October Positivity: The Crossing (dir by John Schmidt)

The 1994 film, The Crossing, tells the story of two teenage friends.  Jason (Kevin Downes) and Matt (David A.R. White) used to be cheerful juvenile delinquents.  But now, Matt is dying of what appears to be leukemia and Jason …. well, Jason’s in denial.  Jason does not want to admit that his best friend is going to die.  But then his best friend does die and Jason really doesn’t have any choice to admit it.  But then, at Matt’s funeral, Matt suddenly shows up and starts talking to Jason.

That’s right …. MATT’S BACK!

Unfortunately, Matt’s only back for a little bit and only Jason can see him.  Having died, Matt has not only witnessed Heaven but also discovered that it’s really difficult to get in.  He takes Matt to a heavenly court where they watch as another one of their friends is condemned to Hell by a sympathetic but firm-handed judge.  Matt also visits the big computer room where all of the records are kept.  He’s given a big dot-matrix printout that lists all of his sins.  There’s a lot of them!

However, Jason tells Matt that there’s still hope for him and then invites him to come check out Heaven.  They just have to walk over a wooden cross that is used as bridge between Purgatory and Heaven.  Underneath the bridge is Hell and no one wants to go down there.  However, no sooner have Matt and Jason crossed over than Jason notices that his mother is following them!  And she can’t see the bridge!  Uh-oh!

The Crossing is an early example of the Christian scare film, where the main message is that, if you displease God, you’ll go to Hell and suffer for all eternity.  Obviously, that’s a very cinematic message and these films always seem to spend a good deal of time in trying to find new ways to visualize Hell.  That said, I’ve always felt like that message was a bit counter-productive.  Instead of emphasizing what Jesus preached and what the Church is supposed to stand for (even if it rarely lives up to its own standards), these films instead seem to say, “Convert or we’ll punish you forever.”  People will do a lot of things under the threat of eternal pain and damnation but I’m a bit skeptical as to how sincere any of those actions will be.  Indeed, many evangelical films seem to take a bit too much pleasure in imagining people being condemned to Hell.  There’s definitely an element of, “You think you’re so smart but we’ll get the last laugh!” to these films.  That’s not exactly the best attitude.

That said, The Crossing is slicky produced and it gets a lot of mileage out of its low budget.  The scene in the computer room actually had a few intentional laughs as Matt marveled at how business-like and matter-of-fact all the record keepers were.  They were just doing their jobs with an attitude that said, “We’ve seen things you can’t even imagine.”  Who wouldn’t want that job?  Still, one has to wonder why Matt got to go see all of this and change his life but his friend who was condemned to Hell didn’t.  That doesn’t seem quite fair.

Horror on TV: Ghost Story 1.7 “Half a Death” (dir by Leslie H. Martinson)

On tonight’s episode of Ghost Story, Pamela Franklin plays two roles.  She plays both Christina Burgess and Lisa (hey!), the twin sister who Christina has never met.  When Lisa mysteriously dies (boooo!), Christina finds herself haunted by her sister’s ghost.  But is the ghost benevolent or is the ghost seeking revenge?

Co-written by Richard Matheson, this episode originally aired on November 3rd, 1972.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Dolls (dir by Stuart Gordon)

Sitting out of the middle of nowhere, there’s a house. And in this house, there lives an old man and an old woman. They appear to be very friendly, the type who will happily open up their home to anyone needing a place to stay and have a cup of coffee. They make dolls for a living. They make the type of dolls that smirk at you whenever you trip and that glare at you whenever you say that you don’t care about toys. They’re living dolls and they’re actually kind of vicious. Don’t get on their bad side.

That is exactly the mistake that a few people make when they arrive at the house on one stormy night. Two punk rock girls with exaggerated British accents make the mistake of trying to find something to steal. Uh-oh, here come the dolls! A self-centered man and his wife make the mistake of not caring about their daughter. The dolls aren’t going to stand for that!  Seriously, the dolls may be cute but if they don’t like you, you are doomed!

