From The Pile Roundup!

NOVEMBER 16, 2022


As tends to be the case every October (and increasingly bleeding more and more into September and lasting into November), I watch stuff but find no time to write a review, and then by the time I DO have an hour or so to jot some thoughts down, I find my thoughts are vague. Specifically, too vague to write up an entire review, even by the shorter FTP standards. So, as I have in the past, here’s a bunch of quick capsule style takes on the handful of “pile” movies I managed to find time for in between screenings, parties, fall activities (I went apple picking! I used the picker and everything!) and even a trip to Vegas to see my beloved Bat out of Hell performed as a musical (!).

I’ve had this for a couple years now, always vowing to give it a look during the Halloween season, when the titular candy is being weirdly hated on by internet folk who seem to think it’s forced on them like (and worse than) brussel sprouts. If you don’t like it, fine – but just shut up about it! Some of us like it just fine! (Though I feel it’s better in a mix than by itself, admittedly.) Anyway, for the movie it refers to a sort of calling card the vengeful back from the grave killer leaves at his murder scenes as he takes out the people who killed him. The seasonal flavor and some gory deaths give it a little bit of oomph, but unfortunately it’s one of those modern horror movies where they blow their budget on securing a couple names (Tony Todd and PJ Soles in this case) to show up for a few minutes of thankless screentime, rather than put it toward the actual movie and hire local talent for these pointless roles (Soles literally does next to nothing beyond answer phones, which I guess could be considered a little nod to her death in Halloween but doesn’t change the fact that anyone’s mother could have handled the part just as well). They certainly could have used the money for a better DP, since part of the problem with the movie is that it’s lit like a realtor’s commercial for a house they’re trying to sell, which puts the imagery at constant odds with the dark story. A real chore to get through.

I kind of feel bad for this movie, which was shot in 1986 but due to Empire/Charles Band’s financial issues, it didn’t see release until 1992, long past the expiration date for this kind of lighthearted (but not exactly comic) horror fare. It probably would have been a minor fave had it come out when it was supposed to, alongside things like House and Terrorvision, but I can’t imagine that it found any love by the time it came out, as even the horror comedies that were made for the time (Buffy, Stay Tuned, etc) were spurned by audiences in favor of things like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Silence of the Lambs. But as a basically lost relic of the era, it certainly has its charms, depicting a group of very 80s people hunting for a million dollar check in a castle lorded over by an MTV style VJ (Richard Blade) but owned by the mysterious Diablo (Adam Ant!). Naturally, supernatural forces are at play and the contestants are picked off one by one in ironic ways, like a gluttonous guy who hungrily eats a roasted pig turning into one himself. Bill Butler shows up and dies pretty quickly, so that’s always a good way to win me over, but like many an Empire film, you’ll wish it had it a little more spring in its step. But still, it’s a breezy little time capsule, and I was constantly amused by the idea that it might not even make sense to a younger viewer since the whole thing revolves around the success and allure of a station showing music videos.

An abysmal slasher that seems to be the product of someone who perhaps didn’t get the memo that Texas Chain Saw style films were already clogging the market and we didn’t need another that didn’t do anything new. We have a carful of young folks, one of whom inherited a big house from a relative they never met, and they meet a couple of rednecks that frighten them, a weird guy living in the house unknown (this paves the way for a surprising little nod to Black Christmas, which I had to respect), and a cop who seems nice enough. Any guesses who the killer is? It takes forever to get going, the killer on the poster isn’t even in the movie (probably not their fault to be fair, but worth noting), the editing is awkward as hell, and salt in the wound: there’s an unpleasant rape scene in the final 15 minutes that makes things worse. The actresses have a pretty good vibe when they’re just talking (it sounds like improv, but there’s a natural quality to it that at least makes us believe they’re all friends, a rarity in these things), but everything you actually showed up for is generic at best.

