The Good Guys Get No Respect : Bryce Martin’s “The Onaut”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Any way you slice it, saving the world has got to be a raw deal. I mean, let’s say you’ve got super-powers and can do that sort of thing — is there really any way you’re ever gonna get the thanks you deserve?

The Ditko-esque figure of the brave hero who saves a person/city/planet only to silently watch, powerless, as his own life either gets no better or in some way becomes appreciably worse is, of course, a shop-worn trope by now, but it remains an alluring one for cartoonists to deploy. I mean, pathos doesn’t get much simpler or more unsubtle — or more effective. Consider the ultimate example, Spider-Man : after Ditko’s departure, when the character of Peter Parker became a much more standard-issue “good guy” who saved the day, got the girls, and exuded so much confidence it was tempting to think he’d forgotten all about his…

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Horror on TV: Friday the 13th The Series 1.11 “Scarecrow” (dir by William Fruet)

Tonight’s episode of Friday the 13th The Series finds Micki and Ryan tracking down a cursed scarecrow. The scarecrow guarantees a good crop but only after three people have had their heads chopped off. AGCK!

Listen, folks, scarecrows are scary enough even when they aren’t chopping off people’s heads. I’ve lived around farms. Scarecrows are scary as Hell!


Hellgate (1989, directed by William A. Levey)

In what we’re told is supposed to be the 1950s (even though everybody looks and dresses as if they’re from 1989, the year this film was shot), a group of bikers murder a young waitress named Josie (Abigail Wolcott).  Josie’s father hacks the biker’s to death with an axe and, years later, uses a magic blue crystal to bring Josie back to life.  However, Josie is inow a succubus who wanders along the highway and waits to be picked up by random travelers.  She brings them back to a ghost town called Hellgate, where her father uses the gem to turn them into zombies or ghosts or something.  Jose’s latest target is a college student named Matt (Ron Palillo), who is heading up  to the mountains to meet up with his girlfriend and another couple.  When Matt gets distracted by Josie, will he be able to escape or will he lose his mortal soul or whatever is that supposed to be going on in the town of Hellgate?

This is a confusing film.  It actually feels like a hodgepodge of outtakes from several other films which were just put together in an attempt to salvage something and hopefully make some money from the undemanding direct-to-video market.  That Hellgate still has a cult following despite being an incoherent mess is proof that the film’s producers were not totally clueless.  People will watch almost anything if there’s a promise of nudity.  Hellgate delivers that, though much of the nudity comes from Ron Pallilo so I can only imagine how the film’s target audience of teenage horror fans reacted to that back in 1989.

This movie does indeed star Ron Palillo, better known for playing Arnold Horseshack on Welcome Back, Kotter.  (In the Gabe Kaplan stand-up routine that inspired the show, Arnold’s last name was actually Horseshit but they had to clean it up for network TV.)  Pailillo was in his 40s when he was cast as a college student and he looked closer to 50.  Still, every woman in the film falls all over herself at the sight of Ron Palillo, even the ones who aren’t trying to steal his soul or whatever it is that Josie is actually doing in this film.  Ron Palillio tries really hard to convince us that he’s a college stud but it’s impossible to look at him without thinking, “That’s Horseshack with a few extra years on him.”

If the story and the acting aren’t bad enough for you, Hellgate was also filmed in South Africa in the late 80s, at a time when Apartheid was still the law of the land and Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned.  Most of the supporting actors are South African.  They try and struggle to sound like they live in the American southwest.  It’s hard to see what the film got out of being filmed in South Africa, other than the fact that it was cheap.

Like most really bad movies, Hellgate has got a cult following but it’s not worth the trouble.  Unless you’re the world biggest Ron Pallilo fan (no judgment here!), this is one you can skip.

Game Review: And Then You Come To A House Not Unlike The Previous One (2021, BJ Best)

And Then You Come To A House Not Unlike The Previous One is an entrant in the 2021 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be browsed and experienced here.

And Then You Come To A House Not Unlike The Previous One is one of the best text adventure games that I’ve ever played and since the joy of discovery is one of the best things about this game, I don’t want to spoil too much of it in this review.  In this game, the time is the distant past.  You are Emerson and you’re fourteen years old.  Your best friend is a girl named Riley.  Riley will soon be moving all the way to Wisconsin.  As the game begins, you bicylce over to her house.  As it rains outside, you two play the games on her computer.

