypsy Queen by April Wine
  57. The Man With The Child In His Eyes by Kate Bush
  58. All Night Long by Raindow
  59. Boys Keep Swinging by David Bowie
  60. Rat Race by The Specials
  61. Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads
  62. Victim by Bootcamp
  63. Tonight’s the Night (Gonna be Alright) by Rod Stewart
  64. Cruel to be Kind by Nick Lowe
  65. A Little In Love by Cliff Richard
  66. Wild-Eyed Southern Boys by 38 Special
  67. Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush
  68. Celebrate The Bullet by The Selecter
  69. More Than I Can Say by Leo Sayer
  70. A Message To You, Rudy by The Specials
  71. Heart of Glass by Blondie
  72. Oh God, I Wish I Was Home Tonight by Rod Stewart
  73. Kid by The Pretenders
  74. Come What May by Lani Hall & Herb Alpert
  75. I Got You by Split Enz
  76. Sister Disco by The Who
  77. Fashion by David Bowie
  78. Love Stinks by J. Geils Band
  79. Johnny and Mary by Robert Palmer
  80. Tomorrow by Shoes
  81. Prime Time by The Tubes
  82. Cruel You by Shoes
  83. Calling All Girls by Hilly Michaels
  84. I Was Only Joking by Rod Stewart

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Slumber Party Massacre (dir by Danishka Esterhazy)

This weekend, SyFy premiered Slumber Party Massacre, which was billed as being a re-imagining of the original film of the same name. The original film featured a creepy loser with a drill and the latest version features a creepy loser with a drill. The original film featured a group of friends being menaced at a slumber party and the latest version features not just one group of friends but three groups of friends, all being stalked. The original film was a sneakily subversive satire of the genre while this new version is a satire that’s neither sneaky nor particularly subversive.

This new version takes place at a lakehouse. Years ago, the drill killer attacked a slumber party and was apparently killed by the party’s sole survivor. Now, the location has become a hot spot for people who are obsessed with true crime podcasts. The daughter of the sole survivor of the last slumber party massacre goes to the house with a group of her friends, all of whom are looking forward to possibly being attacked by the drill killer so that they can kill him. Meanwhile, there’s a group of boys who are also at the lake because they love visiting murder houses. The boys are constantly screaming and having pillow fights. The girls are fully armed and they frequently comment on the absurdity of the film’s plot while pointing out all of the slasher movie clichés.

There are a few things that I liked about this new version of Slumber Party Massacre but, in the end, it’s hard not to feel that the movie just tries too hard. The film’s approach is a bit too heavy handed to really be effective. Perhaps if I had never seen a horror film that specifically poked fun at the conventions of the genre, I would have been more impressed with Slumber Party Massacre‘s attempt at humor. But the thing is …. I’ve seen Cabin In The Wood. I’ve seen Scream. I’ve seen Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. I’ve seen countless Asylum mockbusters. Like most horror fans, I am beyond the point where I can simply be impressed by characters in a movie pointing out the conventions of the genre. The first Slumber Party Massacre was a satire that worked specifically because it played out its absurdity with a mock seriousness. The new version, though, is constantly pointing out its own cleverness. At times, the entire production feels a bit needy. Instead of trusting the audience to figure out what it’s saying, this new version continually tells us. This new version doesn’t trust its audience.

That’s not to say that the film itself doesn’t have a few good moments. For instance, I liked the character of Alix (Mila Ranye) and there is a nice bit where the group debates whether or not killers always come back to life. The murders are gruesome without being sadistic and, just as in the first movie, that drill leaves us with no doubt as to just what exactly the killer’s main issue is. (Slumber Party II also gets a shout out, as one potential victim, when told to get a weapon, grabs guitar.) Towards the end of the movie, there’s an effectively tense scene involving a nail gun and, for a few minutes, the film’s danger actually feels real.

The film has its moments but, for the most part, this re-imagining of the original Slumber Party Massacre was just to heavy handed to work for me.

Horror on TV: Friday the 13th: The Series 2.1 “Doorway to Hell” (dir by William Fruet)

Tonight, for our horror on the lens, we have the first episode of the 2nd season of Friday the 13th: The Series!

Guess what? Uncle Lewis is, once again, trying to reenter the world of the living! Can Micki and Ryan stop him!?

This episode originally aired on September 30th, 1988.

International Horror Review: Count Dracula (dir by Jesse Franco)

Christopher Lee played Dracula in seven horror films and he often said that he hated almost every single one of them.

Christopher Lee, you have to understand, was a fan of Bram Stoker’s original novel and he always wanted to play Dracula the way that Stoker wrote him, as a member of the old nobility who got younger each time he drank blood.  As Lee often explained it, he spent years vainly trying to convince Hammer to do a Dracula film that was faithful to Stoker’s novel but Hammer instead preferred to use Dracula as an almost generic villain, one who was frequently plugged into equally generic films.

At some point, in the late 60s, producer Harry Alan Towers approached Christopher Lee and asked him to play Dracula in a non-Hammer film about the world’s most famous vampire.  At first, Lee refused.  If he was bored with playing Dracula for Hammer, why would he want to play him for someone else?  However, Towers then explained that his version of Dracula would be the first Dracula film to actually be faithful to Stoker’s book.  In fact, along with the presence of Christopher Lee, that would be the film’s major selling point!  Hearing this, Lee agreed.

The resulting film was 1970’s Count Dracula, a German-Spanish-British co-production that was directed by none other than Jess Franco.  Jess Franco, of course, is a beloved figure among many fans of Eurohorror and a bit of a controversial filmmaker.  Some people admired him for his ability to direct atmospheric films while spending very little money.  Others complained that Franco’s films were frequently amateurish and narratively incoherent.  When it comes to Franco, both camps can make a compelling argument.  Personally, I tend to come down on the pro-Franco side of things, particularly when it comes to the films that he made with Towers in the 70s.  For his part, Christopher Lee said he enjoyed working with Franco and they would go on to collaborate on several more films together.

So, what type of film is Jess Franco’s Count Dracula?  Well, Towers did not lie to Lee.  For the most part, Count Dracula remains faithful to plot of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  There’s a few minor differences, of course.  A few characters are combined, which is understandable given that you sometimes need a scorecard to keep up with everyone in the novel.  The ending is a bit more abrupt in the film than it is in the book.  This probably has something to do with the fact that Franco ran out of money before he finished the film.  That was a fairly frequent occurrence on Franco’s films.

That said, film sticks close to the novel.  Jonathan Harker (Frederick Williams) goes to Transylvania and meets Dracula (Christopher Lee, with a mustache), an aging nobleman.  Harker soon finds himself being held prisoner in the castle, a victim of Dracula and his brides.  Though Harker does manage to escape (though not before finding Dracula asleep in his coffin), he ends up at a psychiatric hospital in London.  He meets Dr. Seward (Paul Muller) and Prof. Van Helsing (Herbert Lom).  Eventually, his fiancee Mina (Maria Rohm) and her best friend, Lucy (Soledad Miranda, who was Franco’s muse until he tragic death in a car accident) come to visit him.  Accompanying Lucy is Quincy Morris (Franco regular Jack Taylor), who, in the film, is a combination of two of the novel’s characters, Quincy and Arthur Holmwood.  Meanwhile, a madman named Renfield (Klaus Kinski) babbles about his master and eats bugs.

That said, while the story may stick close to Stoker, this is definitely a Franco film.  The action plays out at its own deliberate pace.  Depending on how much tolerance you have for Franco’s aesthetic, you’ll find this film to be either dream-like or slow.  Personally, I liked the amospheric images and the somewhat ragged editing style.  Whether it was Franco’s intention or not, they gave the film a hallucinatory feel, as if one was watching a nightmare being dreamt by Stoker himself.  At the same time, I can imagine others getting frustrated by the film and I can understand where they’re coming from.  Franco, with his habit of mixing the sensual with a deep sense of ennui, is not for everyone.

