(Canadian) Guilty Pleasure No. 49: Heavenly Bodies (dir by Lawrence Dane)


“She’s reaching the top …. with everything she’s got!”

That’s the tag line of the 1984 Canadian film, Heavenly Bodies.  It’s a perfectly vapid tagline for an entertainingly vapid movie.  It was on TCM last night and I just finished watching it.  It takes a lot to get me out of my horror film habit in October but how could I resist a movie about Canadian gym rivalries?

Now, even though this isn’t a horror film, it is a Canadian film from the 80s which means that it features a lot of performers who will be familiar to fans of old school slasher films.  For instance, the film stars Cynthia Dale, who was also in the original My Bloody Valentine.  Cynthia plays Samantha, an administrative assistant who quits her job and opens up her own independent gym, Heavenly Bodies.  Samantha is an aerobic dance instructor, perhaps the best in all of Ontario.  Samantha is also a single mother but there’s no better way to find a lover than to teach him aerobics.

Heavenly Bodies was also directed by a veteran of Canadian exploitation, Lawrence Dane.  Remember Happy Birthday To Me?  He plays the father in that movie.  I’d love to know the story of what led to Lawrence Dane not only directing but apparently also helping to write the script for a movie about an independent health club.  I mean, to go from working with David Cronenberg and winning Genie Awards to directing Heavenly Bodies seems like quite a career trajectory.  As a sidenote, how much more interesting would Heavenly Bodies be if it had been directed David Cronenberg?  I imagine that all the leg cramps would be a bit more graphic.

Samantha is selected to host her own exercise show on Canadian TV and a bigger Canadian gym decides that the only way to deal with this upstart is to destroy Heavenly Bodies by buying out their lease …. or something.  To be honest, I really couldn’t follow half the plot of Heavenly Bodies.  I just know that there was a lot of dancing and lot of exercising and a lot of shots of Samantha walking around Toronto.  The film came out a year after Flashdance and all of the scenes of Samantha walking around the city are basically filmed in exactly the same way as the shots of Jennifer Beals walking around Pittsburgh.  (There’s even a scene where Samantha stands in front of a poster for Flashdance, trying to convince people to join her gym.)  Whereas you kind of admired the way that Jennifer Beals handled herself on the dangerous streets of Pittsburgh, you never really worry about Samantha because …. well, it’s Toronto.  As I watched the film, I started to think about the fact that Canada consistently sends its best actors to the U.S. while those of us in the States consistently send our bad movies up north.  I’m not sure if that’s really a fair trade.

Anyway, the two gyms decide to settle their differences with an exercise marathon that is televised on Canadian TV.  (I’m going to assume that the film takes place in-between hockey seasons.)  Basically, the exercise marathon is one of those things where you have two teams and everyone just keeps exercising until they drop.  The last person standing is the winner and their gym gets …. I don’t know, bragging rights?  I mean, I’m not even how they were able to convince anyone to put an exercise marathon on TV.  I guess it was an 80s thing.

Can you guess who wins the exercise marathon?

Listen, Heavenly Bodies is technically a bad movie but I still like it because there’s a lot of dancing and everyone in the cast is so enthusiastic about whatever it is that they think they’re doing.  There’s something to be said for enthusiasm.  Add to that, the exercise marathon just has to be seen to believed.  This is a film of the 80s and its Canadian to boot so how can it not be a guilty pleasure of sorts?

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia
  46. Bar Rescue
  47. The Powers of Matthew Star
  48. Spiker

 

Horror Film Review: Special Effects (dir by Larry Cohen)


In this rather odd horror film from 1984, dumb-as-mud Keefe Wateran (Brad Rijn) travels from Dallas to New York City, hoping to bring his wife back home.  Andrea (Zoe Tamerlis, the star of Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45) abandoned both Keefe and their son because she wants to be a star.  When the film opens, she’s posing topless in a replica of the Oval Office.  Keefe is not too happy when he discovers that his wife is apparently appearing in politically-themed nude photo shoots.

And the thing is, you feel like you should feel sorry for Keefe, seeing as how his wife abandoned not only him but also their child.  But Keefe is just such a self-righteous know-it-all that you really can’t blame Andrea for leaving him.  As soon he starts going on and on about how she’s abandoned her family just to be a tramp in New York, you’re pretty much automatically on Andrea’s side.

