The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Terror Night, aka Bloody Movie (dir by Nick Marino)


 

Okay, so this is kind of a weird one.

The movie known as Bloody Movie was originally filmed in 1987, under the title Terror Night.  However, it was never released.  There are plenty of rumors about why it wasn’t released.  Some people say that it was because the film was produced with Mafia money.  Some people say it was because it used a lot of footage that was lifted from other movies and the producers apparently didn’t bother to clear the rights.  Of course, it’s also totally possible that the film wasn’t released because it wasn’t very good.  I mean, that does happen.

Regardless of why, the film apparently sat on the shelf for 20 years.  It was finally released by Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia and retitled Bloody Movie.  That said, the DVD that I own (and watched for this review) was released by Legacy Entertainment and still had the Terror Night title.  The transfer on the Legacy DVD was notably bad.  From what I’ve been told, the Retromedia release looks a lot better.

Now, there’s a lot bad things that can be said about Terror Night.  It’s low-budget, which is one of those things that can be overcome by a clever director but, in this case, it just results in Terror Night looking cheap.  It’s poorly written, full of one-dimensional characters who were shallow even by the standards of a late 80s slasher.  This is also one of those movies where formerly respectable actors pop up for five minutes cameos.  Whenever one of those actors shows up, all the action stops so that they can earn their paycheck.  Aldo Ray is homeless and doomed.  Cameron Mitchell is a cynical cop and doomed.  Alan Hale, Jr. is an affable security guard and apparently not doomed.  There’s no real reason for any of them to be there but there they are!  There’s also a biker couple who show up for no particular reason, along with the typical collection of teenage victims.

But yet, there are moments when Terror Night goes from being bland to being almost transcendently odd..  There are moments of comedy mixed in with some surprisingly mean-spirited death scenes.  Necks are snapped.  Heads are chopped off.  Bodies are split in half.  It all gets rather messy and the presence of all those old time actors makes the sudden gore scenes feel all the more strange.

However, the main thing that distinguishes Terror Night from the other slashers of the era is the identity of the killer.  (And, before anyone yells at me, this is not a spoiler.  There is never any mystery about who the killer is.)  Lance Hayward is not a zombie like Jason Voorhees or a silent symbol of evil like Michael Myers.  He’s not seeking vengeance for some crime in the past.  Instead, he’s a former silent screen star.  (It seems like Hayward would have been close to 90 years old at the time of Terror Night.  He’s still surprisingly spry.)  Hayward commits his murders while wearing costumes from his old movies.  Adding to the strangeness of the whole scenario is that actual silent footage is spliced into the murder scenes.  Most of the footage comes from movies like The Thief of Baghdad, The Black Pirate, and the Gaucho.  You have to wonder if Douglas Fairbanks cheated the director’s father or something.

(Since Hayward spends most of the movie in costume, I’m assuming that he was mostly played by stuntmen.  When Hayward actually shows his face, he’s played by one-time Oscar nominee, John Ireland.  At the height of his career, Ireland co-starred in films like All The King’s Men.)

As to why a silent scream star would be murdering teenagers … well, your guess is as good as mine.  It’s a strange film, a mix of gore and nostalgia.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it but I still always appreciate anything this strange.

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A Movie A Day #266: Possessed by the Night (1994, directed by Fred Olen Ray)


Howard Hansen (Ted Prior) is a best-selling horror writer who is suffering from writer’s block.  With his agent, Murray (Frank Sivero), pressuring him to get something written, Howard decides to seek inspiration in Chinatown.  When he steps into a curio shop and sees a grotesque, one-eyed blob floating in a jar of formaldehyde, Howard buys it.  He hopes that the blob will give him an idea for a great book but instead, it just causes him to have nightmares and violent sex with his wife, Peggy (Sandahl Bergman).

