October Positivity: The Appointment (dir by Rich Christiano)

First released in 1991 and filmed in Arkansas (which means that I might very well be distantly related to half the cast), The Appointment opens with people all across a small town reading a newspaper column that’s been written by Liz (Karen Jo Briere).  Liz’s column is all about how much she hates Christians and how she wishes that they would stop opening up new churches and demanding that everyone give them money.  Judging by the reactions of the people reading the column, this is apparently the only thing that Liz ever writes about.

At the newspaper, Liz is getting angry calls from people who she describes as being “religious nuts.”  At one point, she says that the paper has gotten fifteen calls!  Now, I know that probably doesn’t sound like that many calls to you city folks but we’re talking about small-town Arkansas here.  In Arkansas, for every one person who complains, there’s probably about twenty who are just holding their tongue out of politeness.  In other words, Liz has upset a lot of people but she doesn’t care.  She hates religion and, besides, she’s going to Hawaii in just a few weeks.

But then, a mysterious man enters Liz’s office.  We never actually see the man.  Instead, we just see things from his point-of-view and we hear his voice when he speaks.  He informs Liz that he has a message from the Lord.

“The Lord who?” Liz asks.

“The Lord Jesus Christ,” the man replies.

(What was Liz expecting to hear?  Does she regularly get messages from the House of Lords or something?)

The man tells Liz that she’s going to die on September 19th at 6:05 pm.  She laughs him off and says that she can’t die because she’s going to Hawaii and she’s never seen it before.

“You never will,” the man replies.


The Appointment is a seriously creepy film.  What really makes it creepy is that no one at the newspaper seems to be that upset by this mysterious man who shows up in their office and tell their star columnist that she’s going to die.  Even though it’s established that everyone can see and hear the man, it doesn’t occur to anyone to call the cops after he leaves.  No one asks Liz if she’s okay.  When the mysterious figure shows up a second time, no one seems to be alarmed.  When the hour of what she’s told will be her death approaches, no one volunteers to stay with Liz or to protect her or offers her any words of comfort whatsoever.  I guess the 90s were a more innocent time but still, it seems like people should have been at least a little bit alarmed by all of this.  At the very least, maybe someone could have offered to walk Liz to her car.

The Appointment is one of those Christian films that attempts to convert viewers by scaring them.  I’m not really a fan of that approach and there’s something undeniably distasteful about the joy the film seems to take in counting down the minutes until Liz dies and presumably heads to Hell.  That said, it’s a surprisingly well-directed film and the amateur cast actually does a pretty good job.  The film’s musical score is loud, otherworldly, and totally intrusive, which is exactly right for this film.  The scenes in which the camera creep through the newspaper office feel more appropriate for a horror film than a faith-based film.  Agree or disagree with the film’s message, it’s still effective in its own crude sort of way.

Add to that, the film was shot in Arkansas, which is one of the many states in which I grew up and still have family.  As I watched the film, it was kind of nice to hear some familiar accents.

Horror on TV: Ghost Story 1.4 “Bad Connection” (dir by Walter Doniger)

On tonight’s episode of Ghost Story, Karen Black plays a widow who starts to get mysterious phone calls from a man who sounds just like her late husband.  Black later expressed some regret that she ended up getting typecast a horror actress but she definitely did a good job in these roles.

This episode was co-written by Richard Matheson and originally aired on October 6th, 1972.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman (dir by Daniel Farrands)

The 2021 film, Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman, is yet another film about the life and crimes of America’s first celebrity serial killer, Ted Bundy.

In this particular film, Bundy is played as being a handsome nonentity by Chad Michael Murray.  The film follows Bundy as he moves from Seattle to Utah to Colorado and eventually to Florida, leaving a path of death in his wake.  Investigating his crimes are Seattle Detective Kathleen McChesney (Holland Roden) and FBI profiler Robert Ressler (Jake Hays).  McChesney not only has to track down Bundy but she also has to deal with her sexist police chief and his idiot son, both of whom think that Bundy’s victims are to blame.

Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman is the latest true crime horror film to be directed by Daniel Farrands.  The frustrating thing about Farrands is that, if you can overlook the subject matter of his recent films, he’s actually a talented horror director who knows how to create suspense and who can be counted on to come up with at least one effective jump scare in all of his films.  That said, he keeps making films that are almost impossible to defend because they exploit real-life tragedy.  Farrands’s best film, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, worked because of Hilary Duff’s committed performance in the title role and the fact that the film itself was fully on Tate’s side.  However, Farrands’s The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson was a tacky piece of exploitation that, despite Farrands’s strong visuals, appeared to have little compassion for the woman whose murder served as the film’s inspiration.

Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman is neither as effective as The Haunting of Sharon Tate nor as bad as The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.  For the most part, the film plays loose with the facts of the case.  At one point, McChesney even shows up at one of Bundy’s crime scenes and takes a shot at him as he flees.  (Tarantino also played around with history in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood but, by allowing Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio to kill the members of the Mason family, he also allowed their victims to live.  Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman, on the other hand, is willing to change history to allow McChesney to arrive at the crime scene but it’s not willing to change history to allow any of Bundy’s victims to survive.  It’s hard not to feel that the film would have benefitted from following Tarantino’s approach and allowing Bundy’s victims to beat him to death.)  There are a few odd scenes in which Bundy is showing fondling several mannequins.  The scenes appear to pay homage to William Lustig’s Maniac but again, it doesn’t seem to be based on anything the actual Bundy did.  The film hints at the intriguing idea of Ted Bundy being America’s first celebrity serial killer but it doesn’t really follow up on it.  The whole thing feels rushed and rather icky.  It certainly doesn’t add any insight into Bundy or killers in general.

That said, our longtime readers know that I hate to end on a totally negative note so I will say that the film uses its low budget to its advantage.  The sparse sets and the small cast give the film something of a surreal feel, with Bundy as an evil specter who randomly shows up to haunt the dreams of a nation.  Lin Shaye and Diane Franklin appear in small roles.  Franklin plays a distraught mom who asks McChesney to kill Bundy rather than arrest him.  Shaye plays Bundy’s overprotective mother and gives a nicely creepy performance.  As I said earlier, it’s not so much that the film is badly made as the subject matter is so icky and the script is so bereft of any new insight that most viewers will wonder why the film needed to be made at all.

Vampire in Vegas (2009, directed by Jim Wynorski)

In this thoroughly jumbled film, Tony Todd plays Sylvain.  Sylvain is a centuries-old vampire who now lives in a mansion in Las Vegas.  He wants to run for governor of Nevada and then he hopes to become President of the United States.  Before he can campaign, Sylvain has to find a way to spend time in the daylight without bursting into flames.  He recruits Dr. VanHelm (Delia Sheppard) to conducts experiments and develop an anti-sun serum.  When Dr. VanHelm tests a prototype of the serum on three female vampires who have been tied to stakes in the desert, the experiment is observed by a camping couple who call the police.

At the same time, Jason (Edward Spivak) is engaged to marry Rachel (Sonya Joy Sims), so his friends decide to have one last hurrah by dragging him to Vegas and throwing a party with strippers.  Unfortunately, the strippers are all vampires who work for Sylvain.  Jason and his friends become Dr. VanHelm’s latest serum guinea pigs.  When Rachel and her friend Nikki (Brandin Rackley) decide to surprise Jason in Vegas, they are also drawn into Sylvain’s web of conspiracy when it turns out that Nikki is hoping to become the newest of Sylvain’s vampiric servants.

From the minute the film opens with a lengthy exposition dump and footage of Sylvain throughout the years, Vampire in Vegas is obviously a Jim Wynorski film.  With this film, Wynorski not only recreates the nonsensical vampire politics of the Twilight movies but he combines it with the bromantic decadence of The Hangover movies.  It’s not a successful mix.  Sylvain is determined to walk in the sunlight and to run for governor of Nevada but the movie never explains why.  With his mansion and his legion of loyal followers, Sylvain has done very well as a vampire who can only come out at night.  Why would he want to potentially lose everything that he has, just so he can run for governor and eventually president?  Why would Sylvain trade everything that he has now for a job that would mostly involve renaming highways and signing whatever bills end up on his desk?  And how does Sylvain think that he’ll be able to run for governor without someone investigating his past and discovering that he’s a vampire?

That’s a lot of questions and Jim Wynorski makes no attempt to answer them.  Instead, the movie focuses on the strippers stripping and Sylvain waiting for his chance to brave the sun.  It’s a Wynorski film so no shock there.  Tony Todd plays the role with dignity, the rest of the cast is negligible in this Vegas bet that didn’t pay off.

