October Positivity: Early Warning (dir by David R. Elliott)

First released in 1981, Early Warning opens with a shot of a crowded, polluted city.  On the soundtrack, we hear the voices of newscasters.  The world is tottering on the brink of war.  Gas prices are skyrocketing.  Inflation is rising.  People are losing their jobs and their homes and many of them are having to skip meals in order to have enough food to last through the week.  Riots are breaking out across America.  Crime is running rampant.  The rich are getting richer.  The poor are getting poorer.  The President is a doddering old fool who sounds incapable of bringing America together.

Wow, that all certainly sounds familiar!  It’s tempting to say that Early Warning predicted the state of the world in 2022.  However, the truth of the matter is that the movie was made at the tail end of the Carter years and, as we all know, history tends to repeat itself.

Early Warning makes the argument that all of the problems in the world are due to the …. are you ready for this? …. One World Foundation.  (The One World Foundation could have picked a less obviously evil name.)  Led by Alexander Stonefield (Joe Chapman), The One World Foundation manipulates humanity by raising prices, destroying cities, and causing natural disasters.  They have a plan to start a nuclear war, by encouraging countries to invade one another and then supplying nuclear weapons to both sides.  They’ve decided that the best way to control humanity is to assign everyone a number and to…. okay, well, you know where this is going, don’t you?  Yes, this is one of those movies.  Before Left Behind, there was Early Warning!

The One World Foundation may be able to manipulate the world but their security sucks because a reporter manages to sneak into their headquarters and record a meeting where Stonefield explains, in exacting detail, everything that he’s planning on doing.  (You have to wonder why Stonefield even felt the need to have that meeting.)  The reporter is caught by a group of silly-looking guards who all wear white knee socks and tap shoes.  He’s killed but not before he put the recording in a mail box.  That’s putting a lot of trust in the U.S. Postal Service but whatever.

Another journalist, Sam Jensen (Christopher Wynne), teams up with a religious activist named Jenny Marshall (Delana Michaels) and soon, they’re doing their own investigation.  It turns out that the One World Foundation is going to have yet another meeting, this one at a hotel in the middle of the desert.  While Sam and Jenny try to uncover the truth, they fall in love but, unfortunately, Sam’s not a believer.  Can this be fixed before Sam is gunned down by a mysterious, helicopter-riding assassin known as The Cobra?

Early Warning is a bit of an odd film.  Jenny is often inappropriately cheerful, even when she’s got guards in knee socks trying to kill her.  Sam is a remarkably whiny hero.  There’s a strange sequence in which Sam and Jenny stumble across a survivalist compound in the middle of the desert and one of the survivalists is played by none other than George “Buck” Flower.  But perhaps the strangest thing about the movie just how low-rent and incompetent the One World Foundation is.  For an organization that can drive countries to war and wipe out someone’s savings just by pushing one button, One World has a remarkably difficult time tracking down two people.

(Of course, that’s always been my issue with most conspiracy theories.  It’s hard for me to buy that a group could be competent enough to control the world while also being too incompetent to properly cover up their activity.)

Early Warning is an early example of an evangelical end-of-the-world thriller.  One gets the feeling that the filmmakers were probably inspired by the then-recent success of The Omen films.  The budget was obviously low but that often works to the film’s advantage.  The grainy images feel appropriate for a movie about paranoia.  What doesn’t work to the film’s advantage are the stilted performances and a screenplay that can never decide whether it wants to primarily thrill the audience or primarily preach at them.  Still, to me, it’s interesting as an early example of a cinematic genre that, even if it doesn’t get much publicity, is still going strong.  It’s also interesting to see that, in 1981, people were just as quick to say the world was ending as they are in 2022.  The world appears to have been ending for a while now.

Congratulations to the Phillies!

