October Positivity: Unidentified (dir by Rich Christiano)

All across America (but mainly in Texas and California) people are seeing bright lights in the sky and reporting that they’ve been abducted by aliens.  Most of the abductees stop telling their stories after they are visited by mysterious men in black but enough are willing to talk about their experiences that eventually, Both Sides Magazine decides to do a story on it.

Keith and Brad are assigned to the story.  Keith is a nice but mild guy who is skeptical about aliens but he’s determined to give everyone a fair hearing,  The film suggests that this is perhaps because Keith’s a Christian, even though he doesn’t read his Bible every night and sometimes entertains doubts as to whether he’s truly going to Heaven.  Brad, meanwhile, is a hardcore Atheist who is rude to everyone and believes in absolutely nothing.  Brad hates the idea of having to do any stories that involve small town America.  Go to Texas to talk to UFO abductees?  That’s not Brad’s thing.  (Brad is supposed to be very unlikable but the actor playing him looks a bit like Owen Wilson so it’s hard to hold anything against him.)

Still, Brad and Keith do talk to an auto mechanic who says that he was abducted.  And then they talk to two Louisiana fishermen who were also abducted.  Keith thinks that their experiences are worthy of a feature article.  Brad vehemently disagrees.  Fortunately, it turns out that the magazine’s religion editor, Darren, supports Keith.

Why is the Religion Editor so interested in UFOs?  It’s not because he believes in aliens.  (“The Bible doesn’t say anything about life on other planets,” he explains.)  Instead, it’s because Darren thinks that the UFOs are actually being used by Satan to draw people away from God.  He points out that most of the people who have been abducted are either not religious or heavily into the paranormal.  Brad thinks that Darren’s full of it but, fortunately, a government informant shows up and reveals that not only is Darren correct but that the UFOs are going to be used as a way to explain away the Rapture!

As you probably guessed, this is a Rich Christiano film.  First released in 2006, Unidentified was Christiano’s second feature length film and …. well, it’s not very good.  On the one hand, you have to appreciate Christiano’s ambition and his attempt to make a sci-fi film on a low budget.  On the other hand, Unidentified is painfully slow, poorly acted, and it’s hard not to notice that, for a major magazine, it appears that only six people work at Both Sides.  Let’s just say that this film is no Spotlight when it comes to realistically portraying the life of a journalist.  Darren makes it a point to try to convert everyone that he meets while investigating the story.  Honestly, this seems like the type of thing that would get most journalists fired from a secular magazine.  For whatever it’s worth, I do think the story itself had potential but the execution is definitely lacking.  That said, the film does work in a reference to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast.  I’m not sure how Orson would have felt about that.

For the record (and since this review is running a little short), I personally don’t believe in UFOs but I have read several books about them.  It amuses me that aliens are apparently always coming to our planet to tell us to stop being so war-like or to take better care of the environment.  Hey, Mr. Martian — WORRY ABOUT YOUR OWN PLANET!

Horror On TV: Ghost Story 1.13 “Time of Terror” (dir by Robert Day)

Tonight’s episode of Ghost Story stars Patricia Neal as a woman who wakes up one morning in a hotel and discovers that her husband is missing.  She’s told that her husband checked out without her but no one will give her a straight answer as to where he went.

This episode was written by Jimmy Sangster, who also wrote several Hammer films.  It originally aired on December 22nd, 1972.

Congrats to the Astros!

Today, in the MLB playoffs, the Yankees/Guardians game was delayed by inclement weather.  However, the Astros did play and they defeated the Mariners by a score of 4-2.  That means that the Astros are just one more game away from advancing to their sixth consecutive championship series!

Congrats to the Astros and good luck to all the teams playing tomorrow.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Attack of the Giant Leeches (dir by Bernard Kowalski)

It’s time for nonstop drama in the bayous!

