October Positivity: Face In The Mirror (dir by Russell S. Doughten Jr.)

The 1982 film, Face in the Mirror, opens with a community in crisis.

A teenager named Danny DeMarco (played by Michael Mitchell) has been shot and is being rushed to the hospital.  As we listen to the people who are following the ambulance to the hospital, it soon becomes clear that Danny shot himself and that the shooting occurred at a youth group meeting.  At the hospital, Danny is sent to the ICU.  He’s in a coma.  The doctors are not sure whether he’ll ever come out of that coma.

The first half of the 65-minute film is dominated by flashbacks as people try to figure out what could have led to Danny shooting himself.  Danny’s father remembers the time that he gave Danny a hard time for winning first place in a chess tournament.  Though I think most parents would be proud to have a son who was actually good at playing a game that required a certain amount of intelligence, Danny’s father is unimpressed.  Danny’s father was a jock in high school and he expects Danny to be the same.  Chess?  Why, that’s for wimpy youth group kids!

Speaking of wimpy youth group kids, the members of the youth group occasionally pause from the prayer to remember all of the times that they failed Danny.  They remember their own hypocritical behavior and how they would give Danny a hard time whenever he pointed it out.  They remember all of the times that Danny seemed to be confused about his faith and how they didn’t listen to his concerns.  They remember the youth group meeting in which Danny suddenly pulled out a gun and, after calling out everyone else on their hypocrisy and saying that he didn’t really believe in God, he pointed the gun at his head.  When another member of the group tried to grab the gun, it went off.  While their parents dismiss Danny as just being “a crazy kid,” the members of the youth group confront the role that they all played in Danny’s depression….

The first 30 minutes of this film is surprisingly well-acted and the theme of teen suicide is sensitively handled … up until the point that the film insinuates that Danny wouldn’t be depressed or suicidal if he was really a Christian.  I’ve known enough depressed but sincerely religious people to know that this is simply not the truth.  It’s actually a rather dangerous message to send out, as it suggests that depression is somehow a personal failing as opposed to something that everyone, to some degree, is going to have to deal with at some point in their life.

The second half of the film is all about the efforts of Danny’s friends to sneak into his hospital room so that they can pray for him and hopefully get through to him, even though he’s in a coma.  Again, the performances are sincere.  However, tonally, this half of the film is a mess.  There are some awkward moments of humor which really don’t seem like they belong in a movie about teen suicide.  The dialogue also get a bit cringey, as often happens when teenage characters are written by screenwriters who obviously were quite a bit older than the people they were writing for.

Face in the Mirror was directed by Russell Daughten, Jr.  Daughten also directed Nite Song and produced the Thief In The Night films.  Like those films, Face in the Mirror is a sincere but flawed time capsule.  The film’s tone is all over the place but I have to admit that I did kind of enjoy watching this grainy production with its amateur cast.  What can I say?  I have a weakness for low-budget indie films that feature a bunch of people who probably never made another film after this one.  Like Nite Song, watching this film is like stepping into a time machine and traveling to a simpler, if not quite innocent, past.  In the end, the film’s main message is that we should be aware that our words and our actions can hurt people without us even realizing it.  That’s not a bad one.

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 4.8 “Showdown” (dir by Richard Donner)

The old west could be a dangerous and haunted place, as was revealed in this episode of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!  Outlaw Billy Quintaine (Neil Guintoli) enters a saloon and discovers that the spirits of his victims have been waiting for him!

This episode originally aired on August 1st, 1992.  Along with being directed by The Omen‘s Richard Donner, it was written by Frank Darabont.


The TSL’s Horror Gindhouse: Flesh Feast (dir by Brad Grinter)

Oh, poor Veronica Lake.

