Friday, October 28, 2016

Worth Mentioning - Ding Dong, You're Dead

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 used to be afraid of horror, and now he's obsessed with it.


HOUSE (1986)

I credit Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI for being the movie that got me into horror. Even though I screamed and cried when Jason rose from his grave at the beginning of the movie, so scared of it that my sister (who had rented it with her boyfriend) had to turn the movie off, it still got me interested in giving horror a chance. But Jason Lives wasn't the first horror movie that scared the hell out of me. I had seen glimpses of John Carpenter's Halloween on TV one day and stayed out of the room so I wouldn't have to look at "the boogeyman". My father tormented me by pretending to be Freddy Krueger lurking in our basement stairway after I was unnerved by a magazine ad for A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge.

The 1986 movie House, which came out about five months before Jason Lives, is another that scared me so badly that I had to stop watching it. Interestingly, this movie comes from the same creative team that was behind the early Friday the 13th movies. Friday the 13th producer/director Sean S. Cunningham produced House, it was directed by Friday the 13th part 2 and part 3 director Steve Miner, and F13 composer Harry Manfredini provided the music. Some familiar faces from the F13 franchise also show up in the cast - Steve Susskind, Ronn Carroll, Steven Williams.

Carrie's William Katt stars as Stephen King-esque novelist Roger Cobb, who is doing something a bit different with his latest book, straying away from horror fiction to write an autobiography about the horror he endured while serving in the Vietnam War. When his aunt commits suicide, Roger inherits her mansion home, and even though his aunt always said the place was haunted, and despite the fact - maybe because of the fact - that his young son disappeared there some time earlier, an event that has caused a breakdown in his marriage to actress Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz), Roger decides to stay in the place while working on his book.

When he's not having 'Nam flashbacks, thinking back to the day his son disappeared, failing to write his book, or making terrible fashion choices, Roger is looking around the house and discovering that his aunt was right - it is haunted. But this isn't your typical movie haunting with your run of the mill ghosts. This house is inhabited by monstrous creatures brought to life through impressive yet cartoony special effects. Not only that, but various openings in the house, whether it be a closet door or a medicine cabinet, are actually gateways into other dimensions, where these creatures are from. These things make House quite unique in the haunted house sub-genre.

One of those monsters is what scared me so badly that my first viewing of House came to an early end. At one point, Sandy comes to visit Roger... but it's not Sandy, it's a monster in disguise, and when this creature reveals its true form and proceeds to try to kill Roger, I totally flipped out.

Even though I'll always remember House for scaring me, it's actually not a movie that's out to scare you all that much. It's based on a story by Fred Dekker, who had been working with Miner on his attempts to get an American Godzilla movie off the ground in the early '80s and would go on to direct his own films (Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad), and Dekker meant his story to be the basis of one of the scariest haunted house movies ever. But that story was fleshed out into a screenplay by Ethan Wiley, and Wiley and Miner had a very different vision for the concept. A vision full of humor and silly creatures, where Roger's ghost hunting tactics tend to be played up as comedic and George Wendt from Cheers plays the wacky neighbor. So instead of being one of the scariest haunted house movies ever, House is an amusing horror/comedy... and yet when I was a kid, that Sandy-monster scared me more than anything I ever witnessed in a straightforward haunted house movie.

I'm not the biggest fan of House, I actually prefer its even sillier sequel House II: The Second Story, but there are some cool things in it, and it will always have a special place in my memory.


As soon as I heard about director Andy Palmer's The Funhouse Massacre, it was a guarantee that I was going to be watching it. A movie about a group of serial killers escaping from a mental hospital to terrorize a haunted attraction on Halloween night, with a cast that includes Robert Englund, Jere Burns, Clint Howard, and Courtney Gains, that's an irresistible draw for me.

Thankfully, the film (which was shot at Middletown, Ohio's Land of Illusion Haunted Scream Park) did not disappoint me, as Palmer and writers Ben Begley and Renee Dorian delivered a fun slasher that makes for perfect Halloween season viewing.

The story is pretty much as simple as described above. Serial killers "Mental" Manny the Prophet (Burns), a religious leader who was responsible for a mass suicide, the Taxidermist (Howard), cannibal chef Animal (E.E. Bell), former wrestler Rocco the Clown (Mars Crain), and psycho dentist Dr. Suave (Sebastian Siegel) are broken out of an asylum run by Englund's character and, joined Candice De Visser as Manny's crazy and murderous daughter Dollface, invade a haunt run by Gains and proceed to torment and kill various people who are just trying to have a fun time and celebrate Halloween in an appropriate way.

It's up to a group of friends - whose costumes include the Fourth Doctor, Machete, and "sexy Hillary Clinton" - and the local sheriff (Scottie Thompson), who has a personal connection to Manny, to bring an end to their bloody rampage.

This movie shouldn't be held up to some of the horror classics certain cast members were involved with, but it's an entertaining way to spend 91 minutes, with a lively tone, a good sense of humor, an appealing visual style, and some nice moments of bloodshed.

