Rats: Night of Terror (1984)

After a devastating nuclear war humanity is split into two groups- those above ground and those below. A group of survivors come upon a deserted building and decide to make it their home. Little do they know that the building is already inhabited, and it may be no surprise to you that the inhabitants are rats.

There's not much to say about this movie, other than that it is awesome. I can't believe that this is from the same guy that gave us the hilarious (but terrible) Hell of the Living Dead. Rats is like Night of the Living Dead, with the the survivors replaced with nuclear holocaust survivors and zombies replaced with rats (Hell of the Living Dead, on the other hand, is Dawn of the Dead with the survivors replaced with insane Italian macho guys and the zombies replaced with zombies plus cannibals). I don't even think there was any stock footage awkwardly inserted into Rats!

Although on the surface it's your typical "bunch of people stuck in an increasingly dangerous small area" kind of survival picture, it's a pretty interesting entry in the genre due in no small part to the usual Italian exploitation movie lunacy (characters that only act sort of like people, unbelievable deaths, hilarious dubbed macho talk)... but more importantly, due to its unique combination of survival and a post-apocalyptic movie themes, topped off with a ridiculous twist at the end complete with ham-fisted social commentary.

Since it's a cheap exploitation movie, there are some things that don't work so well. The rats don't seem particularly blood thirsty, they kind of just wander around and even when someone off camera throws them at the actors, they kind of just fall to the ground and try to escape. At one point the rats start orchestrating pranks against the humans in order to terrorize them, such as moving dead bodies around or climbing into a dead guy and moving him around like some kind of giant robot for rats. And there is one woman in the group who is absolutely hysterical and at one point she just sees a spider and just loses it and you have to wonder how she even managed to survive a nuclear apocalypse.

All in all though it's one of the better Italian post-apocalyptic survival horror movies!


Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

"You're all... doomed to ... be eaten up.
First, they'll kill you... then afterwards... you'll be eaten..."

-Terrorist Leader

With these wise and prophetic words, all Hell of the Living Dead breaks loose!

A mystery virus is released in a lab and soon spreads all over the world! Before you know it, zombies happen and it is up to a SWAT team of total madmen and a couple of reporters to get to the bottom of things!

There is only one word that can properly sum this movie up: delirious. This movie is absolutely insane. When it is not stealing the music from Dawn of the Dead, or stealing the costumes from Dawn of the Dead, or stealing scenes from Dawn of the Dead, it is stealing cannibal hijinx from cannibal movies. Nearly a fifth of the movie consists of totally inappropriate stock footage, such as the many scenes where our heroes are driving through a dense jungle surrounded by trees, talking about god knows what and they all look to the left and the movie switches to stock footage of some animal gracefully leaping about a lake in slow motion, or archive footage of tribal folks dancing in the middle of a village on a plain with no trees in sight. It is the funniest thing I've seen in my life.

Also funny- the tough guy macho man talk that's too outrageous even for an Italian exploitation movie! It's total nonsense. At one point they attempt to spice up "up a creek without a paddle" and it ends up coming out like, "Up your ass. Lieutenant Mike London, Shit Creek, the year is now" and then one other guy starts talking about his balls. All while making sexual jokes at the expense of all the corpses littering the island. It is at the apex of Italian exploitation macho talk.

Halfway through, the movie takes a detour into cannibal country for no reason other than to show the lead actress running around in leaf panties. You can't even call it a cannibal subplot, it's just there to pad the running time like all the stock footage inserts.

At this point I am in danger of just listing everything hilarious about the movie because I love it so much so I need to end this now. Watch this movie!


Paranormal Activity (2007)

A young couple, Micah and Kate, have just moved into a house and some demon ghost is following Kate around.

There's not much to say about this one. It's done in the "found footage" style of The Blair Witch Project and while some of the scenes are spooky it's overall not nearly as good as the movie it took its inspiration from.

There are two huge problems with this movie. The first is that the character of Micah is such a horrible person and does such stupid things that you can't relate to him at all. At one point Kate is on the verge of losing her mind and by this point has told Micah over and over to not bring a Ouija Board into the house so of course he brings one in and is like, "dude ouija board brah! Sweet!" because his character was written as this sort of dumbass fratboy day trader.

So the demon who is in love with Kate is a better person than this guy and even when Kate was being dragged to her doom across the hallway floor I was thinking, "well, it's better than being stuck with Micah." If you told that demon to not bring a Oujia Board into the house he would look into your eyes, say, "listen, if you feel so strongly about it then I promise I won't" and he would mean it. Then he would drag you screaming to your death.

The other problem is that there's nothing unique about the stuff that happens in the movie. What made The Blair Witch interesting and terrifying was all the weird unexplainable stuff- the little stick figures, the bloody bundle of teeth outside the tent- and also the fact that you could never be sure if the culprit was the actual Blair Witch, or some pyschos, or what.

Paranormal Activity, on the other hand, just takes all the ghost stuff you read about as a kid and throws them into a movie. Oujia Boards, stomping noises, slamming doors. They even throw in an exorcism bit near the end just to be sure they covered all the bases. And they show obviously paranormal stuff on camera and so you never wonder if, say, Kate is faking it or Micah is trying to drive her crazy. And it's got a stupid twist ending just to make things worse.

There are a couple of creepy scenes that are almost worth watching the whole thing for, but any time you could watch Paranormal Activity, is ninety minutes you could spend watching The Blair Witch which is better in every way.


Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

At the beginning of Cannibal Holocaust we are told that four young American filmmakers led by Alan Yates (and their guide) traveled to the Amazon... and never returned. The studio responsible for the project hires anthropologist Harold Monroe to track the kids down (if they are still alive) and recover the footage. After dealing with the tribes that inhabit the Amazon (who ominously speak of Yates' black magic and cower in fear upon seeing a white man), Monroe recovers the footage and things get really bad really fast.

