October Positivity: Nite Song (dir by Russell S. Daughten)

Wow, Iowa’s a dangerous place.

The 1978 film, Nite Song, takes place on the mean streets of Des Moines, Iowa.  Pete (Bobby Hoffman) and his best friend, Joe (Tom Hoffman), are neighbors in the local tenement.  They also both play on the high school basketball team.  In fact, the only reason that this movie is over an hour long is because there’s about five minutes of slow motion basketball footage.

Life’s not easy in Des Moines.  The local drug lord wants Pete to work for him.  Joe’s sister is addicted to heroin and his father is out of work.  Joe has recently become a Christian, which Pete finds to be kind of strange.  Even stranger is that Joe often sits outside on the balcony of the tenement and sings a song called I Will Serve Thee.  Later in the film, another character will spontaneously start singing I Will Serve Thee while staring up at the night sky.  I guess that’s the “nite” song of the title but what’s interesting is that the film itself isn’t a musical.

Anyway, the local drug lord wants Joe to help him rob the local pharmacy.  Joe refuses so the dealer refuses to give Joe’s sister any more heroin.  Joe and Pete decide to start following the drug dealer around town, in order to gather enough evidence to find a way to stop him.  Unfortunately, that plan doesn’t really work out that well.  Joe ends up with a knife in his back and Pete is left to struggle with whether he should go to the police or just sit out on the balcony and pray about it.  It turns out that all of the other kids at the high school are also Christians, specifically because of Joe.  They decide to clean up the streets themselves!  Fortunately, that won’t be hard because there’s only three criminals in Des Moines and they all hang out together….

It’s actually probably a little bit too easy to be snarky about a film like Nite Song, if just because it’s a low-budget, amateur film about life and death in Iowa.  But actually, the film deserves a bit more credit than I’m giving it.  Taken on its own terms, it’s actually an achingly sincere and earnest film and, as opposed to a lot of other faith-based films, it never makes the mistake of getting preachy or being overly judgmental.  (The film’s sympathetic portrayal of Joe’s drug-addicted sister actually deserve a good deal of praise.)  Even though the actors are all obviously amateurs and the singing gets a bit weird, everyone brings a certain authenticity to their roles.  This is a film about Iowa that was actually populated with people who were from Iowa and yes, that does make a difference.

Plus, there’s something charmingly naïve about the idea of the high school basketball team taking out the local drug dealers.  All those weapons and tough talk prove useless against a 15 year-old with a dream and jump shot.  Nite Song‘s a well-intentioned film.  Des Moines has nothing to be ashamed of.

Horror on TV: Ghost Story 1.6 “Alter Ego” (dir by David Lowell Rich)

In tonight’s episode of Ghost Story, a sickly child is upset when he becomes to ill to continue going to school.  Luckily, his doppelganger shows up and starts going to school for him!  Unfortunately, it turns out that the doppelganger isn’t quite as benevolent as one might hope.

This episode co-stars Oscar-winner Helen Hayes and was co-written by Richard Matheson.  It originally aired on October 27th, 1972.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Food Of The Gods (dir by Bert I. Gordon)

Uh-oh! Something weird has bubbled up to the ground on an island near British Columbia and a farmer and his wife (played by John McLaim and Ida Lupino) foolishly decided to feed it to their farm animals! Soon, they’ve got giant chickens! And listen, that might sound like a good thing to some but I’ve spent enough time around farms to know that giant chickens are not a good thing! Seriously, normal-sized chickens are messy enough. Giant ones? I don’t even want to thinking about it.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the chickens that are eating the food. Rats are eating the food. Wasps are eating the food. All of the animals are turning into giants and now, they’re hunting humans! After his best friend is attacked and killed by giant wasp, a football player named Morgan (Marjoe Gortner) decides to investigate on his own. You would think that a football player would be busy preparing for his next game or something like that but no, not Morgan! Morgan’s determined to find out why there are giant animals off the coast of Canada.

Of course, Morgan isn’t the only one interested in the so-called Food of the Gods. There’s also Jack Bensington (Ralph Meeker), who owns a dog food company. Jack wants to sell the food. Why would Jack want to do that? Does he actually think that causing dogs to transform into giants who would undoubtedly try to kill their masters is somehow going to be good for his company’s reputation? Jack’s main motivation seems to be that he’s a businessman and, in this film’s moral universe, that automatically makes him one of the bad guys. But it seems like even an evil businessman would know better than to kill off all of his customers.

This 1976 film, which is loosely (very loosely) based on a novel by H.G. Wells, was directed by Bert I. Gordon and, if you think the plot sounds a little ludicrous …. well, it is. Nothing about the film really makes much sense but that’s kind of to expected from a Bert I. Gordon film. Gordon specialized in making films about giants destroying stuff. The films were never particularly good but Gordon obviously understood that American filmgoers love big things. Food of the Gods, as silly as it may be, apparently made a lot of money when it was first released.

