FTP: Book of Monsters (2019)

DECEMBER 22, 2022


Given the success and – more importantly – inspiring nature of Evil Dead and its first sequel (after that they had real money), it’s not all that surprising to see some of its plot devices end up in independent genre films. But sometimes these films can be grating, especially if they try to force memorable catchphrases down our throats in hopes of creating the next “Groovy” or whatever (made worse when you consider how many of them feature actors with nary an ounce of Bruce Campbell’s charm. So I admit I wasn’t expecting much from Book of Monsters, which was clearly about an evil book unleashing hell on a group of friends, however I’m happy to say it was actually quite entertaining and bodes well for the creative team’s future endeavors.

Part of what helps it along is that it doesn’t waste too much time getting to the gory/goopy stuff; there’s an opening kill (our heroine’s mother) followed by 10-15 minutes of introductions and establishing the character dynamics: the now teenaged daughter of the woman killed in the opening is about to celebrate her birthday, but a small gathering with friends turns into a big party (where her bully shows up, of course). It isn’t long before the promised monsters appear, and there’s a surprising variety: a plague mask wearing creeper, a sultry shapeshifter, little worm like things, etc. As we learn on the behind the scenes doc, this was a crowdfunded film, and while not without some blemishes (none crippling), it’s actually got more production value than some traditionally financed films of late. Whatever they raised from the online funding, it’s certainly all on screen.

Of course, a bunch of costumes and splatter effects wouldn’t matter in the long run if the characters were insufferable, but that’s not the case here. The creative team of Paul Butler (writer) and Stewart Sparke (director; both produced) wisely opted to not only center on their lead and treat everyone else as fodder. Sure, birthday girl Sophie gets the limelight, but her bffs Mona and Beth all have their own complete adventures/arcs that are just as engaging as Sophie’s story, and there’s also a pair of party guests (Gary the nice guy who turns out to be a capable monster fighter, and Jess, who is Sophie’s crush) that won me over. FIVE characters in a modern horror movie that I liked enough to hope they survived until the end? That’s (so sadly) unprecedented!

It also doesn’t beat us over the head with its homages/references. Even though the Evil Dead-ness is apparent, the most blatant it gets is a tape recorded message from Sophie’s mom, on an old-school reel to reel deck, which they find next to a chainsaw. Nowadays, with everyone so quick to judge something as a ripoff, moments like this are almost necessary, as if the filmmakers are acknowledging their influence but don’t want to turn it into a Family Guy episode where they’re just rattling movie names and quotes. It’s the best way to do such things, and I encourage it.

The disc comes jampacked with features, including the aforementioned making of which runs an hour long and is chock full of anecdotes and “how we did this” explanations, many of which revolve around the fact that they were working with limited means (personal favorite reveal: a monster trying to bust down a door was played by the same guy who said monster was trying to get to on the other side). They also run a master class in how to run an effective crowdfunding campaign, which instead of focusing on useless perks like fake producer credits or signed crap you’ll never look at (if they even send it), they offered contributors a chance to directly influence parts of the film, including choosing the role of “the uninvited guest” character (among other options, “male stripper” won out) and what types of monsters would appear. There are also two commentaries; one with Butler and Sparke and the other with the cast, and if you are familiar with such things you’ll know that the latter is less interesting, but still has some fun reveals and shoot memories. Deleted scenes, a gag reel, a short film, the crowdfund video, etc… if you enjoyed the film, you’ll have about five hours of extra time to spend with it, thanks to those who agree with me that bonus features are a valid enterprise despite the preference for streaming.

The crew and some of the cast are now in production on what sounded like a sequel (titled How To Kill Monsters) but per the IMDb the returning cast members are playing different characters, so it is perhaps a Fish Called Wanda/Fierce Creatures kind of deal instead. Which is weird, since the end of this one has a setup for more adventures, but perhaps the film didn’t meet the level of success they were hoping for (I have no idea how well these Dread releases perform, but I DO know that unlike discs from other specialty outfits like Shudder and Arrow, they don’t show up inside brick and mortar retailers like Best Buy, only through their online delivery services, which presumably limits their exposure and amount of blind buying) and they had to switch gears. Either way, I look forward to what they do next, and encourage those who enjoy low budget creature flicks to give this one a look.

What say you?