Cannibal Holocaust
is an absolutely amazing movie, easily the best of what was released during the wonderful Italian exploitation horror film boom of the late 70s through mid-80s. It's clever, very well-directed, and a total shock to the senses even today.

The very clever thing about this movie is that it's split into two separate but related movies. The first movie- where Monroe tracks down the lost footage- is shot like a typical movie, and by itself would have made an excellent adventure movie. The second movie is the actual lost footage, which Monroe watches and comments on. This movie is what you would expect of raw footage filmed by a bunch of kids running around in the jungle- shaky camerawork, lighting that changes from scene to scene, scenes without audio, etc.

You might think that it wouldn't work, that the switch from the first movie to the second would be too jarring, but it does work. The special effects are so convincing and the acting natural enough that I could understand how someone could believe that the Yates footage was real. If you do some research online you'll find that the actors playing the parts of the Americans were contractually obligated to lay low for a year after the movie was released. The director of the film was actually brought to trial for murder and had to call the actors out of hiding to prove they were not actually slaughtered on film.

But behind all the expertly crafted gore effects, and the clever framing device, the movie has a great story. Everything works so well that when in the final scene Monroe looks at the camera and wonders, "I wonder who the real cannibals are," instead of laughing at how ridiculous that is you find yourself thinking, "well that's a good question guy."

It's also got a wonderful soundtrack that is not only perfectly effective but well worth listening to on its own. One particular track plays whenever something really bad is going to happen, and it gets to the point where when you hear the synth effects that usher in the track, you'll think, "my god, what could possibly come next."

If you can stomach some really shocking scenes (including footage of real animals being really killed for real), it's an experience worth having. If you really want to be blown away, watch it after viewing the awful Cannibal Ferox.


The Devil's Rain (1975)

Mark Preston (William Shatner!) and his family are terrorized by devil-worshiper John Corbis, who is trying to reclaim his Satan book the Prestons stole and have been hiding since ye olde witche tymes. Corbis gets fed up with playing games so he starts melting people and before you know it all hell is breaking loose.

So here is another awesome William Shatner horror film. It's a really creepy movie with an amazing beginning and with some really cool scenes...the best of which is when Preston challenges Corbis to a battle of faith. Both men shout prayers to their respective deities until Preston freaks out, pulls a gun, and Corbis, looking amused, asks, "Is that your faith?" And- oh what a twist- Preston loses and we switch to the real hero of the movie, his brother!

The other really awesome scene is when a church full of people melt, like devil tears in the devil's rain.

It's not all tests of faith and gooey melting people though. The flashback to colonial times is long and stupid and if they had not included it there would have been time for many more minutes of melting people. Corbis randomly changing into a devil is also awful. The makeup looks ridiculous and there isn't even any point to it. Sadly, a good quarter of the movie is made up of this terrible stuff.

But if you can put up with some dumb costumes for twenty minutes or so, the rest of a movie is a really unique entry in the genre and totally worth tracking down.


Slugs (1988)

Slugs. The movie. Good God, let that sink in. Slugs was actually adapted from a novel. In other words, someone in the world read or otherwise heard of Slugs THE NOVEL and decided it would be worth turning it into a movie. And that guy is a hero because this movie is simply awesome.

Mike Brady, a health official who has just moved to some small town, discovers a new breed of man-eating slug and tries to warn everyone but he is dismissed as a madman. And then people start being eaten by slugs, but everyone still ignores him. So he takes matters into his own hands... but can he outwit a bunch of extremely slow, tiny, non-aggressive, stupid little mollusks?!

This is quite possibly the greatest American horror movie of the 80s. If you know your horror films, you know how bold a claim this is. But it's just that good. It's got unflinchingly gory effects (very rare in American horror films, especially from the late 80s), hilarious characters, and dialog that sounds like aliens wrote it. It's a dumb idea for a movie, but it works somehow. And I love the title. It's like naming your movie about a bunch of guys in room, Guys.

The best thing about this movie has to be the slugs though. These aren't giant slugs or anything. For all intents and purposes they look like normal slugs, except for in one scene where one guy tries to poke on with his finger and they show a close up of the slug opening his mouth, showing tiny little teeth.

Yeah, you're thinking, but these aren't your ordinary crawling-really-slowly-on-the-ground slugs. These slugs are probably super fast and can use their acid slime to burn through bank vaults. These monsters are doing back-flips off of refrigerators and burrowing into your skull. These bastards are hacking into the security system and turning it against you. Right?

Nope. In fact, unless you fall on them you are pretty much safe. It would be like if you made a Friday the 13th movie, except Jason broke his back and was in recovery, and so you were only in danger if you walked into his hospital room and sat on his bed. Luckily for us, this movie is ninety sweet minutes of ridiculously stupid people falling on (or eating) slugs!

Personally, I can't think of a better way to spend ninety minutes.


Bloody Pit of Horror (1965)

In the best opening to a movie I have ever seen (indeed, it is the Citizen Kane of movie openings), a scroll unfolds as we hear some of the best maniacal laughter ever put to film. "My vengeance needs blood!!" reads the scroll, a sentiment I can really get behind!

Some tawdry horror book publisher and his employees and models are driving around looking for locations wherein they can take sleazy photos of the girls to put in their books. They find a castle and, thinking it uninhabited, they just walk right on in. But little do they know that this castle is the very castle where ages ago the Crimson Executioner swore his revenge on all mankind! And there is a crazed muscleman just waiting for the chance to welcome them into the Bloody Pit of Horror!

This movie is pretty excellent. The hero is this middle-aged chubby guy with a double-chin and sweater vest that doesn't do enough to hide his beer gut. He's dubbed over with this ridiculously macho voice and he goes around karate chopping musclemen. It's nonsensical on many levels. The high point is when he has to crawl under a trap and he takes so long that the girl he is trying to save dies. I swear, it takes him like fifteen minutes to get over to her. This is easily the most heroic thing he does in the whole movie, and he fails. He is such a loser.