Unfortunately, when Andrea turns up dead at Coney Island, the police automatically suspect that Keefe’s responsible.  When they show up to arrest Keefe for the murder, he’s only wearing his boxer shorts.  One of the detectives comments that, if he was going to commit murder, he would at least wear interesting underwear.  And, again, you may want to sympathize with Keefe but the detective has a point.  You need to dress for the job you want, not the one you have.  I have an entire drawer full of murder thongs, just in case I ever decide to go for a career change.

Keefe is bailed out of jail and provided a high-priced attorney by Christopher Neville (Eric Bogosian).  Neville is a big-time Hollywood director …. or, at least, he was until he directed a huge flop.  (Apparently, the film had over $30,000 worth of special effects, which I guess was a lot back in 1984.)  Neville, whom Andrea was supposed to have a meeting with on the night that she died, says that he’s fascinated by Keefe and Andrea’s story.  In fact, he wants to turn it into a movie and he wants to hire Keefe as a special consultant.

However, what we know (but what Keefe doesn’t know, though he’d be able to figure it out if he wasn’t such a total and complete freaking moron), is that Neville murdered Andrea!  He strangled her when she objected to him filming them while they were having sex.  Now, Neville wants to make a movie about the murder.  He even hires Elaine Bernstein (Zoe Tamerlis, again) to play Andrea in the film, despite the fact that Elaine has no acting experience.  What’s important is that Elaine looks like Andrea.  Neville also manages to manipulate the rather stupid Keefe into playing himself in the film.  Soon, Neville is suggesting that perhaps they need to film a scene of Keefe and Andrea having rough sex and maybe Keefe should choke her during the scene….

And it just gets stranger from there.  Special Effects is Hitchcock-style thriller from director Larry Cohen, one that’s got a bit more on its mind than just murder and a few heavy-handed jokes about the film industry.  Neville may be smooth and manipulative while Keefe may be loud and a bit on the dumb side but, ultimately, they’re both obsessed with turning Elaine into Andrea.  Neville wants to transform Elaine into the Andrea that he victimized while Keefe wants to turn Elaine into his idealized version of Andrea, the version that never wanted anything more than to be his wife and the mother of his children.  In the end, they’re both creeps.  (Admittedly, only one of them is murderer.)

Adding to the film’s strange tone are the three memorably eccentric lead performances.  All three of the actors do unexpected things with their characters.  Bogosian is wonderfully smug and smoothly manipulative as Neville while Brad Rijin goes all out in making Keefe one of the stupidest characters ever to appear in a leading role in a motion picture.  (He’s like Bruce Campbell, without the comedic timing.)  And finally, Zoe Tamerlis does a great job playing four different characters — Andrea, Neville’s version of Andrea, Keefe’s version of Andrea, and finally Esther.

Special Effects is an intriguing mix of thrills, horror, and satire with an undercurrent of anger.  One gets the feeling that Neville is a stand-in for many of the soulless directors who had the type of career that Cohen felt he deserved.  Track it down and check it out.

Horror On The Lens: Night Tide (dir by Curtis Harrington)


Night Tide

First released in 1961 and directed by Curtis Harrington, Night Tide stars a young Dennis Hopper as Johnny, an awkward sailor.  Johnny meets Mora (Linda Lawson), who works as a “mermaid” on the pier.  For Johnny, it’s love at first sight.  However, the more that Johnny pursues her, the more he learns about both her mysterious past and the dark fate of her previous boyfriends.

Night Tide is low-key and atmospheric gem of a movie, one that serve as an inspiration for low-budget filmmakers every where.  Lawson is perfectly cast as the enigmatic Mora but the film really belongs to Dennis Hopper.  Hopper’s naturally off-key presence made him perfect for the role of Johnny.

Night Tide is one of those low-budget movies that, because it’s in the public domain,  has been released on DVD (often in inferior form) by dozens of different companies.  Often times, films like this turn out to be fairly forgettable.  Night Tide, however, is an exception.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Haunt (dir by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods)


I just watched the 2019 haunted house/slasher hybrid Haunt on Shudder TV’s The Last Drive-In.