I’m from Texas so I really can’t cheer against the Astros but I was still really hoping that, during this final three-game series, the Phillies would manage to win that last game they needed to clinch a wild card spot.  Tonight, they did!  For the first time in 11 seasons, the Phillies are going to the playoffs!  What a great baseball story!  I’m so happy for both the team and their fans and the next time I’m tempted to give up on my own team, I’m going to remember how, a few weeks ago, a lot of people weren’t even giving the Phillies a chance of making it.

Congratulations, Phillies!  Good luck in the wild card!

Horror On TV: Ghost Story 1.3 “At the Cradle Foot” (dir by Don McDougall)

On tonight’s episode of Ghost Story, James Franciscus plays a father who discovers that trying to change the future isn’t as cut-and-dried as it seems.  When Paul (Franciscus) dreams that his daughter is going to be murdered 20 years in the future, he moves to the town from his dream to try to prevent it.  He ends up falling in love with Julie (Meg Foster), who happens to be engaged to man named Ed (Karl Swenson) who looks just like the man who Paul dreamt was going to murder his daughter!

This episode originally aired on September 29th, 1972.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Bunker Game (dir by Robert Zazzara)

The Bunker Game, which made its debut on Shudder earlier this year, opens with what appears to be a bit of alternate history worldmaking.   The viewer watches a black-and-white documentary that presents a world in which the Nazis conquered Europe during World War II but, ten years after Germany’s victory, the United States dropped an atomic bomb.  As a result, Europe is now an atomic wasteland.  A handful of survivors managed to find shelter in Italy, hiding out and forming a new society in an underground bunker that was built by Mussolini in the 30s.  The underground society is an authoritarian one, where mad scientists experiment on the citizens and storm troopers seem to be around every corner.  However, there is a small rebellion brewing….

Sounds potentially interesting, right?  Well, don’t get too attached to the alternative history spin because, within the first few minutes of the film, it’s revealed that the people in the bunker aren’t actually citizens of an authoritarian state and, while the Bunker is indeed real, the rest of Europe is just fine.  It turns out that documentary was just a part of an elaborate and very expensive game.  Instead of being the last refuge of the Third Reich, the Bunker is full of LARPers, people who have spent a good deal of money so that they can spend a week pretending to be …. well, Nazis.

Now again, this sounds like it could be potentially interesting.  Why would a group of people pay money in order to enter a real underground bunker and pretend to be some of the most evil people who have ever existed?  It’s an intriguing premise but, just as with the alternate history angle, don’t get to attached to it because it doesn’t take long for the film to abandon the whole LARPing plot.

Instead, unforeseen circumstances lead to the game ending early and most of the LARPers heading home. The Bunker Game proceeds to tell a fairly standard story about a handful of people who find themselves isolated in the now-deserted Bunker.  When one of their friends disappears, they split up to search for him and soon, some sort of supernatural force is killing them one-by-one.  The group is made up of identifiable types.  One person is quirky.  Another person is serious and professional.  Another is a stereotypical zoomer.  Another one is too uptight and obviously destined to go crazy before the movie is over.  For the most part, the film focuses on Laura (Gaia Weiss) and her cousin, Harry (Mark Ryder).  Harry is determined to leave the Bunker and never again deal with any LARPers.  Laura, meanwhile, finds herself strangely drawn to the Bunker, even once it becomes obvious that something is killing all of her friends.  Harry cannot understand why Laura would want to be part of the Bunker Game in the first place.  Laura cannot understand why anyone would want to live in the real world.  Most viewers will probably be able to guess where this is all going.

That said, The Bunker Game gets the job done.  The underground bunker is a wonderfully creepy setting and, even if they are playing types, the cast still does their best to bring their characters to life.  (Of course, all of them are playing characters who spent a lot of money so that they could pretend to be Nazis so, well-acted or not, most viewers will have limited sympathy for them.)  Though it’s hard not to regret that the film didn’t do more with its potentially interesting plot, director Roberto Zazzara does a good job of creating and maintaining a properly ominous atmosphere.  For what it is, The Bunker Game works well enough.  One can regret that it’s not thematically challenging while also acknowledging that, whatever flaws the narrative may have, the film still gets the job done.  Those who are just looking for a well-made horror film and who aren’t necessarily concerned with whether or not the plot makes total sense will probably enjoy The Bunker Game.

