Friday, October 27, 2017

Worth Mentioning - There's Nobody to Hear Your Scream

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Space slugs, horror hosts, deadly traps, and clowning around on Halloween.


Thanks to movies showing on cable multiple times, there are a lot of films that I feel like I used to watch "all the time" when I was a young kid, but then when they fell out of the cable rotation they also dropped out of my viewing rotation. Writer/director Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps is one of those movies. I have memories of watching this film several times with my maternal grandmother while she was babysitting me. It was a childhood favorite. But then one day Night of the Creeps wasn't around to catch on TV anymore, so years went by before I ever watched it again.

I caught back up with Night of the Creeps in adulthood, and it still holds up as a pretty entertaining film.

Things begin in outer space, with a scene that reminds me of the beginning of Critters - the movies came out the same year, so it's not a case of one copying the other. The filmmakers were just thinking along the same lines. While Critters starts with the Krites escaping from an alien prison, Night of the Creeps starts with a scene in which some weird, naked alien creatures who are packing some major weaponry but have no discernible genitalia want to stop another naked alien who has stolen something in a tube. They're not able to stop the troublemaker before it fires the tube off into space. These aliens look ridiculous - it's wonderful what filmmakers were able to get away with in the '80s.

Cut to Earth, the year 1959. In a sequence shot in black & white and reminiscent of the opening of 1958's The Blob, a pair of Corman University students parked on lover's lane witness a meteor streaking across the sky and hitting the ground not far away. They go looking for it... and while the search is on for the fallen meteor, Dekker also mixes in a bit of the "hook-handed killer" urban legend with a radio news report about an escaped murderer. This one doesn't have a hook for a hand, but he's good with an axe.

Two types of horror are about to collide. Just as the axe-wielding killer is creeping up on the sorority girl, her boyfriend has located the fallen meteor, which was actually that stolen tube. What comes from inside of that tube isn't a blob, some kind of slug creatures, and one of them launches itself into the boy's mouth.

Before we get to know what happened to those college kids, we jump ahead to "present day", 1986. (Don't worry, flashbacks will fill in the blanks of what happened in '59.) Corman University student Chris Romero (Jason Lively) becomes infatuated with sorority girl Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow) at first sight, and feels that the only way she'll go out with him is if he joins a fraternity. Chris attempts to do so, with his loyal pal James Carpenter "J.C." Hooper (Steve Marshall) by his side. Unfortunately, the frat bros won't let them in until they pass a hazing ritual: Chris and J.C. have to steal a cadaver from the college medical center.

Chris and J.C. make a very strange discovery in an experimental lab within the medical center. A body that's being cryogenically preserved. You might recognize the corpse as the college kid who got a slug down his throat 27 years earlier. J.C. enthusiastically, without a thought, releases the corpse from its cryogenic tube... but then he and Chris are chased out before they can take the body away. So they don't see when it comes alive, with a slug launching out of its mouth...

Soon this corpse is shambling around campus, slugs pouring out of its head, and we figure out what these space slugs do - after entering a person's (or a cat's or a dog's, etc.) mouth, they turn their new host into mindless, murderous zombies. With bodies piling up (and then re-animating) all over the place, Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) enters the picture.

Character actor Atkins is a favorite of many genre fans for his work in films like The Fog, Escape from New York, Creepshow, Halloween III, Maniac Cop, the My Bloody Valentine remake, and Drive Angry, among others, but his performance as Cameron is by far his most popular. Even Atkins has said that Night of the Creeps is his favorite of the movies he's been in. Cameron is a hard-boiled smartass / badass who even has his own catchphrase: whenever he picks up the phone or needs information, he says "Thrill me." He was also an important player in what happened that night in 1959.

Cameron isn't able to stop the situation at Corman from spiralling out of control, leading to a climactic assault on Cynthia's sorority house carried out by a busload of frat boys who were killed when their bus crashed. Among the sorority girls is Suzanne Snyder, who had more alien trouble in Killer Klowns from Outer Space and would run into zombies again in Return of the Living Dead Part II. Also at the house are Cameron and Chris, and they've brought firearms and your basic flamethrower. (The slugs are highly flammable.)

The climax is pretty cool, and when I saw Peter Jackson's Dead-Alive several years later, the climax in that film reminded me of the end of Creeps, especially since Chris uses a push lawnmower to wipe out a zombie at one point, just like Lionel does in Dead-Alive. Dead-Alive's version of the event is a hell of a lot bloodier, though, as Lionel chops up a lot more zombies than just one. The Night of the Creeps house attack does feel a little lacking, it could have been longer and more detailed.

From the black & white prologue and the Blob similarities to the character names, Night of the Creeps is Dekker's loving tribute to the horror films of the past, and it's a lot of fun. If a horror filmmaker these days were to pack his film with names like Cameron, Cronenberg, Corman, Romero, Carpenter, Hooper, Raimi, Miner, Landis, etc., I would find it annoying, but I'll give Creeps a pass since it's 31 years old.