Meanwhile, Murray is in debt with loan shark Scott Lindsey (Henry Silva) and Scott’s number one debt collector, Gus (Chad McQueen).  Murray needs money and he needs it quickly.  Murray sends his “secretary,” Carol (Shannon Tweed), to live with the Hansens and steal an unpublished romance novel that Howard wrote when he was just starting out as a writer.  However, the one-eyed blob possesses Carol and she is soon climbing onto both Howard’s workout equipment and Howard!  Soon everyone is under the influence of the one-eyed blob, Carol is forcing Howard and Peggy to make love while she holds the gun on them, and both Gus and Murray are sneaking around the house, trying to find the manuscript.

A movie that was once very popular on late night Cinemax, Possessed By The Night is a sometimes awkward but frequently entertaining horror/thriller hybrid from B-auteur Fred Olen Ray.  Along with giving Frank Sivero a rare leading role (Sivero is best known for playing Frankie in Goodfellas and providing the inspiration for the Simpsons character of the same name), Possessed By The Night proves that no movie can be that bad when featuring both Sandahl Bergman and Shannon Tweed.  When you watch a Fred Olen Ray/Shannon Tweed collaboration from 1994, you know what you’re getting and Possessed By The Night delivers.

Film Review: The Twin (dir by Max Derin and Fred Olen Ray)


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According to the imdb, Fred Olen Ray is, as of this writing, credited with directing 148 films.  Few of those films have necessarily been acclaimed by the mainstream critics but almost all of them are a lot of fun when taken on their own terms.

Take The Twin for instance, on which Ray shares a directing credit with screenwriter Max Derin.

Now, in many ways, The Twin is a ludicrous film.  It’s very, very melodramatic and the whole film’s central issue (i.e., which twin is which) could have been very easily resolved if just one person in the movie had used a little common sense.

But you know what?

Criticism like that misses the entire point of the film.  The Twin is a lot of fun and it’s certainly not a film that’s meant to be taken seriously.  This is not a serious look at mental illness, young love, sibling rivalry, or anything else for that matter.  This is an over-the-top and rather silly piece of pure entertainment and, if we can’t enjoy something like that, what hope is there for the world?

The film deals with Tyler (Timothy Granaderos), who would seem to be almost perfect.  He’s handsome.  He’s intelligent.  He’s compassionate.  He’s a wonderful boyfriend, always polite and considerate to his girlfriend, Jocelyn (Jess Gabor).  Even Jocelyn’s overprotective mother, Ashley (Brigid Brannah), seems to like him.

However, Tyler has a secret.  Years ago, his parents were killed in a car accident.  The accident was caused by Tyler’s brother, Derrick.  As you may have guessed from the film’s title, Derrick is Tyler’s twin.  And we all know that, whenever a movie is called The Twin, that means that there’s going to be a good twin and an evil twin.  It turns out that Derrick is the evil twin and that accident was no accident.

Derrick has spent the last few years in a mental asylum.  When Tyler shows up to visit his brother, the staff tells Tyler that Derrick has picked up a strange new habit.  He’s telling everyone that he’s actually Tyler and Tyler is Derrick.  Oh well, Tyler shrugs, that’s what happens when you’ve got a sociopathic twin.

Later, when Tyler is alone with his twin, he’s shocked when Derrick attacks him.  Derrick knocks him out and then switches clothes with him.  Claiming to be Tyler, Derrick walks out of the hospital and into the lives on Jocelyn and Ashley.  Meanwhile, Tyler is stuck in the hospital, begging for someone to just give him a blood test so that he can prove who he is….

Anyway, you can probably guess what happens next but that’s part of the fun.  Derrick (as Tyler) spends a lot of good, quality time with Ashley and Jocelyn, both of whom are surprised by how different “Tyler’s” personality seems to now be.  Ashley, of course, is more suspicious than Jocelyn.  (This film premiered on Lifetime so you better believe that overprotective mom is eventually proven right.)

It may be predictable but, like I said, it’s all a lot of fun.  I don’t know which parts of the film were directed by Derin and which parts by Fred Olen Ray but, as a whole, the film is cheerfully content to be a B-movie and you have to kind of love it for that.  At a time when everyone is taking everything so seriously and so many filmmakers are giving into portentous pretension, it’s nice to see a thriller that’s pure entertainment.