The dolls, however, do like the daughter. And they appear to be willing to tolerate Ralph, the goofy traveling salesman who made the mistake of picking up the two punk rock girls while they were hitchhiking. Will the dolls continue to like the daughter and Ralph or will they eventually turn on everyone in the house? They may be small but again, you seriously do not want to get these dolls mad.

First released in 1986, Dolls is a seriously strange movie from director Stuart Gordon and producer Charles Band. There’s a lot of good things to be said for Dolls. The house is atmospheric. The dolls are truly creepy. The acting really isn’t that bad, though I do think most viewers won’t necessarily miss the two punks girls.  The movie does take the characters and the dolls in some unexpected directions. But the movie’s tone is all over the place. It starts out as a broad comedy before then turning into a surprisingly violent and bloody horror film and then it turns into this strangely macabre family drama. The movie can’t seem to decide whether it wants you touch your heart or scar your soul. Imagine Home Alone if the movie kept all the heart-warming stuff but then had the kid brutally kill the burglars and laugh while stuffing their corpses in a furnace and you have some idea of what the tone of Dolls is like.

It’s an odd film but it’s hard not to like. Stuart Gordon’s direction is energetic and, since the movie only has a running time of 77 minutes, the whole thing feels like an extra weird episode of Tales From The Crypt or The Twilight Zone. Even the film’s mix of humor and disturbing violence feels strangely appropriate, as if the film itself is an adaptation of a particularly grisly fairy tale.

Watch Dolls and you’ll never look at a toy the same way again!

Go Mariners!

The MLB Wild Card has begun and the Seattle Mariners won their first game, 4-0, against the Blue Jays!  Thank you, Mariners!  At the risk of being petty, I don’t really care who wins the World Series as long as it’s not the Blue Jays.  I’m hoping Seattle can eliminate that possibility early.

Go Mariners!

Biohazard (1985, directed by Fred Olen Ray)

At a government research lab in the middle of the desert, Lisa (Angelique Pettyjohn) is a psychic who has the ability to go into different dimensions and bring things back with her.  While demonstrating her abilities for Gen. Randolph (Aldo Ray), she accidentally brings back a container that is carrying a small, humanoid/lizard hybrid.  (Inside the costume was director Fred Olen Ray’s six year-old son, Christopher.)  The monster goes on a rampage, killing hoboes and other random people who live in a nearby town.  Lisa and Carter (William Fair) try to track down the creature before it can cause too much damage and kill too many people.  Meanwhile, the town drunk wants to sell the monster’s story to the newspapers.

Biohazard is a typical early Ray film.  Hire some veterans, like Aldo Ray and Carroll Borland.  (Fred Olen Ray, if nothing else, was good about finding work for Hollywood veterans who, otherwise, would have spent their final years in obscurity.)  Unleash someone in a monster costume.  Toss in some gratuitous nudity.  Spill some fake blood.  Pad it out so that the film reaches feature-length.  Biohazard goes the Hal Needham route when it comes to padding out the film and gives us several minutes of blown takes and other mistakes.  The takes start out amusing but, eventually, there’s only so many times you can watch actors blow lines that weren’t that good to begin with.  It’s still not as bad as having to watch Burt Reynolds slap Dom DeLuise a hundred times during the closing credits of Cannonball Run.  At least most of the actors actually look like they enjoyed being on the set of Biohazard.  

With Fred Olen Ray, you know what you’re going to get and Biohazard delivers all of Ray’s trademark moments, including ineptly lit day-for-night scenes, overacted comedy relief, and one or two scenes that work despite themselves.  As bad as the end result was, the film does have a DIY aesthetic that will appeal to anyone who has ever thought about getting a couple of friends together and just making a movie.  Supposedly, it took Ray two years to complete Biohazard.  Today, an aspiring filmmaker could just film it on his phone over two weekends and then upload it to YouTube and get a few thousand likes.  In some ways, independent filmmakers like Fred Olen Ray were ahead of their time.

