July 6, 2019

Monday Afternoon Movie, a Podcast

If you were alive in the 70s, you might be lucky enough to remember those dark, dour, and delicious made-for-TV horror films that premiered on any given major television network every week.They always featured one major star, to draw you in, like Shelley Winters, Kate Jackson, or Linda Blair. No matter how inappropriate for children they may have been, the entire family gathered around to watch, absolutely enthralled by every word and movement on the screen. The 70s heralded the dawn of the “Satanic Panic” era, so the plots almost always revolved around Satan and his minions. The crazy exploits of the characters in these films were all anyone at school talked about the next day.
“Did you see the little goblins in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark last night?” “Holy cow, can you believe what happened at the end of Satan’s School for Girls?” I loved these films as a kid, and still love them now. All of them are on YouTube in their entirety, absolutely for free, complete with all the little scratches and pops leftover from the VHS tape they were recorded on 40 years ago. 
So, I was beyond delighted when I recently stumbled across a gem of a podcast, created in honor of these made-for-TV wonders of yesteryear; hosted by actor, writer, improviser, and comedian, Sam Pancake (yes, Pancake is his real last name). It’s called Monday Afternoon Movies. Every week Sam invites a friend to watch a 70s-era made-for-TV film, and they discuss it down to every detail of costuming, casting choice, and goofy hairdo. It is captivating and absolutely hilarious. 
Sam is the perfect host. He is competent and clever, and he genuinely loves the subject matter. He states in the first episode that his mom always made him go to bed before the movie was finished, and she promised to tell him how it ended, but by the next morning she could never remember. It drove him crazy, so now he’s making up for all of those missed opportunities and botched endings by re-watching the films from his youth and actually finishing them. 

Sam is openly gay and, while I wouldn’t generally bring up someone’s sexuality in a podcast review, it’s important here because it is a huge part of Sam’s life and professional persona, and Sam wields it beautifully, with heart and aplomb. He’s like the gay best friend you always wanted in college, and the one you desperately need dropping truth bombs about your life choices as an adult. To put it to you straight (no pun intended), Sam is utterly fabulous! And his guests are amazing too. He invites boisterous drag queens, hilarious comedians, experienced actors, and clever friends to guest-host the show with him. The conversations are keen, thoughtful, and extremely funny. I’ve been bingeing the show for the past week and I can’t get enough of it. There are only two seasons so far, and I’m desperate for a third. Even if you’ve never seen or heard of these movies, you can easily enjoy this podcast. They discuss the plot from front to back, so you’re never left out of the loop with regard to story. And, I promise, you will never fail to laugh. 

Monday Afternoon Movie is available on all the standard podcast platforms, totally free. You can also visit the website https://www.mondayafternoonmovie.com/ for more information.

July 5, 2019

Bloody Birthday (1981)

A spoiler-free review!

I enjoyed The Other so much, I thought I would do an entire retro series on "killer kids." Everything I can find from the 80s and before. So, here we go with Bloody Birthday. It’s a 1981 horror flick that combines Village of the Damned with Day of the Triffids. There’s an eclipse, and the three babies born in this one hospital, in this one city, during this freaky eclipse, become killers right before they turn 10. Why? Who knows? It’s a mind-numbingly flimsy premise, but it’s easy to shrug off because the film is just so much fun! 

We start with the kids just a few days before their tenth birthday, which they all celebrate together every year for some reason. Much like the kids in Village of the Damned, they seem unusually bonded, always around each other, always traveling in a pack. They aren’t family, but to an outsider they seem like they are. They can communicate with each other using only nods and glances. And, while there’s no indication that they are communicating telepathically, they always seem to know what the others are doing or planning. 

The kinder-killer trio consists of two boys, Steven and Curtis, and one girl, Debbie. Steven is blond and is several times seen wearing a denim vest and jeans get-up that transports me right back to my elementary school yearbook, where that same outfit can be seen ad nauseum. He’s a little blond terror, who doesn’t say much, but seems to act as more of a henchman, leaving the clever strategizing up to Debbie and Curtis. 