Shopkeeper Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota) knows that his wife, Liz (Yvette Vickers), is cheating on him with his best friend, Cal (Michael Emmett)! Dave is determined to catch them in the act and force them to walk out into the middle of the swamp at the end of his shotgun. That would be bad enough but what makes the swamp even more dangerous is the fact that there are two giant leeches living in the water, grabbing whoever they can get and dragging them back to their underground cave! Agck! While Dave plots to get revenge on his cheating wife, game warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark) tries to convince everyone that something really needs to be done about those giant leeches.

Filmed and released in 1959 and produced by Roger Corman, Attack of the Giant Leeches is not a particularly complicated film. The leeches live in the swamp. For various reasons, people keep wandering into the swamp. The leeches keep feeding until eventually, the authorities decide to do something about it. The simplicity of it all is why the film works. Why are there giant leeches in the swamp? How did the leeches become giants in the first place? Who cares? What’s important is that they’re there and they’re hungry for blood. At this point, why doesn’t matter. What matter is what is going to be done about them.

Clocking in at barely an hour and filmed by TV director Bernard L. Kowalski, Attack of the Giant Leeches is an enjoyably overhearted slice of Southern melodrama, full of humid atmosphere and sultry dialogue.  The film does a wonderful job of capturing the overheated feeling of being stuck in the country and not having anything better to do than cause some trouble.  I mean, it’s very easy for people to say what other should or shouldn’t do in their spare time.  But, when you’re actually living in a swamp, you do what you have to do in order to pass the time.  At its best, Attack of the Giant Leeches is like Roger Corman meets Tennessee Williams.  It’s Southern Gothic, with even bigger leeches than usual.  Flannery O’Connor would have been proud.

Yvette Vickers plays the role of Liz with a wonderfully defiant attitude. She’s going to do what she wants when she wants to and if that means running the risk of being forced to walk into the swamp, so be it. If she’s stuck in the bayous, she might as well have a good time.  Liz may be frustrated but can you blame her? Meanwhile, VeSota turns Dave into a rather tragic buffoon. Even when he finally thinks that he’s about get his revenge, it turns out that the universe has other plans in store for him.  In the end, Dave is fortune’s fool.  No wonder stiff but earnest Ken Clark really can’t compete with either of them when it comes to capturing the audience’s attention.

Attack of the Giant Leeches is short but enjoyable and, because the copyright wasn’t renewed, it’s in the public domain and it’s very easy to watch for free. Watch it this Halloween and definitely stay out of the swamp!

The Lurking Fear (1994, directed by C. Courtney Joyner)

For years, the town of Leffert’s Corners has lived in fear of the criminal Martense family.  The family’s youngest son, John (Blake Bailey), has just been released from prison and now he’s returning home.  He knows that, before he died, his father arranged for a thousand dollars to be buried in the cemetery.  After the town mortician (Vincent Schiavelli, in a too brief cameo) tells him where it is, John heads to the cemetery.  Unfortunately, he’s followed by crime boss Bennett (Jon Finch) and his thugs.

Cathryn (Ashley Laurence) and Dr. Haggis (Jeffrey Combs) are already at the cemetery, though not for the money.  It turns out that subterranean monsters (all of whom are descended from one John’s relatives) are living underneath the cemetery grounds and terrorizing the town.  Cathryn and Haggis are planning on blowing up the graveyard but that plan is put on hold when John and Bennett arrive.  Underground monsters or not, Bennett is planning on getting that money and if that means holding everyone hostage in a church while the monsters prepare to attack, that is exactly what he is going to do.

As is evident by the welcome presence of Jeffrey Combs, The Lurking Fear is another Full Moon production that was loosely adapted from a H.P. Lovecraft short story.  The premise has promise and the cast is full of talent but the film’s direction is flat, the script is shallow, and the monsters themselves look good but there’s nothing that set them apart from a dozen other monsters that have appeared in Full Moon productions.  (The monsters resemble the dungeon dweller from Castle Freak but they are never as scary.)  It’s too bad because The Lurking Fear is one of Lovecraft’s best short stories and it seems like one that would make a great movie.  But, as a movie, The Lurking Fear, like so many other Full Moon productions, doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself whenever the monsters aren’t around.  Hopefully, someday, Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear will get the film adaptation that it deserves.

