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Hell Night

And To All A Good Night
Four college kids are sent to an abandoned mansion to fend for themselves during a hazing ritual gone wrong in "Hell Night." During their stay at Garth Manor, the group deal with pesky pranks from their peers and face off against a "gork" dubbed Andrew. We never find out what a gork is exactly, but it sounds relatively un-PC. At any rate, Andrew "Gork" Garth is a deformed child who has been left alone to his own devices. Now that he's all grown up, he's hellbent on murdering anyone who steps foot onto his property. That's unfortunate for Linda Blair and company, who lack the benefit of something like TripAdvisor. One thing's for sure, though; if they live through the night, this place is getting a dismal one-star review.

"Hell Night" came out in 1981, just as the slasher genre was gaining traction. It is at times derivative, and at others, it surprisingly deviates from the beaten path. The initial set up of four characters who alternate between horny, funny, smart and sympathetic is one we've seen countless times in the genre, but "Hell Night" puts a refreshing spin on things. For starters, its cast has a chemistry and a shared likability rarely seen in the slasher subset. An all-grown-up Linda Blair leads the cast with her charming girl-next-door presence, while pretty-boy Peter Barton ("Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter") plays her good-guy boyfriend. In the next room are the Spicoli-esque surfer dude and his hilariously charming and sexy girlfriend, played by Vincent Van Patten (son of Dick) and Suki Goodwin respectively. Goodwin in particular is a real firecracker, an endless ball of charm. It's a shame she quit acting shortly after this film came out. Her comedic chemistry with Van Patten jumps off the screen and nearly steals the show. That being said, all four actors are quite solid and work together to keep the film going, even through it's duller moments.

Speaking of dull moments, there's more than a few of those here. Since the film is about 15-20 minutes longer than the average slasher, it's only natural this would happen. The atmosphere is pretty well established early on, and while the characters are never a chore to visit, the often-protracted stalking sequences can sometimes feel endless or even pointless. Having said that, when the jump scares hit, they hit hard. The film is a bit of a workhorse in that regard, as by the end, we are treated to a big jump seemingly every other minute. Tim DeSimone, who had previously worked in the adult film industry under the impossibly awesome psuedonym of Lancer Brooks, apes the likes of "Friday the 13th" and "Halloween" quite competently here. There are moments midway through the film that feel like someone traced over John Carpenter's work, right down to the sparse, synth-led score. Yet, for all that it borrows, it never feels entirely redundant. One digression in particular, where a lead character escapes the mansion and goes off to find help, is a welcome curveball. It's little moments like this that give the film its own unique flavor.

While one could probably spend the bulk of its running length nit-picking it to death, there's just something undeniably charming about the way "Hell Night" plays out. It feels familiar, but at the same time, keeps us on our toes. With characters that you actually want to see survive and a killer who is not wearing a mask or wielding a chainsaw, "Hell Night" at least offers something you won't always find in '80s slashers. It's not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but necessary viewing for any fan of the genre. "Hell Night" is, like the ritual itself: a rite of passage everyone should go through at least once.

Power Rangers

Ranger Things
With the seemingly endless popularity of superheroes, robots, dinosaurs and gigantic monsters on the big screen, it was only a matter of time before a franchise where superheroes transform into gigantic robotic dinosaurs to battle gigantic monsters would be resurrected. That's right: everyone's favorite half-hour toy commercial from the '90s is back to kick nostalgic butt! The "Power Rangers" have been re-booted with a slickly made, big-budget popcorn flick that wants to remind you of your care-free childhood days spent in front of the TV. It also probably wants you to forget the atrocious 1995 film.

It almost works.

With a gang of fresh young faces in place, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers get back into action, sans the clumsy Mighty Morphin title. Also missing in action is a great deal of the trademark humor and inherent corniness that made the original series so much fun to watch, even long after most of us had grown up and out of it. In place of these elements are a stronger focus on character and backstory, as we not only get to know more about the teen titans, but also about their allies and enemies. Yep, even the Rangers' big-headed mentor Zordon and his haywire sidekick Alpha (played by Bryan Cranston and Bill Hader respectively) get some time to shine, as we learn more about how they came into contact with the power of the Rangers. Likewise, villainess Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) is given ample time to roam and wreak havoc, as she murders her way across town in search of gold, all the while jamming some Social Distortion. We're a long way from after-school Fox TV, friends.

The kids all play variations of the characters we came to recognize in the original run. Here we have Jason/The Red Ranger, the natural leader and jock with a heart of gold, as played by Dacre Montgomery. Stealing nearly every scene is RJ Cyler as Billy/The Blue Ranger, a brainiac who proudly confesses to being on the spectrum. Naomi Scott steps into the role of Kimberly/The Pink Ranger. This version of Kimberly is a rebel and a frequent target of bullies (haters gon' hate). Rounding out the crew are Becky G as Trini/The Yellow Ranger and Ludi Lin as Zack/The Black Ranger. These characters feel slightly under-cooked in comparison to the three "leads." Trini and Zack both appear troubled and withdrawn, proud conformists who are tough as nails. A glimpse into their respective home lives gives each character a little more dimension. Together, the five teens must learn to work together if they are to stop Rita's plan to end all human life. In spite of the film's short-comings, all five actors are on point and keep things are lively as possible, even when the script fails them.

Most folks are going to come into a film like this expecting a super smash of monster on robot action, and although the back half of the film makes good on that promise, the hour and a half (!) that leads up to it might leave some viewers (especially the younger ones) a bit cold. While the increased focus on character is more than welcome (given how shallow the original series was), it gets a bit redundant a third of the way in. The new characters are established firmly from the start, but the story doesn't quite know how to advance from there, leaving the middle piece of the film a little laggy and repetitive. A lot of the story beats we've seen from other (and better) superhero films are repeated and to be quite honest, it gets hard not to tune out. When the slam-bang finale comes crashing down, it (mostly) quenches the thirst for big, goofy fun but not quite. The end result is a film that feels a little muddled, as if the committee that pieced it together didn't quite know what target audience they were trying to reach. Not as dumb as "Transformers" but not as fun as, say, "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Power Rangers" straddles the middle a little too comfortably. Or maybe these characters and their accompanying concepts work better in smaller doses. There's still some fun to be had here, make no mistake, but more often than not, it feels like these Rangers are operating with slightly diminished power.

The Ape

This is Spinal Ape
Somewhat silly but played with a straight-face nonetheless, 1940's "The Ape" was a contract fulfillment for Boris Karloff, toiling away at the time under employment by Monogram Pictures. Boasting an oddball concept and the rock solid capabilities of Karloff, this little cinematic side-bar is, at its best, serviceable. At its worst, it can be a bit of a slog, even at a swift 62 minutes long.

