October Positivity: Buying Time (dir by Michael Cargile)

2019’s Buying Time opens in the future.

It’s not a particularly happy future.  Many things have been declared illegal and forbidden, all in the name of the public good.  Secret police roam the streets.  Those who refuse to obey the system are arrested and held in dark cells.  It’s all for the benefit of the people, of course.  (Not me, us and all that nonsense.)

Adam Demus (Drew Garrett) is arrested for street racing and tossed into a dark cell.  Adam is a rebel, though he doesn’t seem to be sure what exactly it is that he’s rebelling against.  To Adam’s shock and anger, his father, Nick (Jake Head) is brought into the cell.  It is quickly established that Nick used to be an abusive drunk and that he regularly beat both Adam and Adam’s mother.  Adam wants nothing to do with Nick but Nick asks him to just listen to his story.  Seeing as how the cell is locked, Adam doesn’t really have much choice.  While Nick speaks, the government monitors everything that he says.  They’re just waiting for him to say one certain thing so that they can make their move.

Nick talks about his youth and how he was once also a street racer.  In the years before the new government came to power, Nick would spend every night racing against two brother, Ben and Pete.  But then, one night, a terrible accident landed Ben in the hospital.  Having nearly died, Ben declared himself to be a Christian and, instead of racing, he now wanted to preach.  Pete wasn’t particularly happy about that.  In fact, outside of their mother and the local preacher, no one was happy about that.  Ben would still go to the street races but now, he would try to preach and he would go on and on about how breaking the law went against God’s will.  Finally, Nick called Ben’s bluff and challenged him to a race.  If Ben won the race, he would be allowed to preach and everyone would listen to him.  If Nick won the race …. well, who knows?  I guess Ben would just have to go to some other illegal event and try to preach there.  (One can only imagine how his message would have gone down at a cockfight.)  Anyway, if you’ve ever seen a faith-based film, you’ll know that this all leads to tragedy, a sudden conversion, and eventually a scene where the government declares that Christianity is now forbidden.

Due to its structure, Buying Time has an odd feel to it.  Indeed, it feels like two separate movies and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the interrogation scenes were conceived and added after the scenes involving Ben and Pete.  All in all, it’s a pretty heavy-handed film and Ben and Pete are not particularly likable characters.  Ben is preachy.  Peter is resentful.  Even their mom is a bit full-of-herself.  That said, I do like fast cars and I don’t care much for the government so I appreciated the film on those two levels.  It’s interesting to note that, as a viewer, I never really bought Ben’s sudden conversion to Christianity but I totally believed that the government would have no problem taking away everyone’s rights.  I guess that says a lot about the state of the world today.

Horror on TV: Circle of Fear 1.20 “Spare Parts” (dir by Charles S. Dubin)

On tonight’s episode of Circle of Fear, Susan Oliver plays the widow of a doctor who allows his hands, eyes, and vocal chords to be used in transplants.  Unfortunately for her, the spirit of her dead husband is still inside of his donated body parts.  Because he’s convinced that she murdered him, the dead doctor seeks an elaborate revenge on his wife.

This episode originally aired on February 23rd, 1973.  It was written by Jimmy Sangster, who is best known for his work with Hammer Films.


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Bigfoot (dir by Bruce Davison)

In this 2012 Asylum production, the legendary Bigfoot is revealed to just be a big gorilla who wants to sleep for the winter.  In fact, Bigfoot seems to have more in common with King Kong than the hairy, humanoid that people have been reporting seeing for over a hundred years.  Unfortunately, all of the hunters and the tourists and the noise from a local music festival keep interrupting Bigfoot’s slumber.  It turns out that Bigfoot is not a morning monster and tends to wake up grumpy.  When Bigfoot is in a bad mood, he turns over RVs, steps on hunters, and tries to destroy Mt. Rushmore.

Concert promoter Harley Henderson (Donny Bonaduce) wants to kill Bigfoot and turn his body into a tourist attraction.  Environmental activist Simon Quinn (Barry Williams) wants to not only protect Bigfoot but to also perform protest-themed folk music.  Harley and Simon were once musical partners, until Simon decided that he would rather protect endangered species and Harley decided to become a businessman.  Now, they hate each other and are constantly on the verge of coming to blows.  Meanwhile, Sheriff Alvarez (Sherilyn Fenn) just wants to keep her town safe from the creature’s rampage.  You read that right.  This film is The Partridge Family vs. The Brady Bunch with Twin Peaks trying to keep the peace.  If you’re wondering how The Asylum convinced Bonaduce, Williams, and Sherilyn Fenn to all appear in a low-budget film about a giant gorilla menacing South Dakota, consider that they also convinced Bruce Davison to appear in it as well.  In fact, Bruce not only stars but he directed the film as well!  I mean, Bonaduce and Williams were probably just happy that someone was calling them and this film was made before Twin Peak: The Return reignited Fenn’s career.  Bruce Davison, however, has an Oscar nomination to his name.  Of course, before one gets too snarky, it’s important to remember that actors have bill to pay, just like the rest of us.  Sometimes, those bills are played by appearing in Shakespeare.  Sometimes, they’re paid by appearing in Bigfoot.

