Horror Film Review: Cujo (dir by Lewis Teague)


Cujo is a such a depressing movie that I can barely stand to watch it.

Cujo, of course, is the 1983 film adaptation of the book by Stephen King.  The book is about a dog that not only gets bit by a rabid bat but also gets possessed by the spirit of Frank Dodd, the serial killer who played a major role in The Dead Zone.  The film abandons the subplot about Frank Dodd and, instead, it just deals with a rabid dog that kills a lot of people and who eventually traps Donna Trentonn (Dee Wallace) and her young son, Tad (Danny Pintauro), is a car for several days.

I have to admit that I’m really not the sort of person who should be watching a film like Cujo in the first place.  When I was growing up, I was terrified of dogs.  According to my family, I was bitten by one when I was just three years old, not that I have any memory of that actually happening.  So, up until I was 18, I couldn’t handle being around them.  Whenever I would walk home from school, I would run across the street if I heard a dog barking at me from behind a fence.  If I was out with my family and I saw a dog approaching, I would hide behind the nearest big person.

I did have one good experience with a big dog when I was about ten years old.  My family was up at the lake and this big, black dog started following us around and it was so friendly that I couldn’t help but relax around it.  My mom was like, “See, Lisa Marie, not all dogs are bad.”  We went to get lunch, leaving the dog behind.  When we returned, the dog was there.  He was excited to see my mom.  He was excited to my aunt.  He was excited to see my sisters.  Then, he took one look at me and started to growl.  I was frozen in fear, just standing there as the dog slowly stood up.  My mom immediately stood in front of me, trying to block the dog’s view while I ran back to car.  Of course, that didn’t work.  The dog started barking and then took off running after me.  His owners then showed up and grabbed the dog just as it was about to lunge at me and then they didn’t even bother to apologize!  Instead, they told some story about how some other girl had thrown a rock at the dog and, as a result, the dog always growled at “little girls.”  They acted like it was no big deal.  (My aunt later told me that she had to grab my mom’s hand to keep her from slapping the dog’s owner when they tried to blame me for what happened.)  For months afterwards, I had nightmares about that dog.

Fortunately, enough time has passed that I’m no longer petrified in fear of dogs though they still make pretty damn nervous.  That said, Cujo, with its growling and killer dog, is exactly the type of film that’s designed to prey on my deepest fears.  And yes, the movie does scare me but I have to admit that I don’t really care much about the people who get killed by Cujo.  Instead …. I feel bad for Cujo.  Yes, even though Cujo scares me to death and I’m not a dog person in general, this movie depresses me specifically because of what happens to the dog.

When we first see him, Cujo is happily chasing a rabbit.  When he gets bitten by a rabid bat, he whimpers a little and I have to say that it breaks my heart to hear it.  I mean, Cujo is just such a cute dog!  And, to be honest, he seems like the type of big dog who maybe could have convinced me that not all dogs are bad.  (There’s a part of me that really wishes that I could relax and love dogs as much as everyone else does.)  But then he gets bitten by that bat and poor Cujo!  Rabies is a terrible disease.

Cujo is a good, straight-forward horror film, one that gets the job done without all of the padding and blather that you sometimes have to deal with when it comes to Stephen King film adaptations.   (Thankfully, nobody casually talks about Shawshank Prison or taking a trip to Derry or any of that other nonsense that seems to come up in most King films.)  Dee Wallace gives a good performance as Donna Trenton, who is trapped in the car and desperate to save her child.  King has said that he felt Wallace deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance and he’s probably right

But my God, I just cannot watch this movie without crying afterwards.  I just feel so bad for that dog.

Lifetime Film Review: The Wrong Mommy (dir by David DeCoteau)


If there’s anything that I’ve learned from my long history of watching Lifetime films, it’s that having a real job just isn’t worth the trouble.

Just consider what Melanie (Jessica Morris) goes through in The Wrong Mommy.  She’s got a real job.  She also has a handsome husband (Jason-Shane Scott), an adorable daughter (Jillian Spitz), and a mother (Dee Wallace) who enjoys going on exotic cruises.  Melanie also has a really nice and really big house, the type of house that would probably be the “slightly more than you’re willing to pay” house on an episode of House Hunters.  But can she enjoy it?  No, of course not!  It’s all because she’s got a real job.  She can’t pick up her daughter after school.  She can’t go out at night.  She can’t do anything because she’s got a real job.