FWD, Review By Case Wright

There are times when a writer/director knows that he has made something pretty bad. I had to write in “FWD” above because the writer/director didn’t bother to make a poster of any kind. I’d probably hide my involvement.

The story has an email chain letter that was common in 1999 and the main character did not forward it; so, she’s been marked for death. I did like the touches of the antiquated email and the large monitor to tell me – this is from simpler times and this film was done by someone who is creatively simple.

It was a painful ripoff of Scream and I did not like that. I remember Scream when I was a youth and just because you found an old monitor doesn’t mean that you can build a short around it. The actresses’ talents here were wasted.

Sometimes people create when they should just binge Netflix and leave the rest of us Normals alone. I encourage you to watch this terrible short because we all know what you did to deserve it.

Invasion of the Pod People (2007, directed by Justin Jones)

One day, someone said, “Why don’t we remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers but instead of having the pod people act emotionless, we’ll have them turn into predatory lesbians?”

Of course, the movie went straight into production.

Erica Roby plays Melissa, who works for a PR firm in Los Angeles.  After a meteorite shower, she starts to notice that the people at work and in her apartment complex are all getting strange new ginger root plants and they are all starting to act out-of-character.  For example, Melissa’s formerly bitchy boss, Samantha (Jessica Bork), suddenly wants to make out all the time.  Meanwhile, the husband of one of Melissa’s clients break into Melissa’s apartment, says that his wife has been replaced, and then shoots himself.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the body snatchers have once again arrived on Earth and that they’re replacing humans with doppelgangers.  (The main difference is that the body snatchers waited for their victims to fall asleep while the doppelgangers just hatch from the plant and beat whoever it is that they are replacing to death.)  Melissa and her co-worker, Billie (Danae Nason), team up with Detective Alexander (Marat Glazer) to track down where the plants are coming from and destroy them.  It’s a Body Snatcher film so don’t expect a happy ending.

Actually, the idea of doing a softcore version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers seems like such an obvious one that I’m surprised that no one did it until 2007.  In everything from its visual look to its dialogue to its attitude towards sexuality, Invasion of the Pod People feels like the sort of film that used to show up on late night Cinemax during the 90s.  The 90s version, though, would have had Shannon Tweed and Andrew Stevens and that would have been an improvement on the people who are starring in the version that was actually released.  Invasion of the Pod People had potential to be a guilty pleasure but the visual style is so flat and unappealing and the soundtrack is so muddy that the movie feels much longer than just 85 minutes.  With a little fine-tuning and a more invested cast, Invasion of the Pod People could have been a Skinemax classic but it was just released ten years too late.

Game Review: Nose Bleed (2022, Stanwixbuster)

You are an office drone, just trying to get your work done without causing any trouble or getting on the bad side of the co-worker who is always reprimanding you for doing something to embarrass everyone else.  You are at your desk, not bothering anyone, when suddenly you feel it running down your face.  It’s blood.  Your nose is bleeding.  And no matter how much you try, you cannot get it to stop.  Even though there’s an event that you simply cannot get out of attending, you cannot get your nose to stop bleeding.

Nose Bleed is a text-adventure game that is primarily about dealing with a bloody nose but it’s also a game about social anxiety, office politics, and the horror of knowing that there is nothing you can do to prevent further embarrassment.  There’s only so long that you can hide a nose bleed and when the people you work with discover what’s happening, their reaction leaves much to be desired.  Not only is the text well-written but the visuals also put you right in the story.  As the nose bleed continues, just moving the curser from one option to another causes a trail of blood to appear on the screen.  Towards the end of the game, my screen was almost totally red.  Just like the character in the game, I couldn’t stop the bleeding.  It sounds grotesque but this game is about more than just a nose bleed.  It’s about the experience of dealing with people who, when they see someone else in distress, can’t do anything but worry about how it’s going to effect them.  It’s about the guilt that comes with being told that everything is always your fault.  The horror is both visual and psychological and it’s not always easy to deal with the emotions that the game captures.  But the ending is very satisfying, making this one of the best recent horror games that I’ve played.