Actually, no one should be ashamed about appearing in Bigfoot.  Like most of the films produced by the Asylum, Bigfoot is actually a lot of fun.  It’s not a film that’s meant to be taken seriously.  Instead, it’s basically a parody of the big-budget giant monster movies that come out of Hollywood, complete with a tacked-on environmental subplot and an endangered national monument.  Bigfoot is in on the joke.  The minute that Barry Williams picks up his guitar and starts to sing an insufferable folk song, it’s obvious that this film is laughing along with us.  Bigfoot was designed to be a silly film and it succeeds.  When taken on its own terms, it’s hard not to enjoy it.

Finally, Alice Cooper appears in this film as himself, performing at Bonaduce’s concert.  After Alice complains about the crowd size and bemoans the indignity of going from being one of the world’s biggest stars to performing at a festival in South Dakota, Bigfoot literally kicks him off the stage.  Much like the film, Alice deserves some credit for be willing to poke fun at himself.

Who Is The Black Dahlia? (1975, directed by Joseph Pevney)

In 1947 Los Angeles, the body of 22 year-old Elizabeth Short is discovered in an empty lot.  Short, who was nicknamed The Black Dahlia because she always wore black, was an aspiring actress who was violently tortured before being chopped in half.  Her murder remains one of Hollywood’s most infamous unsolved crimes.

In this made-for-television movie, Ronny Cox and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. play the two detectives who are assigned to investigate Short’s murder.  Though they struggle to find any clues identifying who could have killed Short, they do learn about her life and how she went from being a naïve innocent who came to Hollywood with stars in her eyes to being a hardened and cynical woman who may have been supporting herself through sex work when she was murdered.  The film makes use of frequent flashbacks, in which Elizabeth Short is played by Lucie Arnaz.  Her friends and acquaintances are played by familiar television faces like Henry Jones, Mercedes McCambridge, June Lockhart, Brooke Adams, Donna Mills, and Tom Bosley.  Also be sure to keep an eye out for Sid Haig, playing a tattoo artist.

What Elizabeth Short went through over the course of her short time in Hollywood was probably too graphic to be put on television in the 70s but this movie still does a good job of recounting the basic facts of her life and murder.  Because the film is based on fact, no one is ever arrested for Short’s murder.  The only suspect is a doctor who turns out to have an alibi.  The movie instead focuses on Short trying make it in Hollywood and discovering that it’s a cruel town.  Lucie Arnaz was far better than I was expecting in the role of Elizabeth and brought a lot of vulnerability to the role.  The film ended with a title card, asking anyone who had information about the murder of Elizabeth Short to call the LAPD.  The case remains open to this day.

Horror Game Review: Kiss of Beth (2021, Charm Cochran)

Cordero has just knocked on the door of your home.  He’s here to take your roommate Beth on a date.  While Beth gets ready, your job is to check Cordero out.  Have a conversation with him.  Find out what he’s planning to do on the date.  Maybe ask him about his family or his plans for school.  You could even ask to see pictures of his dog if you want.  Find out all that you feel you need to know about Cordero because, towards the end of the game, you’re going to have to make a big decision.  And that decision will effect not only how Cordero views you but also your relationship with Beth.

With the exception of the final few moments of the game, Kiss of Beth is a conversation simulator.  At the start of the game, it seems like you are just being an overprotective friend but, as things progress, it becomes obvious that there is more to your relationship with Beth than just friendship.  There are two potential endings, a good one and a bad one.  I’ve discovered that it’s a lot easier to get the bad one than the good one.

Kiss of Beth can be played in less than 15 minutes and, because of the number of choices and the multiple endings, it’s a game that can be replayed several times.  After you finish the game the first time and learn the true nature of your relationship with Beth, you’ll be surprised when you play the game a second time and see that all the clues were right there for you to see.

Play Kiss of Beth.

Retro Television Reviews: City Guys 2.3 “The Roommate” and 2.4 “Jamal Got His Gun”

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!

Season two of City Guys continues as Chris gets a roommate and Jamal gets a gun!

Roll with the city guys….

Episode 2.3 “The Roommate”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on September 26th, 1998)

After getting into a fight with his mother, El-Train leaves his house and ends up staying with Chris at the latter’s Park Avenue Penthouse.  It’s just as dumb as it sounds.  El-Train turns out to be a well-intentioned but terrible roommate but at least we get to see Chris’s penthouse once again.  Chris’s parents are nowhere to be seen but the butler and the maid make return appearances.