Game Review: Ink (2022, Sangita V Nuli)

In this work of Interactive Fiction, you take on the role of someone who has just lost their fiancé.  You are in mourning and trying to figure out how you can go on with your life even though you’ve lost your reason for living.  Staying at home doesn’t help.  Going to work doesn’t help.  Seeing a therapist doesn’t help.  Religion has failed.  Group therapy provides only momentary relief.

Then, you find an envelope, addressed to you and in her handwriting.  You find the envelope under a park bench that the two of you used to frequent.  Unable to open it, you leave it on the mantle next to the wedding invites that you’ll never get to send.  (Come on, that’s a powerful image.)  Sometimes, the ink on the envelope seems to move, as if the envelope itself is alive.  Will you find the courage to open the envelope and see what is inside?

Ink is an enigmatic but intriguing work of Interactive Fiction.  I would hesitate to call it a game.  It’s a short story that comes with a few options.  You can try to make different choices each time that you play but it seems like the story is fated to always reach the same conclusion, no matter how many detours you try to take.  The letter, much like mourning, cannot be escaped no matter how much you try.  The story is well-written and captures the feeling of being in deep mourning.  The inescapable ending carries enough of a kick to stick with you afterwards.

Play Ink

Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 1.4 “Family Reunion/Voodoo”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1996.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

Smiles, everyone!  We have two very strange fantasies this week and a few memorable guest stars!

Episode 1.4 “Family Reunion/Voodoo”

(Directed by George McGowan, originally aired on February 18th, 1978)

Finally!  After four weeks of trying to figure out how exactly the island works, I finally watched an episode that explained what Tattoo’s actual job is.  Apparently, Tattoo is an accountant.  It’s his job to keep track of how much money the island has in its treasury and to order stuff for the resort.  It’s also his job to rent things for the fantasies.  This episode, he mentions that it’s not cheap to rent a bear.  Mr. Roarke gives him a slightly disapproving look but no matter.  Tattoo’s correct.  Bears are not cheap.

As for the fantasies, they’re both kind of strange in this episode.

The more peaceful of the fantasies involves Tony (Tom Fridley) and Ann (Kathy Kurtzman) and their desire for their parents, Harry (John Gavin) and Evelyne (Juliet Mills), to get back together.  The fantasy involves tricking Harry and Evelyne into returning to the summer camp where they first met and having them fall in love all over again.  (Yes, it’s The Parent Trap, all over again.)  Unfortunately, Harry and Evelyne are accompanied by their new significant others, Stuffy McBorington (David Hedison) and Slutty LaGolddigger (Mary Frann.)  Actually, I guess those weren’t really their names but they might as well have been.  Fortunately a sudden rain storm and a visit from the expensive bear convinces Harry and Evelyne to dump Stuffy and Slutty and give love another chance.  Yay!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, Mr. Roarke has recreated a Haitian rubber plantation!  Jane Howell (Lauren Tewes, who I’ve also been watching on The Love Boat) is an amnesiac who might be the daughter of the plantation’s owner.  She, her adoptive parents (Howard Duff and Marjorie Lord), and her fiancé (Gary Collins) spend the night at the plantation.  However, it turns out that they’re not alone.  Mr. Roarke has also brought over a voodoo priest (Ernie Hudson!) who is determined to drive Jane mad!  It’s a really weird story that ends with not one twist but two.  It’s also an effectively creepy story, which makes it all the stranger that it’s paired with a light-hearted Parent Trap homage.

To me, the most interesting thing about this episode is that so many of the guest stars were veterans of the horror (or at least, the supernatural) genre.  The Family Reunion storyline features Juliet Mills (Beyond The Door), David Hedison (The Fly), and John Gavin (Psycho).  (Interestingly enough, David Hedison played Felix Leiter in two James Bond films while Gavin would have played Bond in Diamonds are Forever if Sean Connery hadn’t agreed to return to the role.)  Meanwhile, Voodoo features Lauren Tewes (who appeared in Eyes of a Stranger and Twin Peaks: The Return) and Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters).  It’s an interesting mix of actors and it’s fun to see them all wandering around the island at the same time.

I enjoyed this episode.  Family Reunion was agreeably silly while Voodoo was creepy and melodramatic.  Add to that, Ricardo Montalban seemed to be having a genuinely good time as the mysterious Mr. Roarke.  He made the island seem like a fun place to visit, even with the bears and the voodoo hijinks.

Next week, more fantasies!  And more smiles!

Horror Scenes That I Love: Swimming With The Creature From The Black Lagoon

Today’s horror scene that I love comes from one of my favorite films, 1953’s Creature From The Black Lagoon.  In this scene, Julia Adams goes for a swim.  Little does she realize that, under the water, the Creature is following her every move.  Wonderfully directed by Jack Arnold, this creepy yet oddly lovely scene is one of the best of the 50s.

International Horror Film Review: Dr. Orloff’s Monster (dir by Jess Franco)

This 1964 Spanish film takes place in Austria.

The notorious Dr. Orloff is dying.  Orloff was the lead character in director Jess Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orlof.  (The spelling of Orlof’s last name changes from film to film.)  In the first film, Orlof (played with maniacal relish by Howard Vernon) was a father driven mad by his daughter’s disfigurement.  With the help of his mute servant, he murdered women so that he could perform skin transplants in order to give his daughter back her beauty.  In Dr. Orloff’s Monster, Dr. Orloff is a more of a generic mad scientist and he is now played Javier de Rivera.  Knowing that his time is running out, Orloff passes along his secrets to one of his disciples, Dr. Conrad Jekyll (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui).

(In the dubbed American version of the film, Dr. Jekyll’s name is changed to Dr. Conrad Fisherman.)

Dr. Jekyll returns to his own remote Austrian castle.  He’s soon joined by his innocent niece Melissa (Agnes Spaak).  Melissa is searching for her father, Andros (played by Hugo Blanco).  What she doesn’t know is that Dr. Jekyll earlier caught Andros in bed with Jekyll’s wife, Inglud (Luisa Sala).  Jekyll murdered Andros.  This led to Inglud becoming an alcoholic.

However, thanks to the teachings of Dr. Orloff, Jekyll knows how to bring Andros back to life.  Unfortunately, the reanimated Andros is a hulking monster who Conrad uses to kill all of his former mistresses.  It turns out that Inglud wasn’t the only one who had trouble sticking to marriage vows.  Soon, Inspector Klein (Pastor Serrado) is investigating a growing number of nightclub-related murders.  Inspector Klein is also falling in love with Melissa, which has the potential to make things more than a bit awkward.

Dr. Orloff’s Monster (which is also known as The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll) was Franco’s first sequel to The Awful Dr. Orlof and it was also the tenth film that was he was credited with directing.  (As Franco was a prolific filmmaker who used a huge amount of pseudonyms and whose films were often released under several different titles, we will probably never have a definite answer on how many films he actually directed over the course of his long career.)  Particularly when compared to Franco’s later films, Dr. Orloff’s Monster seems rather restrained.  As always with Franco, there’s a bit of nudity and an emphasis on murder but the violence is rather bloodless and the usual Franco perversions are hinted at without being explicitly shown.  Instead, with this film, Franco emphasizes atmosphere over shock.  The black-and-white cinematography creates the feel of a perfect noir, with Andros emerging from the shadows to attack his victims and then retreating back into the darkness.  This, along with a deliberate pace and Franco’s frequent use of close-ups, gives Dr. Orloff’s Monster the feeling of a languid but menacing dream.  With this film, Franco fills the screen with nightmarish ennui.

Unfortunately, the film suffers due to the absence of Franco’s usual villain, the great Howard Vernon.  Vernon always brought a hint of old world decadence to his performances and the rather bland Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui is simply not as interesting as Dr. Jekyll.  Despite his death at the start of the film, Dr. Orloff would appear in other Franco films and, fortunately, Howard Vernon would return to play him.

A Blast From The Past: The Four Troublesome Heads (by Georges Melies)

With the arrival of both October and our annual horrorthon, today’s Blast From The Past is here to help us get in the mood with some head action.

In this short film, director Georges Milies plays a magician who can remove his head.  Fear not!  When he removes his head, another head quickly appears on his shoulder.  Pretty soon, our magician has one head on his shoulders and three other heads chatting away on a table.  Everything’s fine until it’s discovered that, apparently, the heads aren’t very talented when it comes to singing.

Obviously, today, we know how camera tricks like this are done.  We tend to take them for granted.  But consider this, when watching The Four Troublesome Heads: this film was made in 1898.  At a time when the movies themselves seemed like an act of magic, Georges Melies was removing his head and then trying to perform a song.

Yes, this the same Georges Melies who was played by Ben Kingsley in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  That’s a great film, by the way.  It marks the only time that Christopher Lee appeared in a Scorsese film.  Go watch it, if you haven’t already.