Game Review: A House On A Hill (2022, Devin Cummings)

There’s a house on a hill that everyone says in haunted.  Your friends Ingram and Ryan have dared you to enter the house, even though you might get sick from something you find in there or you might even die.  You can try to convince one of them to enter the house with you.  You can enter the house alone.  Or you can go home.

If there’s one thing that every good Interactive Fiction writer understands, it’s that you can get a player to do anything if you suggest that doing otherwise would make them a coward.  Saying “Go Home Coward” is the equivalent of making chicken noises.

Once you enter the house, you can search the rooms and you get a chance to make a few simple decisions about whether or not to do certain things.  Throughout it all, you are given the option to turn around leave.  You’ll get called a coward but considering what does happen if you stay, sometimes it is worth being called a coward.

This is a simple Twine game and it shouldn’t take anyone longer than 10 minutes to play it.  But there are enough different areas of the house to explore and enough possible outcomes that the game itself can be replayed several times.

Play A House On A Hill.

Don’t Look For The Great Pumpkin On TV This Year

Don’t look for It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on television this year.

When I was growing up, watching the Charlie Brown holiday specials on CBS and ABC was an annual tradition.  Unfortunately, after Apple TV+ bought the rights to all of the Peanuts specials in 2018, ABC stopped airing them.  There was enough of an outcry that Apple TV+ partnered up with PBS to air the main holiday specials.  However, it appears that not even PBS will be airing them in 2022.

Instead, you’ll have to go to Apple TV+ and watch them.  The good news is that Apple TV+ will be streaming the specials for free during the holiday season.  The bad news is that it still just doesn’t feel right that none of these specials are going to air on television.  Watching Linus wait for the Great Pumpkin or Charlie Brown buy a Christmas tree on television was a part of the holiday season.  The specials may have been old-fashioned but watching them was tradition.  It was something that I and a lot of other people grew up with.  It always felt good to know that, no matter what else was happening, those specials would always air and that, for at least one night, people could set aside their disagreements and watch them.    Now, you can only watch them online and hope that there’s not too much buffering.  It feels like the end of an era.

It feels like we all got a rock this holiday season.

Retro Television Review: City Guys 2.1 “Men Behind Bars” and 2.2 “Shock Jock”

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!

It’s time for another school year at Manny High!  The second season of City Guys opened with the video yearbook in the past and the school radio station in the future.  It also featured Chris with the first of many unflattering haircuts.  (It’s fully on display in the cast picture above.)

So, without further ado, let’s do it….

Episode 2.1 “Men Behind Bars”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on September 12th, 1998)

It’s time for a new school year at Manny High and it’s also time for City Guys to do a “fake ID” show!  Apparently, in the 90s, fake IDs were the number one social problem amongst teenagers and, as a result, every single TNBC show did an episode about all the terrible things that can happen when you use a fake ID.  The basketball players on Hang Time got suspended for using fake IDs.  Zach Morris got yelled at by his mother for using a fake ID.  I’m sure something terrible happened to the  California Dreams as well, though I can’t remember what it was off the top of my head.  Fortunately, I’m reviewing the show on Saturdays so I guess I’ll find out eventually.

On City Guys, Chris and Jamal end up going to jail.

Chris and Jamal just wanted to use the fake IDs to get into a fund-raiser with Tyra Banks.  But, when they got caught with them, they were thrown behind bars.  Not wanting to call their parents, Chris and Jamal called Al and El-Train to bail them out.  Of course, the show had already gone out of its way to establish that Al and El-Train were petty criminals so guess who got arrested when they show up at the jail? (El-Train pretended to be a lawyer, which was too stupid to be believed but at least it allowed for some Steve Daniel humor.) Needless to say, Chris’s new pageboy haircut made him very popular in jail.