FTP: A Taste of Phobia (2018)

DECEMBER 16, 2022


I don’t wish them ill or anything, but I really have little to no interest in multi director anthologies, something I figured out about a decade ago when we were suddenly bombarded by them (V/H/S, ABCs of Death, etc). I mean, to be fair I don’t even love a lot of traditional, single-filmmaker ones like Creepshow, feeling that the time spent on a few short films could have been spent on a full narrative I can sink my teeth into (I don’t DISLIKE Creepshow, to be clear – but I rarely feel like rewatching it either; I’ve probably seen Diary of the Dead more in full, among Romero films). The only time I ever seem to get on board is when the stories are connected in some way (like Trick r Treat, or, going outside the genre, Pulp Fiction); otherwise while I will almost certainly like some of the segments, as a full viewing experience I almost always walk away unfulfilled. But after watching and disliking A Taste of Phobia, I poked around online to see if it was “just me”, only to discover that the (admittedly few) reviews I found were pretty much all negative.

The concept is fine, at least: the multinational team of filmmakers each present a short based on a fear. Some of the fears are kind of known (Hemophobia, or the fear of blood) or can at least be sussed out just from the name (Politicophobia is, you guessed it, fear of politics), but many are pretty obscure, such as Mageirocophobia (fear of cooking) and Partenophobia (fear of virgins), so at least they weren’t sticking to the usual stuff like clowns and spiders and things like that. In fact, I had to laugh that there’s a deleted segment available on the DVD, because my instant thought was “How bad is it that it couldn’t make the cut along with all this nonsense?” but it was Achluophobia, which is indeed a fear of the dark, so I’d like to think they cut it for being a little too basic.

And to its credit the tone is all over the place, which is, yes, part of why the movie didn’t work, but when you see a segment like Coprophobia (fear of feces), which is mostly devoted to a guy fighting a poop monster in his bathroom (and by fighting I mean pretending that a stuffed animal covered in guck is actually doing anything as he basically rubs it all over himself), you will be thankful that “be real gross!” wasn’t an edict from the masterminds behind the damn thing. There’s not a lot of genuine humor, but there are psychologically driven entries, a few that offer social commentary (including the aforementioned political one), freak-out types, gore for the sake of gore, etc. It’s even possible that some of the entries would have been a little more to my liking if I watched them on their own, though only Astrophobia (fear of stars) came off as legitimately good.

See, when you’re watching these things back to back, with only a vague wraparound story guiding them, it just becomes exhausting. Short or not, I’m still being introduced to fourteen worlds with fourteen sets of characters and fourteen different narratives, so even if they were all great – and they most certainly are not – it just wears my brain down trying to process all those introductions. And making matters worse is that many of the stories end without really resolving much and instantly go into the next one, leaving you no time to consider what you saw before the next one pops in. I just watched it and, gun to my head, I couldn’t tell you the order of the entries, though I do remember that the fear of hair (“Chaetophobia”) was first because I thought the hairless villain looked like the dude from Live terrorizing some girl. Gimme THAT movie.

So, yeah. Perfect pile movie, in that I can now trade it in for 19 cents after it’s been taking up space for years, which I probably could have done after watching the first couple but I sat through the whole thing anyway (the lone entry I enjoyed was right around in the middle, natch). What’s the fear of getting rid of a movie until you’ve seen it called?

What say you?



(NOTE: This is more of a "Collins' Crypt" type of piece I just didn't have anywhere to post as the sites I write for already have plenty of Black Christmas material. So you get an off-brand piece here. You're welcome.)

Jess: “Clare Harrison is missing. I was out with the search party looking for her.”
Peter: “How noble.”

Let’s get something out of the way here: Keir Dullea’s Peter is NOT the killer in Black Christmas, despite the well intentioned efforts to make us think he is. If you want to assume he is and that the phone ringing at the end of the film is just a coincidental phone call (perhaps Mrs. Mac’s sister calling, wondering where she is), that’s fine! Ease your troubled mind! But as careful viewers – and/or those who go through the dozen hours of bonus features on Scream Factory’s deluxe 4K UHD blu-ray - can attest, Peter cannot be the killer, as we see Billy’s shadow on the wall watching him and Jess have their discussion about the abortion.

He is, however, the biggest jerk in slasher history, and honestly Jess wasn't any safer with him than she was with Billy.

