November 22, 2020

The Tell-Tale Heart (2020)

(Written by Jason Manriquez, Assistant Editor/Paddy Jack Press)

McClain Lindquist's short-film adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's classic, The Tell-Tale Heart, is a moody, well-photographed ode to that particular strain of gothic theatricality that marries old-world airs to a distinctively American strain of macabre depravity and violence. There is no skimping of blood in any ill-conceived attempt to make this more acceptable to the tea and crumpet circles. Nope. This is a horror short with a vision, and it stays true to that vision throughout its modest 22-minute runtime. The Narrator, played by Sonny Grimsley, remains the one fixed constant throughout a series of vignettes meant to tease and discombobulate the audience. Time and space itself are continually made questionable, with clocks running backward, and the various scenes shifting locales, never quite sure if what’s happening is taking place at the home of the Old Man (James C Morris), or at some police station, or who-knows-where. Officer Sharpe, played by the wonderfully assertive Mikah Olsen, and Detective Tucker, portrayed by Teren Turner, appear as archetypal law enforcement from divergent eras, further heightening the spatio-temporal confusion. Officer Sharpe looks as though she was culled from an 80’s police drama, while the Detective looks like someone pulled from a pulpy Mickey Spillane novel. The auteur's commitment to Poe’s literary vernacular is clearly meant to create tension within the viewer habituated to a uniform vernacular. All the characters speak from a distinct place, almost as if they all existed in separate worlds. Regardless, the film does a great job drawing the viewer in for a closer look at the simmering surface of an unhinged mind.

To learn more about this film, visit

January 13, 2020

The Bad Seed (1956)

Written by Jennifer Manriquez, Editor-In-Chief, Paddy Jack Press

As unbelievable as it may seem, I'd never seen The Bad Seed before last night. I chose to watch it for a continuation of my "killer kids" review series, and because I already owned it. Yes, I own a digital copy (purchased for $2 during a sale a few years back) and never bothered to watch it until yesterday. I'm self-flagellating because it seems like an obvious film for any horror fan to watch. But I'm always a bit hesitant about watching old black and white films because, unless they're Psycho or It's a Wonderful Life, they're usually boring - at least to me - but I was pleasantly surprised by this one!

The story began as a book, then became a stage play, then ripened into a movie (all within a span of just a couple of years). The action of the film, which takes place almost entirely in an apartment living room, feels very stagy. I wouldn't have needed to know that it was a play first in order to know that it was a play first. With the exception of a small handful of scenes that transpire near and around the apartment, the only background we generally see is the Penmarks' living room. There's a staircase outside the front door of the apartment, which we see characters whiz up and down on occasion, and there's a gazebo outside where title character, Rhoda Penmark, plays quietly with her many toys, and where she is frequently confronted by crude apartment groundskeeper, Le'Roy Jessup, who straight-up hates her and lets her know about it. We also briefly see a field where Rhoda and her classmates are picnicking, and we get a brief glimpse of Rhoda's father's office. That's about it for scenery. We also never see any of the action for which Rhoda is blamed. We don't see any of the deaths, we only hear about them via her mother, teacher, landlady, and various outsiders. When an audience can't be shown an action The Bad Seed, I don't think it's a bad film at all. It's actually very well-written, cast, and performed. There's not a bad actor in the bunch! It's also very well-paced considering it's really not much more than people talking at each other for two hours.
So, this movie is basically nothing but exposition.

I have a background in theatre, so whenever I watch a play, or a movie that was clearly a play first, I always cast myself in it. And if I were going to be cast in The Bad Seed, I'd want to play Hortence Daigle, the bereaved mother of a boy who drowned tragically at the school picnic. Hortence is so sad you can cut her pain with a knife. Hortence is also scandalously drunk and a bit trashy. And Hortence knows Rhoda had something to do with the death of her son, if she could only talk to the girl... If she could only talk to her for just a minute...

After reading up on the history of this production, I was interested to find that most of the actors in the film originated their roles in the play, which explains how they all had their characters down pat onscreen. It's obvious in the film that these actors are intimately familiar with their respective characters, and it's really what keeps the film moving along so briskly despite the fixed scenery.

I also found it intriguing that the film version ends completely differently from the stage version. I won't spoil the film's ending for you, but I will tell you that the stage version ends with Rhoda's mother dying and Rhoda living to do... well... whatever it is that she does, without interference. The movie takes this general route, to a degree, but goes five steps further with it and ends up doing something completely out of the blue. The ending felt very abrupt, and unnatural. I want to nitpick it for you, but I don't want to spoil it.

