Friday, October 18, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Love Can Be Incredibly Scary

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.
Cody revisits a childhood monster, continues the Dustin Mills fest, watches a friend take on zombies, and takes a recommendation from Priscilla.


"Keep away from Pumpkinhead / Unless you're tired of living / His enemies are mostly dead / He's mean and unforgiving / Laugh at him and you're undone / But in some dreadful fashion / Vengeance, he considers fun, / And plans it with a passion, / Time will not erase or blot, / A plot that he has brewing, / It's when you think that he's forgot, / He'll conjure your undoing, / Bolted doors and windows barred, / Guard dogs prowling in the yard, / Won't protect you in your bed, / Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead."
Out in the dusty desert boonies, in a land populated by simple country folk and ridiculously filthy ragamuffin children, there's an urban legend of a creature called Pumpkinhead, whose story is told by way of a poem.

A man named Ed Harley (played by Lance Henriksen) knows that Pumpkinhead is more than just a legend. While lying in bed as a little boy back in 1957, he heard the monster dealing out its deadly wrath on a man it had been set loose on.
Just over thirty years later, Ed runs a small store and is single father to a young son named Billy. When two cars full of young outsiders on their way to a country vacation stop by the store and two of the guys go off ripping around the surrounding hills on dirtbikes, Ed picks the wrong time to briefly leave Billy alone at the store with their dog Gypsy. In a moment that deeply disturbed me during my childhood viewings of this movie, Billy chases Gypsy outside and ends up right in the path of one of the dirtbikes. Billy is struck and killed... and since the guilty biker has been drinking and is already on probation, he decides to just get the hell out of there, along with his friends.

As the vacationers hide away in their cabin destination (a filming location that also served as the home of the Jarvis family in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), the grief-stricken and angry Ed seeks out the aid of old witch called Haggis in raising the Demon of Vengeance and sending it after the group of youths. The casting of this spell requires him to dig up a corpse from a pumpkin patch in Razorback Hollow, a plot of ground that also served as a makeshift cemetery where mountain-dwellers used to bury kin they were ashamed of. When this corpse is brought back to Haggis, Ed and Billy's blood is spilled upon it, and it rises as the reborn, monstrous Pumpkinhead, a huge unearthly beast brought to life by the man-in-suit performance of special effects artist Tom Woodruff, Jr., who has also played the xenomorphs in several of the Alien movies.
Ed regrets what he's done almost immediately and sets out to stop the creature as it picks off the young vacationers one-by-one, but it takes a lot of death and bloodshed to satisfy the Demon of Vengeance... and how do you stop a demon anyway?

Pumpkinhead was the directorial debut of special effects wizard Stan Winston and, with the aid of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, he did a great job his first time out, delivering a film with an awesomely stylish, classic horror look and feel, full of colorful lighting, shafts of light, fog, wind, and lightning flashes.
The story is very simple and entertaining, a mixture of monster movie and slasher/"dead teenager" movie. Most of the younger characters don't make much of an impression, but they do just fine at getting stalked and killed by the titular creature that is the film's main draw.

The fact that Pumpkinhead does most of his stalking around the house from F13: The Final Chapter adds an extra level of enjoyment for me now that I've realized it's the same place, though it's shot in such a way and the set design is so different that it took me twenty-five years to come to that realization.
An enduring cult classic, Pumpkinhead is a great movie to watch at this time of year.


This week, subscribers to the mailing list of indie filmmaker Dustin Mills (The Puppet Monster Massacre, Zombie A-Hole, Night of the Tentacles, Bath Salt Zombies, Easter Casket) were privy to a special online sneak peek at his latest movie, The Ballad of Skinless Pete, in advance of its forthcoming DVD release.
The story centers on oncologist Doctor Peter Peel, who with his longtime friend Doctor Alice Cross has been toiling away in their basement laboratory for years, searching for the cure to cancer... And they may have finally found it, by turning a corrosive enzyme produced by the parasitic phago worm into a targeted cancer-killing weapon.
Unfortunately for the doctors, their benefactor refuses to grant them the funding they need to continue their research. So Pete, with great faith in their findings and secretly suffering from an advanced stage of skin cancer, makes himself the guinea pig. For a brief period, it appears to have been a complete success... And then Pete's life goes to hell, as all of the flesh on his body melts away down to the subcutaneous tissue.
As you might imagine, this horrific turn of events drives Pete mad. Consumed by rage and confusion, finally overwhelmed by his unrequited love - or is it sexual obsession? - for Alice, Pete proceeds to do some very bad things.