The girls are all goofy, complaining about having to show a little skin during their photo shoots with a sleazy fetish magazine in one scene, barely reacting when their friends start dying in the next. They exist solely to run around in skimpy outfits and get killed.

And then, the absolute best thing about the movie, is the master of the castle who goes crazy and believes himself to be the Crimson Executioner. This guy. This guy! When he is not walking around in his mom's nightgown he's ordering his muscly manservants (menservant?) around, and in his spare time he's oiling himself up and getting ready for the torturing. When he finally flips out and runs around in the Crimson Executioner garb, the movie goes into overdrive and hoo boy the things this guy says. I could just fill this entire post with quotes from the guy but the absolute best one is when he is employing the totally barbaric torture of pouring a little bit of cold water on a girl and cackles, "The Crimson Executioner invented the torture of icy water for creatures like you!" I simply can't say enough good things about this fella.

It all ends with one of those scenes where the heroine blathers on about what caused the guy to think he was the Crimson Executioner, like she would know. Bloody Pit of Horror, feel-good movie of the century!

The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Bastian is having a rough time. His Mom died. His Dad nags him while he is enjoying a perfectly good bowl of cereal, telling him to throw away his dreams and become a man. On the way to school he is chased by bullies and forced to hide in a dumpster. Even the old guy at the book store sasses him, but he shows that bastard what's what by "borrowing" a copy of the book he was reading, The NeverEnding Story... which makes this the best title for a movie ever because it describes the movie and refers to an actual thing in the movie.

So Bastian breaks into the school attic and starts reading his stolen book, and instead of being caught and sent to juvenile hall, he finds himself an active participant in the story of Atreyu, a young hunter who must save the land of Fantasia from the evil Nothing.

This is one of many awesome kid movies that came out during the 80s. It's got an imaginative bunch of characters with some great costumes, and even as an adult you have to appreciate the work that must have gone into making this totally fantastic world seem real. One of the best scenes is when Atreyu is summoned to the Palace, and there are all these bizarre creatures hanging around. You just get glances of them but you can't help but wonder, for example, what the society the two faced men hail from is like. Unless you are a miserable wretch of a man with no soul, that is.

So this movie is still cool in a lot of ways, but there are issues with it. The melodrama is running pretty high, though it never reaches the point of ridiculousness that modern films for children are hovering around, like Harry Potter or whatever it is the kids these days are stealing to put on their iPads. It also has very little structure, with Atreyu wandering randomly from fantastic encounter to fantastic encounter, and then when he is about to give up due to having no information on which to go on, suddenly a monster falls from the sky and brings him to where he needs to go.

If you look up Deus Ex Machina in the dictionary you will see this movie mentioned. Actually that's a lie, you'll just see some letters combined to form words, those words combined to form sentences, that will actually explain the meaning of the phrase to you, assuming you know how to read. Draw a picture of Atreyu riding a dragon in the sky next to those words, so that next time this movie gets reviewed and the guy uses the same joke, it will be there and you can laugh.

However, all is forgiven for the totally reckless and subversive theme of the movie. Bastian refuses to let go of his dreams (and I don't mean dreams as in "lofty goals you struggle to achieve" I mean like "falling asleep and experiencing nonsensical hallucinations that have only a vague connection to reality"), skips class, and is on the road to juvenile delinquency and a short awful life on the wrong side of the tracks. But it's okay! Just keep reading trashy fantasy novels and a giant dragon will swoop from the sky and you can then take sadistic revenge on your tormentors!

And that is why this is still a great movie.


Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Jacob's Ladder is a difficult movie for me to review. It certainly has faults- and the older I get and the more I watch horror films, the more I notice- but back when I was first getting into horror movies, Jacob's Ladder was the first one to convince me that you could have a great and effective horror film even without awesome gore effects and exploitative nudity. So it's very difficult to talk about this movie objectively.

Jacob Singer, a Vietnam War vet, has returned to civilian life. He's working as a mailman and living with his girlfriend Jezebel, but is haunted by bizarre and horrific visions, which are just getting worse and worse. Suddenly, people he knows start dying and it appears he's in the center of some kind of conspiracy. Or is he just crazy?

It's a classic horror movie. Though it can be very heavy-handed at times, Jacob's visions and hallucinations are done so well you can forgive the awkward ending and the clumsy father-son flashback scenes and unnatural "movie" dialog. Even the fact that Jacob himself is a very boring character doesn't really matter much to be honest.

Having said that, I find the movie less and less interesting the more I watch it. The twist at the end blew my mind as a young horror fan. Now it seems trite. I had always felt the script was very strong, but this last time I found much of the dialog artificial. The movie also feels disjointed- things just happen randomly for an hour or so, and then suddenly the movie wraps itself up with an ending that is trying too hard to be touching.

I still enjoy Jacob's Ladder. Just not as much as I did 15 years ago.

Cannibal Ferox (1981)

Three friends head off to the Amazon. Their goal: to prove that cannibalism doesn't exist. With hardly any supplies, or knowledge, or much of anything really, they will just kind of mope around the jungle until they don't find cannibalism, prove their point, and head home.

Meanwhile, two other guys have coincidentally been exploring the same exact area of the massive and dense rain forest and they are less concerned with disproving cannibalism than they are in proving the existence of untold riches they could use for buying drugs.

Little do they all know, cannibals are real, and the cannibals are US!!!!

This movie is a shameless ripoff of Cannibal Holocaust, which, unlike Cannibal Ferox, is actually a good, clever movie filled with unforgettable scenes and memorable characters. Whereas Cannibal Holocaust is the Citizen Kane of cannibal horror films, Cannibal Ferox is the Bio-Dome of this awesome genre.

It's got all the stuff you remember from Cannibal Holocaust: footage of animals being killed, over the top gore, scenes of guys eating animal guts, sweeping aerial shots of the Amazon. It's all there, it's just not done nearly as well and the theme of civilized man as savage ends up being tedious instead of shocking.