Meanwhile, at a school auction, a tutoring session with Dawn and Cassidy is purchased by Bed-Stuy’s Vinnie and Rocco.  The show acts as if this is a fate worse than death but do you know who didn’t end up in jail because of their fake IDs?  Vinnie and Rocco, that’s who!

“Trying to meet Tyra Banks wasn’t worth all this!” Jamal declares in his prison cell, guaranteeing that he will never be invited to guest judge America’s Next Top Model.

Anyway, don’t touch the fake ID, kids.  They’re just not worth the trouble and, if you’ve got the right attitude and if you know how to turn on the charm, you can usually talk people into not checking your ID in the first place.  A friendly smile is worth a hundred fake IDs.

Episode 2.2 “Shock Jock”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on September 19th, 1998)

Manny High Radio is back on the air!

That’s right, Manny High had its own radio station.  So did Bayside on Saved By The Bell.  So did the high school from California Dreams.  I bet Hang Time had its own radio station as well.  In the 90s, dusty high school radio stations were as familiar a sight on Sunday morning television as teens trying to get into a club with a fake ID.  Seriously, how do these students have time to run a radio station and go to class?

Anyway, Chris and Jamal become the station’s new DJs, presumably because last season’s video yearbook collaboration went so well.  However, Chris and Jamal do not bother to learn all of the broadcast regulations, which leads to them playing a forbidden rap song about how much school sucks.  The school board tries to shut the radio station down so, just as happened on Saved By The Bell and California Dreams, the students get dressed up, attend a school board meeting, and save the radio station!  Of course, before that, Chris and Jamal try to start a pirate radio station, broadcasting as “The Voice.”  Amazingly, no one realizes that Chris and Jamal are “The Voice,” despite the fact that they were the two DJs who caused Manny High Radio to get shut down in the first place.

The main problem with this episode is that it was hard to imagine anyone getting excited over Chris and Jamal’s radio program.  Maybe teenagers in 1998 really were as impressed with Good Morning Vietnam call-outs as Peter Engel seemed to believe.  Who knows?  But, to me, I think most people would change the station or turn down the volume as soon as they heard that, “Good moooooooooorning, Manny High!”

Horror Scenes That I Love: The Hospital Battle from Zombi 2

In this scene from 1979’s Zombi 2, a group of humans try to destroy the zombies that are invading a small hospital on an isolated island.  Director Lucio Fulci later pointed out, in many interviews, that he used the same clips of Al Cliver throwing a Molotov cocktail and firing a shotgun multiple times in the scene.

Two things to note about this scene:

First off, it captures what is truly scary about zombies.  They are relentless.  They do not stop coming.  No matter how many you destroy, there’s always another one following behind it.

Secondly, Italian zombies actually looked like decaying walking corpses that are on the verge of falling apart.  That was one huge difference between the Italian zombie films and many of the ones that were made in America.

Movie Review: Beware! The Blob (by Larry Hagman)

Everyone has one movie or two that hit them so hard it caused them to develop habits. It could be shaking your shoes to confirm no spiders are in them, counting the seconds after a lightning strike for the thunder, or checking the back seat of your car before you get into it, just in case. Some movies kind of imprint themselves on you in different ways.

Beware! The Blob (or Son of The Blob in some circles) was the most terrifying film I saw as a kid. I watched it in front of my grandmother’s living room tv that had a little alarm clock on the floor beneath it. Unlike Friday the 13th and Halloween, where I could rationalize my fears, Beware! The Blob had me fearing the summer and any open crevice we had. On any visits to our local video store (in the Pre-Blockbuster days), I’d pick out video games to rent and could see the box for the film in the horror section. I’d never walk over there, even in my early teenage years.