If you're looking for something new to watch on Halloween, give The Funhouse Massacre a try.

THE WITCH (2015)

In 17th century America, a family of English immigrants are banished from a Puritan plantation after patriarch William butts heads with other members of the community over the way they choose to practice their Christianity. William, his wife Katherine, and their five children are driven out into the wilderness, where they build a small farm on the edge of a thick woods.

Struggling to survive off the land with no money and just some poor crops and a couple goats to your name is tough enough, but this family also has to deal with teenage daughter Thomasin's struggle to remain pure, the burgeoning adolescence of son Caleb, and young Jonas and Mercy's preoccupation with the goat Black Phillip - they're always hanging out with this goat, making up songs about him and talking about how great he is. This may seem quite odd, but what the hell else are a couple of little kids supposed to do in the middle of nowhere in the 1600s?

The worst problem of all is the fact that something evil lurks within that nearby woods, something that first makes itself known when it kidnaps and murders the infant son Sam. A witch who has a hand in the rapid collapse of the family that plays out over the course of the film.

The Witch became something of a genre sensation when it made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, earning a lot of critical praise that stirred up a huge amount of hype for the film. It did very well once it was released to the genre audience, but was also met with some backlash, because this is definitely not a movie that is going to appeal to everyone who watches it. It's very unique and deliberately paced, focused mainly on the dramatic interactions among the family members as they spout dialogue in old English - much of which is said to have come from journals and court records preserved from the period.

The entire cast did an incredible job handling that dialogue and performing the intense emotional scenes, and I can see why Anya Taylor-Joy, the actress who played Thomasin, has started to break through into the big leagues after this film.

This also makes for a fantastic debut for writer/director Robert Eggers, who teamed with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke to make this a beautiful movie to look at. Eggers undoubtedly had a very specific vision for this film, and no one else would have or could have crafted something quite like this.

I wasn't blown away by The Witch, but I enjoyed watching it and I was very impressed by the acting and the masterful way in which Eggers put everything together.

The following review originally appeared on


Directors Christopher Phelps and Maxim Van Scoy were aiming their film Lake Nowhere at a very specific audience - viewers who have a deep appreciation and nostalgia for low budget horror movies of the late '70s and early '80s, and who are either still collecting VHS tapes to this day or have fond memories of recording movies onto tape. Although the copyright notice on the feature presentation is dated MMXIII, it looks like it could have been made in MCMLXXXIII, and Phelps and Van Scoy have endeavored to make it look like you're watching it on VHS - and not just a rental copy, but a rental copy that has been dubbed onto another video cassette through VCR to VCR recording. Every once in a while, the picture will cut out and we'll see glimpses of things that had been recorded onto this tape previously.

The picture quality of this recording is far from pristine. In addition to the evidence that the tape had been used before, we're also clearly a couple generations of degradation away from that original copy. The image is kind of murky and there are some tracking issues. You may be watching Lake Nowhere on DVD, Blu-ray, or VOD, but you'll feel like you've been taken back a couple decades to discover a lost slasher on bootleg VHS.

Going all the way with the attempt to recreate the experience of watching (a recording of) a rental VHS, Lake Nowhere starts off with a fantastic retro beer commercial and a couple of faux trailers. The trailer for a giallo called When the River Runs Red is quick, beautiful, and bloody, while the trailer for the "nature run amok" horrors of Harvest Man went on a little long for my liking, but they're both convincingly old school.

Then the Lake Nowhere movie itself begins, and at first it seems to be telling a very familiar story. A group of young friends on vacation arrive at a lakeside cabin in the woods and get up to shenanigans that involve drinking and disrobing, then their good times are ruined by the arrival of a blade-wielding slasher. While fans of straightforward slashers will be entertained by some of the scenes here, there's also a little something different going on. There's a supernatural twist, which sort of makes it feel like there's some Evil Dead mixed into this Friday the 13th knock-off. Lake Nowhere has a unique and deep layer of weirdness that sets it apart from many of the films in the 1980s slasher boom that it's looking back on fondly.

Phelps and Van Scoy did an excellent job recreating the look of the era of filmmaking they're emulating, and really did capture the feeling of watching a cheap '80s slasher on VHS. As far as I'm concerned, loving homages like this are a wonderful thing, and what made me enjoy Lake Nowhere more than many of the other retro-style movies that have come out in recent years is the fact that they didn't go down the parody path. Often I'll dig the look of retro-style movies but I'll be put off by the fact that it's all being played as a joke. Phelps and Van Scoy are certainly having fun with this concept, but the slasher they made within it is played rather straight. That's what I want from movies like this, I want something that is aspiring to join the ranks of the classic '80s slashers, not something that's winking at the audience while looking like an '80s slasher.

My main issue with Lake Nowhere is that it's not long enough. With an overall running time of 50 minutes, it only dedicates about 44 of those minutes to the "Lake Nowhere" of it all, and the story and characters definitely could have been fleshed out a bit more to make it even more satisfying. I would have been happy to watch this messed up VHS recording for another 30 minutes.

Lake Nowhere is short, but it's fun while it lasts.

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