BC's In Fangoria!

As you should know, Fangoria was revived last year and so far has been pretty spectacular, bringing back the things we loved about the glory days of the mag while moving away from the sort of instantly-dated things that sunk the mag in the advent of the internet (i.e. news we already knew and reviews of films that had already come and gone). It only comes out four times a year now, and while the price seems hefty (20 bucks an issue) you get plenty of content for it - it takes me quite a bit of time to get through an issue compared to other genre publications. And they have subscription deals all the time, so it usually ends up being around 15 bucks an issue, which is only a few dollars more than it was when it wasn't really worth reading.

They're on issue #6 now, and if you ask me it's the best one yet, though I must admit I have a bias: I have an article in it! I know I'm not alone when I say that getting published in THE Fangoria is a longtime dream/goal of mine, and while I did some stuff for the website over the years this is the first time I've landed in the print version*. And I am proud to say that I didn't use my slot to gush over one of my known targets (Cathy's Curse, Shocker, etc) but instead wrote about Black Xmas and how it was hated upon inception but has been reappraised over the years, just in time for the new remake which seems like it'll end up in the same boat.

I'm not sure where you can buy the issue in stores; I know some local shops that specialize in horror (i.e. Dark Delicacies) probably have it but there's obviously not one of those in every town. But hopefully you're already a subscriber and can check it out! I'm very proud of it and I wanted to make sure you guys - especially longtime HMAD readers, since they're the reason I made it as far as I did in the first place - were aware of the BC-fied content that might already be sitting on your desk or toilet. And if you're NOT subscribing, I recommend it - they're getting lots of exciting contributors (the previous issue had Jordan Peele interviewing Ari Aster!) and making sure you get your money's worth (subscribers also get access to the website, which like the mag eschews the same stuff you can read anywhere in favor of more interesting content), plus mailing it out in high quality envelopes that won't leave your issues all messed up like those black bags used to. Viva la Fangoria!

*I contributed a very short capsule description of Halloween for their special Scream Factory tie-in issue, which doesn't really count.


Haunt (2019)

DECEMBER 23, 2019


For as long as I can recall going to haunted houses and "horror nights" theme park makeovers in October, I've thought that they should make a movie where people got killed for real at one. Well, now that we've had a few, I don't think we need any more for a while. Haunt is a perfectly decent slasher, and more mainstream than most of the Shudder exclusives that they tout a lot, but it's too silly/thin a premise to sustain being done several times in such a short period. Over the past few years we've had Hell Fest, The Houses That October Built (and its sequel), Blood Fest... not to mention things like 31 that change up the setup (those folks were kidnapped and forced to run through the maze, as opposed to voluntary ticket buyers) but otherwise play out the same. We get it! We should stick to the normal houses in our own towns!

In Haunt's case, even some of the dynamic is the same as Hell Fest's, as our skittish heroine Harper is coaxed on by her roommate and partially willing to go along for the ride because of her burgeoning crush on a nice guy. And while there's no proving anything, it's worth noting that the Hell Fest script floated around for quite a while before finally being produced only a few months after Haunt was shot, and from what I understand they quickly put it together to get it out for last year's Halloween season. So it's not too farfetched to assume that Hell Fest's long development process got the script into the hands of people who'd go on to make Haunt instead, and once the HF holders caught wind of it, barrelled their version through whatever the holdups were to get it done and out first so that they wouldn't be seen as the ripoff, which would just be twisting the knife considering how long it had been in the works (it has been around at least as far back as 2011, when Neil Marshall was attached to direct it).

There are two key differences though, both of which can explain why I ultimately preferred Hell Fest to this one. One is that in that movie, they were being stalked by a sole killer in an open, normally running park, opening it up to different possibilities and adding the always fun "no one will believe our hero" scenario. This meant that the action was rather backloaded, yes, but it was something different, and the tradeoff that they had no real reason to be cautious or confused about the situation, allowing them to hurdle over a number of the logic issues. But here, our group drives to this place in the middle of nowhere and there's no one else around and it's very creepy i.e. they should have had warning bells go off in the first place, so it's not as interesting - it's just "yet another", instead.

Also, Hell Fest's sole killer kept it firmly within the standard slasher template (which I love, warts and all). Here there's like a half dozen murderers working for this place, some of which you only see for the first time moments before they attack one of our heroes. I guess the idea is to make the odds feel insurmountable for our protagonists, but it just felt closer to cheating to me, as they could just keep throwing new killers at the kids until the 90 minute runtime was reached - I think it's only fair to establish just how many villains they had to get past in order to escape. It got pretty repetitive by the last half hour, I gotta say, and it denies us any real mega villain that we can really fear, as they're all kind of equal (and not particularly memorable). Like you know in Hellraiser III when they bring out those new Cenobites even though it's pretty much a Pinhead vehicle? Imagine if the movie was just those guys, and every time another one got killed a new, equally generic one would come along a few minutes later. That's what this is like.