Most consider the 1958 original a Classic, and Chuck Russell’s 1988 update often goes toe to toe with John Carpenter’s The Thing on the Best Remakes list. Beware! The Blob will probably never make that list, but it’s not a total loss, given a recent rewatch. The film’s greatest strengths are in the casting and the special effects. From a cinema history/trivia standpoint, the film marks one of the earliest credits for Cinematographer Dean Cundey. Cundey worked as a 2nd Unit Cinematographer for the film, particularly with the animal shots in the opening and later on. That might not sound like much, but Cundey would go on to be picked by Debra Hill to help out on Halloween in 1978. From there, he had The Fog, Halloween II, The Thing, Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, Big Trouble in Little China, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Jurassic Park, to name a few.

With 14 years since the first film, there were some tech upgrades to how the blob was made. A large plastic balloon was used for some scenes (particularly the bowling alley sequences). Additionally, silicone was added to a drum to allow for the “blob pov” during the bowling alley sequences. In most sequences, a red dyed powder mixed with water was used. To make sure the audience was aware the Blob was close, a high whistle would sound, giving anyone with even the slightest bit of tinnitus some cause to look over their shoulder. Academy Award Winner Tim Baar (The Time Machine) and Conrad Rothmann worked on the effects, along with Cundey.

In his film directing debut, Larry Hagman (TV’s I Dream of Jeannie, Dallas) weaves a tale of horror lurking through a town peppered with parties, hobos, a boy scout team, an angry bowling alley owner, some dune buggy aficionados and a sheriff (Richard Webb, The Phantom Stagecoach) who’s a little confused about some of the events happening in town. To his credit, it’s amazing to see who Hagman assembled here, as he called in some friends to join in on the fun. Comedian Godfrey Cambridge. Cindy Williams, just a few years shy of American Graffiti. Gerrit Graham, about two years before Phantom of the Paradise. Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects) is here as well. You can even spot Hagman in the film as one of three hobos squaring off with the Blob. It should be noted that the other two hobos with him are Burgess Meredith (Clash of the Titans) and Del Close (Chuck Russell’s The Blob).

The film flows like it’s namesake, with some chapters having little do to with anything – Dick Van Patten’s boy scouts, while funny, could have had one of their scenes cut for speed. It’s not incredibly terrible, but it’s exactly great, either. Most of the script, written by Anthony Harris, was tossed with ad-libbing done on set. Despite all this, it does looks like the cast enjoyed themselves making the film. It has that going for it, at least.

Sid Haig was caught unaware in Larry Hagman’s Beware! The Blob

Chester, A construction worker from the Arctic (Cambridge) is getting his camping gear stowed away when his wife, Marlene (Marlene Clark, The Beast Must Die) discovers a thermos in their freezer. He explains he performed some work and brought home a piece of what the found in the Arctic. Setting it on a countertop, the couple forget about the thermos, which pops open. The newly released blob absorbs a fly and a kitten before moving on to larger prey. Before we know it, Chester is having problems with his TV – which happens to be playing the original 1958 movie – as it slithers into his favorite recliner. It’s a sequence that’s burned into my mind. I always check a chair before sitting in it. Some check for thumbtacks, I check for alien goo.

When Lisa (Gwynne Gilford, Masters of the Universe & actor Chris Pine’s Mom) discovers Chester with his new friend, she dashes out and heads to her boyfriend, Bobby (Robert Walker, Easy Rider). By the time the couple return to Chester’s place, they find the house empty. Can the couple convince the cops and the town of the danger ahead before it’s too late? Most of Beware! The Blob‘s scenes are set up in a way where people are completely oblivious of it until it’s touched them, causing said individual to slip and fall into the camera. The climax of the film takes place in a bowling alley, which is actually impressive for the techniques used, but even with the casting, you might spend more time laughing than anything else. Perhaps that’s my way of rationalizing the film years later.

At the time of this writing, Beware! The Blob is currently available to watch on the Plex streaming service. We’re also labeling this an Incident – out of respect to the kitten – and returning the timer to Zero.