Horror on TV: Friday the 13th The Series 1.7 “Doctor Jack”

Tonight’s episode of Friday the 13th: The Series finds Micki, Ryan, and Jack investigating a series of slashings that might be connected to a renowned surgeon named Vincent Howlett (played by Cliff Gorman, who also played an actor based on Dustin Hoffman in Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz).  Howlett has a 100% success rate and he owes it all to his antique scalpel.  Unfortunately, it turns out that there’s a deadly and bloody price for Howlett’s success in the operating room….

This episode was written by Marc Scott Zicree, who also wrote the definitive guide to the original Twilight Zone.  The plot — with its theme of a man doing great evil so that he can do great good — certainly feels like it wouldn’t have been out of place as an episode of Rod Serling’s classic anthology series.

This episode originally aired in 1987, on November 9th (hey, that’s my birthday!)


More Of The Same, But Different : Gerald Jablonski’s “Cryptic Wit” #4

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

For a guy who prides himself on being “in the know” about all things small press and self-published, sometimes it’s downright frightening to discover how much can still pass by my notice. I mean, I’m not arrogant enough to assume that everyone making anything worthwhile automatically knows they should send their wares in my direction, but most days my mailbox is full enough that it certainly feels as if that might be the case.

That being said, it’s still inarguably true that a cartoonist has to be “plugged in” to a certain degree to even know who the fuck I am in the first place, and one of the best things about Gerald Jablonski’s comics is how utterly divorced they are not just from the current state of the comics “scene” but from any and all forms of convention in a general sense. The overly-dense page layouts, the way overly-dense…

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The TSL’s Grindhouse: Eat Locals (dir by Jason Flemyng)

Every fifty years, the top vampires in the UK gather in one location.  They discuss their upcoming plans.  They settle old scores.  They make peace or declare war.  Actually, I’m perhaps giving them a bit too much credit.  Judging from the 2017 film, Eat Locals, they spend most of their time being bitchy and plotting against each other.  Vampires are apparently not the easiest creatures to get along with.

Their latest meeting is taking place at a farmhouse out in the country.  In theory, the farmhouse should be isolated enough for the vampires to meet in peace but it doesn’t turn out that way.  First, Vanessa (Eva Myles) shows up with a human hitchhiker named Sebastian (Billy Cook).  Sebastian may think he’s going to get laid but it turns out that the vampires are more interested in eating a local.  Then, a bunch of British soldiers show up.  It turns out that they’re from the special vampire squad and they’re determined to take out all the top vampires all at once.  Their leader is also apparently interested in collecting vampire blood, which he can then sell to a cosmetics company.  Want to defy aging?  Vampire blood’s the answer!

I watched Eat Locals last Halloween.  My friends and I had previously watched (at my insistence) Vampire Circus and we decided to follow it up with another British vampire film, this one a more recent one.  (Vampire Circus was released in 1972.  Eat Locals, on the other hand, was released 45 years later, in 2017.)  As an unapologetic horror snob, I was a bit skeptical about Eat Locals and, when the film started, I may have groaned a little because it became obvious that this was going to be one of those films where people spent a lot of time sitting around in an unlit room.  But still, I gave it a chance.

And, ultimately, Eat Locals turned out to be better than I was expecting.  The film has its flaws but it was hard not to admire its determination to stay true to its concept, even at the risk of alienating its audience.  Eat Locals pretty much takes place in one location.  This means that, for all of the build-up, the first big battle between the soldiers and the vampires largely takes place off-screen.  That’s the sort of narrative decision that will undoubtedly turn off a lot of viewers but I actually liked the staginess of it all.  At a time when other directors would have cut away and wasted a lot of money on an action scene that wouldn’t have added much to the film’s narrative, director Jason Flemyng (who is better known as an actor) sticks with the vampires.

Unfortunately, the vampires aren’t always as interesting as the film seems to think that they are.  They’re all very arch and very British but most of them don’t have much personality beyond that.  A few of them, however, are memorable as a result of the efforts of the talented cast.  Charlie Cox, Freeman Agyeman, Vincent Regan all make a favorable impression with their fanged roles.  As for the soldiers, they’re all very British as well.  If you’ve ever watched any film about the UK Special Forces, you will immediately recognize every type of character and situation that Eat Locals satirizes.