In between trying to get El-Train to move back in with his mom, Chris and Jamal work on a report about the history of New York City.  Jamal says that it should be an easy report for them because, “We’re city guys!”  The audience cheers and you can practically hear the little voices saying, “Oh my God!  That’s the title of the show!”

In yet another subplot, Al convinces Dawn and Cassidy to pose for some pictures that he wants to sell to a magazine.  In past episodes, there’s no way that Dawn and Cassidy would have allowed Al to photograph them but, for the purposes this episode, it was convenient to make them less sensible.  (Of course, as another example of City Guys struggle to maintain continuity, this episode also overlooks the fact that Cassidy already is a model.)  For some reason, a newspaper buys the photographs and puts Dawn and Cassidy’s heads onto the bodies of pregnant women.  The audience loves it but Dawn and Cassidy are less amused.

Anyway, this was a fairly silly episode but Steven Daniel’s performance as El-Train continued to be one of the show’s highlights.  As the episode ends, El-Train stands at the front of a classroom and prepares to give his report on the history of “Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love! …. starring Tom Hanks….”

Episode 2.4 “Jamal Got His Gun”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on October 3rd, 1998)

After getting robbed and having a gun pointed at his face while closing up the diner, Jamal illegally purchases a gun and then accidentally shoots his father!

Damn!  City Guys got dark!

Of course, this being City Guys, there’s a silly subplot to balance out all of the dramatic stuff.  Cassidy ends up being pursued by a wealthy exchange student from a fictional Middle Eastern country.  Cassidy worries that she’ll be taken to the desert and she’ll have to deal with getting dry skin.  Once again, City Guys was all about tolerance, unless you were from a country other than the U.S.

But back to the gun plot, I have to give a lot of credit to Wesley Jonathan and, returning in the role of Jamal’s father, Ivory Ocean.  Both of them give strong performances in this episode and the scene where Jamal freaks out after realizing that he nearly killed his father is far more powerful than anyone would expect from a show that aired alongside Hang Time and Saved By The Bell: The New Class.  Fortunately, the bullet only grazes Jamal’s father and Jamal just gets probation.  I guess he can add the additional community service hours to however many hours he had left for the whole Fake ID thing.  Between community service, working at the restaurant, and running the school radio station, does Jamal have any free time?  Poor guy.

Horror Scenes That I Love: The Party Scene From The Rage: Carrie 2

While it’s certainly not as good as the original, I still think 1998’s The Rage: Carrie 2 is underrated.

In this scene, a bunch of dumbass jocks discover that they’ve bullied the wrong girl.  Because I occasionally wear glasses, this scene freaks me out.

International Horror Film Review: Hostile (dir by Mathieu Turi)

The world is ending and you’re stuck in the desert. The vehicle you were driving has flipped over. You’ve got a severely broken leg and can’t move. The few remaining humans in the city have informed you that a rescue party will not be sent out until the sun rises. And you’ve got a deformed creature circling your crashed van, trying to find a way to enter.  You have to figure out how to survive the night while being hunted by some sort of mutant and you also have to mentally work out your relationship issues while doing so.

(It may sound like a nightmare but if you ever break up with someone while on a road trip through South Texas and then you have to ask that person to give you a ride home, it can be a reality.  Not that I’m speaking for personal experience, of course….)

That’s the situation in which Juliet (Brittany Ashworth) finds herself in the 2017 French film, Hostile.  While Juliet tries to survive the night, she flashes back to the life and the world she used to know. She remembers how she was once a nearly illiterate drug addict who met and fell in love with an art gallery owner named Jack (Grégory Fitoussi). After discussing the paintings of Francis Bacon and the role of fate in everyone’s life, Jack took it on himself to lock Juliet in an apartment until she overcame her addiction. Now, that’s not something that most professionals would necessarily recommend trying, especially when the addict and the apartment owner barely know one another.  In fact, I felt it was a bit presumptuous on Jack’s part.  Who is Jack to decide that he’s going to be the one to save Juliet’s life?  Jack may think that his intentions are good but there’s something a bit too self-righteous and controlling about Jack, even if he is trying to keep someone from self-destructing.  He’s every preachy Intervention producer come to life.  He’s someone who most viewers will feel a bit of ambiguity about.

The audience might not be totally comfortable with what Jack does but, for Juliet and Jack, it all works out and they fall in love. Juliet remembers the good times with Jack and she also remembers how their relationship eventually fell apart and how the world itself eventually started to end, almost as if their relationship issues were a bit of a metaphor for the fragility of society.  Meanwhile, the creature outside the van continues to try to find its way inside.

Hostile is a claustrophobic and atmospheric end-of-the-world thriller from director Mathieu Turi. The inside of that van is a properly ominous location and it’s impossible not to sympathize with Juliet as she struggles to figures out how to survive the night. The film’s deliberate pace takes some getting used to and the final twist requires a certain suspension of disbelief but both Ashworth and Fitoussi are well-cast as Juliet and Jack. In the end, the film is a moody and interesting look at the end of the world, albeit one that is marred by the heavy-handedness of its script.

8 Shots From 8 Horror Films: 1997–1999

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 1997, 1998, and 1999!

8 Shots From 8 Horror Films: 1997 — 1999

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997, dir by Jim Gillespie, DP: Denis Crossan)

The Devil’s Advocate (1997, dir by Taylor Hackford, DP: Andrzej Bartkowiak)

Lost Highway (1997, dir by David Lynch, DP: Peter Deming)

Vampires (1998, dir by John Carpenter, DP: Gary B. Kibbe)

The Phantom of the Opera (1998, dir by Dario Argento, DP: Ronnie Taylor)

The Faculty (1998, dir by Robert Rodriguez, DP: Enrique Chediak)

The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999, dir by Katt Shea, DP: Donald M. Morgan)

The Sixth Sense (1999, dir by M. Night Shyamalan, DP: Tak Fujimoto)

Horror Film Review: Hellraiser (dir by David Bruckner)

Last night, I started watching the Hellraiser reboot.  I fell asleep about 40 minutes in.

That’s never a good sign, especially when it comes to a horror movie.  A horror movie is supposed to be so scary that you can’t sleep.  It’s supposed to be so intense and disturbing that it gives you nightmares, even if you actually do manage to get some rest.  A horror movie is supposed to haunt you, not bore you.  That’s especially true of the Hellraiser movies, which are defined by their grotesque imagery and the terrifying implications of the Cenobites.

This morning, I finished watching the movie.  Somehow, I did not fall asleep again.

The Hellraiser reboot asks the question: “If Doug Bradley isn’t playing Pinhead, is there any point to watching this crap?”

Based on this movie (and, to be fair, the two previous Hellraisers as well), the answer would appear to be no.  Jamie Clayton takes over the role of Pinhead in the new Hellraiser and the results are a bit underwhelming.

I mean, the Cenobites still look somewhat frightening, don’t get me wrong.  And the puzzle box is a huge part of the reboot’s plot.  And there’s still a lot of blood and a lot of talk about how suffering can be music and a lot of people get ripped apart by magical space chains.  But, with all that in mind, the Cenobites still come across as being kind of boring.  They’ve gone from being frightening creatures beyond imagination to just being generic bad guys.

A big problem is that Jamie Clayton never quite captures the all-encompassing contempt for existence that Doug Bradley brought to the role.  Bradley played Pinhead as a regal sadist, delivering his lines with a withering condescension.  As played by Bradley, Pinhead was really neither good nor evil.  He had transcended such concerns in his search for experience.  Hence, he could get away with announcing that he and the Cenobites were angels to some and demons to others.  In the original Hellraiser, Pinhead (and Bradley) made his first appearance by saying, “You called, we came,” and that pretty much summed up what made the character so frightening.  Bradley’s Pinhead had no concern as to the circumstances that led to him being  called and he certainly had no patience for anyone who thought they could talk their way out of the situation.  Bradley’s Pinhead was beyond such concerns and that made him all the more frightening.

Jamie Clayton’s Pinhead, on the other hand, is smug and not much else.  She’s playing a game with humanity but that leaves her vulnerable to losing.  That’s a mistake that Bradley’s Pinhead would not have made.  (Or, at least, he wouldn’t have made it in the original movie.  The Hellraiser sequels are a different story.)  There’s nothing particularly regal about Clayton’s Pinhead.  She’s just another horror villain.  With her demanding a sacrifice from anyone who cuts themselves on the puzzle box, she’s not that much different from the little girl in Ring.

(In Clayton’s defense, she’s not the first person to replace Doug Bradley as Pinhead.  Bradley also did not appear in the two previous Hellraiser films, Revelations and Judgment.  Bradley felt the scripts were poorly written and, perhaps more to the point, Dimension Films wanted him to take a pay cut.)

As for the reboot itself, it’s about Riley (Odessa A’zion), a recovering drug addict who, along with her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey), steals the puzzle box and then cuts herself on the box which leads to the Cenobites stalking all of her annoying friends.  Riley is an incredibly unlikable character and her friends are kind of whiny so who cares?  Gordan Visnjic plays a decadent businessman who is trying to manipulate the box to his own ends.  Visnjic has a good scene at the start of the film, one that perfectly captures the privileged ennui that would lead to someone getting involved with the Cenobites.  But, eventually, even Visnjic is reduced to being a one-dimensional character.

The main lesson of this Hellraiser film (and the previous two films as well) is that things work better with Doug Bradley than without him.