Karloff plays the calmest mad scientist you've ever met, Dr. Bernard Adrian. Dr. Adrian spends his days working on a miracle serum that he hopes will cure paralysis. Trouble is, this serum comes from tapping the spine of human patients, and willing participants are rather hard to come by. He grows close enough to his human guinea pig, the wheelchair-bound and charming (if a bit aloof) Frances Clifford (Maris Wrixon), that when a circus ape makes its way onto his property, he kills it and then uses its skin (?!) to roam the night for more victims to tap.

If it sounds nutty, then that's because it is. The ignorant townsfolk spend most of the movie's run-time trying to stop science in its tracks, never once realizing that what they're up against is a guy in a surprisingly well-tailored ape costume. Karloff rises about as far as the material asks of him, while his co-stars just kind of stand there, rarely sticking out (save for Wrixon). Movies like this were never meant to be more than double-feature, b-flick filler and "The Ape" fills that niche quite nicely. File under: late Saturday afternoon, time to lie on the couch.

Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman

Chillingly Bad
This frost-bitten sequel to 1997's surprisingly clever and enjoyable "Jack Frost" finds the titular killer snowman (voiced by Scott MacDonald) traversing to a tropical resort to harass shell-shocked Sheriff Tiler (Christopher Allport, looking like he'd rather have a recurring role on "7th Heaven" than do this again) and company once more. "Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman" is every bit as ridiculous as you'd expect, but is also even cheaper and dopier than you may be anticipating.

Opening with a title in the coolest of cool Windows '98 fonts, 'Chiller,' the chintzy look and feel of the film is established almost immediately, as if to warn you to turn it off before it's too late. Likewise, the cinematography is virtually non existent. "Jack Frost 2" has all the production value of a turn-of-the-century Comedy Central sitcom, but with hardly a fraction of the wit. Michael Cooney returns to the director's chair for this direct-to-video cheapie and although he tries to bring the same humor and energy from the first, it just doesn't translate. Just like snow can't hold up in a warm environment, neither can the original's charms redeem this sorry affair. Jack will try to make you smile time and time again, but his water-logged puns aren't enough to break the ice.

On the upside, the fast and loose feel of the production means that no one is taking this terribly seriously, and neither should you. Midway through the film, Jack sprouts a few dozen snowball offspring who wreak havoc on the resort, "Gremlins" style. These slightly entertaining bits, culminating in the film's deus ex banana (see it to believe it), offer moments of semi-inspired silliness, but by then, most of its cool has melted away. Take this one with a grain of rock salt.

Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College

Critters Create Carnage on Campus
Higher education has never been this low-brow! In the third entry of the unlikely "Ghoulies" franchise, the titular characters (or to be more accurate, slime puppets) head to college. It's "Troll" by way of "Animal House" in "Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College."

John Carl Buechler, the "Troll" director and special effects maestro whose name keen credit-viewers will recognize from many iconic '80s horror films, steps behind the camera once more for this obvious video store filler. What sets "Ghoulies III" apart from "Ghoulies" past is not only its off-the-wall sense of humor but also the fact that the Ghoulies actually speak in this film. Not only that, but those who were entranced by the original film's toilet-centric VHS art but disappointed by the film itself will be pleased to find this installment more than lives up to the promise of that truly hilarious yet frightening image. This one'll get you, in the end!

There's nothing intelligent or particularly inventive going on with this film. Just three foul-mouthed, Stooge-esque muppets from hell running amok. And when it's 1:00 in the morning and you just can't sleep, what else do you want? Well, how about a really good cast that probably deserves more but doesn't appear to be looking down on the material (or the paycheck)? Kevin McCarthy is more than game as the story's main villain, while the beautiful Eva LaRue gives you something pleasant to look at, in sharp contrast to our lead characters. Also on deck is Stephen Lee (from "Dolls") as the unfortunate head of security. Also, be on the lookout for a young Matthew Lillard in his first film role. "Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College" is stupid, but it's a special kind of stupid. Chances are, if you've stumbled across it, you need to see it for yourself. Don't flush this one just yet.

976-Evil II

Hold the Phone!
You have to dig pretty deep in the stack of unwanted horror sequels to find a movie like "976-Evil II." The follow-up to the Robert Englund-directed schlocker, this sequel takes place a few years later and finds our hapless biker-bro hero from the first movie (Pat O'Bryan) hitting the road to kick it with a teenage girl (Debbie James) and hang up on the film's phoney villain once and for all. Along the way, he has to battle with a lazy demonic force and an unfortunate case of road rash.

Directed by skin-flick aueteur Jim Wynorski ("The Hills Have Thighs"), "976-Evil II" is not only serviceable, but goes so far as to surpass the original. That might not be a terribly tall order, but given this film's micro-budget and direct-to-video status, the fact that it's even watchable is a minor miracle in and of itself. Thank Wynorski, who has just as keen an eye for his female subjects as he does some surprisingly competent stuntwork and car crashes that culminate in an absolutely off-the-wall forray into "It's A Wonderful Life." The film opens with a surprisingly stylish bang, owing its vaguely tense opening scene to the great giallo flicks of the '70s. Sadly, the rest of the film doesn't quite live up to that strong set-up. Regardless, Wynorski is willing to try just about anything, and there's something of interest happening every five to ten minutes (hey look, it's Brigitte Nielsen!), and that's more than can be said for the original.

No, you haven't discovered some hidden gem with this unloved sequel, but rather, have hit upon a rather solid way to pass an hour and a half. Fans of Wynorski 's classic "Chopping Mall" in particular will want to seek this out. See the original or don't; it doesn't matter. Despite the carry-over character, this re-dial maintains a very loose connection to its source material. So put away your hang ups and get ready for something slightly off the hook. "976-Evil II" might be worth dialing into.


Dolly Dearest
Before "Child's Play" and "Puppet Master," there was the lesser- seen, lesser-talked about killer doll movie, simply titled "Dolls." The third offering from Stuart Gordon, "Dolls" is a low-key yet supremely entertaining comedown, following the director's more high- concept and out-there offerings, "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond." It's also a collaboration between Gordon, his producing partner (and future "Society" director, among others), Brian Yuzna, and of course, Full Moon pictures. This leads you to believe you know what to expect, but Gordon and company throw a few curveballs your way, crafting a horrific fairy tale of sorts that strikes just the right balance between fun and frightful.