However, during the first few minutes of The Wrong Mommy, Melanie gets some good news!  She’s been promoted!  She’s now a senior executive or whatever it is that you get promoted to when you’ve got a real job.  Along with having real responsibilities, Melanie is also about to get a real assistant!

Here’s another thing that I’ve learned from my long history of watching Lifetime films, as well as from my own past experience in the administrative professional field.  Be very careful about hiring an assistant.  Especially if she only has one obscure reference on her resume.  Even if she’s willing to babysit your daughter for you, be careful.  Don’t look the other way when she flirts with your husband.  And, for the love of everything holy in this world, don’t tell her the one secret that could lead to you losing a big account!

Unfortunately, Melanie doesn’t exercise caution about any of that and, as a result, she ends up hiring Phoebe (Ashlynn Yennie).  Even before Phoebe shows up for her interview, we’ve already seen her following Melanie around town and spying on her.  In fact, even before the opening credits conclude, Phoebe is breaking into Melanie’s house and planting spy cameras.  We know better than to trust Phoebe and soon, Melanie discovers that she made a mistake hiring her.  However, it may be too late to do anything about it….

Now, to the film’s credit, Phoebe isn’t just some random psycho bitch trying to ruin someone else’s life.  It turns out that she has a backstory, one that actually does involve Melanie.  I won’t spoil anything by revealing it but it’s a pretty good backstory.  Ashley Yennie appears to be having a lot of fun in the role of Phoebe.  If you’re going to be in a Lifetime movie, you definitely want to play the villain.  They usually get all the good lines and get to wear all the pretty clothes.

Like most of Lifetime’s “Wrong” films, this one was directed by David DeCoteau, who know exactly the right tone to take for a film like this.  He plays up the melodrama while never allowing the film to take itself too seriously.  (Just check out the scene where Dee Wallace shouts out the film’s title.)  As with all the “Wrong” films, Vivica A. Fox shows up as a no-nonsense authority figure.  (This time, she plays Melanie’s boss.)  The great Eric Roberts also shows up for a few minutes, playing a sleazy client.  Roberts doesn’t have much screen time but, as usual, he makes memorable use of what he gets.

The Wrong Mommy is an enjoyably silly film.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should you.

Dolls: Movie Preview and Review


 

Lets get the technical out of the way first:

Dee Wallace as Margret

Brett Green as James

Elise Muller as Lynn

Director: Cuyle Carvin

Plot Synopsis:

DOLLS concerns a struggling children’s book author and his rebellious teenage daughter who move into a house they’ve inherited and find mysterious dolls in the attic.  They soon learn that the dolls have a sinister — and deadly — past.

Quotes:

“The attic dolls live up the stairs, you’ll hear them laugh and run up there, but when you run upstairs they will stand still each day”

“You won’t believe theses dolls we just found”

Review:

It has been a long time since a movie messed with my mind the way “Dolls” did! And I don’t say that lightly! At this point I am cover every entrance to my house, basement included! I won’t spoil anything! But the ending I did not see coming!

Would I Recommend this movie:

Only if you want to be scared beyond belief!! And yes you do!

Where can you find it?

“Dolls” will be released on July 2, 2019 on DVD and VOD

Until then watch the trailer here!

 

Lifetime Christmas Movie Review: Jingle Belle (dir by Peter Sullivan)


As our longtime readers know, I’ve never been one for false modesty.  I know that there are things that I do well and I don’t see any reason not to brag about my natural talents.  On occasion, I’ve been told that it can be a little off-putting but so what?  As long as its justified, what’s wrong with a little arrogance?

That said, part of knowing what I can do means being honest about what I can’t do.  And if there’s any job that I would absolutely suck at, it would be writing advertising jingles.  I mean, there’s a reason why none of my poems ever rhyme.  Coming up with pithy one-liners that will make you want to “buy!  buy!  buy!,” just isn’t my specialty.  Fortunately, jingles themselves are no longer as important as they were back in the Mad Men era.  In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of one current jingle and that’s the “Liberty Liberty Liberty Lib-er-ty!” song.

(And everyone hates that!)

Fortunately, Belle Williams (Tatyana Ali), the main protagonist of Jingle Belle, doesn’t have that problem.  Long ago, she abandoned New York for Ohio and she’s established herself as one of the best jingle writers around.  Unfortunately, it appears that she might be losing that magic touch.  As this film begins, she’s suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block.  In fact, when the mayor of her hometown calls and asks her to return home and help write the annual Christmas pageant, her initial reaction is to say no.  However, her boss (Loretta Devine) insists that Belle take the assignment.  Perhaps a trip back home is just what Belle needs to break through her writer’s block.