Speaking of Curtis, Curtis wears glasses. That’s how you know he can figure out anything having to do with electronics. They’re those fake glasses from old movies with the flat lens in them, which I’ve always found really distracting, but I get it. How else would I know that he’s smart if he wasn’t wearing them?

And that brings us to Debbie. Debbie’s my favorite of the three. First of all, my mom’s name is Debbie. Secondly, Debbie has fluffy blond ponytails and a face full of freckles, which are both flawlessly tied together by her cute, little upturned nose. She’s a darling kid, but the eyes. She has dark, beady eyes that she can squint together to make her entire countenance change from “cute kid” to “evil kid” in a nanosecond. Debbie is clearly the ringleader of the crew. She rarely gets her hands dirty. She lets the boys do most of the work, and when they get caught, she starts yelling, “Stop! Stop!” Debbie is an evil mastermind.

I watched this movie on the Shudder channel and was a touch hesitant when the description stated that the film “contains violence and gore.” I’m a huge horror fan, but believe or not, I tend to eschew gore. It’s not my favorite thing. I can handle the average smattering of blood and guts, but I hate that torture-y stuff. So, I was admittedly a touch nervous. But it turns out the “violence” and the “gore” are nothing more gruesome than what you might see on an episode of Knot’s Landing. What the description should have said is, “contains lots and lots of titties.” So many boobs in this movie. And butts. And even some frontsies. There’s a lot of making out, with closeups on nipples. And, everytime you see this, one of the kids is watching! Debbie likes to charge a quarter to let the boys watch her sister (played by 80s-icon, Julie Brown) undress. The “undressing,” however, turns out to be more of a striptease, wherein Julie slowly takes off her underwear while dancing around her bedroom, then inexplicably puts on pants and a shirt, with no underwear, afterward. To quote the musical, Bye Bye Birdie, “KIDS! I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today.”

In addition to Julie Brown, I recognized a handful of other faces as well. Curtis is played by Billy Jacoby, whom 80s kids might remember as the perverted younger brother of cross-dressing-for-equal-rights Terry in Just One of the Guys. The older sister of one of the trio’s playmates (a kid named Timmy that they’re always trying to murder) also played the doomed older sister in The Day After. Remember the gal who runs out of her family’s bunker and goes skipping through the fallout screaming that it’s a beautiful day, gets chased down by Steve Guttenberg, and later dies from radiation poisoning? Yeah, that’s her. Her name is Lori Lethin, and IMDB said she did all of her own stunts in Bloody Birthday, but there are a couple of shots where a car is chasing her through a junkyard that I’m pretty sure weren’t her. The linebacker-shoulders and the bad wig kind of gave it away. Timmy is played by K.C. Martel, whom you might remember as Eddie, from the comedy duo of “Eddie and Boner,” on Growing Pains

There are some genuine cringe-worthy moments in this flick, especially if you were a kid in the 80s. Remember the "Refrigerator Scare?" It was an urban legend about a kid hiding in an old refrigerator and not being able to get out. So, that’s how we all knew never to shut ourselves into a refrigerator. This was a genuine fear that each and every one of us had back then! Bloody Birthday played on that fear by locking a kid in a refrigerator. This scene probably doesn’t play as particularly scary to modern audiences, but the 80s-kid in me clinched up her butthole real tight. Ack!

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. It’s got a handful of cringe-y moments and a heaping helping of 80s kitsch. Plus, if this interests you, a lot of boobies. I’ll definitely watch it again, and I sincerely hope Joe Bob Briggs will include it in a future episode of The Last Drive-In on the Shudder channel. Go watch it!

June 24, 2019

The Other (1972)

A spoiler-free review!

The Other was released theatrically in 1972, which is strange because it has the well-established patina of a 70s-era made-for-TV movie. After watching it, I was surprised that it had a theatrical presence at all. Visually, it looks like an episode of Little House on the Prairie. It’s a fairly slow-moving, but well-written and well-acted film, with one twist that is broadcast from the very beginning (it may have surprised audiences in the 1970s, but it will surprise no-one in the early 2000s) and another that even seasoned horror buffs won’t see coming. To put it simply, I watch horror films day and night, and very little surprises me, but something happened in this film that made me gasp and cover my mouth with my hand. Sometimes it’s the little things that get you. 

The boys who play the twins (real-life twins, Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) are boyishly cute, with chubby legs and chili bowl haircuts, which serve to leave the audience conflicted about their true intentions. They do a great job of conveying their inherent evil and their complete naivete toward it, leaving us wondering what fate they truly deserve. They’re only children, after all. 

The very well-known stage actress, and winner of multiple Tony awards, Uta Hagen, stars as the boys’ grandmother, Ada. There is a distinct difference in Uta Hagen’s acting style compared to everyone else in the film. The other actors act, Uta Hagen ACTS HER ASS OFF. She chews the scenery like a starving person who just happened upon a church barbecue. She pours a palatable wash of emotions into every word she speaks. Every part of her face says the words with her. Her hands say the words, her posture says the words. She is a force to be reckoned with, and the audience knows they can trust her. Her love for the boys is evident in every move she makes, every glance at them speaks of her neverending devotion to them. If nothing else, watch the film for her performance. 

Also, in a don’t-blink-or-you’ll miss it appearance, you can spot the late, great John Ritter in one of his first film roles. 

There is a sense of unrealness to this film, the bright but somehow muted colors making it feel dreamlike. As I watched it, I kept wondering if the whole thing might turn out to be a dream in the end (which it, thankfully, doesn’t). The setting is Connecticut in the summer of 1935, and the freedom experienced by these kids evokes love for the summers of my youth (I grew up in the 70s and 80s). We weren’t put into summer camps to keep us busy and out of trouble all day. No sir. We got on our bikes as soon as we finished breakfast and we did whatever we pleased, with total freedom, until dinnertime. “Home by dinner” was the rule for all the kids in my neighborhood. Watching the twins, Niles and Holland, running around in nature completely unsupervised reminded me of those days long ago. Kids today will never know that level of freedom. My own daughter, who’s in a theatre camp as I type this, will never know that level of freedom. Stealing pickles from an old lady’s garage, wandering a wooded area and watching the little critters scurry and fly around, finding a secret entrance to the basement you’ve been warned away from. These are all things the twins get into during the film, and all things I could easily tie to my own past, which is why I think I was able to sympathize with these characters so well. They’re just boys. Let them have their fun. They won’t hurt anyone… until they do. 

I’ve been told that I give these older films more credit than I should, but I disagree. I’ll admit that I have a special, nostalgic sort of love regarding made-for-TV films. And, while I know this had a quiet theatrical run first, I also know that it was aired quite a bit on television in the late 70s and early 80s, with a slightly different ending tailored to TV audiences. That makes it enough of a made-for-TV film for me. I honestly don’t know what I like most about 70s made-for-TV horror. Is it the pancake makeup, the fact that almost nobody plays their age, or is it the silly anachronisms and low-budget special effects? I can’t put my finger on it, but that’s okay because I love it all. Despite their flaws, some of these films are truly very frightening and can easily stand the test of time. This is one of them. I recommend watching it on a warm summer night, with a glass of lemonade and a plate of cookies. Pull out your grandmother’s old lace shawl and wrap yourself in it. Turn off your phone and put it away. Immerse yourself in the colors, the performances, and the story. I think you might just be surprised where it takes you.  

March 3, 2019

Greta (2019)

Two words: hot mess.

Do you remember in Scream when Sidney Prescott said of scary movies, "Whats the point? They're all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It's insulting."

This film personifies that quote to a tee. The young protagonist, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, makes the most inexplicable choices. At one point, she smacks Greta on the head with a rolling pin, then runs to the front door, which of course is locked from the inside and requires a key (yes, a key, to get out the front door; what?), but since she can't find the key she goes running down a flight of stairs we've never seen before into a basement, where she proceeds to bang on a tiny thick window to no avail. Oh, did I not mention that the door had a standard window in it that she could have easily fit through? My bad. Did I also fail to mention that right next to the door there was a huge window that she could have just busted out with the rolling pin and simply walked through without even hunching over? Again, my bad. I mean, give me a break! I think the director is hoping viewers won't notice these glaring errors, but no dice buddy.

I'm also thinking the director gave Chloe Grace Moretz instructions to never close her mouth because every other scene is her doing this...

Now, I don't mean to malign the performances of Moretz or Isabella Huppert, who played title-character Greta. Honestly, both actresses did a very professional job with a garbage script. If it weren't for their strong performances, this would have been a B movie at best.

My opinion is, don't bother unless you're a fan of either of the actresses. Go see it for them, don't see it for literally any other reason.

September 8, 2018

Night of the Comet (1984)

Image result for night of the comet

I have a very distinct memory of loving this movie as a kid. I would have been eleven years old in 1984, so I probably saw the film when it hit video stores around 1985, making me twelve/thirteen-ish when I watched it. I haven't seen it since, and watching it as an adult and a parent is a much more cringe-worthy experience than I remember. 

The film starts out with older sister, Reg, playing the video game Tempest at her B-movie theater usher job. She ignores her boss' constant pleas to be more productive and sasses him when he yells at her to get back to work. As a kid, I'm sure I found this to be hilarious. As an adult, I whispered "no paycheck for you" to the television. When Reg finally agrees to do her job, she flounces away (after stealing popcorn) and goes up to the projection booth to fool around with a guy who is presumably her "boyfriend," but whom she clearly detests. She agrees to have sex with him for $15. Seriously! And then they proceed to make the beast with two backs. Again, they are both on the clock. They fall asleep completely naked and wake up the following morning. Nobody bothered to kick them out when they closed up the theater, I guess. The boss even implied that he knew they were regularly having sex up there, and though it bothered him, he didn't have the gumption to take any action against it. What's even worse is that the next morning, Reg asked the "boyfriend" for the fifteen bucks he promised her and he refused to hand it over. So, what's a girl to do? Just eat more stolen popcorn and play Tempest again. Of course!

In the meantime, her younger sister Samantha, whose character is supposed to be 16 years old, is at home, getting slapped and punched in the face, in full view of dozens of adult Comet Party guests, by her openly philandering stepmother. None of the adults respond whatsoever, and a bleeding Samantha is sitting on the floor looking only mildly annoyed. What world is this?!

After the apocalypse happens, the two sisters bicker over the only guy they've come across, a fella named Hector. Seriously, it hasn't even been 24 hours since Reg humped her dumb boyfriend in the projection booth and now she and her sister are talking about how Hector might be gay because he didn't "try anything" with Reg. Jeez, Reg. Let your vagina cool off a little bit, okay?

When Hector goes on a recon run, the girls do what every girl would do in the apocalypse, they shop! Cue the montage of two big-haired, 80s teens dancing to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and changing into new outfits every five seconds. 

Kelli Maroney, who plays younger sister Sam, is the stand out as the feisty, sharp-tongued teenager. She's got a sassy attitude and she looks adorable holding a gun in her cheerleader outfit. My only problem is that she is supposed to be sixteen and there is a lot of emphasis on looking at her boobs. But that's the 80s in a nutshell, right?

Some middle-aged man (in this case, it was  Thom Eberhardt, who was 39 at the time) writes a movie about teenage girls in an apocalypse. The girls are sexy and fun, but tough and cool. They have weapons training and they can take care of themselves. I'm seeing shades of Buffy here, which is great. But the middle-aged man wants to see their boobies, so he writes that in for the, again, SIXTEEN year old female character. He also wants the girls to be vapid and slutty, because that's every middle-aged man's fantasy, right? (I know some guys aren't assholes, I'm just generalizing for the sake of argument.) So, rather than food, shelter, and protection, what these girls are after in the apocalypse is sex and bling!

My numerous feminist complaints aside, for a fan of 80s schlock, it's an enjoyable enough film. While today's audiences are accustomed to hordes of the undead in any given zombie venture, there are scant few "zombies" to contend with. But the better story is the one about the underground (government?) research lab that is tricking survivors by promising safety and shelter. What they are really doing is killing survivors and using their blood to stave off the zombie disease for themselves. I liked that twist and thought it added a fun layer of tension. 

All of the performers were good! The actors worked well with the material they were given. They earned their paychecks. I liked the cinematography - the redness of the atmosphere after the comet passed over was haunting. There's a lot to like! And I think this film flew in the 80s because audiences hadn't seen anything like it before. However, we're jaded now. With all the apocalypse movies and TV shows at our fingertips, we've gotten down to all the dirtiest nitty-gritty the genre has to offer. Shopping and dates barely fit into any of those worlds, making the whole thing just seem a bit silly.

Conclusion: It's fun. But, will I let my kid watch this? Not on your life, buddy.

August 12, 2018

The Meg (2018)

It's podcast time again, folks! The whole family trucked it to the theater to catch The Meg, and it was a goddamn delight. We have a special guest on the episode as well, our 10-year-old daughter, since we drug her to the theater with us. Ain't we the worst? Enjoy! (All podcast episodes available on iTunes! Just search "Drop Your Linen" and you'll find us. Leave a review too!)

August 1, 2018

The Belko Experiment (2016)

If The Hunger Games had a baby with an industrial office building one drunken night in Colombia, The Belko Experiment would be birthed from that union.

I caught this movie on HBO today and, man, did I enjoy it! It's really fun, guys. At least, it's fun for us horror nerds. I don't know how a "normie" would tolerate it, but I thought it was great! I know it's gotten some less-than-stellar reviews, possibly based on the brutality or inconceivability of some of the scenes. I don't think bad reviews are warranted, though. If this movie had come out in the 70's everyone would still be worshiping it. 

It was written/produced by James Gunn, and directed by some other guy. I kid, I kid... It was directed by a guy named Greg McLean, whose directing credits thus far don't stack up to much, but I was impressed with his direction of this film, so I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for his work in the future.

If you haven't seen it, stop here and go watch it first. 
I'm definitely going to get into some spoiler territory and don't want to wreck it for you. 

The movie is about a non-profit company named Belko (whose purpose is vague) in Bogota, Colombia. There are forty such companies around the globe. The employees are mostly American, although I think a Brit or two may have sneaked in. The main character is Mike, a nice guy and regular Joe who has friends around the office, as well as a girlfriend. The girlfriend, whose name is Leandra, is constantly eyeballed by John C. McGinley, who plays the office creeper, Wendell. Leandra does not take kindly to Wendell's bullshit, a plot point I assumed would lead to a rapey scene later on, but thankfully it didn't. There's also a new gal to the office, Dany, and she gets some kind of tracking implant put into her head because it might help them find her if she gets kidnapped. Oh, you were wondering how many offices do a minor surgical procedure on new employees? Yeah, you're right, exactly none. So, that bit was a tad unbelievable. But, just like in the Purge films (of which I'm a big fan), if you can suspend your disbelief just enough you can really go for a fun ride. So, just ignore that minor thing that makes no sense and stick with it. 

As the employees are coming into the building, their cars and IDs are being respectively searched and scanned. And a new set of guards they've never seen before are turning away the usual security team, much to the suspicion of the employees, but a job's a job so what are ya gonna do?

After a standard morning at the office, a voice comes over the loudspeaker and tells everyone in the building that if they don't kill two of the eighty employees in the building - it's their choice which ones - that six will die. A bunch of metal blockades go shooting up over all the windows and doors, which is a cool effect and helps us to feel the characters' sense of isolation more fully. Of course they don't choose anyone to die, so six people randomly drop dead, the backs of their heads inexplicably blown out. Was it a gunshot, you ask? Why no, it's those goddamn weird tracking implants they have. This bit, again, is just a little too convenient, but it ends up working pretty well to drive the plot along as you have no clue who's going to be killed next, or by whom. If the people in the office aren't doing the killing, some rando in a warehouse will just flip a switch and blow some heads out. Without this plot device, I don't see how the story would have worked, so as unrealistic as it is, I support it. 

You can imagine where it goes from here. Madness and mayhem. A group of assholes, led by Barry the C.O.O., takes control of the weapons cache. Oh... why does an office building have a weapons cache, you ask? Don't ask! It just does! (Personally, I feel that the weapons cache thing could have been left out entirely and the story would have been fine.) It clearly apes Lord of the Flies here. You have Mike's (Ralph's) side, the good guys, and Barry's (Jack's) crew, the bad guys. The two factions ally themselves early on, which results in a lot of chaos and killing. Hey, that's why we wanted to see it, though, right?

I feel there were some wasted opportunities in the plot. At the beginning of the film, there's one super bitchy older lady who causes trouble. You'd think the people she wronged might take advantage of the opportunity to fuck with her later on, but that never happens. And, like I said before, there's an office creeper hanging around one of our heroines. There's a little bit of throwback to that later in the movie when he accuses her of teasing him, but that's really as far as it goes.

Our main hero, and our final guy Mark (you know from the first scene he's going to be the lone survivor; it's broadcast pretty hard) never actually kills anyone until the very end, when he bludgeons the main asshole, Barry, to death with a tape dispenser. It's a pretty thrilling and cathartic scene as you have now come to despise Barry, and you can't help but to rejoice in Mark's triumph over him. With Mark the winner and sole survivor, the walls come down and Mark is escorted to the warehouse where the army guys were controlling whose heads exploded and whose didn't. There are monitors everywhere and a main baddy who wants to sit Mark down and ask him questions. Well, Mark's not having it. He rushes the control panel and blows up all the army guys with tracking devices that he secretly placed on them just moments before. For a split second, the camera lingers on Mark eyeballing his own control switch and I thought he might make the choice to blow himself up. But, alas, he walks outside and looks up at a beautiful sky. As the camera pulls out on Mark, we are transported to a panel of monitors, all showing similar lone survivors, with Mark's monitor in the middle. Presumably, the Belko experiment has happened at other Belko buildings as well, and even the army guys were pawns in a much bigger game. An off-screen voice tells us that phase 1 was a success and now phase 2 can begin, then the credits roll. 

Will there be a sequel? Not likely, which bums me out super hard. I read a couple of interviews with James Gunn saying that he has the next two films worked out in his head, but it's "up to the fans" whether or not they will get made. Up to the fans? What does that mean? What can we do? I feel like Michael Scott, from The Office. When he wanted to declare bankruptcy, he just walked out into the main room and said loudly, "I declare BANKRUPTCY!" I want to walk out onto my front porch and yell, "I am a fan, and I want a SEQUEL!!!!" If that will help, I'll seriously do it, guys. 

Final thought: It's like Lord of the Flies meets the Stanford prison experiment. It brutal, gory, and fun. It's perfect for horror fans. Go watch it!

July 29, 2018

Phantasm (1979)

We're back with another podcast! You'll never believe this, but Jason hadn't seen 1979's Phantasm before this glorious day! So, of course, we had to talk about it. Join us for a discussion about how the Tall Man might have been a secret pedophile, how the balls aren't so scary in the modern age, and how Mike is just plain annoying. Also, you'll get to hear us moderately argue about whether or not Phantasm is actually good. Enjoy! "Booooooy!"

July 28, 2018

A Quiet Place (2018)

Hey, it's podcast time again! I've been working on a huge review series covering all of Rob Zombie's films, but that's taking a while so, in the meantime here's another short and sweet podcast episode my husband and I recorded after watching A Quiet Place tonight. Hope you enjoy it! And, hey, if you do please go and tap that five-star scale thingy on iTunes. Thanks!

July 23, 2018

Tourist Trap (1979)

Today's review is comin' at ya in the form of a podcast! My husband, Jason, and I watched 1979's Tourist Trap, starring Chuck Connors. I generally refer to it as "the best movie you've never heard of." It's a weird one, but it's full of so much magic. We watched the Last Drive-In version, hosted by Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder, because it was the first film shown on marathon night and, if you read my last post, you know that I missed the first three hours of the marathon. Grrrrrr. So, I completely missed this one! After my husband and I watched it tonight, we thought, "Hey, let's talk about it and record that shiz." So, that's what we did. This is just an informal, fun, little podcast episode we did as an offshoot to the blog. We really enjoyed doing it, so be on the lookout for more episodes in the near future!