The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Humanoids from the Deep (dir by Barbara Peeters)


Some people really hate clowns.

Myself, I really hate ventriloquist’s dummies.

Seriously, those little wooden things totally freak me out.  You know how some of you feel about the painted smile on the clowns ‘face?  Well, that’s how I feel whenever I see the big eyes of a ventriloquist dummy or that mouth with the fake teeth.  And don’t even get me started on those tiny little legs that some of them have!  AGCK!

I mention this because there is a ventriloquist’s dummy in the 1980 film, Humanoids From The Deep.  There’s really no reason for it to be in the film but suddenly, out of nowhere, there it is.  It belongs to a teenager named Billy who, when we first see him, is relaxing in a tent on the beach, trying to get his girlfriend to undress for him and the dummy. Of course, they’re promptly interrupted by a seaweed-covered monster, who rips open the tent, kills Billy, and chases after his girlfriend.  The whole time, the dummy watches with a somewhat quizzical expression on his face.  It’s a strange scene.

Now, I’ve done some research and I’ve discovered that Billy was played by David Strassman, who was (and still is) a professional ventriloquist and his dummy was named …. I do not kid …. Chuck Wood.  So, the whole tent scene was kind of a celebrity cameo.  Roger Corman, who produced the film, said, “You know what?  This movie has blood, nudity, killer fish-men, and rampant misogyny but it’s still missing something!  How about that ventriloquist that I saw on the Tonight Show last night!?”

Anyway, Humanoids From The Deep is basically about what happens when you try to mutate salmon.  You end up with a bunch of pervy fish monsters swarming the beach and trying to make like human/fish babies.  You end up with a lot of dead teens and unplanned pregnancies.  You also end up with the local redneck fisherman (led by Vic Morrow) blaming the local Native Americans, accusing them of killing all of the dogs in town.  Jim Hill (Doug McClure) and his wife, Carol (Cindy Weintraub), try to keep the peace but their efforts are continually tripped up by the fact that almost everyone in town is an idiot.

For instance, despite the fact that there’s been a countless number of murders and rapes and that they’ve all been committed a group of monsters that nobody knows how to fight, the town still decides to hold their annual festival on the pier.  Of course, as soon as the obnoxious DJ starts broadcasting, the humanoids from the deep show up and basically, the entire festival goes to Hell.  And here’s the thing.  The film itself is ugly and mean-spirited and misogynistic but the attack on the festival is totally and completely brilliant.  I mean, it’s one of the greatest monster sieges of all time, largely because the monsters are apparently unstoppable and that humans are so obnoxious that you don’t mind seeing them all die.  I mean, if nothing else, the monster deserve some credit for taking out that DJ.

It all leads to a “surprise” ending, which isn’t particularly surprising but which is so batshit insane that it somehow seems appropriate.

Humanoids From The Deep is an incredibly icky movie, one that has some effective scare scenes but which is way too misogynistic to really be much fun.  (Roger Corman hired Barbara Peeters to direct the film but reportedly brought in a male director to film the movie’s more explicit scenes.)  Oh well.  At least the ventriloquist died.

The TSL’s Horror Drive-In Grindhouse: Attack of the Eye Creatures (dir by Larry Buchanan)


1965’s Attack of the Eye Creatures is an odd little movie.

It starts, as so many bad sci-fi movies do, with Peter Graves narrating about how the government has been keeping an eye on a flying saucers that’s apparently been hovering over the Earth for quite some time.  However, a quick visit to Project Visitor reveals that the soldiers assigned to protect us are more interested in using their monitoring equipment to spy on teenagers making out in their cars!

Agck!

EWWWWWW!

Total invasion of privacy!

Of course, what’s particularly sad about the whole thing is that you know that’s totally what would happen in real life as well.  Give a group of people the power to spy on anyone in the world?  Of course they’re going to end up spying on people fooling around in cars!  That’s one reason why Earth is just as doomed today as it was in 1966.