Eat Locals is an uneven film and the narrative momentum lags during its final few minutes.  In many ways, it feels like a really clever short film that’s been expanded upon.  That said, there’s enough vampiric satire and uniquely British humor to make the film an entertaining watch.

“The Deal” Review by Case Wright

“The Deal” works on two levels: Art and Reality. The story is about selling your soul. What the Adversary is really offering is a do-over with life on cheat mode. This story was directed by Daniel Kaminsky and written by Will Strouse, but Will only got credit on IMDB, not in the film credits. Why is it that only the director’s career took off and Will Strouse was erased? What did the Director do in Hollywood before this break? He’d never really directed or written anything, but now he’s the Executive Producer of The Nevers on HBO. How did he get such luck? For the better part of a decade, Daniel Kaminsky was the assistant to Joss Whedon. In fact, he was his assistant for all the Marvel movies and tv and this was while Joss was purportedly up to his worst behavior. Daniel Kaminsky did not intend for this, but the short rings like a confessional for his own Faustian deal. This short was the first payday for Daniel’s deal because Joss was the executive producer.

To be fair, I’ve argued before that many many many of our greatest artists were terrible human beings- EG Picasso. Both Joss and Picasso, were notorious misogynists, but brilliant. I loved Buffy and pretty much everything Joss did, except Dollhouse which was terrible. It could be that artists need more of a community of regular people to be better behaved? Perhaps Hollywood doesn’t provide the limits that some creatives need to keep from falling into the abyss. We could do a housing program where we re-settle artists to Peoria, Des Moines, and Pittsburgh; not to be mean, just to keep them a little more grounded.

Back to selling your soul, unlike Picasso, Joss took an apprentice who likely saw him at his worst and knew how to keep the secrets. Dramatization below:

Joss hires Daniel

The Deal shows a former Prom King and Queen, Bryce and Monica, who have fallen into a post-high school slump. They are going to a party being held by the former nerd James; he used to do magic, his sister Becca used to be obese, but both are now rich and thin. In fact, everyone at the party has obvious success despite their purported mediocrity, which we learn from the exposition nuggets. One exposition nugget was from Hector, who was Bryce’s high school friend and got Bryce’s scholarship when Bryce suffered a car accident.

The party continues and we learn that Monica really wanted to be an actress and then we lose track of her. Bryce can’t track her down either. He enters James’ room and she’s not there and Bryce starts to lose it and search everywhere for Monica. Finally, James’ reveals his black demon-eyes and we learn that everyone there made a deal. In fact, Monica was about to make a deal, using her body as a trade. This was a very Harvey Weinstein moment. Bryce accidentally kills Monica and James made her disappear from existence. No one remembers her. In the end, Bryce doesn’t either.

Monica’s disappearance also fits with what Weinstein and Whedon did to people who crossed them!

When you do something terrible, the greatest deal would be to have it erased from all time. But like any deal with the Devil, there’s collateral damage: Bryce’s injury so Hector could succeed or Monica because Bryce chose himself.

This story rings so real because it was just six months after this short was released that all of the Kingpins started to fall: Weinstein, Lauer, Rose, CK, and eventually Joss himself. Maybe some deals have fine print? This short is creepy, but not for the writing or directing.

The Crush (1993, directed by Alan Shapiro)

Darien or Adrian?  Adrian or Darien?  Who does Alicia Silverstone play in The Crush?  It depends on which version you saw.

When the movie came out in theaters, she was named Darien because she was based on a real girl named Darien who writer/director Alan Shapiro claimed was obsessed with him.  When the real-life Darien saw the movie and saw that she was portrayed as a psycho stalker, she was understandably pissed off and she sued Shapiro.  As a result, when the film was re-edited for TV and later released on video, Darien suddenly became Adrian.