Joe Bob Briggs, who hosts The Last Drive-In and who is, as we all know, one of the patron saints of grindhouse movie lovers, gave Haunt a rating of 4 stars and said to check it out.  Having watched the film, I think Joe Bob was being a bit generous in his assessment.  Personally, I would have given it two and a half stars or maybe, depending on my mood, three.  It’s an undeniably effective film but it’s also a bit on the predictable side.

A group of students meet up at a Halloween party and end up going to a haunted house together.  The haunted house is kind of in the middle of nowhere.  It’s populated by oddly quiet people wearing creepy masks.  There’s a clown.  There’s a devil, who we earlier saw stalking one of the students at the party.  There’s a ghost.  Before anyone is allowed to enter the house, everyone is required to sign a liability waiver and to give up their cell phone.  It’s pretty obvious from the start that anyone who enters the haunted house is going to be stalked and killed by the people in the masks but our partygoers enter the house anyway.  Blood flows and mayhem follows.

As I said, it’s effectively done.  The haunted house is a wonderful location and the masked killers all look properly creepy.  You have to kind of wonder if the killers couldn’t have come up with a simpler way to capture and take out their victims but then again, homicidal psychopaths are pretty much going to do whatever they want.  I mean, are you going to be the one to tell a guy wearing a devil mask and carrying a pitchfork that his ideas don’t make any sense?  You never disagree with a devil holding a pitchfork.  That’s just common sense.  If a devil with a pitchfork tells you that you’re going to travel around Illinois, setting up haunted houses …. well, you don’t argue with him.  Instead, you hop on the next plane to Chicago and you make a deal with the Mafia to keep you supplied with pumpkins.

But, at the same time, Haunt never really took me by surprise.  None of the victims were particularly interesting and, once you got beyond the fact that they were wearing creepy masks and that they all had a messed up backstory, there wasn’t really anything that special about the killers either.  The real star of the film was the haunted house, which was imaginatively designed and full of ominous atmosphere.  I especially liked the escape room, where all of the notes had to held up to a mirror in order to be read.  There’s something under the bed indeed!

Haunt is good enough to serve as a part of your Halloween film buffet but it definitely shouldn’t be the only option on the menu.  It’s effectively creepy but it doesn’t stick with you the way that the best horror films do.  If the best horror movies are like a nightmare that you simply cannot forget, Haunt is more like an amusement par ride.  It’s fun while it lasts but, by the time it’s over, your mind has already moved onto the next attraction.

Horror On TV: One Step Beyond 2.1 “Delusion” (dir by John Newland)


On tonight’s episode of One Step Beyond.

A young woman (Suzanne Pleshette) desperately needs a blood transfusion.  Fortunately, the police have managed to track down one of the only people to share her blood type, an accountant named Harold Stern (Norman Lloyd).  Harold seems like a nice, rather mild-mannered guy and he has a long history of donating blood.  However, when the police approach him, Harold refuses to donate.

“What type of crumb are you!?” the police demand.

Harold explains that, whenever he gives someone blood, he develops a psychic connection with that person.  He can see their future.  And that’s simply a burden that he can no longer shoulder….

This episode of One Step Beyond originally aired on September 15th, 1959.  Norman Lloyd, who plays Harold, got his start as a member of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater and he also played the villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur.  (Speaking of Hitchcock, Suzanne Pleshette played the doomed school teacher in The Birds.)  When Lloyd appeared in this episode of One Step Beyond, he was 44 years old.

Today, Norman Lloyd is 105 years old and guess what?  He’s still active!  He had a role in Trainwreck and still occasionally appears on television.

Enjoy!

International Horror Film Review: Angst (dir by Gerald Kargl)


The 1983 German film, Angst, is one of the most disturbing films that I’ve ever seen.  It tells a thoroughly unpleasant story about a man who is truly worthy of hate and yet it’s so well-made that, once it starts, it’s nearly impossible to look away, even though you may want to.

Erwin Leder plays the role of K., a young man who, when we first see him, is shooting a random elderly woman.  K. is arrested for that crime and, over a series a still photographs, we listen as a dispassionate voice-over fills us in on the details of K.’s life.  Like a lot of serial killers, K. was not wanted by his parents.  He was abused by his mother, his grandmother, and everyone else that he met in life.  He spent years in and out of prison.  Though he claimed that he shot the elderly woman on impulse and that he didn’t really know what drove him to the act, the authorities still decide that the murder was a robbery gone wrong.  K. goes to prison for ten years and, we’re told, he’s a model prisoner.