In the 1940s, Veronica Lake was undoubtedly a star.  She appeared in Preston Sturges’s classic comedy, Sullivan’s Travels.  She played the femme fatale in a series of classic film noirs.  She proved herself to be just as capable of playing comedy as she was playing drama.  By wearing her hair down and often allowing it to fall over her right eye, she created the peek-a-boo hairstyle.  She was briefly a star and a fashion icon but she also developed a reputation for heavy drinking and being difficult to work with.  During World War II, the U.S. government actually requested that Lake change her hairstyle in order to decrease incidents of women, many of whom were working factories as a part of the war effort, getting their hair tangled in the machinery.  Lake did so, cutting her long hair and going for a more practical look.  Her career never recovered.

The years following her 1940s heyday would not easy ones for Veronica Lake.  Along with multiple divorces, she also struggled with alcoholism and with the IRS.  Lake spent much of the 50s in England.  When she returned to the States in the 60s, she was arrested several times for public drunkenness and eventually took a job as a waitress to pay the bills.  A news story about her life as a waitress renewed some interest in Veronica Lake, as did the publication of her memoirs in 1969.  As so often happened with former stars who fell on hard times, she considered taking roles in the type of low budget films that she wouldn’t have even been offered when she was at the height of her fame.

That brings us to Flesh Feast.

In Flesh Feast, Veronica Lake is cast as Dr. Elaine Frederick.  Living in a dilapidated mansion in Florida, Dr. Frederick believes that she has discovered the perfect way to not only look younger but to also reverse the aging process itself!  It involves maggots, lots and lots of maggots.  For just a few dollars, Dr. Frederick will apply maggots to your skin and, like magic, they’ll suck away the years.  That may sound disgusting but, whenever the viewer is show Dr. Frederick working in her laboratory, it’s obvious that the maggots are instead grains of rice.

Dr. Frederick is approached by a group of South American neo-Nazis who want Dr. Frederick to use her maggots to make their leader young again.  They refuse to tell her the name of their leader but you can guess who it is, right?  I mean, he’s living in Argentina.  He’s in hiding.  The rest of the world thinks that he’s dead.  He’s German.  He used to be involved in the government …. oh, okay, I’ll tell you.  It’s Hitler.  The group wants Dr. Frederick to use her maggots to make Hitler young again.  Dr. Frederick agrees but it turns out that she’s only interested in getting revenge!

There’s a lot of negative things you can say about Flesh Feast but it’s perhaps the only film to feature Veronica Lake laughing as a bunch of maggots eat Hitler’s face.  Don’t get me wrong.  It takes forever to actually reach that moment.  There’s a whole subplot about a journalist trying to investigate Dr. Franklin’s experiments.  As well, Dr. Franklin’s assistant is an undercover government agent and she keeps stumbling across dead bodies at inopportune times.  The first 70 minutes of Flesh Feast are about as draggy and boring as any movie that I’ve ever seen.  But, after all that, you get to see Veronica Lake kill Hitler.  Some would say that’s definitely worth the price of admission!

Flesh Feast was Veronica Lake’s final movie.  (She not only starred in the film but she co-produced it as well.  Director Brad Grinter was also responsible for Blood Freak.)  It was filmed in 1967 but not released until 1970, after the publication of her memoirs renewed interest in her career.  Unfortunately, Flesh Feast didn’t exactly do well at the box office.  Lake would die just three years later, at the age of only 50.  But her films and her performances will live forever.

Jack-O (1995, directed by Steve Latshaw)

Back in frontier times, a warlock named Walter Machden (John Carradine) terrorized the citizens of the town of Oakmoor Crossing so they tracked him down and lynched him.  Before he was hung, Machden cursed the town.  A demon with a jack-o-lantern for a head terrorized the town until the Kelly Family defeated him and buried him underneath a cross.

Jump forward one hundred years.  It is Halloween night and some drunk teenagers knock over the cross.  Jack-O comes back to life and kills the teenagers.  Jack-O sets out to get revenge on the Kelly family but, for some reason, he decides to kill their neighbors, some more teenagers, and a TV cable guy before going after his targets.  It’s up to young Sean Kelly (Ryan Latshaw) to figure out how to defeat Jack-O for a second time.