Whether Silverstone’s playing Adrian or Darien, the movie is still fairly lackluster.  This movie came out when Alicia was still known for playing the lead in several sexually-charged Aerosmith videos and it features her doing the whole Lolita thing, which was very popular in the 90s.  She becomes obsessed with her neighbor, Nick (Cary Elwes).  Nick tries to be nice but when it become obvious that he’s not going to risk going to jail even if the the girl next door does look like Alicia Silverstone, Adrian/Darien starts trying to make his life Hell.  She also tries to kill Nick’s girlfriend with a bunch of bees.  Nick’s girlfriend is played by Jennifer Rubin, who was one of the best of the straight-to-video actresses of the 90s.

(Unlike Alicia’s other pre-Clueless starring turn, The Babysitter, The Crush was not straight-to-video but probably would have been if not for those Aerosmith videos.  The Babysitter is also not very good but it’s an unsung classic when compared to The Crush.)

The Crush is one of those movies that got a huge push when it came out.  MTV was all over it and the commercials were edited to make it look like a steamy thriller starring the girl that every boy had a crush on in 1993.  I can’t remember if the movie got an R-rating or a PG-13 but I do know that my friends and I were bummed out when we were told we weren’t allowed to see it.  Later, we rented it on video and discovered, not for the first time, that we were misled.  The movie itself is really tame and Alicia’s miscast.  She actually seems too level-headed to be the type who would try to kill Jennifer Rubin.  Cary Elwes goes through the whole movie with a pained expression on his face, like he’s wondering how he went from The Princess Bride to this.  Kurtwood Smith plays Alicia’s father and he was always good as a bad parent.  It’s also always good to see Jennifer Rubin, even if her role here doesn’t allow her to show off the wicked playfulness that made her a late night Cinemax favorite.  She definitely should have been a bigger star.

The main lesson to learn from The Crush?  If you are going to portray an acquaintance as a murderous psycho, at least be smart enough to change the name.  It will save you a lot of money and trouble.

Game Review: You Are SpamZapper 3.1 (2021, Leon Arnott)

You Are Spam Zapper 3.1 is an entrant in the 2021 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be browsed and experienced here.

Sometimes you play a game and it totally takes you by surprise. That’s what You Are Spam Zapper 3.1 did to me.

This Twine game takes place in the early 2000s. You are Spam Zapper 3.1. Your job is zap spam emails and keep them from getting into your human’s email inbox. Sometimes, the job is easy. Many of the emails are obviously fake and it’s easy to know that they should be zapped. Sometimes, it’s more difficult. Do you zap all of the ads or just some? What do you do when humans use weird symbols in their emails? Is it an emoji or is it a virus?

When I started playing, I thought the entire game was just going be reading email that were meant to parody the type of junk that we all used to get back in the early days of the the new century and laughing at how the internet used to be. There is a lot of that in the game but, as you read the emails, another story develops about your human and their friends and their attempts to communicate in a world that’s becoming depersonalized by technology. Do you get involved in your human’s life and with the lives of their friends? Do you reach out to the other plug-ins, who all have their job to do whenever the human turns on their computer? Or do you just do your job and zap anything that looks suspicious?

You Are Spam Blocker 3.1 is a memorable mix of comedy and drama that will take most players by surprise.

Play You Are Spam Blocker 3.1.

Horror Scene That I Love: Carolyn Returns In House of Dark Shadows

Since I paid tribute to Dan Curtis with our latest 4 Shots From 4 Films entry earlier today, it only seems appropriate that today’s horror scene that I love should come from one of his films as well!

In this scene from the 1970 film House of Dark Shadows, young David Collins explores around the old pool on the Collins estate and runs into his cousin, Carolyn. The only problem, of course, is that Carolyn died a few days ago so why is she now wandering around the estate? Could she be a …. VAMPIRE!?

There’s a lot of atmosphere in this scene. That dilapidated pool is frightening on its own. Add a vampire and …. AGCK! In the role of Carolyn, Nancy Barrett does a great job of portraying her new vampiric nature. Run, David, run!