Anyway, the flying saucer does eventually land.  Unfortunately, our government is too incompetent to do anything about it.  The aliens inside turn out to be …. well, not that impressive.  For one thing, they don’t speak.  There are none of the grandiose threats to conquer the world that we’ve come to expect from aliens.  At the same time, we also don’t have to hear about how the rest of the universe is disappointed in us for polluting our planet and blowing each other up so that’s a good thing.  So often, intergalactic visitors can be so judgmental!  Anyway, these aliens are lumpy and gray and they’ve got several eyes.  They don’t really look that impressive.  Seriously, check this jerk out:

As I said, the government turns out to be pretty useless when it comes to battling the aliens and the local police are skeptical that any intergalactic visitors would bother to land in their crappy little town.  Fortunately, as always happens whenever the controlling legal authorities fail to do their job, there are teenagers and they’re willing to do what needs to be done to protect the world!

Of course, if Stan (John Ashley) and Susan (Cynthia Hull) are going to rally the troops against the aliens, they’re going to have to borrow someone’s phone.  That’s going to mean convincing the local old man to let them use his phone.  The old man, who has had enough of those crazy kids with all their kissing and the jazzy lingo, is more interested in using his shotgun to keep people off his lawn.

Meanwhile, two drunks decide that they want to get in on all this alien business.  They both later die and no one in the movie seems to care.  That’s just the type of movie that this is….

….and if it sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen the 1957 drive-in classic, Invasion of the Saucer Men!  Basically, in the mid-60s, American International Pictures commissioned Texas filmmaker Larry Buchanan to remake some of their most successful drive-in films.  Apparently, the plan was to sell them to television.  So, Buchanan took the script for Saucer Men, tossed in some scenes of the government spying on people (Buchanan was a noted conspiracy theorist who previously directed The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald), and called his film Attack Of the Eye Creatures!

Yet, while Invasion of the Saucer Men was a genuinely clever sci-fi satire, Attack of the Eye Creatures is done in by Buchanan’s inability to keep his story moving at a steady pace and it doesn’t help that the iconic Saucer Men have been replaced by men who appear to be wearing trash bags.  Attack of the Eye Creatures is an unfortunate remake and one that should be viewed only after you’ve watched Invasion of the Saucer Men and maybe every other public domain sci-fi film that’s currently on YouTube.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Last Girl Standing (dir by Benjamin R. Moody)


The final girl.

Every old school slasher film has one.

You know who I’m talking about, of course.  She’s usually the only person in her circle of friends who isn’t sexually active, who doesn’t drink, and who doesn’t do drugs.  She’s usually studious and responsible and it’s usually said that she’s so mature and smart that guys are scared to ask her out.  While that may sound like kind of a boring life for a teenager to lead, it also means that there’s nothing around to distract her once the killer shows up.  While all of her friends are too drunk, stoned, or naked to escape, the final girl is the one who not only outruns the killer but who occasionally beats his head in as well.

Every slasher film has a final girl but few of them ever really seem to concern themselves with what’s going to happen to her after the end credits roll.  (Usually, if there is a sequel, we find out that the final girl died mysteriously a few months after surviving the previous massacre.)  It’s only logical that having all of your friends killed over the course of one night would not necessarily leave you in a good place emotionally.

The 2015 horror film Last Girl Standing answers the question, “What happens after the horror movie ends?”  In the opening scenes, we find Camryn (Akasha Villalobos) in a very familiar situation.  She’s running around the woods.  She’s stumbling across the bodies of all of her dead friends.  She’s being pursued by a man wearing a deer mask.  The man is known as The Hunter and when Camryn finally manages to turn the tables on him, we have reached the point where most slasher films would end.

However, this is right where Last Girl Standing begins.

Two years later and Camryn is still struggling to recover from the night.  She’s haunted by nightmares and sometimes, she even has visions of the Hunter stalking her.  She’s gotten a job working in a laundromat and her co-workers seem nice but are they?  It seems like everyone Camryn meets either asks her about that terrible night or they’re scared to get too close to her, as if she carries bad luck or they’re afraid that the Hunter’s insanity has somehow been transferred to her.