Plus, Timothy Granaderos is a lot of fun as both Tyler and Derrick.  Tyler is nice but kind of dull.  Derrick is exciting but totally batshit crazy.  Granaderos seems to be enjoying himself as he switches back and forth between being good and evil.  An evil twin movie is only as good as its twins and Granaderos is pretty good.

So, keep an eye out for The Twin.  Melodrama this enjoyable should not be missed.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #1: Unwanted Guest (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Thanksgiving, November 24th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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The first film that I watched in my latest quest to clean out my DVR was Unwanted Guest, a Lifetime film that I recorded off of the Lifetime Movie Network on October 22nd.

Unwanted Guest tells a familiar Lifetime story.  A seemingly innocent and deceptively mousey college student, Amy (Kate Mansi), is invited to spend the holiday break at the home of her best friend, Christine (Valentina Novakovic).  It seems like a nice thing to do, right?  After all, Amy says that her family is in Europe and Christine is still struggling to adjust to having a new stepfather.  Amy gets a place to stay and Christine gets a friend.  It’s a win win, right?

Well, no, not quite.

When we first meet Amy, she’s wearing glasses, no makeup, and seems to be kind of meek.  It doesn’t take a psychic to know that Amy will soon take off her glasses, let down her hair, and start wandering around in lingerie.  However, even beyond that, Amy is soon drugging Christine, tricking Christine’s mother into falling off a stool, and seducing Christine’s stepfather.

(When he asks her why she’s wandering around the house in just a t-shirt, Amy replies, “If my shirt bothers you, I can take it off.”)

Of course, Amy’s not just manipulative.  She’s also a murderer.  In fact, it’s surprising the amount of people that she kills over the course of one holiday break.  I always find it kind of odd how skilled people in Lifetime movies are when it comes to killing people.  I mean, Amy even knows how to disable the brakes on someone’s car!  I wouldn’t even know where to begin!  I mean, how do you learn stuff like that?  Wikipedia, I guess.

Of course, Amy doesn’t just kill people.  There’s also a really icky scene where she kills a hamster.  If you didn’t already dislike Amy, you will after the hamster scene.

Unwanted Guest is not just a Lifetime film.  It’s also a Fred Olen Ray film and, even by his standards, it’s deliriously and wonderfully over-the-top.  One thing that I always like about Fred Olen Ray’s films is that they make no excuses for what they are.  Unwanted Guest is so unapologetically melodramatic and joyfully tawdry that it’s impossible not to enjoy it.  This is one of those films that you watch and you think, “Surely, they’re not going to go there…” and then, suddenly and without apology, they do!  It’s a lot of fun.

Add to that, Kate Mansi does a really good job in the role of Amy.  If there’s a Hall of Fame for Lifetime movie psychos, Amy deserves to be included!

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Scalps (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


The 1983 film Scalps answers the following question:

What happens when these grad students…

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…dig up a sacred Native American burial ground and consider stealing some of the artifacts for themselves?

These grad students right here!

These grad students right here!

Well, they upset this lion…

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…and this woman…

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…and this guy, as well!

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Needless to say, things don’t end well for anyone involved.

As for why those students were out digging for artifacts in the first place, the blame rests with Prof. Machen.  At first, Machen didn’t go with the students.  He had to take care of stuff back at the university.  When he finally did show up, it was a little bit too late.  Prof. Machen is played by an actor named Kirk Alyn, who was the first actor to play Superman back in the 1940s.

In the picture below, you can tell Prof. Machen is an explorer because of the pith helmet that he’s carrying:

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Scalps is about 80 minutes long.  Most fans of low-budget horror will not be shocked to learn that Scalps is about 60 minutes of filler and 20 minutes of actual action.  Seriously, it takes forever for those grad students to actually reach the site of the dig and then, once they start digging, it seems to take even longer for anything to actually happen.  Occasionally, we get a quick flash forward of someone getting scalped or an insert of either the lion, the witch, or the warrior looking upset.

The grad students themselves are pretty much interchangeable.  As far as the men go, two of them have beards and another likes to drink beer.  As far as the women are concerned, two of them are blonde and one of them is slightly less blonde.  D.J. (Jo-Ann Robinson) is kind of a hippie and she has a bad feeling about everything.