After their car breaks down in the middle of a bad storm, The World's Worst Parents (the comical and on-point Ian Patrick Williams and Carolyn Purdy Gordon) and their instantly adorable young daughter, Judy (Carrie Lorraine), seek refuge in the home of an elderly doll-maker and his wife (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason). Also staying the night are the affable, slightly dopey but well-meaning Ralph (Stephen Lee) and two new-wave/punk-rocker hitchhikers (Bunty Bailey and Cassie Stuart). It's not long before the old man's hand- crafted creations start going bump in the night, sparking Judy's imagination, peeving her parents and ruining Ralph's beauty sleep. It's gonna be a long night for all involved!

There's a lot to love in the tight, 77 minutes of "Dolls." First off, the cast is just absolutely brilliant, bringing a silly concept to life with colorful performances all around. You'll love some of them, and you'll hate the others, and you won't soon forget them. Likewise, the old house that the bulk of the film takes place in becomes a character of its own. One of the most memorable sequences involves poor Ralph stumbling around its halls late at night by candlelight as the creepy creations cause concern. The special effects, as dreamed up by "Troll" creator John Carl Buechler, are downright spell-binding. The dolls are at once ugly and convincing. For his part, Gordon keeps things light and dream-like, making "Dolls" a sort of horror movie comfort food. There are plenty of films about killer dolls out there at this point, but this dolly is one of the dearest.

Tourist Trap

It's a Trap!
"Every year young people disappear ..."

So goes the tagline to "Tourist Trap" and so goes the concept of countless other slasher movies from the 1970s and beyond. What sets this late '70s oddity aside from competition, however, is the pure nightmare fuel of mannequins coming to life via telekinesis. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. This instantly memorable slice of frightful nostalgia comes via producer Irwin Yablans, who previously helped bring John Carpenter's "Halloween" to the public consciousness. "Tourist Trap," unlike the wave of imitators that would arrive in the wake of Carpenter's classic, takes a page instead from Tobe Hooper's seminal "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" and veers away from typical stalk & slash fare. Like "Chain Saw," It is a gritty, ugly and ultimately an undeniably humorous offering of macabre madness.

Stranded by the side of the road (aren't they always), a group of young folk are taken in by an odd yet seemingly well-meaning owner of a local, deserted tourist attraction, played to perfection by Chuck Conners. Soon it becomes clear why the attraction to this spot has all but dried up: turns out someone next door is killing wayward souls and fashioning them into a small army of killer mannequins! Faster than plaster drying on a face, this horrifying discovery takes these unlucky ladies and lads on a trip they won't soon forget -- assuming they can live through it.

Directed by "Puppet Master" director David Schmoeller and co- produced by Charles Band (the guy who founded Full Moon pictures, and has been throwing countless "Puppet Master" sequels and knock- offs at us for decades now), "Tourist Trap" has an almost instantly lived-in vibe about it. From the strains of Pino Donaggio's bizarre yet familiar score to the horrific yet low-budget effects, this is definitely a Full Moon production of the highest order. Chuck Conners is brilliant as the unassuming, seemingly friendly elder, while the kids -- lead by future Bond Girl, Tanya Roberts -- are surprisingly organic and sympathetic, in spite of the limited amount of set up they are given. A film chock full of visuals you won't soon forget (especially that infectiously grin-inducing final frame), "Tourist Trap" is bound to leave an impression on anyone from any walk of life who finds themselves attracted to it. And to cap it all off, it's rated a measly PG!

The Phantom of the Opera

A Nightmare at the Opera
With a story that -- even by then -- had been adapted to death, 1989's take on "The Phantom of the Opera" puts a new spin on the mythology by catering to fans of the great stab n' slash films of the era. To help seal the deal, genre icon Robert Englund -- having starred as Freddy Krueger in five "Elm Street" films by that point - - is cast in the titular role. Some creative license is taken with the source material, tinkering with the Phantom's origin and setting a slice of the action in the present, but for the most part, this is familiar terrain with a twist.

Jill Schoelen plays Christine, a burgeoning opera singer who is slightly out of tune in her time. When a stage accident sends her back in time -- to 1881 London, specifically -- she must reconcile the artist she admires most with the monster he has become. Enter Robert Englund as the Phantom. With a face that not even a mother could love, a deal with the devil gone south has forced him into the shadows. Below the opera house, he grows bitter without the fanfare afforded by his work and starts picking off cast and crew in routine fashion in an effort not only please Christine, but apparently himself as well.

Director Dwight H. Little ("Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers") gives probably his most show-y film to date. Like his previous outing with Michael Myers, "The Phantom of the Opera" attempts to build atmosphere and suspense, but is often undercut by its cookie-cutter body-count formula. Once the killing gets going, the film actually gets dull, as one gets the feeling we've seen this before. On the upside, Englund, clearly relishing the opportunity to stretch his legs here, gives a great performance that in a better context, would be downright iconic. His make-up job is a little too close to Freddy at times, but most traces of that character are gone from his performance. The film doesn't always quite work, but when it does, it's because of Englund. Worth watching to see a different spin on well-worn material and to see the lovely Jill Schoelen, whose filmography is sadly too brief. Likewise, look out for a pre-Saturday Night Live Molly Shannon as Christine's modern-day best friend. I wouldn't go singing its praises from the rafters, but I wouldn't bury it below the surface either

Beware! The Blob

Viewer Beware
Baffling and barely competent, "Beware! The Blob" (aka "Son of Blob") is the belated low-budget sequel to the 1958 Steve McQueen classic that nobody asked for. Directed in an off-the-cuff nature by first-time director Larry Hagman (aka J.R. of "Dallas" fame), the titular ooze makes its way across a small town after being unwittingly unleashed by a careless oil-worker. Corny, hokey and -- as it would turn out -- mostly improvised, it would prove to be Hagman's final film. Watching it today, it is all too obvious why.

Within the first five minutes, a ridiculous and slightly meandering tone is set that unfortunately plagues the film until its end. Granted, the film does generate a bit of incidental fun and good humor ("Can I have my lighter back? Can I have my lighter back?") as it plods along, but even the most generous of viewers may have trouble making it to the finish line. The film is low, low (almost no) budget, and the cast is mostly made up of other familiar TV faces/friends of the director. No one appears to be taking the whole thing seriously, which gives the audience permission to do the same. Problem is, you won't have even a fraction of the fun watching this as the cast and crew had making it.

