Friday, October 12, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Hunt Them Down and Watch Them Die

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.

Basements, boarding schools, theme parks... None of them are safe in these films.


Long before I started writing for, I was a reader of the site and the other sites in the JoBlo network, as well as a frequent listener to the podcasts that were recorded for JoBlo and AITH. It was an episode of the AITH podcast Blood, Bullets & Broads that served as a commentary track for director Ralph S. Singleton's Stephen King adaptation Graveyard Shift that finally showed me how to truly enjoy and appreciate a film I had long written off. By listening to how entertained podcast hosts Ammon Gilbert and Eric Walkuski were by the film, I began to be entertained by it as well.

Graveyard Shift is about Bachman Mills, a textile mill in small town Maine that is overrun by rats and where employees keep disappearing or dying in strange accidents. The place is a mess, and to avoid being shut down for safety violations the foreman Warwick (Stephen Macht) assembles a group of employees and offers them double pay if they'll get the place cleaned up over the fourth of July weekend. While cleaning the mill, the employees discover that the rats aren't the only creatures calling this place home. Within the bowels of the mill there lives a large, man-eating mutant rat creature with bat-like wings... and having this clean-up crew in its domain is like unleashing it on an all-you-can-eat buffet.

This film does have issues from the ground up, the main thing being that it doesn't have very appealing characters. The lead is David Andrews as man-of-few-words John Hall, a drifter who comes into town, gets a job at the mill, ends up on cleaning duty, and has the personality of a piece of cardboard. None of his co-workers are all that likeable, and even female lead Jane Wisconsky (Kelly Wolf) comes off as being a bit odd. One person I couldn't stand during my earlier viewings was Warwick, brought to the screen with Macht doing one of the most over-the-top New England accents you could ever hope to hear. His performance, when mixed with the general sliminess of the character, was very off-putting to me. But over time, I've come to appreciate the insanity of Macht's performance and accent and I now find him to be quite enjoyable to watch in action.

King's story, which was included in his Night Shift collection, was very short, so screenwriter John Esposito (who would go on to co-produce From Dusk Till Dawn) had to expand it a bit to fill out a feature film. He does this by creating a build-up to the cleaning job, which the short story jumped right into... and while this build-up takes up a good portion of the film, it's not very successful at making the characters interesting. The standouts are Warwick, an employee named Danson (and that's only because he's played by Wishmaster Andrew Divoff), and a very special character who was added in just for the movie: a Vietnam veteran exterminator played by horror icon / voice of Chucky Brad Dourif. Dourif gets to deliver a monologue about the use of rats during the Vietnam War, and he rocks that scene.

It's nearly an hour into the 86 minute film before Graveyard Shift really catches up with the source material in time to descend into a climax of all-out creature feature mayhem. Regardless of what bumps the adaptation hits on the road it takes to get there, I can't deny the appeal of watching a giant rat-bat pick off fodder characters.

There was a time when I would have listed Graveyard Shift among the worst King adaptations, but now I find it to be a good amount of fun, and I owe it to the AITH podcast for getting me to accept the film for what it is.


Deadly Lessons is a TV movie cash-in on the slasher movie boom of the early '80s, which basically means that it delivers a typical slasher scenario but holds back when it comes to the kills. When teenage students at Starkwater Hall Boarding School start getting picked off one-by-one, bodies are just found around the property, or floating in the nearby lake, instead of the audience getting to see characters get hacked and slashed. That's okay; the movie is still a decent viewing experience even without the explicit violence... And the cast alone is enough to make it worth a watch.

Former sitcom housewife Donna Reed plays the predictably unlikeable headmistress of the boarding school, with Amityville II's Diane Franklin as new arrival Stephanie, who has gotten into the school just in time to see her fellow students start dying off. Some of those fellow students are played by the likes of future Brat Packer Ally Sheedy, future voice of Bart Simpson Nancy Cartwright, and future Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI cast member / Jason Voorhees victim Renée Jones. You also have Bill Paxton as the guy who tends the school's horses, and serves as a sort of love interest for Stephanie.

CHiPs's Larry Wilcox plays the detective working the case, and there are plenty of weirdos, creeps, and unpleasant girls in and around the school to serve as suspects. Directed by William Wiard from a script by Jennifer A. Miller, Deadly Lessons might keep you guessing - although my Remake Comparison collaborator Priscilla predicted the identity of the killer almost immediately. Still, even though she was suggesting throughout that this person was guilty, there was more going on at Starkwater Hall than we realized.

If you can tolerate a slasher set-up being watered down to 1983 television standards, Deadly Lessons is worth seeking out.


Fourteen years ago, Billy's parents died a car accident that is very violently presented at the beginning of director William Asher's 1982 horror movie Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker... a film which is also known by the more generic and forgettable title Night Warning. Neither title is exactly fitting for the movie, although Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is certainly an attention grabber. Billy was left in the care of his off-kilter but doting aunt Cheryl, who is played by Susan Tyrrell - an actress who always had a very strange screen presence, and who put that strangeness to perfect use here.

Now Billy (Jimmy McNichol) is about to turn seventeen, coming up on his high school graduation, and planning to go off to college. Problem is, Cheryl is obsessively attached to her nephew and is determined to do whatever it takes to make sure he'll stay at home with her. Forever. Even if that means murdering people. She figures the best way to get Billy to stay is to make him feel like she's not safe without him, so she sets up a situation where it looks like she's about to be raped by a handyman, then kills the guy in "self defense".