Will you try to beat Infinite Adventure, a series of seemingly simple games where you have to solve puzzles to advance to the next adventure?  Will you once again play the Wizardry knock-off, the one where you kills monsters and find junk?  Will you try out the educational game that Riley’s mother is testing?  Or will you get really brave and risk the sordid world of strip poker?  It sounds simple but there’s a catch.  All of the games are connected and your future and Riley’s future will be determined by the decisions you make.

This is an ingeniously clever game and it will spark nostalgia for the days when everyone owned a bulky personal computer and crude graphics were the only thing that was needed to spark a player’s imagination.  But it’s also a game about friendship, love, and growing up. It’s also not an unnecessarily difficult game and your patience will be rewarded.  I got one of the good endings and I’ve never felt happier about how an IF game ended.  The film is full of great characters, from Riley to the people who you meet while playing the games on Riley’s computer.  I can’t wait to play this one again and see what I may have missed the first time around.

Play And Then You Come To A House Not Unlike The Previous One.

Scenes That I Love: The Magician From The Funhouse

The Funhouse (1981, dir by Tobe Hooper)

Earlier today, I shared four scenes from four Tobe Hooper films.

Now that it’s time to share a scene that I love, I figure why not continue to pay tribute to Tobe Hooper? The scene below is from Hooper’s unjustly neglected 1981 film, The Funhouse. It doesn’t really advance the plot in any way but it’s still a scene that I really enjoy. It shows Hooper being a bit more playful than usual and it does introduce one the film’s key themes: not everything at the carnival is what it seems. Later on in the film, the same people who made fun of this magician will discover that the magician is not the only person at the carnival who is more clever than they thought.

From 1981’s The Funhouse:

International Horror Film Review: Manhattan Baby (dir by Lucio Fulci)

“Manhattan, baby!”

That’s what a friend of mine yelled a few years ago.  Jack was a choreographer who had just received a call from someone in New York City, offering him the chance to come work on an off-Broadway show.  He accepted, of course and then he hugged everyone who had been standing nearby, listening to the call.

“Manhattan, baby!” he shouted.

Now, the show itself didn’t really work out but Jack did get a trip to Manhattan out of it and really, I think that’s what everyone was excited about.  No matter how many bad things you may hear about New York City, it’s hard not to get excited when you hear the word Manhattan.  For many, Manhattan represents culture, sophistication, and wealth.  For others, Manhattan represents crime, inequity, and alienation.  Across the world, Manhattan stands for everything that is both good and bad about America.  Just the word Manhattan carries a power to it.  You would never get excited if someone announced that they had gotten a job in Minnesota, for instance.  If Jack had shouted, “Minnesota, baby!,” we all would have been concerned about him.  Minnesota?  Who gives a fuck?  But Manhattan …. Manhattan has power, baby!

Manhattan also lent its name to one of Lucio Fulci’s post-Zombi films and the title just happened to duplicate Jack’s proclomation, Manhattan Baby.  Released in 1982, Manhattan Baby is often cited as being the last of Fulci’s “major” productions.  While his career was reinvigorated by the success of the films he made with producer Fabrizio De Angelis (including Zombi 2 and the Beyond trilogy), Fulci and De Angelis had a falling out over Manhattan Baby.  Fulci claimed that De Angelis essentially forced him to make the movie, despite the fact that Fulci himself did not have much interest in the script.  Initially, the film was to be a special effects spectacluar with a large budget but, after the controversy surrounding Fulci’s The New York Ripper, the budget was drastically scaled back and the special effects were done on the cheap.  Fulci later said that he felt the movie was terrible and that it set back his career.

As for what the film is actually about, Manhattan Baby deals with …. well, the plot is not easy to describe.  Fulci’s films were always better known for their surreal imagery than their tight plots and, even by his standards, Manhattan Baby is all over the place.  The film opens in Egypt, where archeologist George Hacker (Christopher Connelly) is struck blind when he enters a previously unexplored tomb. Meanwhile, his daughter, Susie (Brigitta Boccoli), is given an amulet by another blind woman.

Back in Manhattan, George waits for his sight to return and Susie and her little brother, Tommy (Giovanni Frezza, who played Bob In The House By The Cemetery) start to act weird.  It turns out that their bedroom is now some sort of demensional gateway, from which snakes sometimes emerge.  At the same time, the gateway occasionally sucks people through and they end up stranded in the Egyptian desert.  Why?  Who knows?  Is Susie possessed or does the gateway operate independently from her?  Why does she occasionally glow a weird blue color?  Why do she and her brother suddenly seem to hate their nannny (played by Cinzia De Ponti, who was also in The New York Ripper)?  It all has something to do with the amulet but the exact details of how it all works seems to change from scene-to-scene.  Eventually, it turns out that the owner of the local antique shop knows about the amulet and its evil designs.  Unfortunately, all of his stuffed birds come to life and peck his eyes out.  Meanwhile, Susie’s parents and her doctors wonder why her latest x-ray seems to indicate that Susie has a cobra living inside of her and….