Much has been made of the 1974 film’s rather progressive politics, with Jess not only making the decision to abort her child without considering his opinion on the matter (nor should she, if that’s unclear), but flat out calling it an “abortion”, instead of using the more subtle language that is still prevalent today. As I myself have noted earlier (I’ve written about this movie a lot over the past 15 years or so!*), Jess and the other women in the film almost seem to be written as a response to the “sex = death” motif that’s so popular in slasher movies, which is of course impossible since the film came along before any of the standards (Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc) that popularized that cliché. It’s not impossible to believe that the film’s increased popularity over the years isn’t because of its scares or setting or any of that, but because its forward-thinking attitude regarding its female characters simply makes it more interesting than one might expect.

But the men are pretty fascinating too in their own way. Again, Peter is not the killer, but if he was that’d just be yet another red flag against him in an already overflowing list. The above exchange is a perfect example of how much of a monster he is; even if he wasn’t fond of Clare for whatever reason, what kind of jackass mocks his girlfriend for being worried about a missing friend? When he calls Jess earlier in the film and she laments that he wasn’t able to join the party, he could have easily just said “I know, it sucks” even if he didn’t mean it (anyone who has ever been in a relationship has likely offered a similar disingenous response to “unfortunately” missing out on a spouse’s work party or something that they were actually happy to miss), but instead he jumps down her throat, eliciting an apology out of her for not being considerate of why he missed it, as if she was actually complaining that he wasn’t there. Even if you ignore the horrible way he acts toward her regarding the abortion, he still pretty much deserves what he got at the end of the movie.

Luckily he’s the only male that is closer to villain than hero. On the other end of the personality spectrum is Art Hindle’s Chris, who spends the entire movie looking for Clare, a rather sad character arc when we know she’s dead the entire time. Unlike Peter, he seems like a genuinely good guy (if Barb is correct, Clare isn’t even sleeping with him, so if he was anything like Peter he’d probably just be glad for the easy out and find a Townie to shack up with instead), and is quick to make sure the cops actually do something about finding her, joining the girls (and keeping them warm!) during the freezing nighttime search. Hell, he even goes out of her way to meet her dad (another memorable scene-stealer), and it’s kind of sad that both men end the movie still not sure what happened to her – one wonders how long it took for the cops to finally check the attic and discover her body. Apparently, the film’s producers wanted Bob Clark to shoot an ending that revealed Chris was the killer (even more impossible than the idea that it was Peter – Billy’s POV includes Chris leaving the party in the first scene!), which would have been a cliché – “it was the nice guy!”. So without that dumb note being implemented, we have another rarity for the slasher genre: the actual nice guy who isn’t the lead’s boyfriend nor is he killed.

It's also the rare slasher where the cop is sympathetic and competent. Even still relatively early in his career, John Saxon was the kind of guy who commanded your attention just as soon as he walked into the room, but he’s not a hardass or antagonistic presence like, say, Sheriff Garris in Friday the 13th Part 6 or even Saxon’s own character in the Elm Street movies, who was incredulous/disbelieving of his own daughter. Instead he quickly admonishes his deputy for not taking the girls seriously, gets their phone tapped, leads the search party in the park, starts looking into Peter as a possible suspect (who can blame him?), etc - all in about 12 hours! (One thing about the film that’s often overlooked is that it takes place in a 24 hour period, another thing that makes Peter’s guilt all but impossible due to his conservatory duties.) True, he doesn’t actually catch the killer in the end, but it’s not for a lack of trying, and he seems genuinely concerned for the girls instead of doing the typical thing of chalking their fears up to paranoia or whatever.

Even the smaller parts are memorable. Phyl’s foul mouthed boyfriend is a hoot, a man who clearly hates kids being forced to play – I always lament he didn’t pop up again somewhere. Then there’s the two weird guys who are on the neighborhood watch, popping in like Bob and Doug Mackenzie just stopped by to see their SCTV pal Andrea Martin. And while the movie is not a comedy, few things in the world make me laugh as hard as the “New exchange?” scene, thanks mostly to Saxon’s fellow detective, who spends the entire scene just full on cackling at Nash’s stupidity (“Something dirty, ain’t it?”) and his delight at watching Saxon deal with it. Indeed, the character is billed as “Laughing Detective”, as if they knew giving him a name would be pointless since that’s how he’d be referred to anyway.