On the upside, the blob's effects are (mostly) convincing. Nobody -- neither kitten not cool-cat hippies -- is safe from the amorphous antagonist, and you may be surprised to find that cinematographer Dean Cundey ("Halloween," "Jurassic Park") had a hand in the special effects. Sometimes it appears as if the slimy scoundrel really is covering cars and coming out of sinks, and sometimes it just looks like strawberry jelly smeared across somebody's face. Lower your expectations and maybe, just maybe, you can have some fun with "Beware! The Blob." Otherwise, just give the original or the 1988 remake a go instead.

La casa con la scala nel buio

Are You Afraid of the Dark?
As the son of the godfather of giallo, Mario Bava, director Lamberto Bava had a lot to live up to when he entered the film business as a horror movie director. Likewise, so did his second film, "A Blade in the Dark," coming on the heels of his undeniably strong debut effort, "Macabre." Despite a few misfires here and there, Bava's sophomore effort (mostly) cuts deep. Originally conceived as a four- part anthology TV series, the film has an unusual pace and generally off-beat vibe that may be off-putting to some viewers, but when the film gets going, it really knocks you off your feet (or couch?) with its prolonged and cruel death scenes and proto-meta plotting.

The film opens on two young boys -- who are as annoying as they are mean -- goading another boy to venture into a dark basement by incessantly chanting "You're a female!" at him. Sure enough, the kid takes the bait, and not long thereafter, a bloody tennis ball is thrust in the bullies' direction, sending them into a screaming frenzy. It's not the opening of the movie, per se, but the first scene of a new horror movie being scored by Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti), a film composer working alone in a rented villa that holds many mysteries. Among these mysteries are why beautiful women seemingly wander in and out, uninvited and unexpected, before succumbing to their grisly demises. Gee, a "No Trespassing" sign might suffice, no?

Bava milks the atmosphere for all its worth, turning a slightly padded plot into random bursts of pure shock. There are a couple of stalk scenes that walk a fine line between tense and patience- testing, but the payoff is almost always worth it. Likewise, there's enough mystery and intrigue to keep the whole thing from going off the rails. Perhaps a little tightening would make the film pop that much more (it badly needs 15 minutes or so shaved off), but "A Blade in the Dark" remains pretty darn razor sharp just the same. It's not the finest giallo with the name Bava attached, that's for sure, but it's definitely worth reaching into the dark for.

Someone's Watching Me!

A Nice Pre-Halloween Treat
Before his big breakthrough with "Halloween," John Carpenter took a paycheck from NBC, pumping out this nearly-forgotten TV-movie, "Someone's Watching Me!" (exclamation mark is part of its title, and is neither a stylistic choice or an indication of over-enthusiasm on this writer's part). Starring Lauren Hutton as the "Me!" being watched, the film is admittedly limited in scope, being that it was created for network television with advertisers in mind. As a John Carpenter affair, though, it serves as a rather engaging sandbox for the director to flex his muscles before ultimately conquering both the horror genre and independent cinema alike. The long tracking shots, the deceptively simple yet complex camera tricks, the mounting tension -- just about everything you associate with vintage Carpenter can be found here, albeit in a somewhat neutered fashion.

Leigh Michaels (Hutton) has just moved to L.A. and is looking to start her life over again. All seems to be going to plan, as she finds a job working in television almost instantly, befriends a spunky co-worker (Adrienne Barbeau) and wins the affections of a charming fellow bar-patron (David Birney). Unfortunately, some creep in the high- rise apartment across from her has taken a liking to her, stalking her from both near and afar, and sending threatening phone calls that are just vague enough so that the local authorities (Charles Cyphers) can't do much about them. Being the self- sufficient scrapper with a heart of gold (and biting sense of humor to boot) that she is, Leigh takes matters into her own hands and faces the creeper head-on in what turns out to be a rather tense (and vertigo-inducing) showdown.

Lauren Hutton is both the star and the best part of the movie. Her character is so well-written and down-to-earth, and Hutton brings it to life with such natural ease, that you feel like you know this person already. This of course makes it all the easier to sympathize and get wrapped up into her plight. It helps, of course, that she is directed by someone like Carpenter, who cares as much about his characters as he does about milking the suspense of any given situation. It's not his flashiest film, and heck, he didn't even get to score it himself, but there's a certain element of class that Carpenter brings to the table that makes you forgot you're watching a made-for-TV movie. Also of note: Carpenter was clearly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and that fact oozes into more than a few corners of the film. The film almost plays like a reversal of said film, but regrettably "Front Window" wouldn't have been a very catchy title. "Someone's Watching Me!" may not have a great title or much of a reputation, but it is definitely of interest to lovers of good suspense and John Carpenter alike.

Death Line

Subway, Eat Fresh!
"Raw Meat" (aka "Death Line" in the U.K.) is, well, quite well done. This slab of grisly early '70s goodness comes hot off the grill from director Gary Sherman, who would go on to direct "Poltergeist III" and the little-seen "Dead & Buried." The film stars the inimitable Donald Pleasence as an inspector sent into the dark and dank recesses of London's subway system in search of a missing person. As he unknowingly hunts the flesh-craving transient below, he must battle with tea bags, a competitive and dismissive M-15 agent (played by Christopher Lee) and some serious alcoholism.

Unlike its grim subject matter, Sherman's film is brimming with character. From the flashy, slightly seductive opening sequence, to the scrappy special effects and unmistakable sense of humor, there's quite a bit of meat on this bone. Even during the film's slower spots, Sherman (who also conjured up the original story) throws enough at the audience to keep us on the hook. The film is unusually witty and quirky, which helps some of the its rawer ingredients go down a little more smoothly. Also, there's a surprisingly organic relationship between the film's two younger supporting characters (David Ladd and Sharon Gurney), which stands in stark contrast to a creepy turn by Hugh Armstrong as the Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller. Balancing this all out, of course, is Pleasence, who brings his A-game to one of his most colorful characters. Within a minute of his introduction, you're chuckling and reaching for the remote to make sure you heard him correctly. The man is a true pleasure to watch and makes the whole trip worth the price of admission. Likewise, his shared screen time with fellow horror legend Christopher Lee is fleeting yet smile-inducing.

It might seem quaint now, but at the time of the film's release (45 years ago, to be exact), flesh eating fiends weren't very common. A year later, Tobe Hooper's seminal "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" would change all of that, but without a map, Sherman's film finds its way through the dark with considerable confidence. It's not all scares and there isn't much shock value to be found by today's standards, but the entertainment value is high. "Raw Meat" is definitely something worth chewing over. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but it's a bloody good time.