The characters are all either totally boring (everyone), or irredeemably evil (Mike)... though Mike is so over the top with his unique mixture of cocaine-fueled sadism and vintage 80s Italian machismo that it's at least worth watching to catch his scenes. If you've exhausted the catalog of 1980s Italian exploitation cannibal horror gorefests, you might as well get it over with and watch this one too.


Fist of Fury (1972)

Treacherous Japanese are giving grief to Chinese folks! Bruce Lee has had enough. He goes feral, dons crazy disguises, and fights back the only way he knows how- by fighting back!

Fist of Fury is a hugely entertaining movie and the mistreatment of the Chinese heroes is hilarious in how over the top it is. My favorite part is where Bruce Lee decides to go to a park for no reason and the obviously Chinese guy in the equivalent of Indian blackface tells him that Chinese and dogs are not allowed. And then on cue a woman walks up with a dog and he lets them pass. It's so ridiculous it crosses the line into parody.

There's a great character who is a Chinese guy that has sold his dignity in exchange for becoming a lackey of the Japanese devils. In a more serious movie you'd hate this guy, but here he's such a sniveling, wimpy, detestable character that you can't help but laugh and roll your eyes at how heavy-handed the entire movie is.

Also heavy-handed in this movie: Bruce Lee when he punches dastardly race-traitors in the stinking guts! He's not a great actor and his ability as an actual martial artist is shrouded in controversy but that guy is fast and knows how to do a good fight scene. Every battle he gets into is amazing and it's too bad there are only really a handful of fight scenes in the whole movie, with the rest of the running time taken up by repetitive scenes of heroic and humble Chinese people refusing to sink to the level of the Japanese, and- much more entertaining but just as repetitive- scenes of outrageous acts of evil committed by the unlawful Japanese guys.

If you can get through all the talky parts, or at least find them charmingly ridiculous, it's worth it just to see an action movie master at work.


Moutaintop Motel Massacre (1986)

There is a movie- one that exists in real reality- with the title Mountaintop Motel Massacre. In it, crazy old Evelyn is released from captivity and returns to her motel. In a fit of witchcraft- and rabbit-induced rage she kills her daughter and then a bunch of people come to stay at her massacre motel for massacring! Massacring is a word!

Being a movie released in 1986 with "massacre" in the title you'd expect a violent slasher movie but you'd be wrong so don't think that. The movie is actually closer to the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which given the title makes some sense. An early scene takes place in a room decorated with animal bones which looks just like that one room in the 1974 horror classic. Mountaintop Motel Massacre even features a similar chaotic soundtrack!

Though it goes without saying this is nowhere near as good as that masterpiece, things do get awesome when Al shows up. This guy is sporting a mustache that just doesn't work with his boyish face and we are treated to a scene where he lounges around shirtless and it's not that he is in bad shape or anything, but he's no machoman that's for sure.

Making things even more awesome is that during this scene he is trying to trick two girls (who are cousins!) into coming to bed with him, by pretending to be a record executive. Which leads to one of the girls being brutally murdered. Ladies and gentlemen, our hero!

Sadly, Al's slimy magnificence only lasts for a few precious scenes and the rest of the movie is skulking around slowly, and people trying to figure out the mysterious secrets of Mountaintop Motel, which we the audience already know. Watch it for Al and then you can fast forward to the end.


8mm (1999)

A very rich man has died and a suspicious film has been found in his secret vault. A film which, if genuine, would be the first snuff film ever in the world! However, the footage is murky and could be fake. It would require an investigator of the first order to crack this case.

If there is one thing Nicholas Cage is good at, it's beating up women on bee-infested islands. If there are two things he is good at, then investigating snuff films is probably number two. And so with Nicholas "a snuff's enough" Cage on the case, our movie begins.

The premise is cool- urban legends are scary and snuff films are possibly the greatest urban legend of them all (except for the hook murderer one). The only way to improve on that would be to get Nicholas Cage involved, and they've already done that. Unfortunately, they then went on to find the only thing that could ruin it and did that. So while the movie starts out pretty strong eventually it just becomes a string of increasingly unlikely coincidences until you get to the end (which features a dramatic battle in the rain, like most private investigations).

So this is what you are up against when you sit down to watch 8mm. It's one of those movies where the hero will watch a ten second clip and find a shadow of a guy in a single frame and then track that guy down and it just so happens that the first place he shows up at is behind the entire thing.

However, the cool premise and dark photography makes it worth putting up with that.


Weekend with the Babysitter (1970)

A square middle-aged guy falls in love with the hippy babysitter and go on a romantic weekend getaway. Meanwhile, his wife gets kidnapped by drug dealers.

This movie is sort of a remake of the extremely entertaining The Babysitter. It gets confusing because the babysitter character has the same name but is played by a different actress, but the middle-aged guy is a different (but similar) character played by the same actor from the original movie. And instead of his wife being an intolerable boring old lady who's not interested in her husband at all, she's a heroin addict in this one. So there is a lot going on in this movie.

Unfortunately it lacks all of the charm of the original movie. It doesn't have the laugh-out-loud ending, and there just aren't enough scenes of the unhip middle-aged guy trying to fit in with hippies. The drug subplot, while funny in how exploitative it is, never becomes hilarious and is instead just tedious. Finally, you can't laugh at how wrong the babysitter exploitation aspect is because they try to make the relationship into more of a romance than a tawdry affair and so it loses points there.

But there is more to this movie than meets the eye! You can't help but notice that the middle aged guy is played by the same actor in both movies. "Wow," you think to yourself, "why does this guy keep getting this role? It just must be the role he was born to play, the role of a guy being suduced by the babysitter." All is well and good until you start doing some investigative work. Not only did this guy act in both movies, he wrote them! And then he helped to produce them. So you can imagine this guy writing his babysitter fantasy down and shopping it around Hollywood. And he has some trouble getting it made so he decides to pony up some of his money. And of course the only guy that can nail this role is him. And he makes the movie only it wasn't totally perfect- I mean, no junkie wife subplot, plus it was in black and white. And then he does it again... one year later!