Of course, back in the dining hall, no one believes him. A refusal to believe is a vampire’s best friend. (Personally, I don’t believe in vampires so I’ll probably be in trouble if I ever meet one.)

From House of Dark Shadows:

Book Review: What Holly Heard by R.L. Stine

Has there been yet another murder at Shadyside High!?

That’s the latest gossip!

R.L. Stine’s 1996 YA thriller, What Holly Heard, is all about gossip.  Actually, one the things that made the book an interesting read for me was discovering how people gossiped in 1996, in the age before social media.  Today, we get our gossip by overanalyzing what people post on Instagram or what they tweeted back when they were 12.  Back in 1996, though, you actually had to stalk people through the high school, hide behind a corner to listen to conversations, and essentially act like a private detective.  That actually sounds like fun!

Anyway, Holly Silva’s knows all the gossip at Shadyside High!  When this book opens, she’s all excited because she’s learned that her classmate, Mei, might be fighting with her boyfriend, Noah.  Holly has a major crush on Noah and is hoping that Mei and Noah break up so that she can go out with him.  Her best friends, Ruth and Miriam, remind Holly that she has a super nice boyfriend named Gary but Holly doesn’t care.  It’s all about the gossip!

Then, suddenly, Holly is found dead in the school gym!  Who is the murderer!?  Could it Mei?  Could it be Noah?  Could it even be Gary?  How about Jed, the strangely moody jock?  Can Miriam solve the mystery before someone else dies!?

As I read this book last night, I found myself wondering if maybe I had read it before.  It all seemed strangely familiar.  While it is possible that I had actually read What Holly Heard before, it’s just as possible that I was reacting the fact that the same basic characters appear in all of R.L. Stine’s books.  There’s always a bad boy.  There’s always a couple that’s on the verge of breaking up.  There’s almost always a jock who might have a secret.  And there’s always at least one murder victim who went too far with the gossip!  But, actually, the familiarity is a part of the appeal of these books.  They’re like YA Lifetime movies.  You don’t read them to be shocked as much as you read them to judge the characters when they’re shocked over the exact same thing happening to them that happened to the people in all of the previous Fear Street book.  No one at Shadyside High ever learns a lesson from any of this!

That said, I liked What Holly Heard.  It’s fast-paced, it’s silly, and it features a totally out-of-nowhere drug subplot that I imagine was included in the name of 90s relevancy.  Plus, it features someone getting hit over the head with a hamster cage.  That made me smile.  If you’re looking to indulge in a little childhood nostalgia by reading (or re-reading) a little R.L. Stine, this is a good one to go with.

Book Review: “They’re Here….” Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute, edited by Kevin McCarthy and Ed Gorman

On Saturday night, I watched Piranha, which featured the great character actor Kevin McCarthy in a supporting role. This led to me remembering McCarthy’s iconic performance in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (as well as his cameo in the 70s version). And that led to me remembering a book that I found at Half-Price Books a few years ago.

First published in 1999, They’re Here is a tribute to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, featuring essays about the films and interviews with some of the people involved. For instance, Stephen King and Dean Koontz both write about how seeing the original film influenced their later approach to horror. Jon L. Breen, James Combs, and Fred Blosser write about Jack Finney, the author of the book that served as the basis for the film. Other essays take a look at the remakes that were directed by Philip L. Kaufman and Abel Ferrara. Ferrara is himself interviewed and is as outspoken as ever. Also interviewed is Dana Wynter, who co-starred in the original.

However, the majority of the book is taken up with a terrifically entertaining and informative interview with Kevin McCarthy himself. McCarthy not only talks about filming the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers but also his entire career, his friendship with Montgomery Clift, and his status as pop cultural icon. Sometimes it can be disillusioning to read or listen to an interview in which an icon turns out to be kind of boring (call it the Steven Soderbergh syndrome) but, fortunately, McCarthy comes across as being just as eccentric, intelligent, interesting, and downright lovable as you would hope he would be. Kevin McCarthy, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 96, was one of the great character actors and this interview shows that he was …. wait for it …. quite the character! (Sorry.) The interview is a great tribute not only to McCarthy’s most famous film but also the man himself.