Play Nose Bleed

Retro Television Reviews: Hang Time 1.9 “Stranded” and 1.10 “The Sweat Shack”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Mondays, I will be reviewing Hang Time, which ran on NBC from 1995 to 2000.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

I’ll always remember, me and my friends at Hang Time!

It’s time to check in and see what’s happening at Deering High!

Episode 1.9 “Stranded”

(Directed by Howard Murray, originally aired on November 4th, 1995)

“Great!” Sam announces halfway through this episode, “we’re all stuck together and we hate each other!”

And yes, it is true.  After a terrible loss, Coach Fuller makes the team come in for a Saturday morning practice.  Only a few members of the team make it due to the fact that it’s snowing and those who do make it end up getting trapped in the gym by the blizzard!  Way to go, Coach!

This actually wasn’t a bad episode.  For one thing, memories of the 2021 Texas blizzard are still fresh on my mind so, for once, I could relate to what the characters on the show were going through.  I actually have been snowed in, with the power going on-and-off.  Fortunately, I wasn’t trapped in a gym.  I was in my house, with a book to read.

The majority of the episode was taken up with a group therapy session, in which Fuller tried to get the team to open up about both the loss and their feelings to each other.  And while I initially groaned when the scene started, it was actually handled fairly well.  We got to hear each character’s inner thoughts and it turned out that most of them were just as tired of Julie being the center of every storyline as the viewers undoubtedly were.  Add to that, a new member of the cast made an appearance when one brave boom mic made an appearance, hovering over the group.

While everyone tried to figure out how to survive being stuck in the gym overnight (did none of these high school students have parents trying to dig them out?), Julie and Chris debated whether they could both date and be teammates and Mary Beth, who was in the gym despite not being a member of the basketball team, tried to take care of the fake baby that she had been assigned for a class assignment.

As I said, this was not a bad episode.  Chris and Julie were still an amazingly boring couple but, with this episode, it felt as if the cast had finally come together as an ensemble.  Still, it’s strange that the episode ended with Michael saving everyone in the high school as opposed to say the parents who were undoubtedly wondering to where their children had disappeared during the worst blizzard in Indiana history.  Did the adults in town just not care about their high school basketball team?

Episode 1.10 “The Sweat Shack”

(Directed by Howard Murray, originally aired on November 11th, 1995)

This was a weird episode.  Mary Beth’s father demanded that she get a job so, somehow, she ended up as manager of the Sports Shack (which is the store in the mall where most of the characters work).  At first, Mary Beth is too lenient of a boss.  Then she become too strict of a boss.  All of her employee go on a strike but is there really a Sports Shack union?  Is the strike even legal?  Couldn’t everyone be arrested for disturbing the peace and, even more importantly, why can’t Mary Beth just fire all of them and hire cheap replacements?  That would definitely cut down on payroll.

Meanwhile, Coach Fuller is in charge of a new exchange programs where members of the basketball team pair up with girls from Russia and …. wait, WHAT!?  Earl gets a Russian who loves hanging out with him.  Michael gets a Russian who is overweight so, of course, the audience goes, “Whoa!”  “You are fresh prince,” the Russian tells Michael, on account of the fact that Michael appears to be the only black student at Deering High.  “Hah hah hah!” the audience responds.  Eventually, Michael learns an important lesson about not judging Russian mail order brides by their weight.  It’s all more than a little cringey but it is kind of sweet that Earl’s exchange student even follows him around while he’s working his security job at the mall.