As much as the scope of and the CG effects in some of Mills's previous movies have wowed me, with Skinless Pete he continues to impress while telling a story on a very small scale, with wonderfully gooey and gross practical effects. Made almost completely in one house location and with a cast of four actors and a dog, the movie is completely engrossing, well-written and stylishly made, with great performances from the leads, Mills regulars Brandon Salkil and Erin R. Ryan (also of Babysitter Massacre).
Skinless Pete is also different from most of Mills's previous work in that he stripped away a lot of the goofy humor that was usually present. There's some fun and laughs early on in the movie, but once Pete makes himself a human test subject, things become dark and serious, and I found it be very emotionally effective.

The style of the movie, although not its tone, is sort of reminiscent of JJ Abrams, just in that it begins with a flash forward and lens flares abound. If you check out Mills's YouTube channel, there are videos that show the makings of some of the movie's effects as well as his method of getting those lens flares.
With his sixth feature, Mills proves once again that he is one of the most talented and interesting filmmakers working in the indie world today. I highly recommend checking out his entire filmography, including picking up a copy of Skinless Pete, which is one of his best. DVDs should be shipping out soon.


When Amanda's parents go out of town for the weekend, the teenager springs at the opportunity to invite her friends over for a hot tub party. At first it's good times, as the pretty people of the group strip down to bathing suits and bikinis before enjoying barbecue, badminton, and talk of board games while their "big fat loser" pal Billy watches from the sidelines... But then a crazed older gentleman appears to warn the partying youths that with a full moon rising while Jupiter is in the house of Sagittarius, flesh-eating beasts will soon be walking the earth. These kids are all doomed.

Sure enough, the decomposing dead are soon roaming the land, attacking and devouring people - and yes, as the title promises, some of these zombies do appear to be little people.

Midget Zombie Takeover doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest. This indie horror/comedy, shot in Indiana, is just out to make you chuckle for 73 minutes as you watch some of the dumbest characters ever put on the screen deal with a rather lackluster zombie outbreak. The zombies never come off as all that threatening, but they certainly do to the teenage characters. Within four minutes of seeing a few "crazed freak zombies" walking in the yard, and after finding that the phones are dead and TV reception out, these knuckleheads jump to the conclusion that they're the only living people left on the planet and it's their patriotic duty to start re-populating the United States.

For me, Jon Hodges totally steals the show in his few minutes of screen time as the drunken, Crazy Ralph-esque doomsayer whose "sweet booze" can't save him when the zombies arrive. This is mainly because Hodges is highly entertaining in the role, but also because he's a longtime friend of mine.

Hodges is how I obtained my copy of the movie. I'm not sure what the release plans for MZT are, but it has had some festival screenings and aired as an episode of horror host Mr. Lobo's show Cinema Insomnia. If you can get your hands on a copy, it's worth checking out if you're in the mood for an absolutely ridiculous zombie spoof.

ORPHAN (2009)

Kate and John Coleman, parents to a son named Daniel and a daughter named Max (who is deaf and mute), experience a devastating loss when their third child is stillborn. After taking some time to recover and go through therapy, and after Kate overcomes a bout with alcoholism, the couple decides to adopt, intending to take the love they were going to give to the child they lost and give it to a child who is in need of it. The child they choose to be the recipient of this love is a nine-year-old girl, originally from Russia, named Esther.

Very intelligent, mature, and artistically gifted beyond her years, Esther seems like she'll be a great new addition to the Coleman family... But strange things tend to happen around Esther. Bad things. She's had a tragic past, and as twisted, cruel, sometimes violent things begin to occur around her once again, the suspicion begins to arise that Esther herself may have been the cause of the past tragedies. Any weakness she perceives, Esther manipulates. School bullies and anyone who threatens her newfound place in the Coleman household are in physical danger.

As a fan of killer kid movies (Children of the Corn, The Children, Bloody Birthday) in general, the trailer I saw for Orphan in advance of its 2009 release appealed to me, and it reminded me of the Macaulay Culkin movie The Good Son, which I had enjoyed a theatrical viewing of back in 1993. I was very interested in checking the movie out, and became even more interested after the movie's twist, which I won't spoil here, was spoiled for me. It sounded awesome. And yet, I never did get around to watching it. Four years passed, during which I always intended to watch Orphan, but still didn't.

It was at the recommendation of the blog's own Priscilla, who said the movie was good and worth watching, that I finally put the Orphan disc in my DVD player this week. And Pri was right, Orphan is really good.

The movie is an intriguing, sometimes disturbing thriller, with fantastic performances from Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Source Code, The Conjuring) and Peter Sarsgaard as Kate and John, Jimmy Bennett (Super 8) and Aryana Engineer as their children, and Isabelle Fuhrman as the creepy and conniving Esther. It kept me engrossed throughout, the aforementioned twist plays out exceptionally well, and the story is very well told, with every element that is set up over the course of the film paying off in quite satisfactory manners.

If you're like me and you've been meaning to get around to Orphan for the last four years, Priscilla and I both recommend that you finally check it out.

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