(Stupid hippies!  Bleh!)

What’s odd is that, in the end, the film’s glacial pace actually works to its advantage.  Combined with an 80s synthesizer-of-doom score and some ragged but still effectively desolate shots of the desert, the slow pace actually gives Scalps something of a dream-like feel.  Like a filmed nightmare, the film is suffused with a feeling of impending doom.  Once the killings start, Scalps also makes good use of the slo-mo of doom.  Even the most rudimentary of scenes can be scary when they’re filmed in slow motion.

Scalps has been described as being one of the most censored films in cinematic history.  If you listen to Fred Olen Ray’s director’s commentary (more on that below), you’ll learn that it was largely censored due to the behavior of an unethical producer.  That said, it is a remarkably gory little film.  It may take a while for the blood to start flowing but once it starts, it doesn’t stop.  Admittedly, some of the gore effects worked better than others.  The arrow to the eye didn’t seem authentic.  The scalping, on the other hand, seemed far too authentic.  As for the decapitation …. well, I’d put that somewhere in the middle.

Scalps is something of a historical oddity, because it was one of the first films to be directed by the incredibly prolific Fred Olen Ray.  If you’re lucky enough to find the out-of-print Retromedia DVD, you can listen to a commentary track from Fred.  He’s remarkably honest about the film’s flaws and also discusses how he feels that the film’s producers ruined the film by adding random insert shots and flash forwards.  (“That’s not us doing that!” Fred says during one insert of the lion.)  Fred also points out that he made the mistake of actually shooting some of the night scenes at night.  It’s always interesting listening to a veteran director talk about his first film.  Since they have nothing to lose by openly discussing the mistakes that they made, their commentaries become a sort of a mini-film school.

Scalps is not a lost masterpiece but it is oddly watchable.  Somehow, it manages to be both silly and surprisingly effective at the same time.

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What Lisa and the Snarkalecs Watched The Other Night #150: A Mother’s Revenge (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


On Saturday night, my friends the Snarkalecs and I turned over to the Lifetime Movie Network and we watched the premiere of the latest Fred Olen Ray thriller, A Mother’s Revenge!

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Why Were We Watching It?

Well, the obvious answer is that the film was on the Lifetime Movie Network and it was directed by Fred Olen Ray!  However, I have to admit that I nearly missed A Mother’s Revenge.  Because it was the night before Mother’s Day, Lifetime was planning on broadcasting a film about a basketball player and his mom.  I was definitely not looking forward to watching that but then my friend Trevor informed me that, on the Lifetime Movie Network, A Mother’s Revenge would be airing at the exact same time!  YAY!

I then went on twitter and I discovered that not only was A Mother’s Revenge the latest film from Fred Olen Ray but that it also involved Gerald Webb, the producer and star of A House Is Not A Home and the favorite actor of snarkalecs everywhere!  Once I discovered that all of my fellow snarkalecs would be taking part in the live tweet, there was no way that I wasn’t going to join them!

What Was It About?

It was about a mother and how she got revenge!

(That’s the one line version.)

More specifically, it’s the story of Jennifer (Jamie Luner), a pill-popping, recovering alcoholic who travels to Buffalo so that she can watch her daughter, Katey (Aubrey Whitby), graduate from college.  From the minute that Jennifer arrives, things refuse to work out the way that she wants.

First off, Katey wants to spend some time with her friends as opposed to hanging out with her mother.

Secondly, Jennifer’s ex-husband (Jason-Shane Scott) has also shown up for the graduation and tension, both sexual and otherwise, is everywhere.

Third, Jennifer accidentally grabbed the wrong bag at the airport.  Supercreepy Conner (Steven Brand) wants his bag back and he’s willing to both commit murder and kidnap Jennfer’s daughter to accomplish his goals.

And finally, Buffalo’s best detectives (played by Gerald Webb and Richard Lounello) suspect that Jennifer may be mentally unstable.  Once a dead body shows up, Jennifer automatically becomes their main suspect.

All in all, Jennifer has quite a bit to be upset about…

What Worked?