Horror Film Review: The Wasp Woman (dir by Roger Corman)

Aging sucks!

I mean, let’s just be honest about that. No one wants to get older. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks to themselves, “Yay! I’m one day closer to death!” People do not celebrate the appearance of a wrinkle or a laugh line. No one is happy when their vision gets blurrier or when they start to ache more and more frequently. No one wants to get old! That’s a simple truth and it’s the truth that is at the heart of the 1958 film, The Wasp Woman.

Directed by B-movie maestro Roger Corman, The Wasp Woman tells the story of Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot). Janice owns a cosmetic company. She’s made a fortune helping people defy their age. Unfortunately, the company’s sales are down because Janice herself cannot defy the passage of time. She’s looking older and apparently, people across the world are saying, “Why would I buy makeup for a mortal? I only buy my makeup from ageless mythological goddesses, who never age.”

So, Janice does what anyone would do. She tries to find a way to stop herself from getting old. When she discovers that a scientist is experimenting with using the enzymes from the royal jelly of a queen wasp to reverse the aging process, she agrees to fund his work. However, she has one condition. She has to be the test subject …. which, now that I think about it, makes absolutely no sense. Surely Janice could hire someone else to be the test subject before undergoing a highly experimental and unproven scientific process herself. I mean, Janice is extremely wealthy! Or maybe Janice could just hire a model to be the new face of her company. Or she could retire and take her millions to Europe and spend the rest of her life living in luxury. My point is that it seems like Janice is acting a bit impulsively here.

Anyway, Dr. Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark) reluctantly agrees to Janice’s demands. He really needs the money, I guess. And if Janice dies, it’ll just means that he’ll probably go to prison for life. He certainly won’t ever be allowed to experiment with any more wasps. Is anyone in this movie capable of thinking ahead?

At first, the experiments seem to work. After one weekend, Janice looks 20 years younger! However, there is an unfortunate side effect. Janice occasionally transforms into a wasp/human hybrid! Uh-oh! That’s not good….

Clocking in at barely 70 minutes, The Wasp Woman is an entertainingly daft movie. As I’ve already pointed out, this is one of those movies where so much drama could be avoided if people would just consider the possible consequences of their actions. That said, the pace is fast and Susan Cabot is enjoyably bitchy in the role of Janice. The Wasp Woman costume manages to be both ludicrous and effective at the same time. Laugh? Scream? Why not do both!?

In the end, this is a silly but entertaining movie. If nothing else, it proves that sometimes it’s best just to accept that no one stays young forever.

One final note: This film has a great poster, even if it is totally misleading.

Game Review: The Pool (2022, Jacob Reux)

In The Pool, you are a socially awkward employee at a research facility that is investigating aquatic life.  You’re job is to keep the lights on.  As Dr. Chambers, the head of the facility, puts it, you “help to illuminate the world.”  But, at the end-of-the-month reception, you discover that there is something lurking in the facility’s pool and soon, the entire place is flooded with water and monsters.  You’ll have to figure out who you can trust as you try to escape the pool.

This is a choose-your-own-adventure Twine game.  One of my pet peeves when it comes to Interactive Fiction is that so many creators use Twine to create short stories where any choice you make inevitably leads to the same conclusion.  (Anyone who has played enough Twine game will experience the frustration of clicking on a choice, just to be told that your character has changed his mind and decided to go with the other option.)  That is why I am happy that the choices that you make in The Pool actually do make a difference.  Where you go during the reception and who you go with actually does effect the course of the game.  Because each decision also leads to different details about what is in the water, this is a game that rewards being replayed.  All in all, it’s a well-written slice of horror.

Play The Pool.

Retro Television Review: One World 1.11 “The Thanksgiving Show” and 1.12 “The One Where Sui and Alex Walk”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Fridays, I will be reviewing One World, which ran on NBC from 1998 to 2001.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

The Cast of One World

When we last checked in with One World, Jane was dating Ben’s no good brother and Ben was dating a recovering alcoholic named Alex.  How much drama will this all lead to?  Let’s find out.  After all, we’re living in one world….