The slug zombies are an awesome concept that Dekker executed nicely, and he also put a commendable effort into making sure we like and care about the character he pit against those slug zombies. Night of the Creeps might have been somewhat hampered by the budget and what they were capable of doing at the time - I can't shake the feeling that there should have been more to that final zombie raid - but it's a very well made film in every aspect.

Cable TV really did me a favor by showing me this movie so many times when I was a kid.


Over the last ten years, writer/director Damien Leone seems to have been endeavoring to build his own horror icon in the form of Art the Clown. Originally played by Mike Giannelli, Art made his debut in a 2008 short called The 9th Circle, silently creeping out a young woman as she sat alone in a train station. He returned in the 2011 short Terrifier, chasing down a different young woman after she witnessed him committing murder at a gas station. Leone then built the 2013 anthology film All Hallows' Eve around those two shorts, sandwiching a new short with a quick reference to Art between them and having his clown creation torment a babysitter in a wrap-around segment.

Leone has now brought Art the Clown back again in his own feature film, which shares the title of the 2011 short that was included in All Hallows' Eve but tells a whole new story based around the homicidal clown. There's a new actor beneath Art's hideous makeup, he's now played by David Howard Thornton, but the character hasn't been altered at all for this film: he's still just as creepy and dangerous as he heads out onto the streets of New York City on Halloween night with murder on his mind.

The music and style of All Hallows' Eve had clearly been influenced by the horror films of the 1980s, and the homage to that decade carries over into Terrifier. Although the story is set firmly in modern day, featuring smart phones and selfies, the imagery captured by cinematographer George Steuber has been manipulated to make the film look like it's something straight out of a bygone era, and the music by Paul Wiley helps enhance its old school charm. When you factor in the city setting and the moments of extreme gore, I found that the '80s film that Terrifier most closely resembled was the notorious "video nasty" Maniac.

"Maniac" would certainly be a fitting description of the terrifier Art himself. Although Leone has told several stories about the clown by now, he has wisely never given us any insight into who or what Art is. He is clearly some kind of unstoppable supernatural force, but there is no origin given, no explanation, and I don't want or need one. Art just is. And he loves to make a mess with flesh and blood.

The clown's primary targets this time out are a pair of young women who are just trying to get home from a Halloween party. Fate causes them to cross paths with Art, and from that point on he is determined to add them to his list of victims. He pursues them through the night, killing anyone he happens to meet along the way.

Everyone in Terrifier gives a solid performance, from Jenna Kanell and Catherine Corcoran as the party girls to Pooya Mohseni as the crazy homeless woman who thinks a doll is her child, Samantha Scaffidi as the sister of Kanell's character, who is drawn into the Art situation when her sister calls her for a ride, and All Hallows' Eve's Katie Maguire, who shows up in this film to play a different character whose luck is just as bad as her All Hallows' Eve character's. And then there's Thornton, who manages to make Art very uncomfortable to watch with just his movements, a look, a smile.

I don't suffer from coulrophobia, I don't find clowns to be inherently scary like many people do, and I can't say that the most famous creepy clowns of cinema have had much effect on me. But Art, he is unnerving. If Leone really is seeking to create a new icon out of Art, he and the actors he has chosen to bring the character to life have done everything right to make that happen. If enough horror fans are able to see Terrifier (and seek out All Hallows' Eve as well), I could see Art the Clown being embraced by the horror community in a major way. He's got a memorable look, he's scary, and he kills people real good.

Terrifier is a very simple film, providing 84 minutes of stalking and slashing that occurs largely within the confines of one location. Leone directs the hell out of that simple scenario, though, milking every possible bit of tension from each moment. It's a thrilling, brutal, gory '80s throwback that I recommend checking out, especially if you have a fondness for the same decade of films that this movie obviously holds in high regard.

The Terrifier review originally appeared on

Midnite Mausoleum - SISTERS OF DEATH (1976)

Based out of Iowa, Midnite Mausoleum is a horror host show fronted by the "cuddly cadaver" Marlena Midnite and her human pal Robyn Graves. With the assistance of some monster puppets, Marlena and Robyn have been sharing movies of varying quality on their show for several years now. So many years that viewers are even directed to a MySpace URL in early episodes.

Recently I watched one of those early episodes of Midnite Mausoleum, in which the movie shown was Sisters of Death, a body count picture that begins when a sorority hazing ritual goes terribly wrong, resulting in the death of a new pledge. Seven years later, the surviving sisters receive mysterious invitations to a reunion to be held at a mansion in the middle of nowhere. They actually decide to take the expenses-paid trip to this strange location... and once there, most of them pay the ultimate price.

Shot in 1972, Sisters of Death pre-dates the establishment of the slasher movie rules by the better part of a decade, and probably would have been more enjoyable if it had been made some years later, because it would have been following the pace and style of the better body count movies that were coming down the line. As it is, the movie has a lot of slasher elements - characters gathered and trapped in a remote location, someone lurking around and picking them off one-by-one - but it just doesn't work quite as well as it could have.

