Horror on TV: One Step Beyond 2.7 “The Open Window” (dir by John Newland)

If tonight’s episode of One Step Beyond seems familiar, that’s because it’s a remake of a story that was originally filmed as an episode of The Veil. 

This time, instead of witnessing a murder occurring in another apartment, it’s a suicide that is witnessed by artist Anthony March (Michael Higgins).  Of course, when he investigates, he discovers that the apartment in empty.  Is Anthony hallucinating or has he gone one step beyond and is he seeing the future?  Watch to find out!

By the way, that’s future Oscar winner Louise Fletcher playing Anthony’s model.

This originally aired on November 3rd, 1959.


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Children (dir by Tom Shankland)

Poor Casey (Hannah Tointon)!

As 2008’s The Children opens, all she wants to do is celebrate New Year’s with her friends.  Instead, her mom and her stepfather are dragging her off to some stupid house in the middle of nowhere, where she’ll have to hang out with her aunt and her dorky uncle and she’ll also be expected to look after not only her two much younger cousins but her two half-siblings as well!  Even worse, once they arrive at the house, all of the young children start to complain about feeling sick.  One of them even throws up.  Everyone assumes it’s just car sickness but could it be something worse?

(Of course.  There’s always something worse!)

In fact, perhaps the only positive thing about the holiday is that it’s snowed!  All of the snow sure does look pretty and it’s a lot of fun to play in.  Once the kids get over being sick, they can’t wait to go outside and have some fun!  One of the adults accompanies them.  While he’s sledding, the kids use a garden rake to kill him.  They even disguise it to look like an accident…

Yep, there’s definitely something going on with the children.  At first, Casey is the only one who understands that the children have turned evil.  (Of course, her first clue comes when they attack her in the woods.)  All the adults are either in shock or denial.  At first, they refuse to even consider that their children are trying to kill them.  Of course, once the children lay siege to the house, the adults are in for a rude awakening…

This is actually the second film called The Children that I’ve reviewed for this site.  The first one was a film from the early 80s that featured a school bus driving through a toxic cloud with the end result being a bunch of homicidal, radioactively-charged children.  In the second version, it’s left a bit more ambiguous as to why the children have suddenly turned homicidal.  While it’s established that that they’re suffering from a virus, the film never tells us where the virus came from or even how it was contracted in the first place.  In fact, until the film’s last few minutes, the audience is never quite sure just how far the infection has spread.  That ambiguity is what gives this film its power.  There’s nothing scarier than not being sure what’s going on.

The Children is a grim and disturbing horror film, one the features very little humor and which ends on an ominous note.  It’s a film that exploits something that we all know but rarely want to admit, which is that children can be incredibly creepy.  We tend to idealize children, which is exactly what the children in this movie use to their advantage.

The Children is also a very well-acted horror film.  Hannah Tointon is sympathetic in the lead role while all of the killer children are played with a proper combination of savagery and innocence.  This may very well be the best killer children film ever made.

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.

Music Video of The Day: Written in Blood by She Wants Revenge (2007, dir by Justin Warfield)

Oh my God, I love this video.

Everything — from the atmosphere of ominous decadence to the dark cinematography to the wonderfully sordid art direction — just works perfectly.  Fortunately, this is one of those videos where we actually have the names of some of the people who worked behind the scenes so here they are:

Director — Justin Warfield
Director of Photography — Simon Thirlaway
Production Design — Ariana Nakata, Production Designer
Costume and Wardrobe — Brooke Dulien and Stefanie King Warfield, Wardrobe Stylists

Great work by all!  Jean Rollin would be proud.


Horror on TV: One Step Beyond 2.5 “Night of the Kill” (dir by John Newland)

When young Davey Morris tells his parents that he’s been hanging out with a friendly Bigfoot-type creature, all of the adults in town react in the worst way possible.

This episode, from the second season of One Step Beyond, was one of the first to deal with the legend of Bigfoot.  Needless to say, it’s the adults who turn out to be the true monsters in this scenario.

This episode originally aired on October 20th, 1959.


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Blood Cult (dir by Christopher Lewis)

Oh no!  There are bad things happening!  On a small college campus, co-eds are being stalked and killed by a masked murderer who carries a cleaver.  With each murder, the killer chops off a limb and carries it off with him.  He also leaves behind a mysterious gold medallion, one that appears to feature an etching of a dog on it.  It’s a bit of a mess, really.

Early on, in the 1985 film, Blood Cult, a narrative crawl informs us that the events that we’re watching occurred during the previous winter.  These murders, we’re told, were “the strangest crimes in recent recorded history.”  The film opens with one of those crimes.  In an homage to Psycho and every other slasher movie ever made, the first murder occurs in a shower.  The showering victim looks straight at the camera during her scenes.  When she delivers her lines (“Is that you?  Did you get the pizza?  Did you get my anchovies?”), she does so in a flat, Oklahoma accent.  In short, these scenes proudly announce that we are watching an amateur, regional production.

