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 Jess 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.

Here’s The International Trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife!

To be honest, I was under the impression that this film had already been released, just because it seems like I’ve been hearing about it for years. But no, actually, it won’t be coming out until next month, on November 24th. Personally, I would think that a Ghostbusters sequel would be a natural Halloween release but I think this film is going more for the family film audience than the horror spoof audience.

Well, regardless, here is the international trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife!

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.


Horror Film Review: Halloween Party (dir by Jay Dahl)

“What is your greatest fear?”

That’s a question that I found myself discussing on Saturday night as I joined a group of friends to watch the 2019 film, Halloween Party.

“What is your greatest fear?”

It seems like a simple question but it can be so difficult to answer. I know that a lot of people, at this very moment, would probably say COVID-19. Others would probably say climate change or creeping authoritarianism or Greta Thunberg’s disapproving stare. On Saturday night, a few people identified clowns as being their greatest fear. Leonard said that he didn’t like spiders.

Myself, I struggled to come up with one. It’s not that I’m not scared of things. I hate heights. I have a fear of drowning. I’m not a fan of dogs. But when it comes to my greatest fear, that’s a difficult one to answer. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of my fears were more abstract as opposed to being physical. I fear being at the mercy of pitiless and chaotic universe, the type that Werner Herzog always talks about. I fear having to listen to a boring conversation. I fear discovering that I picked the wrong confirmation name. In fact, I spent a lot of time on Saturday bragging about how my fears were so much more interesting than everyone else’s fear.

Then, on Sunday, I watched the original Poltergeist and I remembered that my greatest fear is actually accidentally eating spoiled food. Which could totally happen! I mean, what if they put the wrong expiration date on the package? What if you’re refrigerator stopped working while you were away and then started working at the exact moment that you returned home? You would never know that the food had been sitting there, unrefrigerated, for hours.

Seriously, I think it’s a pretty justifiable fear.

Halloween Party is all about being forced to face your greatest fears. It’s about a cursed internet meme. When it shows up in your email, you’ve got only a few seconds to type in your greatest fear and then hit return. Tell the truth and hit return in time and you’ll get a cute little dancing ghost. Lie or don’t hit return in time and an evil witch appears and announces that you will soon meet your greatest fear. Everyone laughs the meme off but then their fears actually do start to show up, killing not only the person who received the meme but also anyone unlucky enough to get in the way.

College students Grace (Amy Groening) and Spencer (T. Thomason) attempt to investigate the meme and try to figure out how to stop it. It all has something to do with the fact that horribly disfigured children were once housed in their dorm. Apparently, the children got walled up and have been after revenge ever since. To be honest, I couldn’t really follow all of the stuff about the kids and the fact that the kids were made up to appear to be kind of grotesque made it a bit difficult for me to really watch any of the scenes involving them. I kind of wish the film had just concentrated on the meme and the fears. That’s fun part of a film like this.

(For the record, Spencer is afraid of bears. Personally, I think he just needs to watch Grizzly Man a few times and he’ll get over it. Grace is scared of “vagina spiders” and that’s actually a perfectly reasonable fear to have because spiders are almost as frightening as spoiled food and they do tend to get everywhere. I did some research and discovered that, thankfully, spiders cannot lay eggs under your skin but still, whether they’re laying eggs or not, there are certain places that a spider just has no place being.)

Halloween Party is a fairly derivative horror film, as anyone who has seen any of The Ring films will quickly notice. That said, it has a sense of humor about itself and Grace and Spencer are appealingly quirky protagonists. There are more than enough creepy scenes to make up for the familiarity of the story. Halloween Party is a film made for horror fans by horror fans. Watch it at your next party but be prepared to confess what you’re greatest fear is. Don’t say spoiled food, though. That’s already taken.

Game Review: A Man Outside (2020, litrouke)

You are supposed to studying English and building your vocabulary but you keep getting distracted by the man standing outside your window.  It can be difficult to guess the right definition when you know that someone is hiding behind a tree and trying to get into your house.  You text your friend.  They suggest you call your mom.  Is that the solution or is there another way to survive a visit from the man outside?

This is a simple but atmospheric game.  There are three endings.  It was pretty easy to get the good ending.  I had to make some effort to trigger bad ending but it’s worth it because the bad ending is creepier than the good ending.  Other than clicking on the right (or wrong) definitions of the words, there’s really only one decision to be made but make the wrong one or do bad enough on your vocabulary quiz and you’ll soon be getting a visit from the man outside!

Play A Man Outside.

Scenes That I Love: Putting On The Ritz from Young Frankenstein

Since today is Peter Boyle’s birthday (he would have been 86), it seems only appropriate that today’s scenes that I love should come from 1974’s Young Frankenstein. Here, for your viewing and listening pleasure, are Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle….

4 Shots From 4 Klaus Kinski 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!

95 years ago today, Klaus Kinski was born in Poland.  Kinski was a brilliant actor who, by all accounts, was an absolute monster in his private life.  Werner Herzog worked with him on several films and reportedly considered murdering him on more than a few occasions.  Herzog, himself, wrote about the time that he had spent in a mental asylum and the time that was diagnosed as being a psychopath.  Because of his talent, he appeared in many great films.  Because of his reputation for being a literal madman, he also missed out on a lot of great roles and spent much of his career appearing in low-budget exploitation flicks.  Many of those films were in the horror genre.

Today, on the anniversary of Kinski’s birth, TSL presents….

4 Shots From 4 Klaus Kinski Films

Count Dracula (1970, dir by Jess Franco, DPs: Manuel Merino and Luciano Trasatti)

Jack the RIpper (1976, dir by Jess Franco, DPs: Peter Baumgartner and Peter Spoerri)

Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979, dir by Werner Herzog, DP: Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein)

Venom (1981, dir by Piers Haggard, DPs: Denys Coop and Gilbert Taylor)


Here’s The Trailer For The Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter, which is the directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal, made quite a splash on the festival circuit and it’s being spoken of as a darkhorse Oscar contender. Olivia Colman, who is quickly becoming an Oscar favorite, could pick up another nomination. The destined-to-be-nominated someday Jessie Buckley could pick up her first.

As for the film itself, it’s about confronting dark secrets from the past, which is always an interesting subject matter. We’ll all get a chance to judge the film for ourselves when it’s released in December.

For now, here’s the trailer!