Seriously, if you’re a Body Snatchers fan but just appreciate great character acting, order a copy of this book!

International Horror Review: The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (dir by Jess Franco)

In the small Austrian town of Hoffen, there’s been a murder.

Actually, there’s been more than one murder.  Several women have been killed, stabbed to death by what appears to be an ancient dagger.  The people of Hoffen are convinced that it’s the result of ancient curse, one that states that every male descendant of the original Baron Von Klaus is destined to become a sadistic murderer.  However, there are only two living male descendants.  Max Von Klaus (Howard Vernon, at his decadent best) has an alibi.  Ludwig (Hugo Blanco) wasn’t even in town.  So, if neither Max nor Ludwig committed the murders, then it had to be someone else in town, right?

Or could it be, as the townspeople suspect …. THE ORIGINAL BARON VON KLAUS HAS COME BACK TO LIFE!

Wait …. what?  How stupid are these people?  I mean, I know that small villages are supposed to be a breeding ground of superstition but it seems kind of obvious that it’s probably just some random human serial killer.  Then again, if you believe in a centuries old curse, I guess it’s not that difficult to accept the idea of the dead coming back to life.  I mean, it seems pretty stupid to me but what do I know?

While a police detective and a reporter investigate the crimes, Ludwig is shocked to discover that there’s a torture dungeon in the basement of the Von Klaus castle.  Ludwig is encouraged to be the first member of the Von Klaus family to find the courage the destroy the dungeon and abandon the castle.  Instead, Ludwig finds himself drawn to the dungeon.  Will he be able to resist its musty charms or is he destined to become yet another sadistic Baron von Klaus?

Hmmmm …. a violent and loosely-plotted movie that’s set in a small Austrian village, one that opens with a close-up of two hands playing the piano and which features Howard Vernon as a decadent aristocrat.  Even if you hadn’t already read the title of the review, the plot description alone should be all you would need to hear to know that The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus was a Jess Franco film.

Before he died in 2013, Spanish director Jess Franco was famous for being one of the most prolific directors around.  He’s officially credited with directing 203 films but most sources agree that he was responsible for a lot more.  Franco remains something of a controversial figure.  Many of his films were bad.  Quite a few of them were surprisingly good and atmospheric.  Christopher Lee did several films with him and consistently defended Franco as being an intelligent artist who was often forced to work under less-than-perfect conditions.  Franco was also a member of Orson Welles’s European entourage, with Franco even doing some second unit work on the sublime Chimes at Midnight.  Speaking for myself, I’ve seen plenty of boring Jess Franco films.  But I’ve also seen some surprisingly good ones.  Female Vampire, Faceless, The Awful Dr. Orloff, Nightmares Come At Night, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, all of them are atmospheric, dream-like exercises in cinematic style.

The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus is middle-of-the road Franco.  Despite plot similarities and the presence of Howard Vernon, it’s not as memorable as The Awful Dr. Orloff (which came out the same year) but it’s also clearly put together with more care than some of Franco’s later films.  The plot really doesn’t hang together but that’s to be expected from a Franco film.  For that matter, way too much time is spent with the police inspector and the journalist.  But, visually, the black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous and, as he often did for Franco, Howard Vernon does a great job of epitomizing the decaying aristocracy of Europe.  The film is deliberately paced but Franco does do a good job of creating an feeling of impending doom.  Each scene seems to be leading towards the discovery of a terrible secret, with Hoffen coming to life as a town fueled by superstition and repressed desires.  The scene in which the Von Klaus torture chamber is used is shockingly violent (the film’s title is not kidding about the sadism) but it also highlights the film’s theme about the impossibility of escaping the sins of the past.  Considering that this film was made while Europe was still struggling to rebuild after World War II and when General Franco was still in control of Jess Franco’s native Spain, that was probably intentional on the director’s part.  The Von Klaus curse stands in for the fear that fascism, dictatorship, and war was always destined to rise again.

The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus is not one of Franco’s better-known films but it is one that shows that Franco could make an effective film when he had the time, the money, and the motivation.