Like I said, it doesn’t really make any sense and, despite the power of the name, the meaning behind Manhattan Baby as a title is never really explained.  In fact, more time is probably spent in Egypt than in Manhattan.  It’s easy to assume that the film was called Manhattan Baby because it was felt that the title would appeal to American audiences but, when then the film was released in the U.S., it was actually retitled Eye of the Evil Dead in an attempt to disguise it as being a sequel to Sam Raimi’s classic shocker.  (This was actually a common practice as far as the Italian film industry was concerned.  Many films were retitled to disguise them as being a sequel.  Fulci’s Zombi 2, for instance, recieved that title because, in Europe, Dawn of the Dead was released under the title Zombi.)

One can understand Fulci’s frustration with Manhattan Baby but, at the same time, is it really as bad as he often said it was?  Yes, the plot is incoherent but that’s to be expected with a Fulci film.  Yes, the special effects are cheap but again, that’s kind of part of the charm when it comes to Italian exploitation films.  While Manhattan Baby never duplicates the ominous atmosphere of Zombi 2 or achieves the same sort of surreal grandeur as The Byond trilgoy, there are still enough memorable, if confusing, moments to make it watchable.  The sequece where a shot of a man standing in a doorway cuts to a shot of him lying dead in the desert works surprisingly well.  The scene where the shop owner is attacked by reanimated birds is both ludiscrous and scary, in the grand Fulci tradition.  With their emphasis on foolhardy explorers ignoring curses, the Egyptian scenes feel almost as if they could have been lifted from one of the Hammer mummy films.   Manhattan Baby may not be Fulci’s best but it’s hardly his worst.

In fact, with its obsession with blindness, Manhttan Baby is actually one of Fulci’s more personal films.  Fulci was diabetic and reportedly lived in fear that he would someday lose his eyesight.  Many critics, including me, have suggested that he dealt with this fear by having people lose their eyesight in his movies, often in the most violent ways possible.  Manhattan Baby is full of people losing the ability to see.  George Hacker is rendered blind in Egypt.  The mysterious Egyptain woman hands out amulets to people who she cannot see.  The store owner loses his eyes.  One of George’s colleagues falls on a bed of spikers and, of course, one spike goes straight through an eye.  Manhattan Baby is all about blindness and only be getting rid of the amulet can George hope to once again truly see the world and the people that he loves.  If only illness could be tossed away as easily as an amulet.

Despite Fulci’s disdain for the final result, Manhattan Baby is hardly the disaster that it’s often made out to be.  Those who aren’t familiar with Fulci’s unique aesthetic will undoubtedly confused by the film but, for those of us who know the man’s work, Manhattan Baby may be a minor Fulci film but it’s still an occasionally intriguing one.

Horror Film Review: Titane (dir. by Julia Ducournau)

I like to think a person’s love of film reflects who they are. Please bear with me on this one.

The movies that move us, make us smile or laugh or cry tend to paint a picture. In some ways, this works out well. When your friend sits you down, shows you The Shawshank Redemption, watches you ball your eyes out and then laugh by the end, you get that slow nod that says..”This fellow, they understand.” The movie love spreads like that tape in The Ring. I’ve had this happen on separate occasions my Live Tweet experiences. The Manitou was an an absolute blast that had me laughing and asking myself just what the hell I was watching. A Field in England was a weird, wild trip that made me flinch at times. They may be stranger films, but they were were also great experiences. Without them, I wouldn’t have my eyes opened to what’s out there in terms of cinema.

I also believe the idea of loving anyone unconditionally is possible under the right conditions, but is a difficult concept. I’ve found that people are usually ready to “ride or die” with you as long as you are both moving along the same path, sharing the same mindset. However, there will always be something that puts a relationship (family/friends/lovers) to the test and maybe a line is drawn that can’t be crossed. It takes a lot for someone to bear all of their flaws before another person, just as it does to see them and say, “You’re cool with me.” It’s no different from having a family that loves you right up until that moment where your political or religious views diverge and you suddenly find yourself disowned because of it. That’s just my opinion.

