Another Halloween Has Come and Gone

Another Halloween has come and gone and with it, another Horrorthon.  We hope you have had a wonderful October and that your November brings you much to be thankful for!

And remember, just because you didn’t see the Great Pumpkin this year, doesn’t mean that he won’t be there for you next October.  I think Linus can explain it best:

To all of our readers and from all of your friends at the Shattered Lens, thank you.

October Positivity: To Save A Life (dir by Brian Baugh)

The 2009 film, To Save A Life, tells the story of two friends.

When they were children, Roger saved Jake’s life by pushing him out of the way of a car.  Roger ended up with a permanent limp while Jake was able to continue playing basketball.  By the time they start high school, Jake (now played by Randy Wayne) is a basketball star while Roger (Robert Bailey, Jr.) is an outcast.  Jake and Roger start to drift apart, with Jake even abandoning Roger so that he can go to a party with his popular new girlfriend, Amy (Deja Kreutzberg).  By the time that they’re seniors, Jake and Roger barely acknowledge each other’s existence.  When Roger brings a gun to school and kills himself in front of his classmates, Jake is wracked with guilt.  When Jake goes to Roger’s funeral, he discovers that he’s the only one of Roger’s classmates who bothered to show up.

Jake tries to go back to his normal life.  He plays basketball.  He dates Amy.  He continues to be the school’s beer pong champion.  He desperately seeks approval from his mother and his father, both of whom are too busy dealing with their own failing marriage to pay much attention to Jake.  However, Jake cannot shake the feeling that he not only betrayed Roger but that his current life is empty.

To the shock of everyone, Jake starts to attend the meetings of a church youth group.  Jake gets to know the other members of the group and discovers that quite a few of them are not particularly sincere in their faith.  The local preacher’s kid, Danny (Bubba Lewis), tells Jake that the church’s youth pastor, Chris (Joshua Weigel), is only using him because he knows that Jake is a popular student and Chris believes that Jake will bring more members into the group.  When Jake convinces Amy to attend church with him, she finds the whole experience to be weird and off-putting.  When she tells Jake that he’s pushing her too hard to be a part of his new group, it’s hard not to feel that she has a point and, fortunately, Jake realizes that she has a point.  Later, she reveals a secret that could change both her life and Jake’s life forever.

With the help of his friend Andrea (Kim Hidalgo), Jake starts to try to reach out to all the other students who, like Roger, believe themselves to be outcasts.  For his efforts, he is shunned not only be his former friends but also by several members of the youth group.  When Jake befriends troubled Johnny Garcia (Sean Michael Afable), Johnny is framed for a crime he didn’t commit….

I’ve reviewed several faith-based films this month, mostly because I felt it would serve as an interesting and occasionally humorous counterpoint to all of the horror reviews.  For the most part, I’ve been fairly snarky in my reviews and I think that snark is justified.  Faith-based films, no matter how sincere they may be, are often rather cringey to sit through.  That said, I actually really liked To Save A Life, which is a generally well-acted, well-directed, and not particularly preachy film.  Unlike a lot of other faith films, To Save A Life doesn’t idealize Jake’s experience.  His problems don’t disappear once he starts going to church and the film makes clear that his guilt over Roger’s death is something that he will always carry with him.  Instead, the film’s emphasis is less on preaching at people and more on just treating them decently and with respect.  The film is willing to concede that Amy has a point when she says that the relentless positivity of the church youth group is all a bit much and that the members themselves can be just as judgmental and hypocritical as anyone else in the world.  Indeed, the film stands out from other faith-based films by featuring a villain who largely hides his activities behind the fact that his father is a preacher.  The film benefits from a cast who, for the most part, all give naturalistic performances.  Randy Wayne and Kim Hidalgo especially do a good job of making their characters seem like actual human beings as opposed to idealized symbols.

To Save a Life is actually pretty good.  And that’s a good note on which to end this October Positivity series.

AMV of the Day: This Is Halloween (RWBY)

With Horrorthon coming to a close for the year, it’s time for one last AMV of the Day.

Anime: RWBY

Song: This is Halloween (performed by Marilyn Manson)

Creator: Primordial Paper (please subscribe to this creator’s channel)

Past AMVs of the Day

Horror Film Review: Night of the Comet (dir by Thom Eberhardt)

The 1984 film, Night of the Comet, begins with the end.

The end of the world, that is!

When the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, the end result is that the majority of the world’s population is reduced to red dust.  Those who are exposed to the comet but not turned immediately into dust face an even worse fate.  They are transformed into mindless zombies.  Fortunately, 18 year-old Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her 16 year-old sister, Sam (Kelli Maroney), both managed to avoid getting exposed.  Sam was in a steel shed, hiding from their abusive stepmother.  Reggie was in a theater projection room with her boyfriend.  When Reggie and Sam wake up in the morning to discover that they are two of the few people left alive on the planet, they do what anyone would do.

They go to the mall!

Which is probably the same thing that me and my sisters would have done if we had found ourselves in a similar situation.  That’s one reason why Night of the Comet holds up so well.  It’s one of the few films to be honest about how most people would probably react to the end of the world.  Instead of giving a big dramatic monologue or having a breakdown or getting into a fight about who is to blame and what it all means, Reggie and Sam try to have a little fun.  Of course, they also grab some guns while they’re at the mall.  They’re not stupid.  They know the situation is grim and they need to be prepared.  But still, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t try on all the clothes that they previously would not have been able to afford.  And why shouldn’t they treat the mall as their own personal playground?  They’re young and they’ve survived the end of the world.  They deserve to enjoy themselves.

Of course, just because Reggie and Sam survived, that doesn’t mean the world is a safe place.  Along with the zombies, there’s also a crazed group of former stockboys who now view the mall as being their own personal kingdom.  And then there’s the scientists, who claim that they’re benevolent but who are actually looking for healthy specimens on which they  can experiment.

Night of the Comet is a terrifically fun horror movie, a real treat for anyone who has ever imagined what they would do if they were among the last people on Earth.  Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, and Robert Beltran (who plays another survivor) brings a lot of energy to their likable roles while Mary Woronov and Geoffrey Lewis are properly menacing as the two main scientists.  The zombies, with their crazed eyes and their decaying faces, are genuinely frightening.  Director Thom Eberhardt wisely doesn’t overuse the zombies.  Indeed, the whole point of the film is that the world is now nearly empty of people, whether they’re zombies or not.  But because the zombies aren’t present all of the time, it makes it easy to forget about them and it also makes all the more frightening when they suddenly show up.

Night of the Comet is an enjoyable mix of horror and comedy, one that holds up well nearly 40 years after it was first released.

Bonus Horror On TV: Highway to Heaven 2.5 “The Devil and Jonathan Smith” (dir by Michael Landon)

On this, the final day of our annual Horrorthon, we offer you a final, bonus Horror on TV entry.

In this episode of Highway to Heaven, angel Jonathan Smith (Michael Landon) tries to defeat the devil for the soul of his friend Mark (Victor French).  This episode, a true Halloween episode, originally aired on October 30th, 1985, and it features guest turns from Anthony Zerbe and the great Michael Berryman.

Happy Halloween!

The Shattered Lens Live Tweets Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Horror On TV: The Real Ghostbusters 1.8 “When Halloween Was Forever”

Halloween forever?

That sounds like a great idea to me!

It also sounds like a great idea to the Spirit of Halloween.  After escaping from a prison that’s been holding it for centuries, the Spirit attempts to stop time and it’s up to the “real” Ghostbusters to stop him!

Until I started to search YouTube for Halloween specials, I had no idea that the original Ghostbusters film was also turned into a cartoon, though I guess it makes sense.  Just judging from this episode, it seems like the cartoon did a pretty good job of capturing the feel of the movie.  I’m not really sure what to make of Egon’s hair but whatever.  This is a fun little episode and I hope you all enjoy it.

Happy Halloween!

Horror Film Review: Killers From Space (dir by W. Lee Wilder)

This is the one with the googly-eyed aliens.

Killers From Space was released in 1954 and, in many ways, it’s typical of the sci-fi B-movies that were released at the time. A nuclear scientist (Peter Graves) crashes the airplane that he’s flying. Everyone thinks that he’s dead but, a day later, he shows up at the army base. He says he can’t remember anything about the crash but once he’s put under hypnosis, he remembers being abducted by a bunch of aliens. No one believes his story but Graves knows what happened and he’s determined to thwart the aliens before they can sap away all of Earth’s energy. And by Earth, I mean America because this film is from 1954 and every character in the movie understands that there’s only one nation that matters!

With a running time of only 70 minutes, it’s a standard alien invasion flick. It’s perhaps a bit distinguished by the presence of Peter Graves, who handles his role with dignity.  Graves was one of those actors who could deliver even the most ludicrous dialogue with a certain amount of gravitas and the film certainly gives him plenty of chances to do just that.  Graves has the perfect deep, resonant establishment voice.  Just the sound of it makes the viewer think of America.  As such, there’s something undeniably fun about him deploying that voice for a film about an invasion of googly-eyed aliens.  And the film is also somewhat notorious for being one of the many B-movie to be directed by Lee Wilder, the brother of Billy Wilder.  Billy Wilder not only perfected the modern comedy but he also made some of the most important film noirs ever made.  He was a master of every genre and someone who inspired countless filmmakers.  He directed witty masterpieces like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment.  Billy Wilder made the first major film about alcoholism, The Lost Weekend. Billy Wilder won Oscars and competed at Cannes. Lee Wilder made movies like Killers From Space.  The Cannes elitists never invited Lee Wilder to their festival and, watching his films, one gets the feeling that it was the festival’s lost.  Ironically, both directors made films that continue to intrigue viewers, though for very different reasons.  Billy Wilder gave us an amoral Hollywood screenwriter narrating a film from beyond the grave.  Lee Wilder gave us googly-eyed aliens.  And true film lovers love both of them for their entertaining contributions to world cinema.

With all that in mind, the main thing that people remember about Killers From Outer Space are the aliens and …. well, who can blame them? Seriously, look at them!

I mean, obviously they’re just big googly eyes and half the time, they don’t even fit correctly. You can probably buy eyes like that for yourself if you really wanted to. But still, the image of those big eyed aliens is undeniably creepy! You may quickly forget most of what happens in Killers From Space. It’s not that memorable of a film, to be honest. But you will never forget those eyes!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Survival of the Dead (dir by George Romero)

Sitting off the coast of Delaware, Plum Island seems like the perfect place to live. The people are friendly. The town is small and quaint but definitely inviting. There are plenty of horses, for those who like to ride. The island’s one mailman is a welcome sight, dropping off mail everyday and giving everyone a friendly wave.

The only problem with Plum Island is that, as pretty as it may be, it is also the home to two feuding Irish families. Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) and Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) have been enemies for as long as anyone can remember. Their feud has gone on for so long that its doubtful anyone even know what started it all. The two families have an uneasy peace up until the breakout of the zombie apocalypse. The O’Flynns want to kill every zombie that shows up on the island. The Muldoons, on the other hand, want to keep the zombies as pets and workers until a cure for their condition can be found. Eventually, Patrick O’Flynn turns out to be so reckless in his mission to destroy the undead that he’s exiled from the island. Even his own daughter, Janet (Kathleen Munroe), supports sending Patrick off to the mainland.

However, no sooner has Patrick been exiled then he hooks up with a bunch of AWOL National Guardsmen, who are weary of spending the rest of their days chasing the undead. Patrick leads them back to Plum Island, hoping to use them to destroy the the Muldoons forever.

Released in 2010, Survival of the Dead is both the final entry in George Romero’s Dead films (which started way back in 1968 with the classic Night of the Living Dead) and it was also Romero’s last completed film as a director. (Romero died in 2017, while in pre-production on a film called Road of the Dead.) Unfortunately, Survival of the Dead was not warmly greeted by critics or audiences, many of whom felt that Romero was simply rehashing concepts that he had already fully explored in the previous Dead films.

To a certain extent, those critics have a point. There are a lot of flaws with Romero’s final film, from the obviously low budget to the inconsistent performances. (Welsh, Fitzpatrick, and Munroe are all well-cast and give good performances but the National Guardsmen are all forgettable at best.) At the same time, there’s enough weird moments in Survival of the Dead to make it watchable. Plum Island is a memorably surreal location. The undead of Plum Island continue to exhibit the same behavior in death that they did in life. The mailman still tries to deliver mail. Another zombie continues to ride her horse across the island. It’s only when they sense the living amongst them that they turn deadly. As with all of Romero’s Dead films, the living dead may be dangerous and relentless but the truly scary characters in the film are the living humans who, even in the middle of the end of the world, cannot set aside their differences long enough to work together. The film’s final shot, which suggests that it takes more than death to end a blood feud, is so striking that it makes up for a lot of the weaker moments that came before it.

In the end, the most interesting thing about Survival of the Dead is that it’s more of a western than a traditional horror movie, featuring two warring families fighting on horseback and battling to control the land. Romero often said that he felt trapped by his reputation as a horror filmmaker and that he was actually interested in all genres of film. With Survival of the Dead, Romero finally got to make a Western. The end result is uneven but still has enough interesting moments to make it worth watching.

Horror Film Review: All The Kind Strangers (dir by Burt Kennedy)

This 1974 made-for-television movie opens with photojournalist Jimmy Wheeler (Stacy Keach) driving down an isolated country road.  He’s driving across America, heading towards California.  However, when he sees a young child walking on the side of the road and struggling to carry two bags of groceries, Jimmy pulls over and offers the child a ride.

That’s a big mistake.  As Jimmy soon discovers, the child lives on an isolated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  He resides with his six brothers and sisters.  The family is led by Peter (John Savage), the oldest sibling.  Jimmy discover that there’s only one other adult on the farm.  The children refer to her as being their mom and Carol Ann (Samantha Eggar) certainly does seem to be busy, cooking dinner and keeping the house clean.  It’s only when the children leave the kitchen that Carol Ann finally tells Jimmy the truth.  She’s not related to the children.  Instead, she is someone who made the same mistake that Jimmy did.  She gave one of the kids a ride home and she’s never been allowed to leave.

It turns out that the children’s parents died a few years ago but, because the family lives so far away from town, no one has ever noticed.  Peter has been in charge of the family but he’s reaching the point where he no longer wants to spend his entire life on the farm.  He wants to experience Mardi Gras and then visit California.  So, Peter has been sending out the children to tempt random adults to come to the house, where Peter auditions them to see if they would be good parents.  Peter has decided that Carol Ann can be the mother.  Now, he just needs to find someone to serve as the father.

Jimmy seems like a good candidates, except for the fact that he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in the middle of nowhere and raising a bunch of odd children.  Unfortunately, Jimmy soon discovers that it won’t be easy to escape.  The farm is guarded by a pack of dogs and Peter has a way of taking care of all the kind strangers who fail their audition….

Even though it’s only 75 minutes long, All The Kind Strangers is a bit of a slow film and often, it seems like it can’t decide whether it wants to be a straight horror film or a family melodrama.  Add to that, one of the kids is played Robby Benson, who showed up in a lot of 70s films, always playing awkward teenagers.  Benson gives such a bizarrely over the top performance that it’s hard to take him or any situation in which he’s involved seriously.  (Benson also sings the film’s easy listening theme song.)  That said, the film still manages to create and maintain an effectively creepy atmosphere and Stacy Keach, Samantha Eggar, and John Savage all give good performances.  The fact that the kids aren’t evil as much as they’re incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions actually serves to make them even creepier than the typical demented children who appear in films like this.

All The Kind Strangers has its moments, even if it doesn’t make a huge impression.