So while the film is first and foremost a women-centric film, and a great one at that, it was no slouch in the male department either (something both remakes missed entirely, though at least their anonymity and dullness was part of the point of the 2019 one). These gents – and scoundrels – really add to the film’s almost unprecedented number of memorable characters in a slasher, where even the folks who only appear in a scene or two manage to stick in your memory in some way. Normally a “body count” film like this only bothers to include people who will meet the business end of a knife or machete, but Black Christmas sports over a dozen women and men to worry about while keeping the body count to a mere six (including the never seen girl in the park, and Peter himself). Truly a Christmas miracle.

*Ironically, the very first thing I ever wrote for Bloody Disgusting was a review of the remake, and it was also around that time that I did an email interview with Bob Clark for the site, so I’ve basically been writing about Billy and Agnes for my entire writing career.


FTP: Perfect Strangers (1984)

DECEMBER 1, 2022


My least favorite Larry Cohen movie (of the ones I've seen anyway) is Special Effects, his Body Double-esque thriller that I found impossibly dull. But some friends have raved about it (one even said it was in fact one of his best!) so I've been meaning to give it another look, and after watching the late director's interview on the bonus features for Perfect Strangers (aka Blind Alley, which is the title on the film itself but the disc packaging is given the Strangers title) my goal has been renewed. Because it turns out they were shot back to back, and now I can't help but wonder if he was spreading himself too thin, resulting in these two uncharacteristically light films from the usually dependable maverick.

At least this one starts off promising, with a guy getting stabbed in front of a kid and then worrying if the kid (who is like two and can barely talk) will be able to identify him. So he does the most obvious thing: he finds a different (older) kid in the street and asks him if he'd remember him if he saw him again later, to which the kid asks if he's a ______ (word that doesn't fly anymore, starts with R, slang for dumb person). The killer also spray paints a shadow of himself while talking to himself as a song about shadows plays on the soundtrack, and all of this is in the first five minutes! So, yeah! This rules!

Unfortunately the silliness tapers off as the film goes on. It's only 90 minutes (so, shorter than Special Effects at least) and there are some solid bits throughout, but the opening promises a little more excitement than the film ultimately offers. Our guy is tasked by his mob bosses to kill the kid to make sure there are no loose ends, and to do this he begins romancing the boy's mother (who missed the crime entirely; her not paying much attention to her toddler is kind of a running theme throughout the movie) to increase his chances of offing the kid and chalking it up to an accident. So it SEEMS like a movie where this guy might legit start falling for her and switch sides, maybe protect the kid (and the mom) from his mob partners, but nah. It's mostly just a series of scenes of him having the perfect chance to off the kid and then deciding not to, so it gets pretty repetitive. The mob guys never even really take a more active role in the proceedings, nor does he encounter the cop (Cronenberg regular Stephen Lack, the only person in the movie I recognized) which might give it a little tension. It's all just very loosey goosey, and I couldn't help but think if the guy was played by Michael Moriarty it might have been at least more fun.

Still, Cohen tosses in a few good bits, like a scene where the killer plans to kill the kid by pushing him so hard on the swing that he falls off and impales himself on a nearby fence (!), and an insane climactic chase where the kid is on a portable merry go round (is this a real thing?) that's hitched to a truck, which has been hijacked by the killer. So we see the kid spinning around and around as the truck drives around New York, no obvious dummy being used (it's CLEARLY him in a few shots, in fact); it's not only fairly well crafted, it's kind of terrifying in a "there's a million ways this could go wrong" way.

But apart from those scenes, there's just too much filler here, with unresolved plot points (the kid's real father is last seen being held at gunpoint by the mom's over protective friend - it's unclear if she ever let him go!) and nowhere near enough suspense to maintain the "thriller" we've been promised. Cohen bounced back the next year with The Stuff, so it's obvious he still had his chops - I'll forever wonder if he had combined his resources and budget to make just one of these two (Effects had better potential, in my opinion) it could have ended up being one of my faves. Instead we got two of his lesser works, though I guess it helps me appreciate The Stuff all the more, so that's fine.

What say you?

Couldn't find a trailer so here's someone else reviewing the Vinegar Syndrome disc!