All that said, it more or less gets the job done in a basic, no-frills kind of way. Our heroes are thankfully not obnoxious and have no in-group fighting to annoy me; I think the biggest drama is that the roommate loses Harper's mother's ring - when she's attacked! Harper is also a pretty great Final Girl - she's normal without being a wallflower (she actually makes the first move on the guy!) and doesn't need fifty attacks to finally fight back. I also liked Evan, the would-be boyfriend's best brah, who is introduced as kind of a dick (he spills a drink on Harper) but when they realize they're in real danger he's the most proactive about getting everyone out - he doesn't sell them out or leave them behind to save himself (which is what I expected him to do as soon as they arrived).

Indeed, the best thing about the movie is how it occasionally circumvents traditional cliches; the absolute highlight of the film is when Nate (the would-be boyfriend) does that thing where he reaches into a hole and pretends to get grabbed to scare his friends - a tired horror gag we've seen a million times, but then there's a fun twist to it that works really well. The final scene also does something like this, though obviously I won't be spoiling any details, and in this day and age I guess it also counts as a "twist" that our group doesn't all hate each other (indeed, later on I tried a random Christmas slasher on Prime and sure enough, the heroine's boyfriend had fooled around with one of her sorority sisters). The second best thing is that they don't waste too much time on the "is this actually happening or is it part of the act?" stuff, though perhaps if they HAD stretched that out a tad they wouldn't have had to run in circles (literally, at one point) to pad the rest of it out.

Considering it was from the writers of Quiet Place, and produced by Eli Roth, I guess I was expecting a little more from it, so I'd probably like it more a second time around if that were to happen. Again, it's an enjoyable enough movie, but it's not particularly novel or memorable either - the occasional "let's pull a switcheroo with this generic scare type moment" beats only make up a few seconds of a 90 minute movie, after all. But as I mentioned, a lot of Shudder's exclusive stuff tends to fall on the less mainstream side of things (like Prevenge and We Are The Flesh), so I think it's a good thing that they'll be the home to easy recommendable stuff like this in order to woo more casual horror fans. And if means more people might check out Hell Fest, even if just to compare, that's a good thing too!

What say you?


The Black Cat / Horror Island (1941)

DECEMBER 16, 2019


Earlier this year, Scream Factory released a volume of old Universal films that happened to star both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, which I had a lot of fun with. I somehow missed the second volume, but the third one is now here and while it doesn't seem to have any theme as far as actors go, it has so far been just as entertaining, with both The Black Cat and Horror Island being among the better of the non-Monster films from the era that I've seen, with Black Cat in particular being a total winner, one I could see myself throwing on again during the Halloween season when I want something light and fun to doze off to after a grueling day.

Amusingly/confusingly, the first volume had a movie called The Black Cat and it also had Bela Lugosi, so I want to be clear that this one is from 1941 and Lugosi is not one of the primary characters. It's actually a bit of an uncredited remake of their Cat and the Canary update from 1939, which added Bob Hope (read: comedy) to the story as it was a remake itself. Broderick Crawford plays the Bob Hope-y role, though he's actually got a Costello kind of demeanor as he makes his way through the usual story (inheritance, killer, secret passageways, etc.). His flirty material with Anne Gwynne are rather sweet and genuine, and she wasn't just a damsel in distress; if anything she was helping him out just as often, if not more so.

Naturally, it's not particularly scary or anything, though at least they don't try to suggest supernatural forces when we all know it'll just be a person; it's actually closer to a traditional slasher (!) than most other Old Dark House stuff I've seen. Likewise, for once the mystery was actually somewhat engaging for me! It wasn't until a few minutes before the big reveal that I finally pegged the killer, which is rare as I'm usually well ahead of them in these older movies and thus find it harder to enjoy. Not like, "Oh man I need to rewatch this to see what I missed" kind of stuff, but certainly better plotted than I was expecting all the same.

Only bummer is Lugosi being a throwaway character; his career was already in decline so bit parts weren't uncommon, but I figured since of his association with the title he wouldn't have accepted such a thankless role. They give him a good entrance though, with those great eyes staring out through the cast-iron fence that surrounds the property where the entire movie takes place. Basil Rathbone is top billed, but it's really Crawford's movie as he's in nearly every scene and gets all the best laughs (there's a hilarious bit where the phone goes out and he keeps duping one of the less-intelligent family members to try to call for help). Apparently he usually played authoritarian figures and the like - what a waste! He's got great comic chops.

