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.