For her part, Camryn worries that someone might be stalking her and it doesn’t help her paranoia when Nick (Brian Villalobos) starts working at the laundromat.  Again, Nick seems friendly but is he?  Can Camryn ever trust anyone again?  Even more importantly, should she ever trust anyone again?  As most things do, it all ends in blood and tragedy.

Last Girl Standing is an interesting hybrid of a film.  On the one hand, based on the film’s opening and its final scenes, Last Girl Standing is definitely a horror film.  And yet, the middle part of the film is far more concerned with examining the life of someone struggling with PTSD than with providing the usual jump scares.  While the film’s premise might sound like the setup for a typical slasher film, Last Girl Standing is ultimately more about how we deal with trauma.  Akasha Villalobos gives a sensitive and empathetic performance as Camryn and the entire cast of this low-budget film does a good job of grounding this story in reality.

All in all, Last Girl Standing is a worthwhile film for those of us who have wondered what happens after the final credits roll.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Eyes of a Stranger (dir by Ken Wiederhorn)


In this 1981 slasher film, bad things are happening in the city of Miami.

There’s a serial killer on the loose.  He’s chopping off heads and leaving bodies on the beach and basically just making a huge mess of things.  Local new anchorwoman Jane (Lauren Tewes) is upset that there’s a killer roaming the streets of her hometown.  She even talks about how upset she is during a local newscast, which takes everyone at the station by surprise.  I don’t know why they’re so shocked.  Don’t they know that Jane has a younger sister named Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and that Tracy’s been blind, deaf, and mute ever since she was attacked by a maniac?

One day, Jane is returning to the apartment that she shares with her sister.  As she’s parking her car, she sees her neighbor, Stanley (John DiSanti), stuffing what appears to be a bloody shirt in a trash can.  Oh my God, could he be the murderer!?

Well, yes, he is.  The film actually makes no attempt to hide the fact that Stanley is the murderer.  Stanley is one of those movie murderers who is either hyper competent or totally oblivious, depending on what the scene demands.  For instance, despite being a rather heavyset, middle-aged man, he can still sneak up behind people without them ever hearing and chop off their head with one wave of a meat cleaver.  On the other hand, when he kills a couple on the beach, his car ends up getting stuck in the sand.

Anyway, Jane is pretty much instantly convinced that Stanley is the killer and she immediately starts doing stuff like taunting him over the telephone.  (Despite the fact that she’s on TV every night and her voice is apparently heard by everyone in Miami, she makes no effort to disguise her voice whenever she calls Stanley.)  She also breaks into his apartment to look for clues.

As I watched this film, I found myself thinking about how much more interesting it would have been if Stanley hadn’t been the killer and if Jane felt so guilty about what happened to her sister that she ended up harassing a totally innocent bystander.  But no, Stanley is the murderer so naturally all of this leads to an extended sequence where Stanley breaks into and then follows Tracy around Jane’s apartment.

So, Eyes of a Stranger is a fairly mediocre film, one that would probably be totally forgotten if not for the fact that it’s also the debut film of Jennifer Jason Leigh.  While the film is obviously meant to showcase Lauren Tewes (a TV actress who gives a rather wooden performance), Jennifer Jason Leigh steals every scene in which she appears.  Her total commitment to her character shines through and she even manages to sell a rather implausible plot twist that occurs towards the end of the film.  John DiSanti also deserves some credit for his performance as Stanley.  Again, it’s hard not to feel that the film would have worked better if it had tried to keep us guessing as to the question of Stanley’s guilt.

Eyes of a Stranger was directed by Ken Wiederhorn, who also did the far superior zombie movie, Shock Waves.  It’s interesting to note that both Lauren Tewes and Jennifer Jason Leigh would subsequently appear in Twin Peaks: The Return, though Leigh’s role was significantly larger.

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Nocturne (dir by Stephen Shimek)


Have you ever noticed how movies about teenagers always treat the rules of the “Never Have I Ever” game like they’re some sort of legally binding contract?

Seriously, I’ve seen this happen in so many movies.  Someone has a deep, dark secret that they don’t want to reveal.  They know that if they reveal the secret, a lot of bad stuff will happen as a result.  Feelings will be hurt.  Friendships will be crushed.  Lives will be lost.

But then the minute somebody says, “Never have I ever fucked my best friend’s boyfriend,” they always drink up.  Half the time, they’re the only person to take a drink.  And, during all of the drama that unfolds, it never occurs to anyone to say, “Why didn’t you just not take the drink!?  It’s just a game, after all!”

Something like this happens in the 2016 film, Nocturne.  Nocturne takes place at perhaps the saddest high school graduation party of all time.  All of the cool kids have gone to another party, which means that only seven people show up at this party.  From that humble beginning, things quickly go downhill as the graduates hang out in the hot tub, play the Never Have I Ever game, and listen to Gabe (Jake Stormeon) ramble about religion and philosophy and stuff.  Gabe also demonstrates some card tricks so yeah …. that’s definitely the way to end your high school career.

Anyway, bad parties always seem to lead to people trying to contact the dead and that’s what happens here.  Gabe sets up a makeshift séance and the graduates ask the dead a lot of questions that they probably shouldn’t have asked.  (Seriously, I’ve been to a few bad parties in my lifetime and you an always tell that the party is officially dead once people actually try to talk to the …. well, dead.)

Needless to say, this leads to someone getting possessed and just about everyone else dying.  The other party was probably a lot more fun.

So, on the plus side, Nocturne is fairly well-acted and some of the death scenes were clever.  The film’s chronology is a bit jumbled, which is one of those storytelling tricks that can be really annoying but which is justified here by the fact that demon exists beyond our conventional understanding of time and space.

On the negative side, a cat dies about halfway through the film and, as I discussed years ago in my review of Drag Me To Hell, it’s hard for me to endorse any film in which a cat is killed.  I mean, honestly, I would think most supernatural beings would appreciate the fact that a cat can sleep through just about anything.  Whereas a dog would be barking and throwing a fit over all the murders being committed, a cat would probably just relax in a corner and play with a toy mouse or something.  In this film, there was really no reason to kill the cat and it felt a bit gratuitous.  It was hard not to tell that the only reason the cat was put in the film was so it could be killed.  My point is, if you want to me to like your movie, don’t kill the cat.

Anyway, Nocturne is a rather uneven film.  If you can see past the dead cat, you might find this one interesting.  It has its creepy moments, even if it’s hard not to feel that the overall movie doesn’t really work.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: I, Madman (dir by Tibor Takacs)


In the 1989 horror film, I, Madman, Jenny Wright stars as Virginia.  Virginia’s an aspiring actress who makes ends meet by working in a used bookstore.  (I’m not sure how much money the typical used bookstore employee makes but I have to say that Virginia’s apartment is absolutely to die for.)  Virginia is also dating a police detective named Richard (Clayton Rohner), who is handsome and sweet and looks good in a suit.  In fact, the only problem with Richard is that he thinks that Virginia spends too much time reading trashy horror novels.  According to him, they give her nightmares and they cause her imagination to run wild.

Richard’s not going to be happy to discover that Virginia has a new favorite author.  His name is Malcolm Brand and, despite the fact that Virginia says that he’s better than Stephen King, he’s a mysteriously obscure author.  In fact, no one but Virginia seems to have ever heard of him.  Virginia has just finished reading Brand’s first book, Much of Madness, More of Sin.  Now, she simply has to find his second book, which was called I, Madman.

(Personally, I think Much of Madness, More of Sin is a brilliant title.  I, Madman on the other hand is a little bit bland, as far as titles go.)

When Virginia finally tracks down a copy of the book, she discovers that it is all about this mad scientist who falls in love with an actress.  Because the scientist is horribly disfigured, the actress rejects him.  So, the scientist starts killing people and stealing pieces of their faces, all so he can patch together a new face for himself.

It’s while she’s reading the book the strange things start to happen in Virginia’s life.  For instance, the people around her start dying.  When she witnesses one of her neighbors being murdered, she swears that the murder was committed by a man who had no nose …. just like in the book!  Richard thinks that she’s letting her imagination run wild but Virginia soon comes to wonder if maybe she’s being stalked by the real Malcolm Brand….

I, Madman is an entertaining little horror film, one that sometimes comes across as being an extended episode of something like Tales From The Crypt.  From the minute the movie started with Virginia curled up on her couch in her underwear, reading a trashy novel with her oversized reading glasses on and a storm raging outside, I was like, “Oh my God, they made a movie out of my life!”  And really, this is one of the reasons why I, Madman makes such a good impression.  As played by Jenny Wright, Virginia serves as a stand-in for every horror fan who has ever read a scary novel and immediately imagined themselves as either the protagonist or the victim.  If you’ve ever had a nightmare after reading Stephen King or watching a horror movie, you’ll be able to relate to Virginia.  Both Jenny Wright and Clayton Rohner give likable and quirky performances in the lead role and they’re surrounded by capable of character actors.

The film itself is a bit of an homage to the suspense classics of the past.  It’s easy to compare Malcolm Brand’s novel to The Phantom of the Opera while a scene in which Virginia watches her neighbor play piano brings to mind Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  When Virginia imagines herself as a character in one of Brand’s stories, the film even manages to work in some stop-motion animation.  All in all, I, Madman is an entertaining horror film, perfect for October and any other season.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Q (dir by Larry Cohen)


This 1982 film from Larry Cohen is a strange one.

Q stands for Quetzalcoatl, a winged-serpent that was once worshiped by the Aztecs.  In New York someone has been performing ritual sacrifices, flaying victims of their skin.  As a result, Q has flown all the way to New York City and has taken residence in the Chrysler Building.  She’s also laid an egg, from which a baby Q will soon emerge.

Now, I’ve always heard that it’s next to impossible to surprise a New Yorker.  Apparently, living in New York City means that you’ve seen it all.  And that certainly seems to be the case with this film because no one in New York seems to notice that there’s a winged serpent flying over the city.  Somehow, Q manages to snatch up all sorts of people without anyone noticing.  When Q beheads a window washer, Detectives Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree) aren’t particularly concerned by the fact that they can’t find the man’s head.  Shepard just shrugs and says the head will turn up eventually.

Q is really two films in one.  One of the films deals with a winged serpent flying over New York and killing people.  This film is a throwback to the old monster movies of the 50s and 60s, complete with some charmingly cheesy stop motion animation.  The film is silly but undeniably fun.  Director Cohen is both paying homage to and poking fun at the classic monster movies of the past and both Carradine and Roundtree gamely go through the motions as the two cops determined to take down a flying monster.

But then there’s also an entirely different film going on, a film that feels like it belongs in a totally different universe from the stop-motion monster and David Carradine.  This second film stars Michael Moriarty as Jimmy Quinn, a cowardly but charming criminal who would rather be a jazz pianist.  Quinn may be a habitual lawbreaker but he always makes the point that he’s never carried a gun.  He does what he has to do to survive but he’s never intentionally hurt anyone.  In Quinn’s eyes, he’s a victim of a society that has no room for a free-thinker like him.

However, when Quinn stumbles across Q’s nest, he suddenly has an opportunity to make his mark.  As he explains it to the police, he’ll tell them where to find the serpent and her eggs.  But they’re going to have to pay him first….

In the role of Quinn, Michael Moriarty is a jittery marvel.  Whenever Moriarty is on screen, he literally grabs the film away from not only his co-stars but even his director and makes it his own.  Suddenly, Q is no longer a film about a monster flying over New York City.  Instead, Q becomes a portrait of an outsider determined to make the world acknowledge not only his existence but also his importance.  After spending his entire life on the fringes, Jimmy Quinn is suddenly the most important man in New York and he’s not going to let the moment pass without getting what he wants.  Thanks to Moriarty’s bravura, method-tinged performance, Jimmy Quinn becomes a fascinating character and Q becomes far more than just another monster movie.

It makes for a somewhat disjointed viewing experience but the film still works.  With its charmingly dated special effects and it’s surprisingly great central performance, Q is definitely a film that deserves to be better-known.