Even though the killer makes their presence known surprisingly early on, that doesn't help the pace pick up, and it's pretty dull watching these girls wander around the grounds, waiting for them to start dying off.

Thankfully, the fact that I was watching Sisters of Death as presented on Midnite Mausoleum improved the viewing experience, since there were host segments to break up the movie. Marlena kicks things off by providing a plot synopsis for the film, giving some trivia, and dedicating the episode to the film's late star Claudia Jennings. Along the way there are jokes from the puppet Wolfram, a Midnite News Network news report on cow tipping and snipe hunting, a recap of Marlena and Robyn's trip to the Paranormal Scare Fest, a blooper reel, a vintage commercial, and the reading of some viewer mail.

Midnite Mausoleum is a fun show to watch even when I don't enjoy the movies all that much.

SAW II (2005)

When it was first announced that there was going to be a sequel to director James Wan's breakthrough film Saw, I thought it was a risky move. Saw had been a great standalone film about a highly manipulative serial killer who put people in elaborate traps and it ended with a hell of a dark twist. The film ended with that killer, Tobin Bell as Jigsaw, sliding a door closed while saying "Game over." And I thought that should be it for the Saw world. Eight films into a highly successful franchise, my belief that Saw should have been a one and done has been proven wrong again and again... and when I did go to the theatre to see Saw II, I already felt like I had been proven wrong.

Saw II was released just one year after its predecessor, on October 28th, 2005. I didn't make it to the theatre to see it until a very appropriate day, the 31st. Halloween. I'll always remember the screening I went to, accompanied by my mom. The row in front of us was almost completely taken up by college students, and right before the movie started the girl sitting in front of mom stood up, turned around, and said directly to us, "Happy Halloween!" She was in the holiday spirit.

Like Saw was the breakthrough for Wan, Saw II was the breakthrough for director Darren Lynn Bousman, who became involved when his script called The Desperate was seen by the Saw producers, who realized it could be reworked into a Saw sequel. Bousman and Saw writer Leigh Whannell worked together to turn The Desperate into Saw II, and ended up with what I felt was a great follow-up to the first film.

Like many sequels, Saw II increases the body count. The first movie had been about two men trapped in a room together, this one is about seven people, all lawbreakers to some degree, waking up in an inescapable house that has been turned into one large trap with several smaller traps set up throughout the rooms. Among the "players" forced into this game are Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young, a former drug addict who had been caught in a Jigsaw trap before and in the first movie said that she believed the experience had saved her, having taught her to appreciate life. Unfortunately, it seems that Amanda has started to backslide since that experience, so she's back in the game. Also in the group is Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen), the troubled son of police detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), who Jigsaw has left a message for at a previous crime scene.

While his son is trying to survive in the trap house, Matthews has accompanied a SWAT team on a raid of a warehouse that serves as the lair of Jigsaw. His son's life hanging in the balance, Matthews is forced to have a lengthy conversation with Jigsaw, trying to get him to reveal where that house is located. We spend a lot more time with Jigsaw in this film than we did in part 1 and get to learn more about his back story and motivation for putting people through these horrible ordeals. He's not a serial killer in his own mind, he has a high opinion of himself and says he wants people to survive his traps so they can go on to improve their lives. It's the ultimate "scared straight" project. If he didn't want the people to die, maybe he could make his traps a bit less complicated but just as terrifying. 

The characters in the house have been hit with nerve gas and will die in two hours if they don't gather the vials of antidote that are placed in traps and in a safe. Anyone who takes the antidote will be able to walk out of the house when the doors automatically open in three hours. Of course, most of the players do not win this game, dying in various ways - setting off a rigged gun, bleeding to death, burning in a furnace, succumbing to the nerve gas. The survivors don't get off easy, a standout cringeworthy moment being when Amanda is dropped into a pit of syringes.

Several deaths are caused by one of the players, Franky G as Xavier, one of the biggest alpha male douchebags in cinema history. Xavier doesn't care what sort of injuries the others may endure, they're only obstacles in the way of him and the antidote. This guy is appalling.

The hatred I feel for Xavier is just part of the ride Saw II takes me on. This is an entertaining, involving film that takes the concepts of the first and blows it up bigger. The traps are horrific but not as disgusting, over done, or mean-spirited as some would be in future installments. There is still a sense of fun in here, even when the film is making you wince. I enjoy the viewing experience of this one; I want to see Xavier get his comeuppance, I want to see Jigsaw brought to justice and brought down a peg - I like when Matthews bashes him, even if Matthews is a deeply flawed person himself.

The Saw franchise would lose me quickly after this one, but I was still on board when I walked out of that Halloween screening of Saw II. It convinced me that a Saw sequel could be done right. As it played out on the screen in front of me, I went from being wary of a sequel to being glad this one existed.

It was a happy Halloween.

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