Eventually, K. takes over the narration.  He tells us that he’s spent ten years pretending to be reformed, fantasizing about the moment that he’s released and once again free to kill.  When K. finally is released from prison, no one is there to meet him.  He has no family or friends.  A trip to a diner, in which he’s eyed suspiciously by everyone as he rather animalistically eats a sausage, leaves him even more determined to find people to kill.  After an unsuccessful attempt to strangle a taxi driver, K. comes across a secluded house.  The house is owned by a woman and her two adult children, one of whom is disabled.  K. breaks into the house and …. well, things go to Hell.

As I said, Angst is not a pleasant film to watch.  How hateful is K?  Listen, I’m against the death penalty.  I’ve signed petitions opposing the death penalty.  I believe that when we celebrate the death of even the worst people, we sacrifice a bit of our soul.  That said, if Angst ended with K. going to the electric chair or being shot in the back of the head by some anonymous execution, I wouldn’t have shed a tear.  What makes K. such a terrifying monster is that he’s a very real threat.  He’s not some sort of paranormal creature.  He doesn’t have any supernatural powers nor is he motivated by some sort of esoteric belief.  Instead, he’s a man with a traumatic childhood and an unending obsession with killing.  The film offers us no easy escape when it comes to considering K. and his actions.  We can’t just shrug him off as just being another horror movie villain.  Instead, he’s the type of person who is probably walking the streets right now.  Angst left me wondering if I’ve ever walked past a murderer without even realizing it.

Angst is a well-made film.  In fact, there are times when you kind of resent how well-made it is.  If it was just some cheap serial killer flick with fake blood and a boom mic occasionally slipping into view, it would be a lot easier to dismiss the film.  Instead, the film plays out almost like a documentary.  Whether he’s leaving the prison or staring at a potential victim or running around the house, the camera often holds K. in a tight close-up, forcing us to watch as the madness plays across his face.  Later, when K. is attempting to steal a car, the camera views him from above, putting us in the position of a deity who is looking down upon K. and his actions and perhaps wondering how the world could have gone so wrong.

Angst is an antidote to all those films that portray serial killers as being witty and clever antiheroes.  There’s nothing particularly witty or clever about K.  When he succeeds at his crimes, it’s not due to him being particularly smart or coming up with an elaborate plan.  It’s just that most people are in denial about the existence of men like K.  He uses that to his advantage.

Angst is somewhat legendary for having been banned in a number of countries when it was first released.  It is a totally disturbing film and I don’t necessarily recommend it to the easily triggered.  That said, it’s also a remarkably well-made film.  For better or worse, it sticks with you.

Horror Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (Samuel Bayer)


“Hey, you guys!  The 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is on TV!”

“Alright!  I NEVER MISS A ROONEY MARA HORROR MOVIE!”

Indeed, way back in 2010, there a lot of hype accompanying the release of the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.  It came out at a time when a lot of classic horror films were being rebooted for no particular reason.  Halloween got a reboot.  Friday the 13th got a reboot.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre has gotten a reboot.  So, it was just kind of expected that Nightmare on Elm Street would get a reboot, bringing the story into the modern age and making the story less problematic and blah bah blah.

And yet, for all the hype that accompanied the Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, it was pretty quickly forgotten.  If I remember correctly, it failed to live up to box office expectations and, as a result, there was never a sequel to this reboot.  Jackie Earle Haley never got a second chance to play Freddy Krueger and, to be honest, that’s probably for the best.  Haley’s a great actor who deserves better than to be typecast as the actor who played the second best version of Freddy Krueger.  No matter how good a performance Haley could have given in any of the hypothetical sequels to the Nightmare reboot, he would have been overshadowed by Robert Englund’s definitive interpretation of the character.