Belle returns home, planning on helping the town out.  What she doesn’t know is that the Christmas pageant is being directed by her ex-boyfriend and former performing partner, Michael Hill (Cornelius Smith, Jr).  Can Belle and Michael set aside their differences and their complicated personal history long enough to put on a successful Christmas pageant?  And how will Michael the purist react when Belle’s boss tries to turn one of their songs into an advertising jingle?

Of course, you already know the answer to all those questions.  Jingle Belle is predictable even by the standards of a Lifetime Christmas movie.  As I’ve said quite a bit this month, how much you enjoy this film will depend on how much tolerance you have for Lifetime and Hallmark Christmas films in general.  (That’s kind of become my mantra this month.)  Anyway, there’s no surprises to be found in this one but Cornelius Smith, Jr. is appropriately charismatic as Michael and the great Loretta Devine mines a lot of humor out of the role of the demanding boss.

The film’s final message is that small towns are better than big cities and you can write jingles anywhere.  It’s a nice little message but, then again, it does seem like, if you work in advertising, it would be a good idea to live near the hub of the advertising industry.  That said, I’ve never written a jingle in my life so I could be wrong.  All I know is that, wherever Belle lives, she’ll come up with something better than the Liberty Mutual jingle and really, that’s the most important thing of all.

Halloween Havoc!: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (Vanguard 1977)


cracked rear viewer

Wes Craven (1939-2015) left us with many nightmares: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SCREAM. But you haven’t lived until you’ve met Papa Jupiter and his feral family of cannibals in Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES, as outlandish and frightening a horror film as there ever was. HILLS was so shocking the censor board gave it an X rating until it was cut enough to qualify for an R. It still packed enough violence and brutality to make even the heartiest exploitation enthusiast squeamish.

The Carter clan has travelled from Cleveland to the Nevada desert on their way to California. They stop at a gas station where an old geezer is about to leave. The geezer warns them about his son, born mutated and mean as the devil, living somewhere in the hills. While driving down the long. lonesome highway, fighter jets from a nearby airbase cause…

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Horror Scenes That I Love: Karen Transforms in The Howling


Today’s Horror Scene that I love comes from 1981’s The Howling.

In this scene, a news anchor played by Dee Wallace attempts to prove to the world that vampires exist.  Unfortunately, even in 1981, television audiences were pretty jaded.

A Movie A Day #111: I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990, directed by Tobe Hooper)


Sweet and repressed Amy (Madchen Amick) is a college student who has too much on her plate.  She has to take care of her greedy grandmother (Natalie Schaefer, of Gilligan’s Island fame).  She has to read a book for her study partner (Corey Parker).  She has to sew a dress for her older sister, Gloria (Daisy Hall).  She has to find props for the school play.  It is her search for props that leads to her buying an old chest at an estate sale.  Inside the chest is a red cloak.  Amy turns the red cloak into a dress but what she does not know is that the red cloak was previously won by Aztec priests while they conducted human sacrifices.  As Professor Buchanan (Anthony Perkins) later explains, anyone who wears the dress will be driven to do evil.

Like Hitler’s Daughter and Deadly Game, I’m Dangerous Tonight was a USA original film.  Like those two films, and despite the combined talents of the star of Psycho and the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I’m Dangerous Tonight is not very good. Perkins is mostly just used for exposition while Hooper’s direction suggests that his main concern was picking up his paycheck.  I’m Dangerous Tonight will be best appreciated by fans of Madchen Amick.  Amick is not only beautiful here but she also plays a character far different from Twin Peaks’s Shelly Johnson.

Also, be sure to keep an eye out for R. Lee Ermey, playing a tough, cigar-chomping police detective as only he can.

The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Halloween (dir by Rob Zombie)


halloween2007

Is Rob Zombie a good filmmaker?

That’s the question that every horror fan has to ask themselves at some point.  Needless to say, Zombie has a huge following and no one can doubt his love for the genre.  And yet, despite that, it seems that Zombie’s detractors will always be as outspoken as his fans.  His fans point out that Zombie makes movies that literally feel as if they’re filmed nightmares and that, as a committed horror fan, he’s willing to go further in his quest to shock you than most mainstream filmmakers.  His detractors, meanwhile, tend to see Zombie as an excessive filmmaker who often uses an abundance of style to cover for a weak narrative.

Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to Zombie.  I think, as a storyteller, Rob Zombie does occasionally struggle to maintain a coherent narrative but, at the same time, I think his strengths as a director ultimately overcome his weaknesses.  As a visual filmmaker, he’s a lot stronger than he’s often given credit for and I don’t think anyone would criticize the way that he uses music in his films.  He may not be the strongest director of actors but he’s got a good eye for casting and he’s given work to some of our best character actors (Sid Haig, Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, William Forsythe, and the late Karen Black, just to name a few).  If his films are extremely graphic and bloody … well, that’s the current state of horror.  If anything, I would argue that Zombie deserves credit for unapologetically embracing the mantle of being a 21st century grindhouse filmmaker.

That said, Rob Zombie’s films rarely seem to be as good on a second viewing as they were during the first.  He’s one of those directors who comes at you strong that, to a certain extent, his films almost beat you into submission.  During the first viewing of one of Zombie’s films, it’s not unusual to be overwhelmed by all the style and the music and the gore and the over-the-top characterizations.  Even if you don’t like the film itself, it definitely makes an impression on you.  It’s only on repeat viewing that you might start to notice that Zombie’s narratives are often rather clumsily slapped together.  Several times, Zombie’s visual style seems to dictate the story as opposed to the other way around.

That was certainly the case with his 2007 remake of Halloween.  While the film follows the same basic plot as John Carpenter’s original, it also spent a lot more time delving into the past of Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch as a child, Tyler Mane as an adult).  It was obvious that Zombie was far more interested in Michael than in any of his victims.  (Carpenter took the exact opposite approach, developing the characters of Annie, Laurie, and Linda and allowing Michael to remain a cipher.)  As a result, the first half of the film deals with Michael and his dysfunctional childhood while only the second half features Michael escaping and returning to Haddonfield.  Laurie, Annie, and Lynda are well-played by Scout Taylor-Compton, Danielle Harris, and Kristina Klebe but ultimately, they all remain rather generic.

The first time I saw Rob Zombie’s Halloween, I thought it was one of the most disturbing films that I had ever seen.  I should clarify that I mean that in a good way.  Zombie’s Michael was truly terrifying but, at the same time, Zombie portrayed him as a kid who never had a chance.  Whereas Carpenter’s Michael started the film as a fresh-faced little boy dressed up like a clown and holding a bloody knife, Zombie’s Michael is born into a world of chaos and darkness.  With his dysfunctional childhood, it was hard not to feel that Michael never had a chance.  Feeling abandoned by both his family and, eventually, his therapist, Michael retreated into a world of pure anger and hate.  Whereas John Carpenter’s Michael rarely seemed to be angry (instead he was just relentless), Zombie’s Michael is rage personified.

Unfortunately, Zombie’s Halloween spends so much time on Michael and his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, perfectly cast) that it doesn’t leave much time for the night he came home.  Essentially, the entirety of Carpenter’s original film is crammed into the film’s second half and, on repeat viewings, you can’t ignore how incredibly rushed it all feels.  It’s obvious that Zombie’s heart was in the first half of the film.  In the second half, he’s just going through the slasher movie motions.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween is definitely a flawed film.  John Carpenter’s original remains the superior Halloween but, to be honest, I don’t think Rob Zombie would deny that.  Zombie set out not to replace Carpenter’s Halloween but to tell a different version of the same story.  When Zombie’s Halloween works, it really works.  Flawed as it may be, Halloween proves that Rob Zombie is a talented filmmaker, albeit one with room to grow.

As for Halloween II … well, we’ll talk about that later…

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The House of the Devil (dir by Ti West)


When was the last time you actually saw a good movie on Chiller?  Seriously, it doesn’t happen that often and perhaps that’s why, when, a few years ago, I curled up on the couch and watched 2009′s The House of the Devil on Chiller, I wasn’t expecting much.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that The House of the Devil is actually one of the most effective low-budget horror films that I’ve seen in a while.

The plot of House of the Devil is pretty simple.  Samantha (a likable performance from Jocelin Donahue) is a college student who has just moved into her first apartment.  However, Samantha can’t really afford to pay the rent so she agrees to take a babysitting job for the mysterious Mr. Ullman (Tom Noonan, who is just so creepy in this film).  Ullman offers her one hundred dollars to come babysit for the night.  Samantha agrees and, with her skeptical friend Megan (Greta Gerwig, who is hilarious here), drives out to Ullman’s home.  It turns out that Ullman lives in an isolated house out in the country and that he actually doesn’t have any children.  Instead, he wants Samantha to babysit his aging mother while he goes into town so he can watch the lunar eclipse which just happens to be happening on that exact night!  Samantha is reluctant but agrees to stay when Ullman offers to pay her $400.00.