January 12, 2020

Underwater (2020)

Written by Jennifer Manriquez, Editor-In-Chief, Paddy Jack Press

I was really, really excited about this one. I've always had an affinity for anything that happens underwater, and I've always had a slightly paralyzing fear of the open ocean. But The Abyss is one of the best films I've ever seen, and I generally enjoy Kristen Stewart's performances, so I couldn't wait to see what Underwater had to offer. Don't worry, I won't spoil it. Read on...

  • The cinematography was beautiful. It looked like water. It looked like metal. It looked like two things that don't belong together: humans with their concrete, glass, and steel structures, and the wild, deep, serene, natural ocean. I thought it was confining and claustrophobic and dirty and fantastic. Right from the get-go you're struck with the feeling that people don't belong down there, and for a horror flick that's set underwater, that's a great place to start. 
  • K-Stew. I like her. Yeah, fuck you, I said it. I LIKE HER! She might always be singing the same note no matter what movie she's in, but it's a note that I enjoy listening to. And, yeah, she's beautiful, but not in the same way her Hollywood peers are. There's something different and special about her. And there's always a fragility and vulnerability to her that charges her characters with a weird, spastic energy that I love. To me, it makes her feel more "real." She was great in this. She gave a solid performance and I applaud her work. 
  • The monsters are really damn scary. I've seen so many horror films, it's hard to get me to jump. I always joke that "I can't get got," but the first jump scare in this film (there are several) sent my arms flailing and I did an audible squeal. That's saying something. That's high praise! 
  • The sound editing was spot-on! Every little creak and glass-crack was nerve-wracking perfection. 
  • The opening credits music was fantastic. 
Kristen Stewart in Underwater (2020)
  • Underwater is a terrible title. 
  • If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll know that I canNOT stand when a woman is wearing makeup during parts of a film where she would absolutely not be wearing makeup. Kristen manages to keep the perfect smoky eye shadow and mascara going through the whole thing, no matter how bloody or wet she gets. She even gets cleaned up after some pretty harrowing action scenes and still has makeup on. Why?! Did she re-apply it after she took a shower? It's so insulting. Seriously, I had to stop watching Fear the Walking Dead because it drove me absolutely nuts that the teen girl in it always had the perfect blow-out and makeup on. She might have slept in the desert for two straight weeks, but that hair was always loose and shiny and perfectly, professionally blown-out. No. No. No. So dumb. Directors, women are allowed to get marred, okay? They can be without makeup for a scene or two. Stop this madness!
  • Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss (1989)
  • There is absolutely ZERO character development in this film. The action starts almost immediately. Like, way too soon. When you want an example of how to perfectly pace an underwater action film, look no further than The Abyss. Before anything action-y happened, we knew those characters, we understood their lives and their motivations, and we cared about them. We even cared about the bitch, who later became the heroine (who, by the way, is not wearing makeup, or at least a very minimal amount, if any). We get some haphazard character cards placed hither and thither throughout Underwater, but they feel pointless and silly by the time you see them. And, since those characters were never developed initially, you don't really care. 
  • The character played by TJ Miller wasn't necessary and felt disingenuous, like forced comic relief. I hope there's a DVD cut that leaves his character out of the film entirely.   
The film felt rushed and unfinished for me. It felt like a short film. The special effects were fantastic, but I needed more character development and I needed it to be a bit longer, with more life stuff happening outside of the action. I didn't find myself caring when a character died, or when a character lived because I didn't know them. That said, however, I can honestly proclaim that I enjoyed the film. There wasn't much of a story, which is a shame. It could have been loads better with a longer, more fleshed-out script. But, for what it was, it's worth seeing. I also want to support any original film that puts in an honest effort, even if it's not perfect. I'm so damn sick of remakes.

In conclusion, go see it and be sure you see it in a theater. The sound editing alone will jangle your nerves enough to make you enjoy it. And go support some original film-making. They're not all going to be Jaws or The Abyss, but that doesn't mean they're not going to be fun. Well... except the sequel to 47 Meters Down. That was a piece of shit.

July 6, 2019

Monday Afternoon Movie, a Podcast

Written by Jennifer Manriquez, Editor-In-Chief, Paddy Jack Press

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 for more information.

July 5, 2019

Bloody Birthday (1981)

Written by Jennifer Manriquez, Editor-In-Chief, Paddy Jack Press

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)

Written by Jennifer Manriquez, Editor-In-Chief, Paddy Jack Press

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)

Written by Jennifer Manriquez, Editor-In-Chief, Paddy Jack Press

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
Written by Jennifer Manriquez, Editor-In-Chief, Paddy Jack Press

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 not all men are 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. But that doesn't mean it's not fun. It's absolutely still fun. 