I caught Julia’s Ducournau’s Titane last Thursday Night in a near empty theatre in Midtown Manhattan. I’ve been thinking about it in some form or another ever since. I went to catch it because I needed to get out and about for a little while, and I enjoyed Raw immensely. Just like Malignant, I went in blind, only really knowing it was a Ducournau film and seeing an image of a girl laying across a car. Maybe it was because by the end, I applauded like a seal and caught some strange looks from people on the way out of the theatre, but I kind of feel weird for enjoying this film as much as I did. I didn’t know what the hell I just watched, but it made me feel something, and that was enough. I’m not entirely sure of what that says about me as a person.

Agathe Rousselle as Alexia in Julia Ducournau’s Titane

Alexia (Agathe Rousselle, in her first full length film) is a live wire. Introduced to the audience as a child, we can see she works off of pure instinct. She also has a love for cars. When she sustains major injuries from a car accident, Alexia has to have a titanium plate (hence the movie’s title in one form) put into her skull that leaves a wild pattern on her skin. Alexia’s instincts carry with her into adulthood, but I saw her as being very feral. Whether it’s food or drink, or darker desires, she throws herself fully into it. Vincent (Vincent Lindon), is a leader and a rescue specialist coping with the loss of his son, who went missing some time ago. When their lives intersect, the plot for Titane seemed to change and for me, became a story about unconditional love. There is horror throughout Titane, suffer no illusions. Blood, broken limbs and all kids of fluids, but there’s also a sense of acceptance and forgiveness despite how dark things really get. Much like the automobile Alexia dances alongside, the plot felt like it shifted gears to the point I wasn’t sure what I really watching. Mind you, I didn’t really see a trailer or anything, so I didn’t have recognizable snippets to reference and say “Ah, I remember that from the trailer.” It may make the film a little hard for some audiences to follow. What I enjoyed, though I list it as a possible con, is that the film never bothers to tell you any of the how’s or why’s for anything you’re seeing. No explanations on why Alexia is who she is or how certain elements are possible. There’s no clear cut answer, like in Malignant.

It just is what it is.

Vincent (Vincent Lindon), testing his limits in Julia Ducournau’s Titane

Both actors carry their roles very well. Rousselle’s Alexia moves between passion, violence and vulnerability in the blink of an eye and I hope that Titane serves as a launchpad for her in future roles. Lindon also goes through the same process, though his character is more nurturing (though just as broken). It’s really hard to imagine other actors doing all of this. Garance Marillier (Raw) reunites with Ducournau as Justine, one of the other dancers Alexia knows. This also brings up something I found interesting. With the exception of Vincent, the names of all of the principal characters are the same character names from Raw. I have to wonder if that’s just coincidence or maybe Ducournau just has a fondness for those names.

During the New York Film Festival, Ducournau said in the post movie Q&A that the film was based on a nightmare she had. She doesn’t play around at all here, and puts it all on view. Titane could easy sit on a shelf among Antonia Bird’s Ravenous, Mary Harron’s American Psycho, and Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. The blood flow is vicious and mostly brutal. There was at least once sequence that made me flinch in my seat and say..”Oh damn!” while instinctively reaching for a body part. While the movie does contain some sexual scenes and nudity, they’re not terribly explicit. The sound quality in my theatre was loud and rich, so the squishes and breaks were pretty impacting. Ruben Impens returns to work with Ducournau as the Director of Photography and for the most part, the visuals were solid. Colors were vibrant and there weren’t any scenes that seemed like they didn’t work.

So, overall, I truly enjoyed Titane. Did I fully get it? I don’t know. A lot of it is up to interpretation, but I guess that can be said of any film. I give Ducournau and the actors credit for making something that felt strange. When I get a physical copy, I’ll probably sit it next to Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, easily one of the most confusing films I’ve seen (that I love).

Still, I have to wonder what that all says about me.

On a side note, I was about to publish this when I realized that Titane is also the winner of this year’s Palme D’or, which is the highest recognition given to a film at the Cannes Film Festival. While I haven’t enough personal knowledge to fully explain how good or bad that may be, Cannes has been in existence since the the mid 1940s. The Shattered Lens has followed Cannes for some time now. Titane shares the win with other films over the years such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and as recently as Jong Boon Ho’s Parasite. Ducournau’s only the second woman to have won the prize, along with Jane Campion for The Piano.