The Wizard of Gore

Nobody Beats the Wiz!
If you never had any reason to be suspicious of magicians, well, strap in for "The Wizard of Gore." Herschell Gordon Lewis' 1970 cult splatter fest introduces us to Montag (Ray Sager), a vicious virtuoso with a seemingly psychic link to his audience. As his skeptical patrons look on, he prompts random "volunteers" (usually of the buxom and blonde variety) to participate in his nightly show- stopper. Seemingly hypnotized, these poor women are strapped in place as the titular wizard appears to make mince meat of their fine figures. But wait, there's more! After playing around with their guts, Montag sends them back into the audience, and back to their evening they go, inexplicably turning up dead the next day. Lather, rinse, repeat. After watching this about three or four times, a TV reporter and her boyfriend (Judy Cler and Wayne Ratay) launch an impromptu investigation into the wonders of Montag's wizardry. Is it all an illusion? Or is he a maniacal, if inventive serial killer?

Shot with all the precision of a drunk dad filming a grade-school talent show, "The Wizard of Gore" is an admittedly cheap affair. Lewis clearly spent what little budget he had on the gore effects (read: re-purposed sheep carcasses) and left little room for hiring actors or a competent director of photography. This doesn't work against the film. If anything, the lack of refinement only adds to its charm. The gore looks real because, well, it is real, and the lead actors have chemistry even as they try not to giggle their way through the whole thing. Judy Cler, in particular, deserves an honorary Oscar for carrying the weight of the film on her shoulders. She is in turns funny and feisty, and proves to be a worthy adversary for Sager's smug svengali. Sager, for his part, does his best as he gleefully toys with his participants' giblets. It's all a little revolting here in 2017, especially a scene in which a metal spike is put through a woman's head while Montag roots around in her eye sockets. So, needless to say, it shocked audiences back in the day who somehow stumbled upon it by misfortune or fate, just as it will you, should you choose to settle in with it some bored, sleepless night.

"The Wizard of Gore" is a schlocky shocker of the highest variety. True, it's not for everyone, but Lewis was clearly onto something here. Birthing a style that Tobe Hooper would turn onto the mainstream a few years later and which Rob Zombie would... well, whatever Rob Zombie is doing these days, Lewis eschews standard film-making conventions for something more efficient, effective and downright surreal than the average exploitation fare. Don't be surprised if you find yourself needing a shower afterwards, but if nothing else, this "Wizard" does not fail to entertain.

Ava's Possessions

Ava Vs. Evil
Beginning where most, if not all, exorcism-related horror movies end, "Ava's Possessions" travels the path less taken, chronicling its titular character's recovery from a brutal bout with a demon name Naphula. It's an interesting angle to take and director Jordan Galland makes considerable hay with the concept, even if some elements fall flat. But in a genre where possession is old-hat, it's rare to see a fresh and unique take on the material. If nothing else, this film is quite unlike anything you've ever seen before.

With a style that owes considerably to Nicholas Winding Refn's retro-noir "Drive," "Ava's Possessions" works with a brilliant color palette, numerous cockeyed and crazy angles and a moody, atmospheric score by Sean Lennon. Galland is a relatively inexperienced director (his time spent in the entertainment business has been mostly musically related) but he shows a steady hand here, establishing a style that is familiar yet titillating. Even when certain threads of the film's plot don't quite hold together, the film is an audio/visual feast. Whether it's the gory make-up and effects or simply the pouring of an orange soda, "Ava" is quite a sight to behold. As far as little-seen horror films you stumble upon in Netflix's library in the middle of the night, you'd be hard-pressed to find something this colorful and unique.

Where the film stumbles is in its overly complicated story. Clocking in at under 90 minutes, there's no reason for this film to be as cluttered with needless plot debris. While watching Louisa Krause find her way post-exorcism is compelling, we are constantly tripping over side characters who insist on telling us their story, too. Problem is, this is Ava's story and that story should be compelling enough on its own merits. After all, the film is essentially a metaphor for recovering from drug addiction, and that ambitious angle is never quite fully capitalized upon in favor of characters who, quite frankly, aren't really all that interesting. Sure, we are treated to veterans like Carol Kane and William Sadler, both of whom are solid in their roles, but comedic actors like Dan Fogler and Deborah Rush ("Strangers With Candy," represent!) are given so little to do with their talents, its a wonder they were even cast in the first place.

Flaws aside, "Ava's Possessions" is still a nicely made, fresh and enjoyable take on a tired genre. It tries to break new ground and mostly succeeds. Genre fans will appreciate a new spin on familiar material, while bleary eyed late-night viewers will find themselves possessed by its aesthetics. Amidst all of your Netflix binging, this one should definitely not be purged.

La dama rossa uccide sette volte

The Red Queen's Got Style
Emilio Miragli's second (and final) film, "The Red Queen Kills Seven Times" is a little-seen gem of the giallo golden-age. A red-cloaked female killer stalks players in the fashion industry, combining Gothic sensibilities with the supernatural in a compelling, often confusing whodunnit. There's a whole subplot about a family curse, with a seemingly never-ending array of sisters popping out of the woodwork to serve as seemingly little more than red herrings. Confused yet? You will be.

Like much of its ilk, "The Red Queen" is both Italian and surreal. The audio track is a bit off, which seems to be a prerequisite with these films, and the cinematography and various set-pieces are absolutely exquisite and engrossing. Combined with a score by the Ennio Morricone-adjacent Bruno Nicolai, the film has a unique yet slightly familiar flavor that genre fans will find most intriguing. There are, of course, some soap operatic elements at play, but this all adds to the film's charms.

Barbara Bouchet plays the lead character, Kitty, and appears to be the only character in good moral standing. She's an absolute pleasure to watch, as her face just oozes shock and horror when the carnage kicks in. On the other side of the coin, Marina Malfatti appears to relish playing the pot-stirring nymphomaniac foil, Franziska. When the film isn't creeping you out or staging elaborate death scenes for its unfortunate bystanders, you can rest assured that the performances on hand will keep you fully engaged and grinning alongside their often over-the-top portrayals. It's a shame Miragli fell completely off the map after making the film, as "The Red Queen Kills Seven Times," much like its mouthful of a title, is one for the ages. It's not a film for everyone, but it definitely slays.


The Queen of King Adaptations
High school is tough. The awkwardness, the alienation, the struggle to find your place among the cliques while also carving out your own identity. It's an uphill battle that never seems to end. Well, high school is especially tough for Carrie White. When she's not being mocked and ridiculed by her cruel classmates, at home her domineering, god-fearing mother berates her on a nightly basis. When a cute boy invites her to the prom, her luck seems to be improving. Unfortunately, her budding telekinesis abilities get in the way and, well, let's just say her night in the spotlight turns into a living nightmare for all involved.