So by now the story has taken a disturbing twist as you realize you are basically watching this guy's fantasy, which he thought everyone should watch and he paid good money to make sure of it. So I would recommend it as a case study of his descent into madness.


The Werewolf of Washington (1973)

Jack, a young reporter who is having an "affair" with the President's (unmarried!) daughter has himself reassigned to Hungary, where he is bitten by a werewolf. He returns home where he is given a job as Assistant Press Secretary but soon his curse takes over and he is stalking Washington as a bloodthirsty werewolf!

This is possibly the worst movie I have ever seen. There is nothing sadder than a horror/comedy/political satire that fails on all three counts. The werewolf makeup is ridiculous and there is not a single suspenseful scene in the whole movie. The comedy is a disaster. This movie was obviously written by a guy who fancies himself a brilliant humorist and just to get him to shut up at parties everyone tells him "man you need to write this stuff down!"

The political satire is just as ineffective. I know you're looking at the theatrical poster to the right and thinking, "no way guy, look at that poster, that is Grade-A satire right there." Republicans and Democrats don't get along! Racist people blame blacks for werewolf crimes! Pentagram sounds like Pentagon! This is the mind-numbing humor and braindead satire that awaits you in The Werewolf of Washington.

I guess it doesn't help that this is a werewolf movie. Werewolves, zombies, vampires... what do they have in common? They are classics of course, and the original films- the ones movies even now copy all their little techniques from- are all great.

But that was then and this is now and unless you make some amazing change to the concept these have been done to death and there is not much you can say with these monsters. We have seen plenty of changes to the vampire (recently) and zombie (back in the 70s). What about werewolves? An American Werewolf in London added some comedy that worked pretty well but more importantly applied state of the art makeup effects to make werewolves scary again. The Werewolf of Washington adds... stale humor and lame political satire. The werewolf effect is no better than what we had in The Wolfman for god's sake.

The Werewolf of Washington fails as a horror movie. The humor doesn't work. The political satire is the kind of stuff a college kid would write for his college newspaper. But most importantly it's a boring film and it's no fun to watch.

Dungeon of Harrow (1962)

A guy ends up shipwrecked with his captain on a mysterious island. Soon they will find themselves guests of Count de Sade and his tough guy servant.

The biggest problem with this movie is the acting. Sure, everyone is awful, especially some ghost guy that shows up during the movie who is apparently some kind of horror host. But beyond that, everyone talks so slowly. It's consistent enough that you wonder if the director was telling people to put spaces in between all their words so that he could hit his targeted running time. By the time people were finishing their sentences I was forgetting what they were talking about! On top of that you have to put up with the main character's constant narration. It's one of those things where he will just describe to you what is going on in the movie, like the most boring commentary track in the world.

It's not totally awful, just mostly. Outside of a great "toy ship in a bathtub" stormy sea effect at the beginning and the twist ending that is actually pretty clever there is not much going on in this one. There is some sudden violence involving a torch somewhere in the middle that is nearly effective but it is pretty much off screen so I guess it's barely worth mentioning. Just like this movie.


Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

Back in Ye Witche Tymes a warlock and his wife are executed. Before he is decapitated he swears a curse and then they bury his head somewhere. Hundreds of years later his descendant and his pals decide to go look for the severed head, which is allegedly buried in his land.

It is difficult to review this movie because the version I watched was heavily censored, to the extent that the movie was nearly impossible to follow and also really dull. Apparently a horror/sex movie, the version I watched was more akin to a haunted house picture from the 1940s. There is a lot of slowly creeping down hallways, a lot of evil warlocks glaring menacingly at the camera, and way too much awful and totally ineffective organ music.

Having said this, the movie starts out very well. I'm a sucker for gritty, filthy medieval scenes in movies and Horror Rises from the Tomb begins with a great one, complete with guy reading aloud the warlock's crimes from a scroll. From there we get a seance scene that is pretty good but typical, and- the highlight of the movie- a great scene on a dark forest road featuring some great backwoods street justice.

Unfortunately once we get to the heart of the matter- digging up the head and then chaos in the castle- the movie sort of falls apart. Nothing much happens and pace slows to a crawl as characters that were never developed in the slightest are attacked, mind-controlled, and killed. And it is around this time that the organ music soundtrack starts to really get on your nerves.

The movie gets extra points for the semi-accurate title, what with the rising from the tomb and all. But I have a hard time calling what rises "horror," though I understand you'd have trouble selling tickets to the more accurately named Tedium Rises from the Tomb.


Double Exposure (1983)

A men's magazine photographer has vivid nightmares where he kills his models in gruesome ways and when his models start getting killed for real he begins to doubt his sanity. His one-armed and one-legged stunt man brother, hilarious 1980s gay stereotype assistant, useless psychiatrist, and totally out of his league girlfriend all lend their support. Meanwhile, typically ineffective 1980s cops run around wasting time and padding the length of the movie.

From the title alone you would expect this to be an 80s cop action movie, maybe with Steven Seagal in it. However you would be wrong. Instead it's a sort of serial killer stalker movie, like a cleaned up version of Maniac or a (much) less bleak version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And while not nearly as good as either of those horror classics, Double Exposure is surprisingly good and except for a telegraphed and awful twist ending is actually a very effective thriller.

Much of the success of this movie can be attributed to the portrayal of the photographer character. He's very well-written and acted, making for a surprisingly interesting character. He's got an interesting relationship with his brother and his assistant, and his awkward flirtation with the woman who ends up becoming his girlfriend is not something you usually see in a movie like this. When you get to the first scene where he murders a model it is generally unexpected and shocking, even though the movie cleverly plays with the idea well beforehand. When the gruesome nightmares start to become too much for him to handle, his breakdown is done very well.

It's almost an excellent movie. That is, until the end where you get the twist ending you've seen coming for an hour but have been hoping you're wrong. It's stupid and suddenly the movie is no better than any gritty murder movie from the era. Cut that out (and while you're at it, the pointless cop scenes that are just there because in a movie like this you need them) and you'd have a horror classic. With that in there, it's just good.

Crucible of Horror (1971)

A dysfunctional family goes about its business while patriarch Walter gets increasingly violent and creepy. After a vicious cane beating, crazy mom Edith and rebellious daughter Jane hatch a plot to take care of Walter forever OR SO THEY THINK!!!

It doesn't sound like much but there is a lot to like about Crucible of Horror. The way the film drops you into this messed up family is great. No setup, no scenes of police or psychiatrists or anyone explaining to you how crazy everyone is. It feels like you are just witnessing another day in the life of these folks and what is left unsaid and unseen speaks and shows more than a bunch of ridiculous exposition ever could.

Events occur and end with no real resolution or connection to anything else, just like in real life, which is a very effective way of giving you the impression that this family is real with an actual history.

Performances are all around excellent with father Walter radiating cold and quiet menace in every scene. The tension is incredible and he's so effective it is actually shocking when he goes over the edge and becomes violent. The icing on the cake is how everyone looks so normal, like people you would encounter in your neighborhood, assuming you were part of a wealthy British family.

Unfortunately there is a ridiculous ending in store for you. It's one of those endings that is a little vague, but it's either because of ghosts or it's just a dream or or whatever. It's a lazy way to end any movie, and that a movie as effective as this one would end with this kind of shock ending does nothing but cheapen the rest of it. Also, where is the crucible? I have to deduct points for the filthy lie that the title is. Still worth watching, but pretend you are crazy and the last ten minutes was all in your head.

The Babysitter (1969)

Rising star prosecutor and totally square white guy George Maxwell is having an affair with Candy, the babysitter his totally uncool wife hired to watch their totally boring baby while they go and play bridge with a bunch of totally unhip old white people, like themselves. Before long a friend of his oldest daughter has snapped photos of his trysts but is willing to cut him a deal: let her psychopathic murderer biker boyfriend walk free and no one will find out about the pictures. However, the babysitter has some rough friends of her own and blackmailing Maxwell may not work out as planned in this fantasy movie land where having affairs with babysitters merits high-fives from your creepy boss.

Years from now, when mankind has been run underground and cockroach high technopriests send mercenary cockroaches to search the red desert wastelands for remnants of human civilization, they will find these DVD box sets and in their great libraries will be recorded that the high point of human home cinema was the rise and fall of DVD. Then they will send their cockroach cyborg slavemasters into the mines to hunt for more humans for technoconversion.

Never before in human civilization have we had this kind of access to these movies- the kind no one wants to watch- in stores which do not hand you your purchase in a nondescript paper bag. Sure there are plenty of movies that were released on VHS that have still not been converted to DVD, but the number of films- especially genre films (i.e. trash)- on DVD that cannot be had in any other format is mind-boggling. The rights to movies with no real audience can be cheaply bought (or not bought at all, since many of these kinds of movies are in rights-limbo) and released on DVD for pocket change, whereas the previous generation of home video required you release your movies on expensive VHS tapes.

Case in point, The Babysitter. I don't know if this was released on VHS tape. But I can assure you that this movie was not released in a box set with eleven other exploitation movies for $5.00 on VHS. I would also be welling to bet money (though not a lot) that you will not be able to buy The Babysitter along with eleven other movies on Blu-Ray for $5.00 a year from now. And while The Babysitter is a fine movie for ironic hipsters to enjoy for seventy-five minutes, I'm not sure I'd be willing to spend $25 on a special edition 3D Blu-Ray version.

On to the movie. It's got the best title ever because you read that title and you know pretty much exactly what the movie is gong to be about, thanks to the cultural baggage that babysitters carry. There are some surprises- the ending is ridiculous and laugh out loud funny and the relationship between Maxwell and the babysitter is developed far more than you think it would be- but you are basically getting your typical 60s exploitation flick that would have played second fiddle to some higher budget sex comedy or monster movie at the drive-in.

There are a bunch of hilarious things about the movie, including one of those awesome theme songs that features lyrics referring to the babysitter by name and telling you what she is all about, and tons of scenes of crazy 60s dancing that makes the stupid dancing of today look like dancing Shakespeare. And the acting ranges from professional to not-acting-just-talking, but more importantly it's a surprisingly entertaining watch. Not really my kind of movie but I'd rather watch this than some bloated 110 minute epic of the week we get in the theaters now.


Night of the Creeps (1986)

An alien releases a bunch of slug-like creatures on Earth. These space slugs are able to burrow into corpses and ride them around like cars. Meanwhile some college kids are going around getting into mischief and before long they are on a collision course for wacky hijinx with the slugs!

This movie is somewhat infamous in the horror fandom because for the longest time it went without a DVD release. Just when it looked like it was going to be a lost classic, destined to be traded on shady bootlegs, it came out as a special edition. So what's all the fuss about?

There are a few things about this movie that have made it a cult hit. It's got great effects and plenty of gore. A script that is made entirely of snappy one-liners and comebacks. Monsters that are basically zombies for all intents and purposes. A hero that starts out a loser and by the end of the movie is jumping through windows and taking out zombies like some kind of expert monster hunter. Characters named after your favorite horror directors. In other words, this is your typical horror fan's dream movie.

On top of all of this it is an homage to old B-movies from the late 50s and early 60s. In fact, the first ten minutes or so takes place in the past and since back then the whole world was without color they shot this part in black in white. People go nuts over that kind of stuff, don't ask me why.

Unfortunately, while the effects are really awesome, the movie doesn't work so well. When you throw in all your favorite horror stuff it takes a really strong script or a hell of a concept at least to make it all work together. Night of the Creeps has none of that. As mentioned above the dialog is just a bunch of snappy back-and-forth nonsense that probably sounded cool on paper but when spoken aloud by human beings sounds intolerably lame. The constant in-jokes and stuff drove me nuts. Not a scene goes by where someone isn't going "Carpenter, get on that" or "Raimi, what's the latest." Raimi! He did Evil Dead! So clever! The layers! This film is like an onion- how deep does it go?!

The concept is beyond dull. Actually, this movie is ahead of its time in a way. It would fit in pretty well in the "needs something... I got it! Zombies!" horror swamp we are stuck in right now. You are walking in the horror swamp and you get stuck. The only way to escape is to leave your boots in the swamp and save yourself! Your good boots! (The boots represent your resolve to not put zombies in a movie just so the fans will watch it). But you need to survive so you leave your dignity boots behind where they are eaten by the swamp (the swamp represents the government I guess). The only possible way you could make this more boring, on a conceptual level, would be to replace the zombies with vampires. The slugs are pretty close to vampires actually.

It's a fun movie to watch I guess because the kills come fast and often and before you know it you are at the end. Watch it and get this little piece of horror cult history out of the way for something more substantial.


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

This is a movie that needs little introduction. Our heroes run around a city on the verge of paranoid insanity as one by one everyone but them is taken over by pod people. Can they turn the tide, or does the control wielded by the pod people reach higher than they could ever imagine.

Widely regarded as one of most successful (in every sense of the word) remakes ever filmed, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a fantastic movie, moody paranoia choking every single frame. It hails from a time when film makers were not afraid to take their time in setting up beautiful shots and had no problem with their cameras lingering on those shots for as long as it took for you to appreciate them. Every character in this movie is interesting in one way or another and even nearly thirty years later they do not strike you as stereotypes or living cliches. Even Jeff Goldblum's character is only mildly annoying, which says a lot.

Although overly long, the pace is perfect and the movie zips by with a dark urgency. The invasion is slow to start but once it does the movie simply does not let up and you even get some really great slimy pod guy effects. The best part of the movie, however, is that is refuses to pander to the audience. Where lesser movies would stop the film for a second to let the gravity sink in, and then maybe play a soundtrack cue to tell you to feel anxious or upset, Invasion of the Body Snatchers just keeps moving. The characters react realistically and there is none of the melodrama that infects much of the genre when it tries to turn in a more dramatic direction.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a fantastic thriller. Why not make it a night and watch it with John Carpenter's The Thing to see two completely different approaches to remaking classic sci-fi/horror movies, both effective in their own way?


The Wicker Man (2006)

A chain of unlikely events involving a random car accident and a letter from an ex-girlfriend brings a policeman to an island host to a matriarchal society, with bees on it. Everyone on the island is at very least weird, if not aggressively obnoxious and time is running out! Will he find the missing child before The Wicker Man happens?!

The Wicker Man is an Internet Darling and is nearly unreviewable. All the best parts are all over Youtube and lines from the film have already entered the lexicon of imaginary internet people everywhere. It is however well worth watching in full so you can understand the context within which all your most favorite Wicker Man lines are spoken.

This movie is a remake of the feel-good pagan horror musical from 1973 featuring Christopher Lee. Instead of Christopher Lee there is some lady and Nicholas Cage. They took out the songs and replaced them with more Nicholas Cage. Then they added some bees and thought they were done but the movie was still only like eighty minutes long, so they just spliced in ten minutes worth of flashbacks to the car accident at the beginning of the movie to fill things out. This was still not enough so they added some more bees.

This is a remake only in the loosest sense of the word. It has absolutely nothing to do with the original except for there being a Wicker Man at the end. But you really can't blame them because while The Wicker Man (1973) is a great movie, you show that to a bunch of 18-35 year olds now- with its musical numbers and quaint Christianity vs Paganism theme and man made of a hard woven fiber formed into a rigid material usually used for baskets or furniture- and they would laugh whilst texting on their cellphones and tweeting on their twitters. They would leave nasty comments on your precious Facebook page. Or shank you in the kidney on the way out. You never know with kids today.

Nicholas Cage really had no choice. They took all that outdated stuff out and instead you have him running around like a madman, karate kicking ladies into walls, screaming at children, and riding his bike furiously through the streets. And there is a giant conspiracy of course (in order to have a twist at the end) and it is the most ridiculous thing ever, relying on Nicholas Cage randomly coming upon things over a span of several years in order to arrive where he is. It's hilarious and the only thing keeping it together is Cage's madcap antics; played straight, this movie would have been impossible to watch.

So make it a movie night and watch the original and this remake back-to-back. You'll appreciate the class and excellent film making of the first movie, and then you'll appreciate how the remake doesn't even try to translate all that stuff into something modern man could relate to.


Planet Terror (2007)

A lethal gas is released into the air, and once people start inhaling it they come down with zombie disease. Some people band together and fight the zombies.

There's not a lot to Planet Terror, but what is there is pretty entertaining. Unlike the other Grindhouse movie, Death Proof, Planet Terror moves at a breakneck pace and the only dialog you will encounter will either explain the plot to you (a couple lines) or tell you jokes (the rest). So it's definitely a more enjoyable movie. It is also definitely a much better exploitation/gore film, with the wettest zombie deaths ever filmed and constant gore effects once the movie gets going.

But it's almost too good. While it works as a great modern zombie flick, it fails as an emulation of "grindhouse" movies. The effects are unbelievable, with explosions all over the place and even a rocket launching peg leg. You simply didn't have this stuff back then, so the aging effect applied to the film to make it look like you are watching the movie in some hole in a wall theater ends up being confusing rather than clever... especially when you watch the movie at home. I don't think anyone who enjoys horror exploitation movies actually likes the poor quality we often had to put up with either on film or on VHS, so this whole thing really makes no sense to me. It would be like taking Silence of the Lambs, aging the film, and going, "See? Just like back in the 70s!" Movies have changed since then and adding some crummy film effects and even the immediately stupid "missing reel" nonsense isn't going to bring them back.