The same year's Horror Island was pretty similar, except not as fun. Dick Foran played the hero, and while he's got a certain charm his comedic stuff fell flat for me (and to think he was originally cast as Larry Talbot!). But the story is fine, it's like an Old Dark House movie on an island, as Foran takes a motley group out on a fake treasure hunt only for a Phantom to show up and start offing people in order to claim the real treasure. The body count is slightly higher than normal for these things, but the pacing is weird - the movie is only 60 minutes long (bless!) and it takes almost half that time just to get to the island. The mystery is kind of amusing though, because the killer keeps reminding everyone how many people are left alive by writing the number in chalk on the wall - I wish Jason or Michael would do that, it'd be funny.

The commentary made me more forgiving of the movie's lapses though - per historian Ted Newsom, the movie was shot, edited, and released in a span of about three weeks, which is less than some television shows are given. They apparently overworked the actors (Foran eventually fell ill) and violated union rules, all to get the movie out for whatever reason. They also used leftover sets from other Universal productions (including Tower of London, also included on this set but I haven't gotten to it yet), so the whole thing is like an early prototype for Corman productions like The Terror and Little Shop of Horrors, but without anyone as fun as Jack Nicholson or Dick Miller to make up for the shoddiness. But again it's breezy enough to be a decent time-killer, and even though it has nothing to do with the movie itself I like Newsom's style of commentary, as he largely avoids rattling off the actors' filmographies and instead focuses on the production itself, while also providing context for where Universal was at at the time. He also mocks a few of its narrative choices, but in a loving way - as with me and Cathy's Curse, he's a genuine fan that just happens to be fully aware of its questionable moments.

Scream Factory will always be known for their 70s and 80s fare, but I am excited that they are continuing to put out solid editions of these older, somewhat forgotten films. Instead of ending up on a Mill Creek set or something, they get nice transfers, a commentary track, and - perhaps best of all - the backing of a label that has earned the trust of horror fans, which means it's more likely that people will be checking them out. Universal itself has always done right by their Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. movies, but it's these "B" entries that really give you a sense of what genre fare was like back then - it'd be like someone now only seeing Scream and Blair Witch Project when they wanted to see what 90s horror was like. No, those were the highlights! You gotta watch Hellraiser: Bloodline and Hideaway to get an idea of what we were usually being offered! Here's hoping they can continue to get access to Hammer films so they can do the same for their unheralded minor gems as well.

What say you?


Black Christmas (2019)

DECEMBER 13, 2019


As the world's biggest (but not lone, as I've recently discovered! Was such a relief!) fan of 2006's Black Xmas, the only thing that annoyed me about another remake is that when Black Christmas (2019) was announced earlier this year, it was met with a lot of optimism and excitement that was never afforded the previous incarnation. Where were you all in 2006, when even Bob Clark's blessing couldn't keep horror fans from raising their pitchforks and torches about that one? So that irked me a bit, but then again, there's a big difference between this one and the other two: this time, women were writing and directing, which meant not only a different perspective on the usual story, but a timely one as well.

As with Glen Morgan's version, Sophia Takal, directing from a script she wrote with April Wolfe, wisely borrows only the basic concept of Bob Clark's original and changes just about everything else. So while yes, this is indeed the third version of a movie about a group of sorority sisters who stay on campus during their holiday break and are menaced by a killer, it's in many ways even more removed from Clark's film than Morgan's was, and that's a good thing. There's the usual animosity online about them "ruining" the story or whatever, but as always I feel this is the best way to go, as I can forget about the film(s) that I love and focus exclusively on this one, judging it on its own highs and lows instead of how it compares to the others. They don't even really reference the others that much; the cat's name is "Claudette" (a variation on the male "Claude" from the original), a sorority house's number is 1974 (heh), and some of the kills are influenced by the others (a plastic bag and - yes! - an icicle), but that's it. No house mother, no creepy phone calls (texts instead), no Billy or Agnes... it's its own thing.

Our hero this time around is Riley (Imogen Poots), who embodies the usual Final Girl template but with a grim addition: she was sexually assaulted as a freshman (she's a senior now), with the attacker more or less getting a slap on the wrist. So she's become not only a bit more hesitant than you'd expect from a sorority girl, but also protective of the younger women who have pledged since, hoping to keep the same thing from happening to them at the hands of fraternity brothers. It's not long before things start weirding her out, but at first she is unable to tell if it's just the frat guys messing with her for spreading rumors about their "bro", or if it's something more sinister and dangerous. Of course, we know it's the latter thanks to a (pretty solid) opening scene kill and another one later (which plays out as an homage to another horror "3"), so thankfully it doesn't take too long to get her up to speed with us.

In fact I was kind of surprised when the shit really hit the fan. Rather than follow the usual slasher template and pick everyone off one by one before our final girl is even aware that she is in immediate danger, the killer attacks all three of our main heroes at once at around the halfway mark or so, allowing them to work together and fight off their attacker. It'd be too spoilery to talk specifics, alas, so I'll just say that it's very satisfying to watch Poots, Aleyse Shannon, and Lily Donoghue take on the killer together as sisters, rather than bog the film down with pointless in-group bickering or backstabbing as so many modern films do (even the 2006 one had some of this, though thankfully not much). These women really care about each other and have each others' backs, and it's incredibly refreshing to see.

(ALERT! If you haven't seen the trailer yet, please skip the next three paragraphs!!!)

And I say that as a white man, i.e. the type of person being targeted by the script. As you've seen in the marketing, it's not just one or two killers this time - it's a whole group of dudes in masks and robes, and yes they are obviously part of a fraternity. The how's and why's I'll leave to your imagination until you see the movie for yourself, but I don't think anyone would deny that this film was written as a response to the Brett Kavanaughs of the world (just to make it clear, one of the film's male characters even plainly says "I like beer"). So naturally, as a man, it's not always a fun watch, being reminded repeatedly that I might be perceived as a threat by one of its makers should they happen to be walking past me at night or sharing an elevator or (name literally anything you do during the day and there's a woman who has been made to feel unsafe doing it).

There's a scene right at the beginning that hit home; one of the girls is walking alone at night when she starts to suspect the guy behind her is following her and meaning to do her harm. After a few tentative looks behind her she starts to panic, grabs her keys and holds them out as a claw, ready to strike, and then... the guy just walks across the street into a house, having no intentions for her and presumably having no idea she was even scared of him in the first place. It's something that's happened to me; I am a rather fast walker and one day while walking on an otherwise empty side street I noticed a woman in front of me noticeably tense up and repeatedly look over at the store front window parallel to us, presumably to see my reflection and gauge my intentions. I felt horrible about it - but I also wondered how many times I've been in that same situation but *didn't* notice that someone in front of me was terrified to hear my lumbering steps behind them. As I am not a killer or rapist, I naturally don't walk around with the slightest notion that anyone would have a reason to be afraid of me, but ever since that day I keep it in mind, and either intentionally slow down or sit down if necessary and let them get the distance they want (seems like a better solution than yelling "Don't worry, I'm just trying to get to the movies so I have time to order a hot pretzel!", which, let's be honest, accounts for roughly 75% of the times I am putting a little extra spring in my step).

But that is just scratching the surface of the shit women have to deal with on a daily basis, and naturally I'll never even begin to understand even half of it. Why do I bring this up in a slasher movie review? Well, because I think the filmmakers are tired of men not getting it, and using the slasher as a vessel to spell a few things out, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to make sure no one misses the point. In a genre filled with films that were read into (cue Carpenter laughing at Halloween having an anti-sex attitude), Sakal and Wolfe make it abundantly clear that this is about toxic masculinity, literally spelling it out in their own way (again, no specific spoilers beyond what's in the trailer), having grown tired of men like Kavanaugh getting away with what they do while women are harassed and labeled as "hysterical" when they call such men on their deplorable behavior. Ideally, the movie would be incredibly dated in ten years (sooner?) because these problems have finally been dealt with, but sadly I fear that it will continue to be relevant for a while.

Luckily, even if those issues are a thing of the past, it'll still largely work as a slasher, especially for younger crowds who might not be ready for the likes of Freddy or Jason just yet. Yes, it's a PG-13 film, but I rarely remembered that during my viewing, and in fact at one point the rating actually HELPS, as something happens off-screen that you might assume is because of its rating but ends up being a clever misdirect. The characters are all engaging, with no standard cliches - there's no "snotty girl" or "weird girl" or whatever; they're all just normal friends with believable, amiable chemistry. I wouldn't have minded more chase scenes, especially since they're not confined to the house (nor is the timeframe as compressed as the others - it takes place over several days), but they instead focus on moving things along and keeping the runtime from getting out of hand (it's barely over 90 minutes with credits, bless), so it's easily forgivable.

That said, I wouldn't have minded a little more time explaining, or at least building up to, the... thing. I can't say what it is, but you'll know exactly what I mean when you see the movie. It's admirably kind of an insane idea and introduces an element I certainly wasn't expecting (even from the spoiler-y trailers), but it's somewhat jarring in its execution; I liken it to watching Halloween and then skipping ahead to the final 15 minutes of Halloween 6, as it offers the same sort of "Wait, WHAT?" kind of reaction one might have if they were to do that. I assume it's part of the "let's skip being subtle" approach, and if so I can certainly appreciate the effort, but the idea itself just didn't really land for me. It's kind of like Us in that I'd rather know less, because once part of it is explained it opens the floodgates to other questions, ones for which there is no seeming answer. Plus, if they introduced it earlier, it'd give the chance a movie to get even weirder and more inventive - as it stands, there's so little left of the film it feels more like a deus ex machina. With the ads giving so much away, it's kind of the only surprise the movie had left, and there's not enough time to do it justice.

Otherwise, I, the white male enemy, enjoyed this new take on the basic story. I don't know if it'll be thrown into my Blu-ray player as often as the others, but I can easily recommend it to horror fans with open minds, and women who will appreciate the cathartic moments in the third act (in fact, this may be the only actual place where the PG-13 rating hampered the movie, as it would have been great to see the antagonists get gorier demises). The heavy handed way they go about delivering their message may be a turn off for some men (and self-loathing women, who are also represented here), but I found it fair game and very much justified - the last thing anyone should be complaining about is a modern horror movie with a point of view, especially one that differs from your own, as you should think of it as a fun way to maybe learn something. But even if you somehow are able to ignore its message, it's still an enjoyable holiday slasher; its missteps aren't enough to derail the whole thing, and its heart's in the right place, so overall I call it a win.

What say you?


FTP: Undertaker (2012)

DECEMBER 5, 2019


I have no idea where Undertaker came from - I assume I won it at trivia since it's from a company I don't often receive review copies from, but it's a perfect movie to restart the "From the Pile" reviews. And that's because if someone were to ask what an ideal "pile" movie was, it'd be this: a reasonably entertaining but forgettable movie that I won't ever need to watch again, and certainly won't need to make room on my permanent shelf for. It'll go to a good home, I won't have to reorganize my collection to make room for it (though as a "U" film it wouldn't take long; it's those "A" and "B" films that REALLY need to win me over to be kept), and I get a little bit of quick HMAD content for you all. Everyone wins!

The concept is pretty interesting, one I'm not sure I've seen before in the other 8,000 zombie movies I have seen. Our hero isn't a mortician per se - he's a zombie hunter who is hired by families to locate their loved ones (who have since become zombies) and put them to rest, so that they don't have to live wondering if their beloved son or daughter is out there being a monster. Having been watching Mandalorian on Disney+, it's an interesting parallel to that guy's MO for bounty hunting - there's something kind of compelling about him tracking a specific zombie in a world overrun with the damn things. I could easily see this being an ongoing series, or perhaps a comic.

A comic would also carry the benefit of not being restricted by the budget, something that was clearly an issue here. It's all well done for what it offers, but it just doesn't really offer that much. After a really good opening sequence and setup, the movie suddenly feels like a real time account of one particular mission - with almost no dialogue (let alone other characters) to boot. The movie is only 65 minutes long with credits (and the pre-title sequence is 16 of those minutes), and nearly half of it is basically one long sequence of Ryouichi wiping out an area's supply of zombies (not a lot of them, mind you - a half dozen or so) until he finds the one he's looking for. It starts to feel like there were loftier ambitions at one point and they had to just draw out what might have been the first act of a more engaging story. Maybe that isn't even remotely the case, but that's how it came across.

But again, for what it is, it's well done. Ryouichi doesn't use a gun to kill zombies, preferring a sharpened shovel that he wields like a blade, and he puts on a show for the audience more often than not - when you don't have thousands of zombies, you gotta make the kills count! There's some decent splatter to go along with the kills, and the zombie makeup is solid to boot. But there's also an animated butterfly that looks pretty goofy, however, so I feel I should warn you about that. Synapse's disc comes with a making of piece that runs almost as long as the film, some deleted scenes, and the original short film "On Your Back" that director Naoyoshi Kawamatsu made earlier and, amusingly, actually has a more complicated story despite running less than a third of the time of the feature.

Basically if you like Japanese zombie movies, there's enough here to recommend, but the brevity of the film and its threadbare narrative might be hard to get past, especially on a purchase, and this doesn't seem like something you'll find at Redbox. Hopefully director Kawamatsu can expand on his ideas someday if he hasn't moved on - the concept deserves something with a little more meat on its bones.

What say you?


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