Brian DePalma's compassionate and stylish adaptation of Stephen King's iconic novel remains a classic for good reason. "Carrie" perfectly captures what it's like to be shunned, ridiculed and alienated. The director brings a certain touch of class rarely associated with the horror genre, elevating the film above a mere splatterfest and into an absolutely heart-breaking character piece. The artsy camera work combined with a touching yet haunting score by Pino Donagio give the film a distinct flavor that stays with you long after the carnage has come and gone. Sure, there's (literal) buckets of blood, but the true heart of the film is Sissy Spacek's fragile and endearing turn as the titular character. As the sequel, TV adaptation and (sigh) remake have proved, Spacek was born for this character and virtually no one else is fit to fill her prom dress.

The first of many Stephen King adaptations, "Carrie" (along with Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining") is absolute perfection. Not a moment of film is wasted and the entire supporting cast is on point. Karen Allen and John Travolta play the worst of the bunch, but the true villain of the piece of Piper Laurie's bone-chilling turn as Margaret White, Carrie's horrific mother. There's a lot packed into these 98 minutes and, unlike high school itself, it goes by rather quickly. Expertly paced and crafted with absolute care, "Carrie" is queen of the King adaptations without a doubt.

Cult of Chucky

Chuck Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
The old adage that "big things come in small packages" has definitely proved to be true for the "Child's Play" films. Somehow, against all odds, this little guy has legs, becoming the most enduring and consistent horror movie franchise in recent memory, spanning and surviving three decades, without retcons or reboots. A big part of that success lies at the feet of writer turned writer- director, Don Mancini, who has been at the helm since the beginning, ensuring consistency throughout each installment. Also along for the ride since the beginning is the indispensable Brad Dourif as killer turned killer-doll, Chucky. Dourif's manic and often hilarious vocal performance combined with Mancini's "anything goes" sensibility makes each film a true pleasure to watch. All of that fan-pleasing, funny-bone teasing goodness is back for the seventh film, "Cult of Chucky."

Picking up where 2013's "Curse of Chucky" left off, "Cult of Chucky" finds Nica (Fiona Dourif) now committed to a mental institution. Nica has been pummeled by electro-shock therapy into believing she killed her whole family, so it's up to Chucky's original nemesis, Andy (played by a now fully-grown Alex Vincent), to come to her rescue and put childish things away, once and for all. Along the way, he has to contend with Chucky's on-again/off-again lover, Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly), who has now inhabited the body of Jennifer Tilly. Confused? Well, watch the other movies.

Though it's the second film in the series to be sent direct-to- video, the quality has most certainly not dipped with "Cult of Chucky." Mancini returns to the director's chair for the third time, and his visual style is very much informed by his time spent working on NBC's short-lived "Hannibal." Along for the ride is special effects guy Tony Gardner, who turns in some of his most impressive work to date. The film is riddled with practical effects that are not only convincing, but inspiring. If a DTV sequel can have special effects that put similar theatrical releases to shame, maybe there's hope for the future of the genre after all. On the acting front, Fiona Dourif digs deeper into her character and really seems to relish going slowly mad. The elder Dourif, meanwhile, is as crazy and charming as ever as the voice of everyone's killer doll. Vincent's return to the franchise is definite cause for celebration. His performance is a little wooden, but when you consider he gave up acting some 25 years ago, it's easy to cut him some slack. His presence is enough, as far as this fan is concerned. Speaking of presence, Jennifer Tilly is still an absolute bombshell, and her character feels very lived-in and is now an essential component of the franchise.

The film has a few surprises you won't see coming, and you'll definitely want to stay until the very end, friend. Like "Curse" before it, "Cult of Chucky" plays the fan service game without insulting its audience. There's plenty of fresh ideas stirred among the nostalgia, and Mancini's mythology will probably require an extensive road map going forward. The humor is good, the horror is well-done and the film looks and sounds appropriately cold and crisp (shout out to composer Joe Loduca, of "Evil Dead" fame). It's all in good, gory fun. Fans who have made it this far will find this "Cult" worthy of worship.


In This Film, The Roaches Smoke YOU!
Killer roaches encroach on a sleepy, god-fearing rural California town in the aptly titled "Bug." From producer William Castle, "Bug" is everything you think it is, nothing more, nothing less. When a quake makes the Earth shake, bugs come from under rugs, lurch towards church and build fires under car tires. It's up to a local entomologist (Bradford Dillman) to sweat over the threat. As he discovers, they can neither breed nor spread seed, but the constant threat of fire proves to be dire.

OK, I'll stop.

"Bug" is very much akin to the giant bug genre that swept the nation in the '50s, right down to its easy and breezy concept. These little firestarters wreak havoc across town while its residents struggle to get a handle on things. Dillman is game, as always, while his supporting cast includes Joanna Miles and Patricia McCormack, both of whom do a good job alternating between being creeped out and shrieking at the top of their lungs. While the pace doesn't exactly catch fire, it never feels dull of plodding, leading up to a thoroughly ridiculous yet inspired finale. The roach effects are adequate and will probably go a long way to get under the skin of anyone who fears the creepy crawlers, even today. It's very much the sort of movie you watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon when you just want to shut off your brain. "Bug" deserves its place alongside other semi-forgotten b-fare like "Frogs" and "The Swarm."

Fun facts: Director Jeannot Szwarc would go on to direct the slightly more competent "Jaws 2," while keen viewers might notice portions of the set were recycled from "The Brady Bunch."

After Midnight

From Dusk Till Yawn
In the pantheon of iconic horror anthologies, you have your "Creepshow," your "Tales From" both "Crypt" and "Darkside," and even a "Twilight Zone The Movie."

...and then you have "After Midnight," which in no way belongs to the same league as the aforementioned genre standards.

Really, "After Midnight" is the sort of thing you'd let slide to the bottom of your Netflix queue until one bored Friday or Saturday night. Within the first 20 minutes or so, your instincts prove to be true as this 3-part anthology has little to offer that its predecessors haven't already done in much bigger and bolder fashion. That's not to say that this film is completely worthless or without merit. There are some over-the-top, silly moments that -- whether intentionally or not -- will elicit a chuckle from anyone in the right mindset. It also boasts a pretty solid cast of "Hey, I know that guy!" and "Oh, that's the voice of Bobby Hill!" It's just so unfortunate that most of the 90 minutes spent on this film are devoid of any legitimate scares or creativity. Much like a drunken midnight snack, it comes and goes and leaves little to remember in its wake.