I liked A Mother’s Revenge.  Fred Olen Ray kept the action moving at a steady pace and I appreciated the way the film emphasized how one totally random mistake (like grabbing the wrong bag at the airport) can change someone’s life forever.  It nicely conformed into my own point-of-view, which is that the universe is basically as chaotic and unpredictable as a Werner Herzog documentary.

Jamie Luner appears in a lot of these movies and she knows how to balance melodrama and pathos.  She and Aubrey Whitby were totally believable as mother and daughter.  Also believable was Steven Brand, who was properly creepy as the sadistic Conner.

A Mother’s Revenge was shot on location in Buffalo and it must be said that the city looked really good.  The Mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown, made a cameo appearance and who can blame him?  A Mother’s Revenge made me want to visit his town.

Another great thing about A Mother’s Revenge is that a lot of the film’s crew and cast joined in with the live tweet and they were all very gracious, informative, and handled the occasional snarkiness with class and good humor.  What I especially enjoyed was seeing some of the tweets from the various citizens of Buffalo who had been involved with the production.  It was one of the most positive live tweets that I’ve ever taken part in and it generated the type of good vibes that you normally don’t associate with film twitter.

What Did Not Work?

It all worked!

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I’ve actually grabbed the worng bag before.  I did not get blackmailed as a result but maybe I was just lucky.  (However, I did get a week’s worth of new clothes, none of which really worked for me.  I was sad.  Hopefully, the Goodwill appreciated my donation.)

Lessons Learned

Be careful about grabbing the wrong bag.  And, if you do grab the one bag, don’t let anyone find out.

Cleaning Out The DVR: The Christmas Gift (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


The Christmas Gift

After I watched The Flight Before Christmas, it was time to continue cleaning out the DVR by watching The Christmas Gift!  The Christmas Gift was one of the first Christmas films to show up on Lifetime this year, premiering on November 30th.

Megan (Michelle Trachtenberg) is an ambitious writer who works for a tabloid magazine and who is frustrated by the fact that she’s only assigned to write articles about the best lip gloss for fair skin.  As well, her boorish boyfriend, and fellow journalist, Alex (Daniel Booko) not only dumps her but gets assigned the big story that she wanted!  Michelle’s editor, Cooper (Rick Fox), tells her that, if she really thinks that she deserves better assignments, then she needs to go out and find a story that proves it.

Megan returns home to discover that her aunt has sent her a package of her old belongings.  Going through it, Megan comes across a notebook that was anonymously given to her one Christmas many years ago.  The notebook — and the poem that was inscribed within — inspired Megan to become a writer.  She decides, for her story, to track down the person who gave her the notebook.

Her investigation leads her to Wesley Hardin Johnson, Jr. (Sterling Sulieman), who runs a foster care program.  Megan says that she wants to do a story about the program and the kids that Wesley is helping.  Wesley agrees, on the condition that the story be about the kids and not about him.  For reasons that only make sense when you consider that this is a Lifetime holiday film, Megan decides that this means that she shouldn’t tell him about the notebook.

Not only does Megan have a hit story but she and Wesley are also falling in love!  However, Megan then discovers why her aunt sent her all of her old stuff.  It turns out that her aunt’s retirement community is about to be leveled and repalced with condos.  And who is evicting Megan’s aunt?  None other than Wesley’s father, Wesley Hardin Johnson, Sr. (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs)…

Needless to say, it all leads to misunderstandings and conflicts but it’s nothing that can’t be solved within 90 minutes of narrative.  This is a Lifetime Christmas film, after all.  You watch it with the full knowledge that everything’s going to turn out okay.  The Christmas Gift is a good-natured and likable holiday movie and Michelle Trachtenberg does a pretty good job in the lead role.

Perhaps what is most interesting about The Christmas Gift is that it was directed by the incredibly prolific Fred Olen Ray, who is better known for directing horror films and thrillers than for directing sweet-natured family films.  (That said, if you look at his filmography, you’ll actually come across several movies that you wouldn’t normally associate with him.)  Someday, someone is going to write the definitive overview of Ray’s long and varied career and, hopefully, I will be one of the first to read it.