Still, it was interesting to see Lee giving a much a different performance as Dracula than he did in the Hammer films.  The Hammer films portrayed Dracula as being animalistic, driven by only his craving for blood.  In Count Dracula, Lee plays with the idea of Dracula being a relic of the old world, someone who has no choice but to watch as civilization changes around him.  While Dracula is undoubtedly evil, Lee plays him with hints of dignity.  Gone is the snarling and growling monster of the Hammer films and instead, this movie features a Dracula who takes an almost Calvinistic approach to his affliction.  He’s accepted his fate.  As he tells Harker, Harker can either choose to enter the castle or not.  In the end, it makes no difference because eventually, someone will enter.  The film also retains the idea of Dracula growing younger in appearance as he drinks blood, which adds a whole other dimension to Dracula’s cravings.  Blood is life and youth, two things that Dracula no longer possesses.

As for the rest of the cast, Klaus Kinski, not surprisingly, throws himself into the role of Renfield.  Reportedly, he ate real bugs for the role.  Herbert Lom seems a bit bored with the role of Van Helsing.  He doesn’t have any of the eccentric energy that we typically associate with the role.  Of course, some of that is due to the fact that, because of scheduling conflicts, Lom and Lee were never on set at the same time.  The scenes where Dracula and Van Helsing confront each other were created through some editing sleight-of-hand.  As is typical with Franco films, sometimes it works and sometimes, it’s extremely obvious that Lom wasn’t actually looking at Lee (or anyone other than the cameraman) when he delivered his lines.

Count Dracula is an interesting take on the story.  It’s a bit uneven, though that’s perhaps not a surprise considering that the production was apparently beset by budgetary problems from the start.  This film is Franco at his least lurid and it’s hard not to miss some Franco’s more sordid impulses.  Watching the film, you get the feeling that Franco was holding back.  But, the visuals are wonderfully dreamy, Kinski is compelling in his insane way, and Lee finally appears to be enjoying the role of Dracula.  It’s actually kind of nice to see.


The Terror Within (1989, directed by Thierry Notz)

Years after “The Accident,” the Earth is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The surface is controlled by Gargoyles, scaly monsters with big claws and a rampaging libido. The few human survivors hide out in underground bunkers, trying to find a cure for “the Plague,” which I guess came about as a result of the Accident. That still doesn’t explain the Gargoyles, though. It doesn’t matter, though. This is a Roger Corman-produced cheapie, one that what so obviously made to exploit the success of Alien, Aliens, Insemenoid, and Day of the Dead that I hope Corman at least had the decency to buy Christmas presents for Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Norman Warren, and George Romero.

The plot kicks into high gear when a group of human scientists discover a pregnant woman on the surface. They take her into their bunker, where she gives birth to a garoyle/human hybrid. The hybrid baby quickly grows into an adult gargoyle and is soon running through the air ducts, killing all the men, and attempting to mate with all the women. It’s actually pretty offensive, not that anyone complained when the movie used to show up on late night Cinemax in the 90s.

It’s up to the humans to stop the terror within. Unfortunately, the humans are interchangeable and easily killed. The only two that you’ll remember are Andrew Stevens and George Kennedy. Stevens, you’ll remember because he’s the star and has the ability to somehow survive while everyone around him is dying. You’ll remember George Kennedy because he’s George Kennedy, an Oscar-winning actor picking up some extra money by barking orders in a few scenes. I doubt Kennedy listed this film high on his list of accomplishment but, because he manages to deliver his lines with a straight face, he’s one of the best thing about the movie. The other thing that partially redeems this film is that the monster, once it reaches adulthood, looks far more convincing than I think anyone would expect it to. Corman may not have spent a lot of money on this film but he was smart enough to invest in a convincing monster.

The Terror Within has a cult following, mostly made up by people like me who saw it when we were kids and were too dumb to realize that it’s really not a very good movie. The main problem is that, though the film may be based on Alien, the director is no Ridley Scott or James Cameron. He’s not even a Fred Olen Ray or Jim Wynorski. There’s no suspense or humor or anything that would really distinguish the film. The Terror Within was still successful enough to lead to a sequel. Fortunately, Andrew Stevens took over as director for The Terror Within II.