The first story, "The Old Dark House," focuses on a couple who find themselves stranded and seeking shelter in, well, an old dark house. Not much happens in this story until its hilariously stupid yet unforgettable conclusion. Nothing worth losing your head over, though. Next up, "A Night on the Town" finds a group of girls who just wanna have fun but instead have an unfortunate run-in with a crazy hobo and his three vicious dogs. The meatier of the three stories, this one doesn't do much to capitalize on its tense set-up. Its setting is creepy and all, but there's little else of interest here, though genres fans will enjoy spotting Penelope Sudrow of "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors" and Judie Aronson of "Friday the 13th Pt. IV: The Final Chapter" in the pack. Finally, "All Night Messenger," a would- be tense game of cat and mouse between a phone operator (Marg Helgenberger) and some creep making threatening phone calls. This one almost hits the spot, but is undermined by sharing the identity of the stalker with the audience too early and too often. It also ends right when it starts getting good.

The three stories are surrounded by a wrap-around that, bad as it might be, feels a little more fleshed out than the rest. A nutty professor (Ramy Zada) teaches his students about the meaning of fear (or something). Even though their teacher reveals himself to be a bit suspect early on, the students seem fit to follow him home regardless. This of course culminates in a truly bizarre finale that begs a rewind.

Overall, "After Midnight" isn't a movie that can be recommended for anyone other than those who grew up in video store aisles and/or those who remember staying up way too late to watch horribly butchered slasher films on cable TV. It's terribly slow, at times dull, and if you watch it (ahem) after midnight, there's a good chance you'll fall asleep halfway through. Having said that, it's not without its charms, and while there isn't one single segment that sticks the landing, there are a few moments of inspired lunacy that make it worth sitting through at least once. Even still, there's nothing here that is worth losing sleep over.

The Slayer

While You Were Sleeping
Struggling artist Kay (Sarah Kendall), her husband (Frederick Flynn) and another couple (Carol Kottenbrook and Alan McRae), take an impromptu vacation to a remote island to get away from it all. Unfortunately for them, the terrible dreams that have haunted Kay since girlhood have followed her to the island. While Kay slumbers, one by one, her beloved and her friends are slowly and gruesomely picked off. Is it Kay's subconscious or is it... "The Slayer"?

Released in 1982, a time where you couldn't throw a cat (or a hammer?) without hitting a slasher film, "The Slayer" is in good company, but also stands out from the pack in a few ways. First off, unlike your "Prom Night" or "My Bloody Valentine," this film isn't about teens getting cut up. This is a movie about adults, and despite some dodgy acting here and there, these characters feel like a real, tight-knit group of people who care about each other, which makes their grisly fates even more effective. Also, this isn't exactly a body count flick. With only four characters (well, there's also the pilot who pops in and out of the plot), that pretty much goes without saying. As a result, "The Slayer" is slow and steady, and focuses on the surreal more than it does in grossing you out.

On the technical side of things, the haunting, desolated beach-side setting and the gorgeous cinematography help to keep things interesting during the movie's slower parts. Also of note are the special effects which, while few and far between, are pretty well accomplished for such a small-budget affair. They couldn't get Tom Savini, but Robert Babb does his best to keep you (ahem) hooked. Likewise, the score that serves as the backdrop to the horror adds a touch of class rarely associated with the genre.

There's a lot going on in this deceptively simple little film. Much like, say, "Phantasm," it plays with your expectations and makes you question that what you've seen was real (or at least real in the context of the film). If you watch it late at night, it will beg another viewing in the morning just to make sure you got everything. It's that kind of movie. For its modest intentions and humble origins, "The Slayer" pretty much slays. Fans of the genre who have patience for the more deliberately paced side of things won't want to sleep on this.

In the Mouth of Madness

A Labor of Lovecraft
John Carpenter's output from the late '70s throughout the '80s was so brilliant and iconic that when he crashed, he crashed hard. To say the '90s were not kind to the legendary director would be a massive understatement. "Memoirs of an Invisible Man," "Village of the Damned," anyone? The exception to this rule would be "In the Mouth of Madness," one of the more satisfying H.P. Lovecraft adaptations not actually based on anything Lovecraft wrote. The script by Michael De Luca (a then-exec at New Line Cinema) pays dutiful homage to the writer's aesthetic, with perhaps more attention paid to the sprawling monstrosities that creep throughout the film than to narrative consistency.

No matter though, as Carpenter is on his A-Game. The director brings with him the same visual knack that helped the film's spiritual brethren, "Prince of Darkness," rise above its equally nonsensical story. Also, there's that rocking (and admittedly dated) guitar- driven score provided by Carpenter himself to help nudge things along. Those opening credits, underscored by that oh-so-'80s guitar, has the feel of an icon from the previous decade stubbornly refusing to bow to trends as he enters the next phase of his career (think of '80s heavy metal acts digging their heels in in the wake of Nirvana). Like the film itself, the music feels out of step with everything else going on in horror cinema at the time, which only adds to its appeal.

Private investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is tasked with tracking down prolific horror novelist Sutter Cane (a Stephen King-type), who has suddenly vanished under mysterious circumstances. Was he kidnapped by an axe-wielding fanatic? Has he finally cracked and retreated to his sleepy New England homestead? Or is this is all one great, big publicity stunt? Trent re-tells this story after the fact to a doctor (David Warner, ironically coming face-to-face with his "Omen" foe once again) in the mental hospital he now calls home. His tale involves a beautiful companion (Julie Carmen) and some truly grotesque creatures, in what ultimately culminates in one great, big mind-trick.

Carpenter brings with him a great deal of mad energy. It could be said that "In the Mouth of Madness" is the director's last, glorious gasp before settling into a mid-career slump that he has yet to pull out of. The story isn't always cohesive, but the film pushes along with considerable enthusiasm, often failing to slow down and catch the viewer up. Does this really matter when the film is so visually stimulating and its monsters equally intriguing? Not the slightest bit. A great film to watch in the wee hours of the night before the inevitable slumber, "In the Mouth of Madness" has a lot to offer within its gaping maw.

The Dead Zone

Hand of Doom
Of all the various cinematic adaptations of Stephen King's work throughout the '80s, none is perhaps more under-rated or over-looked than 1983's "The Dead Zone." Hot on the heels of his bizarre yet brilliant cult-classic "Videodrome," director David Cronenberg emerges with perhaps his most restrained and even-tempered work to date. Given that the film itself is a bit of a head-trip, that really says something. Along for the ride is Christopher Walken, who similarly commits to the tragic bend of the material with one of his best performances to date. Likewise, the script from Jeffrey Boam distills King's novel into an episodic format that makes it easier to digest than any "true" adaptation of the source material could ever hope for.