Today, the movie seems to be best remembered as one of the films that Rooney Mara made before she was cast in the title role of David Fincher’s rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Mara plays the role of Nancy, the sleep-deprived teenager whose friends are all having nightmares and dying in various grotesque ways.  In Nightmare on Elm Street, Rooney Mara is even more boring than usual but then again, the same can be said of just about everyone else in the movie, with the exception of Jackie Earle Haley and Clancy Brown.  The majority of the actors just go through the motions.  It’s as if they decided that, since they were appearing in a horror movie, they didn’t really have to make any sort of effort to do anything interesting with their characters.  One need only compare the performances of Heather Langenkamp and Rooney Mara to see why the original Nightmare On Elm Street remains a classic while the remake has been forgotten.

Of course, another reason why the reboot has been forgotten is because it’s not really that scary.  The original Nightmare is still scary.  The original can still give you nightmares.  Robert Englund’s performance still holds up.  The death of Tina is still terrifying.  The scene where Nancy looks at the gray streak in her hair and says that she looks like she’s in her 20s is still funny.  Nightmare on Elm Street still holds up.  The reboot, however, falls flat in the scares department.  I think part of the problem is that the dreams are too obvious in the reboot,  In the original, the waking world would segue so effortlessly into the dream world that you were always kept off-balance.  In the remake, the dreams are too easy to spot and they’re too dependent on CGI to be convincing as a actual nightmares.

The remake does do one interesting thing.  There are several scenes in the film that seem to be designed to hint that maybe, in life, Freddy was actually innocent of the crimes for which was accused and that he was just set on fire because he was a convenient scapegoat.  That’s an intriguing idea and it certainly would have brought a whole new dimension to Freddy and his quest for revenge.  Just imagine how much of a mind-screw the film would have been if it had been revealed that Freddy had actually been framed by one of the same adults who later set him on fire.  Unfortunately, after making you think that the movie might actually do something unexpected, the film then reveals that Freddy actually was guilty and the whole story becomes a bit less interesting.  Revealing that Freddy was just a somewhat slow handyman who was wrongly accused would have brought some subversive life to this film but this reboot has no interest in being subversive.

Ignore the remake.  Watch the original.

Horror on the Lens: Attack of the Crab Monsters (dir by Roger Corman)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have the 1957 science fiction film, Attack of the Crab Monsters!

About a month ago, I watched this film along with Patrick Smith and all of our friends in the late night movie gang.   To be honest, everyone else seemed to enjoy it a lot more than I did.  It was a fun little movie but … well, maybe I was just having a bad night.

Here’s why you should take 62 minutes out of your Saturday and watch Attack of the Crab Monsters on the Shattered Lens.  First off, it’s a Roger Corman film and anything directed by Roger Corman automatically needs to be watched.  Secondly, it’s about giant crabs that communicate through telepathy.  And when was the last time you saw that!?

(“Last night,” someone in the audience shouts, “as the sun went down over the crab-covered beaches of Denmark!”  I pretend not to hear.)

Anyway!  Here, for your viewing pleasure, is Attack of the Crab Monsters!

Horror On TV: One Step Beyond 1. 16 “The Burning Girl” (dir by John Newland)


When I first started searching YouTube for episodes to use in this feature, I came across quite a few episodes of an old black-and-white TV show called One Step Beyond.  Running for three seasons (from 1959 to 1961), One Step Beyond was hosted by John Newland.  Every week, Newland would tell the audience about some sort of possible paranormal phenomena.  Then, a dramatization of a “real” event would be shown and occasionally, the show would end with Newland interviewing the real people whose story we had just watched.

To me, that all sounds like a lot of fun.

The 16th episode of One Step Beyond was called The Burning Girl and it dealt with a teenage girl who, whenever she got upset, could apparently cause fires to spontaneously erupt.  It was written by Catherine Turney and directed by John Newland himself.

It was originally broadcast on May 5th, 1959 — presumably long before Stephen King even had the idea to write about a girl named Carrie.

Horror on the Lens: The Incredible Melting Man (dir by William Sachs)


Today’s horror on the lens is a science fiction/horror film from 1977!

In The Incredible Melting Man, the first manned spaceflight to Saturn does not go well.  Three astronauts went up but only one came down.  And that one astronaut is both kinda crazy and melting!  Seriously, it’s a big mess.

Apparently, one of the victims of the incredible melting man is played by director Jonathan Demme.  See if you can spot him!  It’ll be fun.

Enjoy!