The most interesting thing about Jack-O is that it features John Carradine, even though he died a full seven years before the movie was released.  That either means that Jack-O had an unusually long post-production period or the Carradine scenes were shot for another movie and were clumsily inserted into Jack-O.  Carradine was not the only deceased star to make an appearance in Jack-O.  Cameron Mitchell, who passed away in 1994, also makes an appearance as a horror movie host.  Because you can’t have a movie with Carradine and Cameron Mitchell without including Linnea Quigley, she appears as a babysitter who takes a lengthy shower.  Fortunately, Linnea Quigley is still with us.

Overall, Jack-O is regrettable.  The demon, with his Jack-O-Lantern head, is more likely to inspire laughs than screams and it never makes sense that Jack-O would take so much time to kill everyone except for the people that he is actually looking to kill.  The best death involves a toaster but Jack-O doesn’t do anything with the toaster.  Instead, someone just slips and sticks a utensil in the toaster, leading to a shocking death.  Combine the poor acting with the poor special effects with notably ragged editing that often makes it unclear how much time has passed between scenes and you have a Halloween film that is no holiday.

Here Are The 2022 Gotham Nominations!

And just like that, the 2022 Awards Season began.

The 2022 Gotham Nominations were announced earlier today.  While the Gothams have recently started to get some attention as an Oscar precursor, it is important to remember that the Gothams are specifically designed to honor low-budget, independent films.  There’s some very strict rules about which films are eligible and which are not.  So, don’t be shocked at the lack of nominations for something like The Fabelmans.  Spielberg has never been eligible for a Gotham.

If any one film is really going to benefit from these nominations, it’s probably Everything Everywhere All At Once.  Seeing as how it’s been a while since Everything Everywhere came out, the Gotham nominations may (or may not) serve to remind the members of the Academy of the excitement that was generated by the film earlier in the year.

Here are the Gotham nominations for 2022.  The winners will be announced on November 28th.

Breakthrough television under 40 minutes
“Abbott Elementary” (ABC)
“As We See It” (Amazon Prime Video)
“Mo” (Netflix)
“Rap Sh!t” (HBO Max)
“Somebody, Somewhere” (HBO)

Breakthrough television over 40 minutes
“Pachinko” (Apple+)
“Severance” (Apple+)
“Station Eleven” (HBO Max)
“This Is Going To Hurt” (AMC+)
“Yellowjackets” (Showtime)

Television performers:
Bilal Baig (“Sort Of”)
Ayo Edebiri (“The Bear”)
Janelle James (“Abbott Elementary”)
Matilda Lawler (“Station Eleven”)
Britt Lower (“Severance”)
Melanie Lynskey (“Yellowjackets”)
Sue Ann Pien (“As We See It”)
Minha Kim (“Pachinko”)
Zahn McClarnon (“Dark Winds”)
Ben Whishaw (“This Is Going To Hurt”)

Breakthrough nonfiction series
“The Andy Warhol Diaries”
“The Last Movie Stars”
“Mind Over Murder”
“The Rehearsal”
“We Need to Talk About Cosby”

Breakthrough director
Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun”)
Owen Kline (“Funny Pages”)
Elegance Bratton (“The Inspection”)
Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic (“Murina”)
Beth De Araújo (“Soft & Quiet”)
Jane Schoenbrun (“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair”)

Best screenplay
Kogonada (“After Yang”)
James Gray (“Armageddon Time”)
Lena Dunham (“Catherine Called Birdy”)
Todd Field (“Tár”)
Sarah Polley (“Women Talking”)

Breakthrough performer
Frankie Corio (“Aftersun”)
Kali Reis (“Catch the Fair One”)
Gracija Flipovic (“Murina”)
Anna Diop (“Nanny”)
Anna Cobb (“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair”)

Outstanding supporting performance
Mark Rylance (“Bones and All”)
Brian Tyree Henry (“Causeway”)
Ke Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)
Raúl Castillo (“The Inspection”)
Gabrielle Union (“The Inspection”)
Nina Hoss (“Tár”)
Noémie Merlant (“Tár”)
Hong Chau (“The Whale”)