FTP: The Unholy (1988)

NOVEMBER 29, 2022


For whatever reason, I saw but never got around to reviewing Prey for the Devil, which was yet another exorcism movie that I found more enjoyable than most (see also: The Rite, The Devil Inside, etc). As I’ve explained elsewhere, I feel the mix of being raised Catholic and also not seeing The Exorcist until much later in my horror life (I was in college, in fact – a full 12 years after I saw Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the like) allows me to be a little more endeared to these things than the average fan, who see them all as “bad Exorcist ripoffs!” and little more. At any rate, if I DID review it I’d probably have noted that it was fitting for Ben Cross to be playing a priest in his final movie (he died in 2020, but the movie had been delayed) since he had played so many others, so I had to laugh when I loaded up The Unholy and saw that it starred Cross as... you guessed it, a priest.

The movie has come up a few times at horror trivia and I’m always thinking “Oh yeah, I need to finally watch that” but I also had the wrong idea of what the movie was. I had it in my head that it was about a vampire terrorizing a church (my mental image was something like Demon Knight with a eurotrash-type vamp in the Billy Zane role? I have no idea where that movie concept came from) so I was kind of amused to see that it was sort of an Exorcist riff, or at least closer to one than any vampire movie. Cross is the new priest at a New Orleans church who is replacing the previous one, who was murdered (and we later learn he wasn’t the first murdered priest), and he is curious about the sexy nightclub next door that’s into some BDSM stuff. And he meets a “nice girl” type who may be trying to sway him into breaking his vow of celibacy – could she be the murderer?

That question is answered... somewhat hazily! It’s not a bad movie, but I’m glad I saw it on Vestron’s special edition, because the bonus features cleared up some of my issues with the film, and confirmed what I suspected: that it was reworked at some point. In fact in a way it was reworked twice; turns out the script was written in the ‘70s and would have indeed been something more dramatic in the Exorcist vein, but was rewritten in the ‘80s to give it modern sensibilities. And maybe that’d work, but it was also partially reshot/re-edited by the producers who wanted more horror, something like Nightmare on Elm Street and things of that nature, as opposed to the more serious thriller director Camilo Vila intended. So you have a movie that has not one but two tug-of wars with the basic idea of what kind of movie it’s going to be, so it’s not really surprising that it doesn’t really work as a whole.

But it’s not too bad. When I see Cross in stuff he’s usually playing supporting roles, so it was fun to see him as a lead and backed up by vets like Hal Holbrook and Ned Beatty, not to mention the lovely ladies throwing themselves at him and trying to get him to break his vows (this movie would be much shorter if I was the main character, I tell you what). They don’t use the New Orleans setting all that much, but there’s enough to give it a little more flavor than the average independent horror movie of the time, nearly all of which were shot in Los Angeles (not counting REAL independent stuff, i.e “regional” horror). And while they throw the movie’s whole vibe off and look kind of silly, I can’t deny that I was entertained by the two little rubber demons running around at the (reshot) end of the film, as if John Buechler had broken into the editing room and took over for the final reel.

Vestron’s release is jampacked with bonuses, including the original (and yes, superior) ending as well as a commentary with Vila, who obviously wasn’t thrilled about the final product. In fact he even notes that if he was asked to do the commentary a couple years earlier he would have said no, but luckily for us had softened enough on it over time to at least be happy with the parts that weren’t reshaped without him and accept that even as is, it’s not all that bad. And I discovered that this was, in fact, Vestron’s highest grossing horror movie of all time (2nd in their whole history after Dirty Dancing), which delighted me but also made me lament that once upon a time a movie like this could land on over a thousand screens and outgross a few major releases for the year (including Hellraiser II, which shares the work of Bob Keen). There’s a strong chance that Spielberg’s newest film doesn’t even get to play on as many screens as this weird little demon flick did back then! It’s charming and sad in equal measures, how much things have changed and not really for the better in my opinion. But hey, at least Vestron has saved it, and for Cross fans who (like me) were sad to see him looking so sickly in Prey for the Devil, it offers a chance to see him looking healthy and telling stories in his 20 minute interview. RIP sir, you always made little character parts that much more interesting, and I'm sorry it took me years to get around to watching you chain-smoke and try not to bang the hot redhead demon lady that kept trying to do just that.

What say you?


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