Today, of course, it’s impossible to watch the film without noticing just how terrible the special effects are. Between the unconvincing use of super-imposed images and the obviously fake rats that are tossed at some of the actors, there’s not a single shot that doesn’t somehow look totally ridiculous. In fact, it’s all so silly and obviously done on the cheap that it becomes rather charming, or at least as charming as the superimposed image of giant wasp ever could possibly be. You have to admire the film’s determination to tell its story despite not having the resources to do so. As for the rest of the film, it’s dumb but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you’re specifically searching for a bad giant animal movie, The Food of the Gods is fun in its own goofy, nonsensical, low-budget way.

Creepozoids (1987, directed by David DeCoteau)

In 1992, society collapses due to a nuclear war.  In 1998, a group of army deserters are looking for a place to hide from the authorities when they come across an underground bunker in Los Angeles.  The bunker was once home to a research lab.  Even though all of the scientists are dead, the monster that they created is not and soon, the deserters are fighting for their lives, battling not just the monster but also giant rats.

Creepozoids is a low-budget Alien rip-off.  It’s actually a little incredible just how closely Creepozoids copies Alien, right down to a monster that can spit acid and a scene where someone has a fatal seizure while eating dinner.  The monster itself is not badly realized but the giant rats are obviously just stuffed animals that are being tossed on the cast by crew members standing off-camera.  Though the film takes place in what was then the “near future,” it’s an 80s production all the way through.  The top secret government lab as a bulky computer that only one of the deserters knows how to use.  The secrets to genetic modification are stored on a 8-inch floppy disk.  Most 80s and 90s kids will get nostalgic watching this movie.

One of the deserters is played by Linnea Quigley, which is the main reason why Creepozoids retains a cult following.  While the rest of the deserters want to search the bunker and look for supplies, Linnea’s main concern is trying out the facility’s shower.  (Good news, it works!)  Linnea Quigley appeared in many bad films but she always brought a lot of sincerity and good humor to her performances.  In Creepozoids she gamely wrestles with a stuffed rat and proves herself to be one of the best screamers of the 80s DTV horror industry.  The rest of the cast is interchangeable but, as always, Linnea earns her screen queen crown.

Creepozoids is a lesser imitation of Alien but, seen today, it benefits from nostalgia.  I can still remember Creepozoids showing up on Cinemax, late at night and with a warning that the movie featured not only adult language but also nudity and violence.  (Was anyone ever dissuaded by the Cinemax content warnings?)  This is one of the B-movies that made being an 90s kid fun!

Game Review: Use Your Psychic Powers At Applebee’s (2022, Geoffrey Golden)

Because you have the power to read minds and implant suggestions, you have been hired to serve as Schtupmeister Beer’s first Psychic Brand Ambassador.  Your job is to go to restaurants and mentally suggest to customers that they try out Schtupmeister.  What better place to start than Applebee’s?

This is a short, choose your own adventure-style game.  You go to Applebee’s, you scan the customers and the waitresses, and you decide whether or not to read their minds.  Once you get into their heads, you have the option to either help them out with their problems or just suggest that they get drunk.  It’s simple but it’s well-written and all of the characters make a strong impression.  I managed to inspire one person to drink a beer and I think may have accidentally inspired someone else to burn down the restaurant.  It’s not easy being a psychic brand ambassador!  This is an entertaining and frequently funny game, one that wins major points just by combining psychic phenomena with Applebee’s.

Play Use Your Psychic Powers At Applebee’s.

Retro Television Reviews: City Guys 1.11 “The College Girl,” 1.12 “Bye Mom,” and 1.13 “Old Friends”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Thursdays, I will be reviewing City Guys, which ran on NBC from 1997 to 2001.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

Today, we wrap up season one of City Guys!  Can you feel the excitement?

Episode 1.11 “The College Girl”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on November 22nd, 1997)

Chris meets Alison, a girl in a NYU sweatshirt and gets a date with her by lying about how old he is.  He claims that he’s an undercover cop.  She believe him because the episode wouldn’t work otherwise.  The next day, after their date, Chris discovers that Alison is the new student teacher!  At first, Chris tries to convince her that he’s working undercover to break up a drug ring and to prove it, he arrests El-Train!  Eventually, Chris comes clean and Alison dumps his lying ass.  You go, Alison!  Chris learns an important lesson about always being himself and also about how it’s never too late to apologize.

Meanwhile, Dawn freaks out when she’s voted the school’s worst dancer.  She gets Jamal to teach her how to dance.  This subplot would have worked better if not for the fact that Caitlin Mowery (who played Dawn) was clearly a better dancer than Wesley Jonathan (who played Jamal).