Oustanding lead performance
Cate Blanchett (“Tár”)
Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”)
Dale Dickey (“A Love Song”)
Colin Farrell (“After Yang”)
Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”)
Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”)
Thandiwe Newton (“God’s Country”)
Aubrey Plaza “(Emily the Criminal)”
Taylor Russell (“Bones and All”)
Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All At Once”)

Best international feature
“The Banshees of Inisherin”
“Decision to Leave”
“Saint Omer”

Best documentary feature
“All That Breathes”
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”
“I Didn’t See You There”
“The Territory”
“What We Leave Behind”

Best feature
“The Cathedral”
“Dos Estaciones”
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Horror Game Review: Power, MT (2017, Phil Strahl)

You were just a traveler, passing through Power, Montana, when your car broke down.  Temporarily stranded, you were thankful when a local farmer offered to let you stay in his guest room for the night.  But then something terrible descends upon Power and you find yourself running through the town, fearful for your life.

The objective of Power, MT is straight-forward.  Make your way through town and hopefully, find some sort of protection before you are captured by the strange, apparently supernatural storm that is pursuing you.  To be able to do this, though, you’re going to need the flashlight on your phone to see where you are going.  And, with each turn, that flashlight drains your battery and leaves you that much close to being plunged into a darkness from which there is no escape.  It’s a simple and relatable premise.  Who hasn’t hit the panic button while searching for a place to recharge their phone?  The game is well-written and there are a lot of places to explore, even if there’s not always a lot of time to reach them.  Power, MT captures the feeling of running for your life.  It’s a challenging game (so be prepared to die a few times while figure it out) but it’s also not impossible to win.

Play Power, MT

Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 1.7 “The Funny Girl/Butch and Sundance”

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, smiles!”

Sorry, Mr. Roarke, there’s not much to smile about when it comes to this episode.

Episode 1.7 “The Funny Girl/Butch and Sundance”

(Dir by Cliff Bole, originally aired on March 18th, 1978)

At the start of this episode, Tattoo is all excited because his birthday is coming up and he remembers that, last year, he partied all night and a bunch of beautiful women celebrated with him.  Mr. Roarke promises Tattoo that things will be different this year.  This year, Mr. Roarke says, there will be no presents.  Tattoo will play a game of chess and drink a glass of sherry and maybe there will be a cello recital.  Tattoo, needless to say, is disappointed.

Ignoring Tattoo’s anger, Mr. Roarke introduces him to the latest guests at Fantasy Island and it turns out that their fantasies are almost as disappointing and boring as Mr. Roarke’s plans for Tattoo’s birthday.  Kay Penny (Marcia Strassman) is apparently the world’s most successful comedienne even though she never comes across as being particularly funny.  Her fantasy is to move to small town where no one knows her.  That sounds like a pretty lousy fantasy but whatever.

Bill (Christopher Connelly) and Alex (James MacArthur) are two friends who want to be Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid for a weekend.  They’re huge fans of the film, though it appears neither one of them ever stuck around for the end.  Mr. Roarke takes Bill and Alex to an old west town (perhaps the same one that we saw a few weeks ago) and Bill and Alex get to live out their fantasy while trading quips and robbing banks.  The problem, for those of us who are watching then, is that neither Christopher Connelly nor James MacArthur can compare to Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  Eventually, though, the great character actor William Smith shows up as a visitor whose fantasy is to be Wyatt Earp.  He attempts to arrest Butch and Sundance.  They outsmart him and then Bill and Alex go home, satisfied.  Good for them but what about the guy who wanted to be Wyatt Earp?  Does he get his money back?  Seriously, I don’t think being humiliated was a part of his fantasy.

Meanwhile, Kay finds herself living in a small town.  Using the name Katherine Patrino, she gets a job as the receptionist for a veterinarian (played by Dennis Cole) and she also helps the vet’s silent son get over the recent loss of his mother.  She also tells a lot of jokes, none of which are particularly funny.  The best thing about this fantasy is that Mr. Roarke disguised himslef as a clown and showed up at the small town’s Founders Day Festival.