Johnny (Walken) has everything going for him. A respected school teacher, his life is only enriched with Sarah (Brooke Adams) by his side. Five minutes into the film, and it seems our character has already found his happy ending. Unfortunately, he finds his life (and his car) flipped upside down when an automobile accident sends him into a five-year coma. No use crying over spilled milk (literally). When he awakes, he finds himself burdened with the psychic ability to see anyone's grisly future simply by touching hands. Soon, he is helping a local sheriff (Tom Skeritt) solve a string of brutal murders and doing his best to stop an out-of- control, megalomaniacal politician (sound familiar?) before he goes too far. Of course, he takes the time to reconnect with the love of his life and mentor a young loner (Simon Craig), whose haircut suggests he was imported from the previous decade.

"The Dead Zone" benefits greatly from its slightly unorthodox structure; you can see why a TV adaptation eventually came to be. The film unravels much like four different anthology stories concerning the same character. Walken walks through the whole thing with one of his most sympathetic and humane performances, while Cronenberg shows he can do mainstream horror just fine, thank you very much. Unlike his previous efforts, "The Dead Zone" doesn't carry much in the way of gore and is the better for it. The dramatic angle of the story is what makes it all come together. An outlier in a truly iconic oeuvre, the film is hardly a dead zone in the director's history of violence.

Body Bags

Tales From The Carpenter
A mixed bag amongst an impressive body of work, John Carpenter's "Body Bags" is an inessential yet perfectly enjoyable digression. What was originally conceived as the pilot for what would've been a full- fledged series (ala HBO's "Tales From The Crypt,") instead emerged as a TV movie on the Showtime network. A three-part horror anthology spliced with cut scenes featuring the director himself as an undead mortician, "Body Bags" is an oddity that the Carpenter faithful (as well as any fan of anthologies and/or horror-comedy) will want to seek out, but not necessarily required viewing.

To hear John Carpenter tell it on the featurette included with the Scream Factory Blu-Ray, "Body Bags" was anything but a passion project. In fact, the director claims he didn't even like anthology films! That being the case, it certainly doesn't show in the final product. Whether it's the goofy intermissions from Carpenter hamming it up in full-on rotting makeup or the slew of horror-friendly cameos, "Body Bags" looks and feels like a big boat-load of fun. Maybe it was intended as an easy payday, but that vibe certainly doesn't translate to the screen.

The first segment is a very Carpenter-esque tale. "The Gas Station" finds a young woman (Alex Datcher) working her first graveyard shift at a gas station just outside of Haddonfield, IL (the same location from "Halloween," for those keeping score). Thankfully she is protected by a thick glass partition between her and creeps like Buck Flowers (!), but when she steps out for a brief second, the door locks behind her and things quickly get out of hand. Featuring the director's signature slow-burning suspense methods, "The Gas Station" is the smoothest of the three segments to go down and may very well even get under your skin if you let it. Look out for cameos from Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and David Naughton.

Next up comes "Hair." Certainly the silliest of the three segments, this one follows Stacy Keach as an aging womanizer who is obsessed with with his rapidly diminishing hairline. In order to keep his young ladyfriend (Sheena Easton) at his side, he enlists the help of a deceiving miracle drug salesman, played by the indispensable David Warner. Before long, he realizes he got more than he bargained for when tiny alien lifeforms start taking over his face. A showcase for Keach's undeniable commitment to the material and some truly impressive special effects (at least by 1993 TV standards), "Hair" doesn't have much else going for it. Not bad, but definitely could have used some trimming.

Finally, the film wraps with "Eye." For this piece, the director's chair is passed to none other than Tobe Hooper. This one is a little darker and more mean-spirited than the other two. In it, a minor league baseball player at the top of his game succumbs to a brutal car accident that leaves him with only one eye. As in "Hair," our hapless hero gets more than he wished for when his new implant takes him down dark paths. Mark Hamill plays the sympathetic character gone bad to perfection, alongside model Twiggy, who plays his devoted wife. This one is well done to be sure, but not quite as "fun" as the other two. Hamill's creepy performance goes a long way in elevating the material, delivering some moments you aren't soon to forget.

When you zip it all up, "Body Bags" is a nice chunk of late-night entertainment that more or less delivers. It's not a classic in either Carpenter or Hooper's oeuvre, but worth looking into regardless. While it would have been great to have seen what a weekly horror anthology series hosted by Carpenter would have looked like, this brief glimpse will have to suffice.

Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Solider Snatchers
Because every fifteen years or so Jack Finney's seminal novel, "The Body Snatchers," is apparently required to be re-adapted to the big- screen, we have been treated to some versions that are absolutely iconic (1978) and some that are downright awful (2007). Riding the middle lane is Abel Ferrara's 1993 digression, simply titled "Body Snatchers."

Set on a military base, "Body Snatchers" is notably different from other versions of the story in more ways than one. Because of its isolated (and often one-note) locale, the plot feels slightly claustrophobic and, at a breezy 87 minutes, a little half-baked as well. A change in pace, this version of the story concerns an EPA agent (Terry Kinney) and his family, who are stationed at the aforementioned base. Naturally, an alien life-form has slowly crept in, turning his already dysfunctional family against one another. Meg Tilly plays his wife, who is given perhaps the film's most interesting dialogue (it's all about that chilling "Where you gonna go?" speech). Teen daughter Gabrielle Anwar, meanwhile, mashes up with a few locals, which happens to include a walking cliché gen-Xer played by Christine Elise. This piece of the plot doesn't really add up to much and only distracts from the tightly-wound story. Maybe they were trying to play to a younger audience? At any rate, it doesn't really do the film any favors as, aside from the always-game Elise and charming Anwar, the other teens/youngsters are almost as cold and lifeless as the husks left in the aliens' wake.

In spite of its flaws, the film is really quite basic in a charming way yet it's all over seemingly just as it starts to gain momentum. Abel Ferrara's direction is, erm, able. With the look of a Tony Scott or even an early Michael Bay production, his film is perhaps the most stylized of all the "Snatcher" films and most definitely a product of the '90s. The special effects are the true star here, with some truly grotesque stuff including the birth of the "pod people." None of this improves on the 1978 version, which is arguably the best adaptation thus far, but as a keyhole, glimpse into a small story taking place within a larger event type film (think "10 Cloverfield Lane"), it works quite well. If you find this one languishing on a shelf, collecting dust, it's certainly worth snatching up.

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