It was a pretty dumb episode but I did laugh at the fact that, even after the lie was exposed, El-Train continued to believe that Chris was an undercover cop.

Episode 1.12 “Bye, Mom”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on November 29th, 1997)

Jamal is failing English so Ms. Noble tutors him by taking him up to the roof and explaining the plot of Romeo and Juliet to him.  This leads to Jamal having childhood flashbacks to his recently deceased mother teaching him how to play the piano.  When Ms. Noble has to go into the hospital, Jamal worries that he’s going to lose her and he’s forced to deal with his own unresolved feelings about the death of his mother.  For the most part, this was a heartfelt episode and Wesley Jonathan did a good job of capturing Jamal’s fear.

That said, this episode also featured an excruciatingly unfunny guest turn from Garry Marshall, who played the school’s vice principal and who didn’t leave a single piece of scenery unchewed.

Episode 1.13 “Old Friends”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on December 5th, 1997)

Remember that video yearbook that Chris and Jamal were supposed to be working on?  Well, the show finally returned to that theme in the final episode of the first season.  With the school year coming to an end, Chris and Jamal are trying to finish things up.  Unfortunately, Mike (Victor Tugunde), an old friend of Jamal’s, has been released from juvenile detention and Jamal would suddenly rather hang out with Mike than with Chris!

Then the video camera disappears and guess who stole it!  Jamal realizes that he’s moved on from his old friends and Chris …. well, I guess Chris gets to know all of his classmates as he interviews them for the video yearbook.  The season ends with Chris and Jamal playing basketball on the school courtyard where they first met.  It’s not a bad ending for a first season, to be honest.

Next week, season 2 begins and Chris and Jamal go from editing the video yearbook to running the student radio station.  The city guys keep rolling.

Horror Scenes I Love: The Opening of The Awful Dr. Orlof

For today’s horror scene that I love, I present to you the opening of Jess Franco’s 1962 film, The Awful Dr. Orlof.

Franco doesn’t have the best critical reputation but I’ve always felt that, when he wanted to and actually had the time and the budget, he was capable of directing some memorably surreal scenes.  The opening of The Awful Dr. Orlof is full of atmosphere and sudden horror.  It plays out like a dream of dark and disturbing things.  Franco often claimed to a disciple of Orson Welles (and Franco reportedly did do some second unit work on Chimes At Midnight) and the opening of Dr. Orlof, with its shadowy cinematography and its skewed camera angles, does definitely show some Wellesian influence.

From 1962, here’s the opening of The Awful Dr. Orlof:

International Horror Film Review: Orloff Against The Invisible Man (dir by Pierre Chevalier)

In 1970’s Orloff Against The Invisible Man, Paco Valladares stars as Dr. Garondet, a turn-of-the-century psychologist.  One morning, Garondet is at his office when a mysterious child delivers a letter requesting that he travel to the castle of Prof. Orloff.  Apparently, Orloff’s daughter feels that her father is losing his mind and is in deep need of therapy.

The castle is located in one of those remote villages that always seem to be home to mad scientists and vampires.  As soon as Garondet arrives, he discovers that none of the villagers are willing to talk about Orloff or his castle.  Instead, they all fear him and, if the audience has seen The Awful Dr. Orlof or any of the other dozen or so films that Jess Franco made about the mad doctor, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

What is a surprise is that Franco apparently had nothing to do with this particular Orloff film.  Instead, Orloff Against The Invisible Man was directed by a French director named Pierre Chevalier.  Chevalier does direct in a very Franco-like manner, making frequent use of the zoom lens and often highlighting odd visual details that have nothing to do with the overall plot.  That said, Chevalier also direct with considerably less energy than Franco.  That is a polite way of saying that this is a surprisingly slow movie.

Eventually, Gardonet does reach the castle.  Orloff’s daughter, Cecile (Brigitte Carva), insists that she did not send the message.  Orloff (played by the great Howard Vernon) tells the doctor that he is not only totally sane but that he also lives with an invisible man.  Orloff proves his claim by having the invisible man pick up a few things in a room while Gardonet watches.  Oddly, Gardonet doesn’t seem to be particularly surprised to learn that Orloff has an invisible servant.