And then Tattoo did the same thing.

Anyway, during the festival, a dog was hit by a truck but Kay helped to bring it back to life and that brought a tear to my mismatched eyes.  Otherwise, this was a very forgettable trip to Fantasy Island.

On a positive note, though, it turned out that Mr. Roarke was just joking and Tattoo got to have a wild party after all.  Good for him, he earned it!

Horror Scenes That I Love: The Work Party From Cabin The Woods

Today’s scene that I love comes from one of the best horror films of the past ten years, 2012’s Cabin In The Woods.  The party starts just a little bit early….

6 Shots From 6 Horror Films: 2011 — 2012

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 2011 and 2012!

6 Shots From 6 Horror Films: 2011 — 2012

Insidious (2011, directed by James Wan, DP: John R. Leonetti)

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011, directed by Sean Branney)

Dracula 3D (2012, dir by Dario Argento, DP: Luciano Tovoli)

Sinister (2012, directed by Scott Derrickson, DP: Christopher Norr)

Silent House (2012, dir by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, DP: Igor Matrinovic)

The Cabin In The Woods (2012, dir by Drew Goddard, DP: Peter Deming)

Horror Film Review: Queen of Outer Space (dir by Edward Bernds)

In 1958’s Queen of Outer Space, four rather dumb men take off in a spaceship from Earth.

There’s Lt. Larry Turner (Patrick Waltz) and Lt. Mike Cruze (David Wilcox), both of whom come across like they like to spend the weekend hanging out at their old frat house, playing beer pong. And then there’s Prof. Konrad (Paul Birch), who is smart because he knows what the word “atmosphere” means. And finally, in charge of the flight, is Captain Neal Patterson (Eric Fleming), who is upright and kind of dull.

The four men are supposed to be going to a space station but they get knocked off course by an animated laser beam and the ship crash lands on a mysterious planet that’s covered with cardboard rocks and plastic trees. Prof. Konrad takes one look at the planet and says that they’re on Venus.

Uh-oh! That’s not good! Isn’t Venus like a really bad place for human beings to find themselves?

Well, apparently not, because soon the four men are casually walking around the planet without so much as wearing a space suit or bringing along an oxygen supply. They even stop to get some sleep among the cardboard rocks. That’s when they’re captured by Venus’s inhabitants.

To the men’s shock, they discover that Venus is exclusively populated by women! The men are all like, “Hey, how you doing?” And the women are all like, “Silence, we have ray guns!”

Anyway, long story short, it turns out that Venus is ruled over by a disfigured queen (Laurie Mitchell), who hates men in general and Earth men in specific. She’s built a giant space laser that she’s planning to use to destroy Earth and it’s up to the men to stop her! Fortunately, they’ve got some help from Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor), a Venusian courier who has a wardrobe that’s to die for and who has apparently been waiting her entire life for men to come to Venus. When the Queen flirts with the captain, Talleah jealously exclaims, “I hate the Queen!” and that’s pretty much all it takes to start a revolution.

Needless to say, this is an incredibly sexist movie but, at the same time, it’s so goofy (in a 1950s sort of way) that you really can’t get too outraged by it. Instead, you just kinda cringe when Turner and Mike suggest that the captain needs to “turn on some of that old black magic” and invite the Queen out for a midnight stroll. Prof. Konrad quickly adds that Venus actually has several moons, though not all of them can be seen. I mean, it’s dumb but, at the same time, it’s just so 1958.

It’s really is a thoroughly ludicrous movie but, watching it, you get the feeling that the entire cast understood that it was ludicrous and they adjusted their performances accordingly. I mean, this is a movie that features Zsa Zsa Gabor putting on a mask and attempting to imitate the Queen while making absolutely no attempt to hide her trademark Hungarian accent. This is also a movie that features a giant rubber spider that pops up out of nowhere and for nor particular reason. I guess they just had the spider on set for the day and they decided to toss it in.

Queen of Outer Space is an incredibly silly movie but it’s entertaining in it’s own stupid way. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s only 80 minutes. Watch it for the experience.