However, regardless of how this movie was unfortunately marketed, I am not going to review it as a "grindhouse" movie and instead will compare it to its peers. It's hilarious with a clever script and likable characters, and wickedly gory without being sadistic. If only horror movies had gone in this direction rather than in the direction of endless remakes, PG-13 ghost flicks, and mean-spirited but dumb Saw movies we'd be doing pretty well I think.


Death Proof (2007)

A group of hip and sassy girls talk for hours about nothing in cars and diners or bars. Then, for a brief fifteen minutes or so they are hunted by a guy in a stuntman car. Then it happens AGAIN but this time the group of girls are all stuntwomen/extreme sports boxers/cheerleaders. Will the hunter become the hunted????

This movie is horrible. In trying to make all the girls be hip and realistic, they all come off as being the same character in different clothes. There is no point to 99% of the dialog in this movie! It's one thing to try to develop your characters in an exploitation murder movie, but there is no development here. Just a bunch of girls sitting in a car cackling at each other's lame insults and talking about whatever it is Quentin Tarantino thinks girls talk about when the guys are away (hint: constant sass-related topics).

Establishing suspense in a movie takes expert timing. It isn't just boring the audience for an hour with talking and then sudden awesome violence. Building suspense requires subtle foreshadowing, playing with the perceptions of your audience, and then the sudden awesome violence . If there is no suspense you are gonna have a hard time creating an effective horror movie.

So is Death Proof just a poor horror movie? Or is it something else? You could look back at the kinds of movies that the Grindhouse project was meant to emulate. These were movies where the whole point was to see some exploitative nudity and maybe some shocking violence. But then you had plenty of "grindhouse" movies that were cheap but effective, such as Basket Case or The Beyond or any number of Italian splatter horror films from the era. Why not emulate those movies?

Of course there has got to be a twist. You can't make a genre film these days without one, and the twist in this one is that the second group of girls are a bunch of badasses. But it's a lazy twist; the whole movie is spent objectifying girls, the camera creepily leering at them. The first girls are all curvy and gorgeous, the second group a little more plain looking. It's disturbing.

Overall the movie is a mess. Not once but twice someone mentions all of Quentin Tarantino's most favorite 70s car chase movies. Keep punching that grindhouse ticket. They even complain about CGI at one point and it comes off as pathetic pandering. Stuff like this pulls you out of the movie; it's one thing to have realistic dialog, it's another to insert wink-and-nudge stuff like this in there hoping all the hipsters in the audience will nod in approval.

The first car chase, which is the best part of the movie and almost approaches being suspenseful (but instead is merely extremely gory which is also okay), is ruined by a stupid instant replay from multiple angles effect. The second car chase, which should have been the best part of the movie, is ruined by focusing not on the cars but on the heroine's face as she utters some of the most ridiculous and unrealistic dialog in the whole movie. There are some good stunts in here but the timing is thrown off by her constant commentary. Think back to Mad Max and the amazing stunts in that. Very little dialog, and they show the drivers only enough to establish who is driving what car and how angry they are. As a result the car chases are thrilling and amazing.

No thrills, no point. That is Death Proof.


Hardware (1990)

Wandering the red desert ruins of post-apocalypse Earth a man searches for junk to sell. Happening upon a marked off area he cuts his way through the barbed wire and finds a half-buried robot head. The robot head ends up in the hands of Mo, a fellow scavenger, who gives it to his crazy industrial sculptor girlfriend. Little do they know that the robot head is still functioning!

The first thing that will likely strike you about this movie is how amazing it looks: the sets are simple but very convincing and there is fantastic use of color and shadow in every scene. It takes place in that special sort of grimy but cool cyberpunk world we all thought we'd be living in by now, where everyone is covered in dirt and mutation but since everyone is in that situation together no one really is bothered by it. Everyone gets to wear awesome gas masks and coats while stomping down deadly looking alleyways in combat boots, but other than that there isn't much too look forward to. The nuclear apocalypse giveth, and it taketh away.

So by now, around the thirty minute mark or so, I was ready to proclaim this as the best cyberpunk film ever made. It is Blade Runner but even more depressing and hopeless, all filmed in the kind of primary colors that make you realize that this movie means business and you had better sit up and pay attention if you know what's good for you.

From here the script introduces a creepy stalker subplot and we start getting into horror movie territory. I admit, I was a little worried about this. I know my horror movies. There are a ton of mistakes you can make with a creepy stalker subplot and this seemed like just the kind of movie to make them. I had to get another slice of pizza to calm my nerves. And to my surprise (my delight even) the whole thing was handled amazingly. By this point I had decided I had found the chosen one of under-the-radar horror/scifi movies. I considered lying in my writeup and listing the movie as coming out in 1989 so that I could pretend that it came out in my favorite decade of movies, saving it from the attitude and baggy pants and edgy coolness of the hated 90s.

Unfortunately the movie sort of starts to fall apart once the robot starts killing people. People start lining up to be massacred by the robot (no complaints there) but it all takes place in this tiny dark little apartment and suspending your disbelief at that point is impossible. The only solution is for everyone to get together and support that suspension with the combined suspending power of all disbeliefs in the room. The heroine starts acting like an action hero, swearing at the robot who doesn't even understand human language, and then you have multiple climaxes and twists, climaxing and twisting one upon another until you aren't sure whether your twists are climaxing or your climaxes twisting. The gore effects are pretty cool though.

It's definitely worth watching though as the movie stays wonderful looking throughout, and you can get through the stupid stuff at the end if you keep in mind you are going to see some great effects.