Anyway, the film itself deals with Sheriff Ron Wilbois (Charles Ellis), who must solve the murders before they harm his chances of being elected to the U.S. Senate.  Fortunately, he has some help from his daughter, Tina (Judi Adelman).  Tina is a librarian, which means that she has magical research powers.  All she has to do is open up a book and, thirty seconds later, she will have discovered whatever needs to have been discovered.  Unfortunately, Tina may have some secrets of her own.  She’s also dating an rather dorky guy named Joel (James Vance).  Joel is the type of guy who, when he meets his girlfriend’s father in a diner, lazily props his feet up in the seat across from him.  I mean, come on, Joel!  At least try to impress the old man!  I kept expecting Sheriff Wilbois to yell, “Get the Hell away from my daughter!” and maybe draw his gun but apparently, that was not the Sheriff’s style.  The Sheriff’s a good, honest lawman.  He’s not the type to abuse his powers.  He just wants to solve the murders, go to the Senate, and drink a lot of Coke.  Seriously, there are so many Coke cans in this movie that, if not for the film’s amateur status, one could be forgiven for assuming that the film was produced by the Coca-Cola Corporation.

Can you spot the Coke?

There’s a twist to Blood Cult but it’s not a particularly surprising one.  In fact, there’s really nothing surprising about Blood Cult.  Some of the gore effects are effective in a low-budget way.  One victims gets beaten to death by another victim’s severed head.  That was kind of creative.  For the most part, though, Blood Cult never escapes the constraints of its low budget and its status as an amateur production.  I did feel that Charles Ellis, who was a regional theater actor, gave a fairly good performance as Sheriff Wilbois.  He came across like being a genuinely nice guy.  I would have voted for him.  The rest of the cast was forgettable at best and painfully stiff at worst.

Blood Cult is historically significant because it was actually the first movie to ever specifically be made for the home video market.  Every straight to video movie ever made is a descendant of Blood Cult.  Apparently, it was filmed in nine days, with the cast and crew taking a week off from their days jobs.  To the film’s credit, there are a few atmospheric scenes, largely because Oklahoma is a naturally atmospheric state.  But, for the most part, Blood Cult has a “Grandpa Picked Up a Video Camera And Made A Horror Film” look and feel to it.  I have a weakness for amateur, regional horror movies and the DVD of Blood Cult comes with a likable director’s commentary but, for the most part, this is a film that’s significant mostly as a piece of historical trivia.


Horror Book Review: Monster by Christopher Pike

“They were no longer human…” the cover of 1992 first edition of Christopher Pike’s Monster announces and indeed, they’re not!  That cover, I should add, makes the book look a lot more light-hearted than it is.  It makes it look like it’s some sort of sci-fi comedy about a demonically possessed football player when there’s actually very little about this book that could be considered light-hearted.

This book is dark.  Like, seriously, dark.

It opens with popular high school student Mary Carlson walking into a party while carrying a shotgun.  She blows away a football player named Todd and then a cheerleader named Kathy and then she points the gun at her own boyfriend, Jim.  Fortunately, the new girl at school, Angela, manages to distract Kathy just long enough for Jim to take off running into the woods.  Mary goes chasing after him but she gets arrested before she guns him down as well.  It’s probably a good thing that Jim survived because, without him, how would the football team ever win another game?  After all, the team sucked just last season before all of the players and the cheerleaders suddenly got super strong!

Anyway, Mary says that she was shooting her friends because they were no longer human and, according to her, the three of them have been picking up people and killing them in a warehouse.  Police Lt. Nguyen doesn’t believe her but Angela feels a bit of an obligation to investigate Mary’s story.  And really, it’s the least she can do considering that she promptly starts flirting with Jim right after Mary’s arrested.

It quickly becomes obvious that something strange has happened to all of the school’s athletes and cheerleaders.  Maybe it has something to do with the mysterious crater from which the town gets its drinking water.  Angela notices that Jim tends to eat everything in sight, including a raw hamburger.  After she and Jim make out and she ends up getting some of his blood on her, she soon finds that she’s eating everything in sight.  Is it possible that some sort of monster has not only taken over Jim but is now taking over Angela as well!?

Yes, it is.  That’s bad news for Kevin, who is Angela’s BFF and who is totally in love with her even though she only views him as being a very good friend.  Oh, poor Kevin!  Kevin is one of the few wholly sympathetic characters in the book and he still ends up with a broken neck.  Like I said, this book is dark!

It all ends on an appropriately dark note and I guess that’s the important thing.  This book was written in 1992 and, at the time it was written, it was probably meant to be a metaphor about the dangers of having unsafe sex, as Angela is infected after fooling around with Jim.  Reading it today, though, it feels more like a commentary on just unsafe school has become over the past decade.  Mary Carlson, blowing away her friends because they’re “not human,” brings to mind so many recent gun-related tragedies.  It’s a bit difficult to read.

Anyway, Monster is a seriously dark book but still an effectively macabre story.  Nobody was as skilled at traumatizing young readers as Christopher Pike!