Episode 1.11 “The Thanksgiving Show”

(Directed by Chuck Vinson, originally aired on November 28th, 1998)

The holidays are approaching and the Blakes are a family divided.

Cray is heading to Disneyland with a previously unmentioned friend, “Bobby DeVito.”  (I assume he’s a mix of Robert De Niro and Danny De Vito.)  Ben and Marci are throwing a charity benefit for the homeless at Miami’s hottest under-21 club, The Warehouse.  Offended that Ben is only using his benefit to promote his music career, Neal is planning on giving out food to the homeless on his own.  Meanwhile, Sui is waiting to hear whether or not she’s gotten a try-out with the U.S. Olympic team and Jane is worrying that the Blakes won’t have the type of big, traditional Thanksgiving that she’s always secretly wanted.

Sui’s an Olympic-class athlete?  Where did that come from?  And Jane is secretly obsessed with turkey and yams?  Again, it kind of comes out of nowhere.  But you know what?  This was actually a pretty effective episode and both Michelle Krusiec (as Sui) and Arroyn Lloyd (as Jane) gave good performances that convinced the viewer that yes, Sui could go to the Olympics and yes, under her tough exterior, Jane actually could be a lover of big family holidays.  And even if the benefit storyline was a bit heavy-handed, it was still heartfelt and sincere.  Sitcoms are kind of notorious for bad holiday episodes but One World did a pretty good job as far as Thanksgiving was concerned.

This episode ended with a cliffhanger as Sui was injured in an auto accident.  How would this effect her Olympics dreams?  The answer was in the very next episode.

Episode 1.12 “The One Where Sui and Alex Walk”

(Directed by Chuck Vinson, originally aired on December 5th, 1998)

Sui returns from the hospital and, saying that rehab hurts too much, she abandons her Olympics dreams.  But then, for some odd reason, Cray decides that he wants to play the harp and Sui figure that if Cray can handle everyone in the world laughing at him, she  can handle the pain.

Actually, I know that sounds like I’m being snarky but this was a pretty good episode and the entire cast really delivered, even when the dialogue got a bit heavy-handed.  Speaking as someone who has broken her ankle more than a few times, this episode did a very good job of capturing the fear and uncertainty that comes from recovering from a major injury.

Meanwhile, Alex left Ben because it was totally obvious that he’s in love with Jane.  And Jane left Bryan because it was totally obvious that Jane only liked Bryan because he shared Ben’s DNA.  Now that they’re both single, will Ben and Jane get together?

We’ll find out next week!

Horror Scenes that I Love: The Gas Station Attack From Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds

Now, in all honest, it’s not just The Birds that cause chaos in this scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film of the same name.  I will never understand why that gentleman decided that he just had to light up a cigar at that particular time.  And if he had used a lighter instead of a match, he could have prevented a lot of trouble.

That said, you do have to respect the Birds for somehow knowing that he would do exactly that and therefore, making sure that the gasoline ended up right around his feet.  Those birds are clever!

Seriously, though, this scene really creeps me out.  I think it’s because there’s so many birds and, as this scene showed, there was absolutely no way the humans on that island were going to be able to win this particular battle.

8 Shots From 8 Horror Films: The Mid 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 mid-60s!

8 Shots From 8 Horror Films: The Mid 60s

Black Sabbath (1963, dir by Mario Bava DP: Mario Bava)

The Birds (1963, dir by Alfred Hitchcock, DP: Robert Burks)

The Raven (1963, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Evil of Frankenstein (1963, dir by Freddie Francis, DP: John Wilcox)

The Masque of the Red Death (1964, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Nicolas Roeg)

Blood and Black Lace (1964, dir by Mario Bava, DP: Mario Bava)

Planet of the Vampires (1965, dir by Mario Bava, DP: Antonio Rinaldi)

Rasputin The Mad Monk (1966, dir by Don Sharp, DP: Michael Reed)