Anyway, this one of those episode that kind of felt as if it was just a mix of scenes and storylines that had been cut from other episodes.  Perhaps it would have been better if everyone had been trapped at the mall by another blizzard.  Seriously, blizzards bring out the best of this show.

Horror Scenes That I Love: The Martians Attack In The War Of The Worlds

Today’s horror scene that I love comes from the 1953 film, The War of the Worlds.

Now, it’s probably not quite correct to say that I love this scene.  This is a scary scene and not necessairly one that you’ll want to revisit a hundred times.  Instead, this is a scene that I think is extremely well-done.  It’s a scene that perfectly establishes the fact that, in this film, humanity has no hope when it comes to defeating the Martians.  Trying to reason with them, as Uncle Matthew does, is useless.  Trying to fight them, as the army does, is useless.  Matthew is atomized as he approaches in peace.  The tough and plain-spoken military man — a reassuring authority figure in so many 50s films — is destroyed as he orders everyone out of the bunker.  The Martians, meanwhile, are unstoppable and, even worse, they are without mercy or concern for the people that they are destroying.

Seriously, this is a frightening scene when viewed today!  I can only imagine how it traumatized audiences in 1953.  If you need evidence of this fact, just consider that YouTube actually put a warning on the video that it might be too traumatic for some viewers.

After watching this scene, all I can say is Thank God for the common cold.

Horror Novel Review: Bad Dreams by R.L. Stine

First published in 1994, Bad Dreams is yet another R.L. Stine YA novel about life on Fear Street.

This time, it’s Maggie and her younger sister Andrea who have moved into a new house on Fear Street.  Maggie and Andrea are rivals about almost everything.  They’re both super competitive swimmers who are fighting for the right to represent their high school at the State Championship.  They both like Justin, who is typical boring R.L. Stine boyfriend.  They ever argue over who should get the ornate bed in Maggie’s new bedroom.  Because Maggie agreed to let Andrea have the bigger room, Maggie gets to keep the bed.

I don’t know, Maggie.  You might want to rethink that.

It turns out that the last owner of the bed was actually stabbed to death while laying on top of it.  Soon, Maggie is having disturbing dreams where she sees the murder happening.  Is Maggie being contacted from beyond the grave or are her dreams warning her that she’s about to become the next victim?  And what about all the strange noises coming from the attic?

Soon, Maggie is struggling when it comes to school and swimming because she’s just not getting enough sleep!  (This book made me happy that I’ve never needed more than 3 hours of sleep to function.)  However, the other two girls who are competing against Maggie and Andrea for a chance to go to State each falls victim to a bizarre accident!  Someone is taking out the competition!  Is it the ghost?  Is it Andrea?  Could it even be Maggie herself!?

Will Maggie be able to solve the mystery?  Will she eventually get a good night’s sleep and fulfil the promise of having sweet dreams?  Will she and Andrea ever be able to put aside their sibling rivalry?  And who will go to State!?

And, perhaps most importantly, does anyone really care?

As far as the plot is concerned, Bad Dreams is an example of R.L. Stine on autopilot.  All of the questions are eventually answered but the answers seem to come out of nowhere and it’s hard to escape the feeling that Stine pretty much just kept writing until he reached the minimum word requirement and then he decided to quickly wrap things up without really worrying about whether or not he had provided enough clues to keep the reader from feeling as if she had been denied a fair chance to solve the mystery on her own.  That said, the first of Maggie’s dreams was nicely creepy and the constant arguing between Maggie and Andrea was kind of entertaining.  I’ve got three older sisters so I imagine that every single one of them could probably have related to Maggie at some point while we were all growing up.  (It also helped that Andrea and Maggie had red hair, just like me!)  Plus, all of the drama around the swim team reminded me of the later episodes of Saved By The Bell: The New Class, in which it suddenly turned out that everyone at Bayside was obsessed with the swim team.  Today, books like this are best used for nostalgia and that’s what I definitely felt while reading Bad Dreams.