Back when I was going to the drive-in a lot thanks to the theaters being closed, I saw a movie called Hunter Hunter about a guy living off the grid and how his wife and daughter weren’t super keen on it, but had to use the skills he taught them when a random stranger showed up and meant harm. It was solid, but nothing I really need to see again… my main takeaway was that it was at least better than It Comes At Night, the A24 thing with Riley Keough and Joel Edgerton that shared a lot of its tone and plot beats. Well, The Survivalist (which came earlier than either of them) is pretty similar to both of those, and I just don’t have the fortitude for THREE miserable movies about people who just want to be left alone getting attacked by murderous thieves and such. It’s also longer than either of those, so I like to think that they both were like “Let’s do the Survivalist but in 90 minutes instead of around 110!” Is it better than those? I don’t know. It has more than one shot of the main actor’s penis though, and Mia Goth pops up for those who might want to see the newest horror It Girl when she was just starting out, so there are definite draws for certain audiences, but I just can’t connect to these kind of things, in which the underlying message seems to be that if you want to be left alone you deserve to die.

My favorite of the lot, though mostly for its solid first hour, where Martin Sheen is trying to rebuild his life with his son after his wife dies in a freak accident, while getting drawn into what appears to be a cult-related series of child killings in New York. Unfortunately, it's one of those movies that offers you a pretty clear picture of who the villain is and even what they want, then spends too much time resolving that plot when the tension has been removed. At just under two hours, it starts to really drag in its back half, peppered only by the occasional freaky bit (like Robert Loggia, unable to move due to the cult's voodoo powers, trying to kill himself) and that old NYC grime that doesn't exist anymore. It's fine, but coulda been a must-see with some tightening or, at the very least, a second suspect to who was behind it all, which honestly you can probably figure out just from reading the cast list at the beginning.

Paul Naschy does Witchfinder General! Which, admittedly, is enough to qualify this as worth watching, but the sleazier elements never quite gel with the standard "WITCH!" accusations story, and since I just watched Witchhammer on the All The Haunts Be Ours boxed set (which itself owed much to Witchfinder) the deja vu translated to indifference more often than not. Plus, Naschy plays two roles, one being the witchfinder and the other being Satan - which should be amazing! - but he does so in what looks like a devil Halloween costume, which doesn't exactly make for effective cinema. To be fair to the film though, it was a crappy dub on a less than great transfer (not the one linked above to be clear), so perhaps in a proper presentation I'd be more endeared to it. It has a great ending though, so even if you're stuck with the same transfer - and more importantly, you haven't recently watched something so similar in this very niche sub-genre (actually two movies if you count Neil Marshall's The Reckoning, which came out not that long ago) - it's still worth a look especially if you're a Naschy fan.

Anyway I think that’s everything, and hopefully things will be back to normal-ish now. Though I must admit: the two weeks or so that HMAD was completely dead due to some Google error kind of left me disheartened about writing more, knowing that it might all just disappear for good one day if I can’t get a Google robot to undo its error. That, plus Amazon changing its ad functionality (and thus reducing my referral income – the only source of revenue the site has – to mere pennies) has got me thinking that maybe it’s time to just let the site rest in peace for good. It’s been almost a decade (!) since I “retired” and as life gets in the way more and more I find less and less time to commit to even the stripped down version I envisioned (2-3 reviews a week, HAH! I’m lucky to get that a month!) and end up writing things like this just to have SOMETHING new for those who are still coming by. Plus there are lots of voices out there now, many of them far more introspective and intelligent than I am, so I keep thinking “Let’s leave it to them!” and using this little bit of time on something else (a new book, perhaps?). Long story short, don’t get too mad at me if one day I post a review of Children of the Corn 12 or something and never post again.

What say you?


The Piper (2015)

NOVEMBER 2, 2022


We’ve all seen trailers that have perhaps spoiled a film’s plot points, but The Piper is the rare one where the damn poster gave its 3rd act away. The cover of the DVD (which I got for a buck, so I can’t really get upset about this to be clear!) shows the film’s hero in bloody clown makeup, not wholly unlike The Crow or something along those lines, seemingly leading a charge of rats. The synopsis clarifies things, saying that a man is betrayed by the people who hired him and killed his loved ones, so... kind of obvious what this movie is about, right? A sort of hybrid between The Crow and Willard, more or less?