The handyman doesn't have much screen time, but he does get in a memorable line before his death. He's played by Caskey Swaim, who also had a role in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, where he had a short amount of screen time but delivered some memorable lines in that time.

Unfortunately, the crime only causes more trouble for Cheryl and Billy when detective Joe Carlson (Bo Svenson) sees the situation for the murder it was - but makes Billy his prime suspect. It's also during scenes with Carlson that this film will become an endurance challenge for some viewers, because there is an unexpected subplot about homosexuality that is handled in a very dated way, especially because Carlson happens to be a total scumbag. And it's not only homosexuals that he aims his hatred for. In one scene we see him intimidating a Spanish-speaking person by shoving a gun in their face.

The side story of a reprehensible police officer wasn't the only unexpected thing about Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker for me. I also expected this movie to be more of a straightforward slasher, with Cheryl picking off people who get in her way with more frequency. I was starting to think this was going to turn out to be a dark drama / mystery, but then it finally started delivering more kills. It saved a lot of its violence for the final act.

In the end, I enjoyed the film, although it's definitely the sort of movie that was "of its time". Today it feels very out of touch, but it still has entertainment value as an inappropriate throwback to the tail end of the drive-in era. Plus it has Silent Night, Deadly Night's Britt Leach as a more sensible police officer, and Bill Paxton in an early role as a high school bully.


If you're looking for a serious, scary horror movie to watch, you'll want to keep on going right past writer/director Owen Egerton's Blood Fest. But if you're in the mood for a horror comedy that keeps the laughs and bloodshed coming at a steady pace, that's exactly what Blood Fest does during its 92 minute running time.

Packed with references to other horror films and featuring characters who know a whole lot about the genre, Egerton's film has the same sort of meta sensibilities as movies like Scream and The Monster Squad. It's also a monster mash like the latter film, but an updated one for a new generation. The Monster Squad was reaching way back to the Universal classics, while Blood Fest is more focused on horror as it has been from the '80s to the present. Due to the setting and the way its monsters and madmen are presented, this movie also had me thinking of $la$her$ and - the most recent of the bunch - The Funhouse Massacre.

The setting is the titular event, a massive horror celebration that's promoted as being the "greatest horror event of all time" and is held on the perfect date: Halloween. Headed up by horror movie producer Anthony Walsh (Egerton himself), Blood Fest is a horror theme park that has been set up on a 700 acre ranch and is divided up into areas like Living Dead Land, Tortureville, Vamp Camp, and Clowntown. As those names give away, these areas allow genre fans to mingle with zombies, vampires, and killer clowns, and play with Saw-like traps. The problem is, all of these things are actually deadly. Feeling that the genre has gotten too watered down, Walsh is out to make it scary again by producing a film where hundreds of fans are actually massacred by living horror characters - and he has figured out ways to not only gather together homicidal maniacs, but also to create real zombies and vampires so he can achieve this deadly goal.

Trapped in the middle of the Blood Fest massacre is Robbie Kay as Dax, a young man who was introduced to horror at a young age by his mom, then raised by an intensely anti-horror father (Tate Donovan) after his mom was murdered. Dax is attending Blood Fest against his father's wishes, accompanied by his friends Sam (Seychelle Gabriel), a potential love interest who works in a video store with him, and gamer / hacker Krill (Jacob Batalon). Also part of the group when the guts hit the fan are a pretentious filmmaker named Lenjamin (Nicholas Rutherford); actress Ashley (Barbara Dunkelman), whose biggest role to date is playing Topless Girl #4 in a new horror film; and genre icon Roger Hinckley (Chris Doubek), who hates the sight of blood, even fake blood, but still managed to star in a series of films as a slasher known as the Arborist, who hails from a town called Hodderton. Actor Zachary Levi (playing himself) is also at Blood Fest, but you shouldn't expect any Chuck Bartowski heroics from him.

All of the actors handle their roles quite well, but the standouts for me were Batalon, who steals scenes with his comedy skills much like he did in last year's Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Doubek, whose character is introduced as a douche but turns out to be a very likeable, good guy.

As blade-wielding slashers, flesh-eating ghouls (who are being controlled like they're in a video game, an idea I found to be pretty cool), and blood-sucking vampires close in on them, the characters realize that the way to survive this scenario is to play by the rules of horror, which allows for references to things like James Wan jump scares and George A. Romero's zombie rules, and even a dive into a slasher's mythology, which includes discussions of unnecessary elements being added to the character several sequels in, and sequels that ignore previous ones. Horror fans are likely to get a good deal of entertainment from the conversations in here, as I did.

Also highly entertaining was the number of bloody deaths, with the film's special effects team giving us some nice moments of gore. Walsh sets his killers loose less than 20 minutes into the movie, allowing for more than an hour of pure action, murder, and mayhem.

There's not a whole lot to Blood Fest beyond the action and references, and if you try to dig deeper you might find that the movie seems oddly ambivalent about horror; you have Dax defending the genre throughout, but at the same time you have a filmmaker trying to elevate the genre by actually killing people, and programming mental patients to do his bidding by showing them horror movies. So is the genre a fun diversion from the tragedy of real life, or can it create murderers? Blood Fest kind of has it both ways... But I could brush aside that confusion and just enjoy the insanity.

The review of Blood Fest originally appeared on

No comments:

Post a Comment