4 Shots From 4 Tobe Hooper Films

4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, I am proud to pay homage to a director from my home state, a man who changed the face of horror and the movies but who was treated terribly by a jealous film industry.  I am talking, of course, about Texas’s own Tobe Hooper.  Hooper redefined horror with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Though his later films were never quite as critically or financially successful as that classic, many of them have since been rediscovered by audiences who now better appreciate Hooper’s quirky sensibility.  Hollywood may not have known how to handle Tobe Hooper but horror fans like me will always appreciate him.

It’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Tobe Hooper Films

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, dir by Tobe Hooper, DP: Daniel Pearl)

Eaten Alive (1976, dir by Tobe Hooper. DP: Robert Caramico)

Salem’s Lot (1978, dir by Tobe Hooper, DP: Jules Bremmer)

The Funhouse (1981, dir by Tobe Hooper. DP: Andrew Laszlo)


Horror Film Review: When A Stranger Calls (dir by Fred Walton)

“Have you checked the children?” the stranger on the phone asks the terrified babysitter, who is unaware that the children are already dead and that the call is …. COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!

That’s the premise behind both an oft-repeated urban legend and the opening of the 1979 film, When A Stranger Calls.  I’ve often seen the original When A Stranger Calls described as being one of the scariest films ever made.  That’s not quite true, of course.  The first 20 minutes or so are effective.  The final scene has a few intense moments.  The majority of what lies in-between feels like filler, albeit well-acted filler.

When A Stranger Calls opens with Carol Kane as Jill, a teenage babysitter who is terrified one night by a caller who keeps asking her if she’s checked on the children.  This sequence — really, a mini-movie all of its own — is so well-executed and suspenseful that many people assume that the entire film is just Jill dealing with the mystery caller.  Actually, that’s just the first few minutes and, once the location of the killer has been revealed, Kane disappears from the film for an extended period.  That’s a shame since Kane’s empathetic performance is perhaps the best thing that When A Stranger Calls has going for it.  She’s so convincing as the emotionally shattered babysitter that it doesn’t matter that, at the start of the film, she’s obviously not a teenager.

Instead, the middle part of the film focuses on John Clifford (Charles Durning).  Clifford is a former policeman-turned-private investigator.  He is obsessed with Duncan (Tony Beckley), the man who called Jill at the start of the film.  Duncan has just escaped from a mental institution and Clifford has been hired to track him down.  Clifford is convinced that Duncan will try to find Jill.  Duncan, meanwhile, wanders through the sleaziest sections of downtown Los Angeles, briefly living with a pathetic alcoholic named Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst).  Clifford, of course, is right about Duncan wanting to find Jill.  And Clifford is so determined to kill Duncan that he might even be willing to use Jill as bait….

After the brilliantly horrific opening sequence, it’s impossible not to be disappointed with the drawn-out middle section of When A Stranger Calls.  Durning, Dewhurst, and especially Beckley all give good performances and downtown Los Angeles is so repellent that you’ll want to take a shower afterwards but, narratively, there’s really not much happening.  Clifford finds Duncan. Duncan runs away.  Duncan acts like a jerk and gets in a fight.  Tracy drinks.  The old school cop Clifford scowls at the sleaziness of the world while Duncan continues to lose what little sanity he has left.  Give the film some credit for not portraying Duncan as being some sort of charming, loquacious master criminal.  He’s a total loser, as all serial killers are despite the later popularity of fictional characters like Hannibal Lecter.  Duncan hates both himself and the world with equal fury.  But, that said, the narrative stalls during the middle part of the film.  There’s only so many time you can watch two men chase each other down a trash-strewn street before it gets dull.

Fortunately, Jill does eventually show up again and, after an hour of relentless sleaziness, you’re happy to see Carol Kane, again.  Jill is now married and has children of her own.  And soon, she’s again getting a phone call asking if she’s checked on the children….

And, again, the closing sequence is scary, even if it’s not quite as intense as the opening.  (The opening was scary because we didn’t know what the killer looked like.  By the time Duncan finds Jill a second time, we now know that Duncan is a sickly-looking alcoholic who can’t handle himself in a fair fight.)  The film does have one great jump scare left in its arsenal of tricks.  And yet, it’s impossible to watch When A Stranger Calls without wishing that the whole thing had just focused on Jill instead of getting sidetracked with Clifford searching Los Angeles.

When A Stranger Calls will always have a place in horror history.  “Have you checked the children?” will always produce chills.  It’s just unfortunate that the film spends a good deal of its running time ignoring what makes it scary in the first place.