Well, I mean sure, eventually. But the movie is 108 minutes long and there are only 23 left (including end credits) by the time the thing that needs to be revenged actually occurs. So the poster image of the hero in his makeup, leading the rats, is akin to making a poster for Avengers: Endgame with everyone gathered at Tony’s funeral or something (to be fair, this cover is actually slightly less spoiler-y than the original poster, which shows the actual final scene!). Yes, you won’t have the context, but it only takes a few minutes of the movie, once you know who the guy is (and, more importantly, that he’s not one to wear makeup nor is he on the rats’ side) to put it together in your head. Instead, the first hour or so is completely horror free (other than a few grisly shots of the rat’s reign of terror on the local cat population and a few scattered flashbacks involving leprosy), telling a tale of a simple man and his ailing son who are trekking to Seoul in hopes of getting the kid treatment for his tuberculosis. Along the way they find a village where everyone seems unnerved by the presence of a stranger, except for their leader who welcomes the pair into his home so they can rest for a bit before continuing on their way. Learning about their rat problem, the man offers to help drive them out with his music in exchange for some money to help pay for the kid’s medical needs.

And so we watch as he tries some things, eventually succeeding, while also becoming friendly with some of the townsfolk and in particular a widow who takes a liking to him. Knowing that it’s a genre film (a Korean one at that!) we can be sure that something tragic (and likely brutal) will happen regardless of what the poster promised, but I must admit I checked the runtime more than once, curious when it would get to that point. Not that I was bored or anything, but I knew what was happening: the longer we spent with this kind man and his adorable son, the harder it would be to watch when the inevitable happened. I couldn't help but think of Pumpkinhead; even before I had a son of my own I was left kind of devastated by the inciting incident (as a dad now, I can’t even watch it), and that happened like 20 minutes into the movie! Here we get to know them so well that each extra minute just made it that much sadder when it happened.

Worse, they salt the wound not once but twice by giving us reason to think maybe the kid will be OK. First the townsfolk just drive the two of them out after cutting off a few of the Piper’s figures (presumably taking away his ability to play), giving them food that is poisoned – and the kid is about to eat it but stops, and you’re like “Phew, he knew better!” Then he realizes the flute is gone, so he sneaks back into town to retrieve it, so you’re probably thinking “Oh no, they’ll catch him and this time they won’t let him go!” But no! He gets his father’s prized possession and heads back out… only to then take a bite of the poisoned food after all (so we realize that he didn’t stop earlier out of suspicion – he got distracted by noticing that the flute was missing). It’s such a gut-wrenching moment, the sort of thing that if I were to rewatch the movie I’d be hoping that somehow it’ll work out differently on this viewing (a strange phenomenon that I experience on rare occasions; one of the most notable is in Cast Away when he loses Wilson. EVERY GODDAMN TIME I watch that movie I hope this time he’ll wake up and retrieve him in time!).

Making the whole thing sadder is that most of the issues start with the belief that the Piper is in fact a spy for the Communists, as the movie is set in the immediate aftermath of the Korean War. The chief is telling his people that the war is still going, to exert control and keep some secrets of his own from getting out, so he worries that the Piper will tell the locals the truth. And his main bit of “proof” is a mysterious note that neither man can read, which the Piper says is the address of the doctor in Seoul but the chief believes to be information for the commie spies. Only us in the audience know the truth: it’s just a mean slur at the Piper’s expense, written in English. There’s something kind of heartbreaking about both the hero and the villain going to extreme lengths because they weren’t educated enough to decipher a simple four word note, as you realize literally nothing in the movie would have happened if either of them could read it: the man wouldn’t have been traveling to Seoul in the first place, and even if he was, the chief would have known he really was just a poor outcast trying to care for his son.

Anyway, for what it is, it’s pretty good, though the slow pacing to get to the “horror” part of the movie will likely be too much to ask for impatient viewers, and admittedly there isn’t much inventiveness or excitement to seeing him get his revenge, as it’s quickly raced through and relies on not always convincing CGI rats swarming toward one of the town jerks. But as a tragic drama (based on the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” story, yes) it’s a solid little flick, and certainly worth the buck I paid. Hell it’s probably the best of the movies I’ve gotten at Dollar Tree! Put THAT on the poster, at least it ain’t spoiling the ending.

What say you?


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget