September 30, 2015

Starry Eyes (2014)

Tomorrow marks the beginning of "Shocktober" over at Final Girl's blog, which is a month-long viewing and reviewing of horror films available on Netflix Instant Watch. She has invited her readers to participate, watching the films along with her and reviewing them ourselves, then sharing links to our reviews in the comments section of her posts. That sounds fun! I don't know if I will be able to watch them all, but I'll do my best.


The first movie up to bat is 2014's Starry Eyes. I don't know how I'd never heard of this movie before. After I watched it, I did some research online and found that it has gotten a pretty positive reception all around. Bloody-Disgusting.com named it one of the Top Ten Horror Films of 2014. Interestingly, it was primarily funded via a Kickstarter campaign. I have mixed feelings about Kickstarter, but hey, whatever works.


So, here's our wannabe starlet, Sarah Walker. Sarah is a moderately talented aspiring actress, but entirely uncertain of her abilities and a tad unhinged. When things don't go her way, we see her pulling out clumps of her hair and throwing "tizzies" (as my MeeMaw would say). She seems sweet and naive on the surface, but there's a darkness to her. She is played flawlessly by the lead actress in the film, Alex Essoe, who apparently cried real tears and volunteered to put the worms in her mouth that her character later vomits out in the film. The following gif demonstrates my feelings about putting worms into one's mouth...


I'm not going to get all spoilery on this one, because it's still fairly new and if you are one of the Final Girl readers who hasn't seen it yet, I don't want to ruin it. But let me just give you the basic premise.
Aspiring starlet wants to be an actress. She won't admit it to anyone, including herself, but she is willing to do anything to make it big in show biz. At the first hint of acceptance during an audition for a movie called The Silver Scream, she quits her soul-eating job at theme restaurant Hot Taters and then both literally (though it's unknown to her at the time) and figuratively sells her soul to the movie industry. Via Satan, of course. Well, d'uh!


In order to be "reborn" into a famous actress, she first has to transform. And that's where things get gross, like seriously gross. I actually had to look away from the screen a couple of times. So, yeah, it gets pretty nasty.


And, naturally, there are some over-the-top murders involved. (I didn't know a cheek could squirt blood like that!) Does she make it into show biz? I won't tell you - you'll just have to watch. However, as viewers we do get some answers about Hollywood that make total sense. Like, does everyone who lives there worship Satan? Probably. I mean, seriously, how would you explain the Kardashians??

All told, I thought it was pretty good. But it was wholly uncomfortable watching our lead actress make terrible decisions and do some of the dumbest shit ever, so by the time she really starts suffering I didn't care too much about her.

What I really loved about this movie was the throwback vibe to the witchy and "satanic panic" films of the 60s, 70s and 80s. It had a very definite sense of reverence (even with the music) toward films like Rosemary's Baby, The Wicker Man, and To the Devil a Daughter.

I wouldn't watch it a 2nd time, but that is not a statement of it's worth. I wouldn't watch Twelve Years a Slave a 2nd time either, and it was amazing. Starry Eyes is just too dark and depressing to watch over again, but it was definitely worth the viewing and I highly recommend it to you guys. Go ahead and watch it, but have your fingers ready to the cover your eyes. I'm not kidding, it gets really gross.

September 28, 2015

The House On Sorority Row (1983)

Title shot from the film.
"In an interview with TerrorTrap.com, director Mark Rosman stated that he dislikes the US poster art for this film. Rosman's idea for the film's poster was a Deliverance-style image of a hand rising out of the swimming pool." (IMDB.com)

This is the DVD cover art. If you see this somewhere, grab it, because it's out of print and hard to find. 

This was another fun Hulu find, but it's available in it's entirety on YouTube. I remember watching this one as a kid, and again just a few years ago. And I remember liking it both times, but I remembered nothing about the plot. So, that made this even more fun! Fresh eyes and all. 

Before I get busy spoiling it, let me go ahead and say that, despite the fact it is definitely dated, this is a really well-crafted and clever movie. I liked it a lot. And, if you're reading this blog, you probably will too. Definitely give it a whirl, preferably while wearing your slouchiest pair of leg warmers. 

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

To start our story, there's a completely unnecessary and overly-dramatic opening scene (originally filmed in black and white, but later tinted blue in post-production, because someone thought it mattered) where we see a young woman in the throes of a painful and complicated birth getting a baby cut out of her belly. When she asks about the baby, we're given a vague sort of "I'm sorry" from the doctor, and that's it. Like I said, totally unnecessary. This tidbit of story could have been placed into the film with some character exposition later on. Pressing on...

We flash forward to graduation day in the early 80s. Seven sorority sisters are standing in front of a lovely mini-mansion, donning white caps and gowns, smiling from ear to ear. Everything's ducky for these ladies. What could go wrong?


The gals are supposed to be all moved out of their sorority house by the end of the day, but they decide to stay and celebrate instead, giving us these line-gems:
"Mama always said I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But you were wrong, Mama. It's up my nose!"
and
"I want to thank you all for making me what I am today... wasted!"
(Goddammit, I miss the 80s.)


Anyway, this irritates their sourpuss house mother, Mrs. Slater, who demands that they get out by the next day. 


During the night, Mrs. Slater overhears archetypal sorority bitch, Vicky, making sweet noisy love to her man-friend on a brand new waterbed. So, Mrs. Slater does what any dour house mater would do - she uses the beak of her creepy bird cane to bust the bed open, getting water everywhere, angering Vicky and providing motive for our story. Vicky's pissed and she wants revenge. So, she decides to pull a prank on Mrs. Slater by placing her bird cane in the middle of the dirty swimming pool and forcing her to climb in and retrieve it by gunpoint. Vicky thinks there are blanks in the gun, but when Mrs. Slater tries to cold-cock Vicky with her cane, Vicky fires and Mrs. Slater falls dead into the pool. Uh-oh. That can't be good.


Well, of course, they decide to wrap the body in blankets and towels and chuck it back into the pool. After all, they're having a party later! And they don't want to get caught. Priorities, people. One of the sisters, Kate, dissents, but is ultimately forced to get on board the 'Let's Sink Slater' ship. 


Now it's party time. And the absolute best thing about the party scene isn't the disco ball or the flouncy 80s dresses. No, it's a band called 4 Out Of 5 Doctors. They're never named in the film, but I thought they were so fabulous and so quintessentially 80s that I just had to look them up. And, apparently, they have a crazy story of their own. To learn more about them, click HERE.


During the party, the kids are getting picked off one by one. Some of the victims are boys, most are our sorority friends. At one point during the festivities, some rowdy boys try to throw one of the girls into the pool, but she's saved by her sisters. That's when they remember that the pool has lights, and if anyone decides to turn them on, it's curtains for our Theta Pi's. So, they send one of the girls into the pool house or the basement or wherever it is to make sure that the fuse switch for the pool lights is in the permanently off position. That's when she eats it. 

By the time the girls are being publicly congratulated by the radical band, they are so freaked out they can't even muster smiles.


Eventually, troublemaker Vicky decides that they need to move the body (which has since inexplicably left the pool and made it's way to the attic, where it came tumbling down onto one of our ladies) into the local cemetery, with the claim that, "No one will ever find it there!" Nice one, Vicky.

They use a big metal garbage container to transport the body down the road and to a van belonging to one of our girls. They almost get caught by a wide-eyed man of the law, but they manage to slither past him. When they finally make it to the cemetery, they locate a freshly-dug grave that does not yet contain a tenant and decide to dig it two feet deeper so they can slip Mrs. Slater into it and cover her up. When the funeral for whom the hole was originally intended happens, Mrs. Slater will be forever buried under the casket and no one will be the wiser. But, Vicky and her friend eat it at the cemetery and we don't get any more bright ideas from either of them. 

Meanwhile, good girl Kate has found Mrs. Slater's medical alert bracelet and calls the number on it, which connects her to the doctor we saw delivering the baby in the opening scene. The doc comes to the sorority house and he and Kate bond over stories of Slater's deformed baby and Kate's murder confession. That's when we learn that Slater's "baby" has been living in the attic for decades and is, oh yeah, totally psychotic. Of course! He saw his mom get killed by the pool and now he wants those bitches to pay the fiddler. So, the doc decides to forcibly sedate Kate and use her as bait (har har, "sedate Kate and use her as bait" sounds like a creepy Dr. Seuss rhyme) to catch the killer, who's name we now know is Eric. 

Thanks to the drug, Kate has some pretty trippy hallucinations involving Mrs. Slater and her deceased sorority sisters, which is fun. I'd also like to point out that Kate is wearing white pants throughout the duration of the party and chase scenes, and never - NEVER! - do they get dirty. You go, girl.  



It's late and I'm getting sleepy, so let me wrap this up quickly. Kate fights through her haze and runs upstairs to get Vicky's gun. The doctor chases her but gets killed by Eric. In the final scene, Kate is in Eric's room, hiding and waiting. 


But Eric is in the clown suit, the one she thought was just a suit. It's not a suit, Kate. It's a dude!! RUN!!!

They tussle. She gets away. But before the credits roll, we see Eric's eyes open and that's it. They're fates are left up to our imaginations. 

Final Thought: This movie is awesome. Good night.


September 27, 2015

Creep (2014)


I stumbled across this little number on Netflix Instant Watch yesterday and decided to give it a whirl. It was so uncomfortably weird, and at times so genuinely frightening, that I just kept scratching my head as to why it only had a two-and-a-half star rating. In the end, I gave it three stars, so I guess now I get it. But it was definitely worth watching! Let me explain...

The movie sports only two actors, from beginning to end, which is brilliant. It puts you right into the isolated mind frame of our protagonist, Aaron. There's nobody around to witness or help. It's just you and this colossal weirdo, Josef. 

Mark Duplass as Josef
Patrick Brice as Aaron
The entire thing is shot in found-footage style. If found-footage is done well, I can dig it. But it almost always leaves me with a weird taste in my mouth, asking, "Why did he film himself sleeping? Why would you wake up and film yourself talking about a weird dream you had? Who does that??" I know the point of found-footage is realism, but to me it almost always makes it less real because the actors tend to do things that "real people" wouldn't do. (I'm looking at you, Cloverfield.) But, aside from a few 'seriously, nobody would do that' moments, I didn't mind the found-footage aspect. And in most of the scenes it worked really well.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

Now we're gonna get into the meat of this thing. So, the basic premise is that Aaron is a broke videographer who finds an ad offering $1000 for 8 hours of "discreet" filming. He shows up to Josef's house after accepting the job and Josef if nowhere to be found. See what I'm getting at? Aaron filmed his drive to Josef's house, then filmed himself walking up the steps to the house, calling Josef to see why he's not there, etc. Why would he film all that stuff?? Am I supposed to believe that videographers are so enmeshed in their craft that they literally film everything?

Aaron gives up after a few minutes, and of course, he films himself walking back to his car, getting into the car, sitting in the car, and questioning the whereabouts of Josef. (Again, why??) That's when we get our first jump-scare.


Josef shows up in the window and spooks our hapless videographer. Boom! 

After a chuckle and an awkward introduction, the two begin their adventure together under the guise that Josef is a husband to Angela and a father-to-be, but is dying of a terminal brain tumor and wishes to make a candid, warts-and-all video about himself for his unborn child, whom he refers to simply as "buddy."

The uncomfortable weirdness gets going pretty quickly as Josef leads Aaron to the bathroom and begins to disrobe.


Then Josef climbs into a candle-lit bathtub and proceeds to dunk, bathe, and play with an invisible baby in a ritual he refers to as "tubby," claiming that his own father played tubby with him and he is sad he won't be able to do tubby with Buddy. Did you follow that?


Here we see Josef lovingly stroking Buddy's head.
Another jump-scare hits us when Aaron finds a wolf mask in a closet. Josef tells him, "That's just Peach Fuzz." Then he puts it on and sings a bizarre, clearly made up on the fly, song, claiming that his father used to don Peach Fuzz and sing this song to him. 

A parody poster of Peach Fuzz, found in a dark corner of the interwebs.
The filming requests become more and more strange. And Josef gets weirder and weirder, as expected. He refers to Aaron as his friend and forces him into a couple of strange male-bonding rituals, which Aaron is obviously uncomfortable with, but wants to be nice about. We've all been there, am I right?


At the end of the filming day, Aaron wants to leave, but Josef has hidden his keys and talks him into staying the night in the interest of safety, as Aaron has had a couple of drinks. In an uncharacteristic, and out-of-left-field plot device, Aaron drugs Josef with some sleeping powder in his booze and then steals his phone. When it rings, Aaron answers it and speaks with Angela, thinking she is Josef's wife. Angela quickly corrects him, informing him that she is Josef's sister and that Aaron should leave the house as quickly as possible because her brother "has problems."

When Aaron tries to leave, he finds this...


It's ol' Peach Fuzz again, grinding his ass on the door to freedom. This leads to a scuffle, which we surprisingly don't see. I mean, we see everything else, so why not this?

The next scene is Aaron back at his home, lamenting to the camera that he has received a disturbing video in the mail from Josef, which features Josef digging a hole and lugging bags of who-knows-what up a hill. 


Aaron continues to receive weird things in the mail from Josef, including a knife, a wolf doll, more videos, and a locket featuring both of their photos and has "J+A Forever" engraved on the back. 


Aaron attempts to report the goings-on to police, who pooh-pooh him over the phone, then he tosses the gifts in the garbage.

Another video follows. It's Josef holding up the trashed locket and one of the videos. He makes an impassioned plea for Aaron to meet him at a public lake so he can explain himself and apologize. Like an effing idiot, Aaron goes! I was like, "Whyyyyyyyyy, dumb ass? "

Aaron films the encounter, of course, which ends with him getting snuck up on and axed in the head by a Peach Fuzz-sporting Josef. I'll admit, the scene was tense and very well done. 

Then we cut to Josef, who is now in possession of Aaron's camera. He talks to the camera as he watches the footage of him killing Aaron and he comes to the realization that Aaron must have really been a nice guy to show up to the lake like that. Then he walks to a closet and places the footage onto a shelf that is rife with dozens of VHS and video discs featuring men's names on them. 

Just before the credits roll, we overhear Josef on the phone, talking to a new videographer who is answering his ad.  


Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It was great at creating tension and had some nice jump-scares. It's a bit draggy in places, and some of the stuff getting filmed just seemed a little over-the-top. Aaron literally films himself sleeping. Why?? But, if you have Netflix and 80 minutes to kill, go for it. There's no gore whatsoever, and there are some genuinely scary turns that make it worthwhile.

September 26, 2015

The Children (1980)

On some of the other movie posters, the tagline has been changed to read "Thank God they're someone else's." I got some chuckles on that one, since I have that thought pretty much daily, primarily at the grocery store. 


I was only 7 years old when this movie was released, but I don't recall it filtering into my local video rental arena until I was maybe 10 or 12. And, by then, my love of all things horror was full-blown. There were no restrictions on rental age in Waco, TX, in the 80s so I rented whatever the hell I wanted and, aside from the occasional admonishing look I received from the store owner, nobody gave me any guff about it. I walked out with The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the entire collections of Dario Argento and Wes Craven, and all the uber-classics like Rosemary's Baby and The Omen. You name it, I rented it. Oh, sure, there was a Kids and Family section in the store, but who would ever want to rent anything from that?! "Booo-ring," said 10-year-old Jennifer, known as Jenni at the time. I recall seeing the cover of this film (pictured below) and thinking to myself, "Hey, it's a horror movie, but it's got kids in it. Finally, they're making horror films for kids, featuring kids. It's a revolution!" Oh, how wrong I was...


I found this movie yesterday on Hulu.com by way of randomly looking for something to watch while I cleaned my kitchen, but you can also find the film in it's entirety on YouTube. Strangely, the digital version is still beat up as hell. Tons of little scratches and hiccups on the film. But, I like that. It adds to the ambiance, and it's not a distraction. It just reminds you that this may have made it's way through a gazillion drive-thru movie theaters before Troma got their hands on it and re-released it. Kinda cool.


*** SPOILER ALERT ***

After the obligatory opening shot of a leak at the local nuclear power plant (doesn't every tiny mid-western town have one??) the movie starts it's journey as any 80s-era horror film does, with a handsome young rapscallion following his wiener to the girl everybody wants. Said rapscallion and girl are pictured above. And since the girl is a little bit slutty, you know she's not going to last long. And she doesn't. Hey buddy, I don't make the rules.

We also find "the children" for whom the film was named riding in a school bus, singing that old "Hail to the Bus Driver" song. As they barrel down a random back road, their bus passes through a cloud of toxic nuclear smoke. Oh, yes, this premise is ripe with possibilities my friends.

Of course, now the kids are deadly mutates with murder on their minds. They are seemingly physically unchanged, with the exception being that their fingernails are black. They can still speak and walk, no zombie growls or mutant murmurings. And, hey, they still wear clean, fashionable clothing too. Knee highs and jumpers, anyone? So vogue.


But, unfortunately, if they get their little mitts on you, this happens...





No amount of aloe vera is going to fix that.

As you can imagine, wacky adventures result. Lots of poor, unsuspecting parents get fried when their li'l rugrat wants to give them a hug. I'm sure I would've fallen for it too! (My kid is super cute, though, so who can blame me?)


After a while, and completely by accident, one of our two main heroes (I forget which one - it was either the town sheriff or the crazed dad) figures out that you have to cut off their hands to take away their mutated sizzler power.



Sadly, this also kills them. But it does make their fingernails revert back to normal. This is never addressed in the film, but it seems like if their fingernails go back to normal then you will have no proof whatsoever that anything was wrong with the kid. It's what I like to call The Werewolf Conundrum. But, that's neither here nor there. Just cut their hands off and be done with it already!

The sheriff survives. And so does a pregnant lady and her husband (the crazed dad, mentioned above). The pregnant lady does smoke in one scene, and her too-young-for-school kid is char-grilled by her mutated kid. But the pervading opinion in the film seems to be, "That's okay. She'll have a normal baby soon." She goes into labor after all the mutated kids are toast (yes, every single one of the children's gets his or her hands cut off and subsequently dies). She has the baby at home and, when it's born, she and her husband are all smiles. Like, seriously, your other two children just died an hour ago! But, wait, that's not the ending. When the newborn little babe is suckling on it's smoker mom's teat, the camera whips in for a close up and we see... the baby has black fingernails! Dah-dum-duuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmm.



Final Thought: Only in the early 80s, or maybe 70s, would you be able to make and screen this film. It features pointless nudity, a woman smoking while pregnant, the mutilation of children, the deaths of children, toking a joint in front of the sheriff, etc. I wonder if any of the kid actors were even allowed to watch this movie. Hell, it was the 80s, so probably yeah... After all, I watched it when I was 10! And you should watch it too. It's ridiculous, but really entertaining.