And can you guess where this story is headed?

This film isn’t titled House of the Devil for nothing.

The_House_of_the_Devil

 

As I said before, I wasn’t expecting much from The House Of The Devil.  I was honestly expecting it just to be a typical, low-budget Chiller horror film, good for nothing more then maybe a laugh or two and maybe a few memorably silly gore effects.  Having now seen the film, I’m very happy to say that I was incorrect.  The House of the Devil is a well-made, effectively creepy horror film and it’s one that other horror filmmakers could very much learn from.

Don’t get me wrong.  The plot of House of the Devil isn’t going to win any points for creativity.  Even if the film didn’t open with a wonderfully self-concious title card informing us that the movie is “based on a true story” of Satanic activity, it would be pretty easy to figure out that nothing good is going to happen once Samantha goes into the house.  But that actually works to the film’s advantage.  The House of the Devil feels like an old ghost story told at a sleepover.  You know where the story’s heading but you get scared nonetheless because, ultimately, it’s the type of story that plays on the fears that everyone has.

Also, in the style of the scary ghost story told by a storyteller with a flashlight pointed up at her chin, The House of the Devil understands that the best horrors are the ones produced by an overstimulated imagination.  With the exception of two or three scenes, this is not a gory film nor is it a film that sadistically lingers over scenes of torture and carnage.  Instead, director Ti West takes his time to set up both the story and the characters.  This is a film where the horror comes more from a carefully constructed atmopshere than any sort of easy shock effects.  As a result, this is a horror film that actually stays with you after you watch it.

The House of the Devil is a film that I’m very happy to recommend.

2013 In Review: The Best of SyFy


It’s been quite a year for the SyFy network, even if the network’s most widely-seen original film, Sharknado, was actually one of their weaker offerings.  As a proud member of the Snarkalecs and a Snarkies voter, I’ve certainly enjoyed watching, reviewing, and live tweeting all of the films that SyFy and the Asylum have had to offer us this year.

Below, you’ll find my personal nominees for the best SyFy films and performances of 2013.  (Winners are listed in bold.)

End of the World

Best Film

Battledogs

Blast Vegas

*End of the World

Flying Monkeys

Ghost Shark

Zombie Night

Best Actor

Neil Grayston in End of the World

*Greg Grunberg in End of the World

Anthony Michael Hall in Zombie Night

Frankie Muniz in Blast Vegas

Corin Nemec in Robocroc

Tom Everett Scott in Independence Daysaster

Best Actress

Maggie Castle in Blast Vegas

Lacey Chabert in Scarecrow

Kaitlyn Leeb in Grave Halloween

*Maika Monroe in Flying Monkeys

Ariana Richards in Battledogs

Mackenzie Rosman in Ghost Shark

Best Supporting Actor

Barry Bostwick in Blast Vegas

William B. Davis in Stonados

Brad Dourif in End of the World

Dennis Haysbert in Battledogs

John Heard in Sharknado

*Richard Moll in Ghost Shark

Best Supporting Actress

*Shirley Jones in Zombie Night

Nicole Munoz in Scarecrow

Jill Teed in Independence Daysaster

Jackie Tuttle in Flying Monkeys

Dee Wallace in Robocroc

Kate Vernon in Battledogs

Best Director

Griff Furst for Ghost Shark

Robert Grasmere for Flying Monkeys

John Gulager for Zombie Night

W.D. Hogan for Independence Daysaster

*Steven R. Monroe for End of the World

Jack Perez for Blast Vegas

Best Screenplay

Shane Van Dyke for Battledogs

Joe D’Ambrosia for Blast Vegas

*Jason C. Bourque and David Ray for End of The World

Silvero Gouris for Flying Monkeys

Paul A. Birkett for Ghost Shark

Rick Suvalle for Scarecrow

Flying Monkeys

Best Monster

*Skippy from Flying Monkeys

The Shark from Ghost Shark

Robocroc from Robocroc

The Scarecrow from Scarecrow

The Tasmanian Devils from Tasmanian Devils

The Zombies from Zombie Night

Battledogs

Tomorrow, I will continue my look back at 2013 with my picks for the 16 worst films of 2013!