Orloff says that he’s going to tell Gardonet the story of how he got an invisible servant but then it turns out that the story actually has very little to do with that.  Cecile, it turns out, was once mistakenly pronounced dead and put in a coffin.  Two of Orloff’s servants decided to break open the coffin and steal Cecile’s jewelry.  However, when they opened the coffin, Cecile woke up and screamed.  One of the gravediggers stabbed Cecile before the two of them ran from the crypt.  Cecile survived but Orloff was so angry that he tracked down the graverobbers.  He killed one and whipped the other.  (Actually, he may have killed both of them.  Due to some truly bad dubbing, the film isn’t clear on this point.)  He then revived the dead servant, turned him invisible, and now uses him to rule over the village.  Or at least, I think that’s what Orloff was claiming.  Again, the editing of the film was so haphazard and the dubbing some incompetent that the plot wasn’t always easy to follow.  Interestingly enough, there is one scene where we briefly do see what the Invisible Man looks like and he looks nothing like the dead servant but instead appears to be some sort of ape.

Orloff Against the Invisible Man is a mess of bad special effects and sexualized violence.  If Jess Franco could be counted on to make films that were sleazy but enjoyably decadent, Orloff Against The Invisible Man is just sleazy and kind of boring.  The best thing that the film has going for it is Howard Vernon, who brings just the right mix of haughtiness and cynicism to the role of Orloff.  Vernon always played Orloff as being an amoral aristocrat, one whose evil is more the result of ennui than actual maliciousness.  Vernon’s the best thing about Orloff Against The Invisible Man.

As with most of the Orloff films, this one has actually been released under several different titles.  My favorite was The Love Life of an Invisible Man.  Interestingly enough, the film’s American tagline was “God Help Us …. If They Rise Again!” despite the fact that the film didn’t feature any zombies or ghosts.  Instead, it just features a few flashbacks and a lot of exposition.  Orloff Against The Invisible Man could have used the demented imagination of Jess Franco.

6 Shots From 6 Horror Films: The Early 60s

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More 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!

This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we take a look at the early 60s!

6 Shots From 6 Horror Films: The Early 60s

Psycho (1960, dir by Alfred Hitchcock, DP: John L. Russell)

Black Sunday (1960, dir by Mario Bava)

Peeping Tom (1960, dir by Michael Powell, DP: Otto Heller)

Pit and the Pendulum (1961, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Best of Yucca Flats (1961, dir by Coleman Francis, DP: John Cagle and Leo Strosnider)

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962, dir by Jess Franco, DP: Godofredo Pacheco)

Horror Film Review: The Caller (dir by Arthur Allan Seidelman)

The Caller is a odd little film from 1987.

How odd is it?

It’s so odd that it’s difficult to know how to even describe it. On the surface, it’s a film about two people in a house. The Girl (Madolyn Smith) — and that’s how she’s credited at the end of the film — is staying in a secluded house in the woods. There’s a nearby town but, when the Girl stops there to get some gas, it’s impossible not to notice that there aren’t any other people around. When the Girl reaches the house, she makes a phone call and asks to speak to her daughter. From what we hear of her say to her daughter, it sounds as if The Girl is recovering from some sort of trauma.

After the Girl hangs up the phone, the Caller (played by Malcolm McDowell) knocks on her front door. The Caller seems to be a polite Englishman. He says that he’s recently had some car trouble and he asks if he can come in the house to use the Girl’s phone. The Girl lets him in but, as soon as The Caller enters, it becomes apparent that he was lying about having car trouble.

The Girl and the Caller talk. In fact, they spend several days talking. Sometimes, they’re friendly to each other and other times, they’re not. Their stories keep changing. At one point, the Caller claims that he’s a police detective and that he’s investigating a murder in the area. At another point, the Girl claims that she was responsible for the Caller’s car not working. We start to get the feeling that the Girl and the Caller might know each other and that each knows that the other is lying. Things get stranger as the night turns into day and then night again. The Caller appears to be leave but, just as mysteriously, he shows up again. The Caller tries to enter one particular room in the house. The Girl fights to keep him from doing so. The two of them taunt each other. Sometimes, they threaten each other. At times, they seem to be almost dependent on each other and you wonder if the Girl really wants the Caller to leave. They start keeping track of who is collecting the most points as they play a game that only the two of them seem to understand.

And it just keeps going and going. As many times as the Girl and the Caller both say that they’re done with conversation or that they’re leaving, neither can seem to abandon they other. Instead, they keep circling each other, like two trapped animals continually challenging one another for control. It all leads to a twist, one that you probably won’t see coming. Admittedly, the twist itself does seem to come out of nowhere but, because the film has been so weird up until that moment, the bizarre randomness of it all seems totally appropriate.

At times, The Caller can feel like a bit of an endurance test. McDowell and Smith are the only two people in the film and they spend the entire movie engaging in cryptic conversations that only seem to make sense to themselves. It’s not always easy to follow them as they go from one topic to another. Fortunately, both Smith and McDowell give excellent performances, ones that keep us guessing as to their true motivations and which also keep us interested in their enigmatic characters. You become invested in their drama, even if you don’t always understand it. The Caller is not a film for everyone but horror fans looking to take a chance on something a little different will be well-rewarded.