August 1, 2018

The Belko Experiment (2016)

Written by Jennifer Manriquez, Editor-In-Chief, Paddy Jack Press

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 21, 2018

The Return of Horror Hero, Joe Bob Briggs

Written by Jennifer Manriquez, Editor-In-Chief, Paddy Jack Press

Joe Bob Briggs is the patron saint of horror and exploitation films the world over. We know him. We love him. And, for 17 years, we have mourned the loss of him. Until now...

On Friday the 13th, 2018, curated internet horror channel Shudder unleashed a 24-hour live movie marathon called The Last Drive-In, hosted by none other than Joe Bob Briggs.

I don't know how many of you watched MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs back in the 90s, but I was there in my living room every weekend, eyes glued to the TV screen, soaking in all of the encyclopedic horror knowledge Joe Bob had to gift viewers in the interstitial spots before and after commercial breaks. He was (and still is) absolutely mesmerizing! It's like he knows everything! And, as if that wasn't cool enough, he's also really, really damn funny.

Having been born and raised in the great state of Texas myself, it was so amazing to have a really smart and witty Southerner who loved horror right there on national TV for all the world to see.  You see, Southern girls are supposed to go to church and read romance novels and watch soap operas and make nachos for their football-loving husbands. But that's not me. That's never been me. And I've always felt like kind of an outsider and a weirdo. So, Joe Bob made me feel validated. Joe Bob felt like a friend. Joe Bob was then, and remains to this day, a sincere and much-lauded hero of mine.

So, you can imagine how I nearly fell out of my friggin' chair when I found out he was coming to Richardson, TX, to host a live screening of Sleepaway Camp at the Alamo Drafthouse!! I could meet the master himself?! Just thinking about it now gives me goosebumps all over again. And I feel I need to demonstrate that my barometer for meeting celebrities is pretty low. I love horror, but I'm not willing to pay sixty bucks to get an autograph from the guy who played the guy with the thing in that one movie. But for Joe Bob, hell yes! I'd do just about anything for him! (P.S. He didn't even charge for pictures and autographs - it was $16 for the movie ticket and nothing more.) And I kind of thought it would be just a quick hello before the movie, then a meet and greet afterward, but it was so much more! Joe Bob did a long, hilarious talk before the movie, gave away some t-shirts, made jokes about how the Shudder channel wouldn't let him put the word "breasts" on the t-shirt that also featured their logo. THEN he did the drive-in totals for the movie, just like old times! It was pure magic.

And, for your viewing pleasure, here's a crappy video I took with my phone of the drive-in totals. Enjoy how my flabby arm can't quite hold the phone still. I said ENJOY, dammit!


Even if Joe Bob hadn't been on the scene, watching Sleepaway Camp with a crowd of horror fans was the most amazing experience! Everyone was laughing, clapping, and booing together. When the film was over, the entire audience broke out in thunderous applause! It was so much fun!

After the movie, it was time to meet the man himself. I was so nervous to actually meet one of my heroes! When I was standing in line, he was right there. It was insane! I know I sound like a dork right now, but I fully own it. I was crazy with excitement. 

This is the picture I snapped of Joe Bob
 talking to another fan while I was in line.
The line was long and serpentine, but moved fairly quickly. At the time I snapped the picture you see on the right, I still had a long crook of line to get through. Joe Bob was so generous with his fans, taking the time to talk to each and every one, with a big, friendly smile on his face. I'm a friendly gal too, so while I was in line I met a guy named Eli and we started talking about our shared love of VHS tapes and how VHS rental stores are starting to make an underground comeback. It was great! He also hipped me to a local VHS swap club. Thanks, Eli!

Eventually, my turn came. And I had the biggest, dumbest grin on my face. Joe Bob stuck his hand out to shake mine and I just immediately fan-gasm'd all over him. 

"You're my hero... I watched every episode of MonsterVision... It's because of you that I blog about horror movies now... etc."

His response was so kind! He said, "Oh, you're a blogger?" And he actually asked me to send him a link to my website! Seriously, he was just so sweet and gracious, and I wish I could've had more time to talk to him. I'd love to pepper him with questions about his career and his interest in horror movies and so much more. But, alas, there were people behind me. Sigh... So, I had to get a picture snapped and move along. 

I rode home (my best friend, Sammy, drove me; thanks girl!) with my head in the clouds, so happy to have met this legendary human. But there was more fun to be had! The marathon was the following night!

Like many people I subscribed to Shudder for the sole purpose of watching the marathon. And, like many people, I was super pissed when I turned on the Shudder channel at 8:00 p.m. and saw absolutely nothing. If you were there, and if you were at all connected to Twitter at the time, you will know that the Twitter-verse lost it's ever-loving shit that night when Shudder was so overwhelmed by viewers that it basically just crapped out. Fans are now referring to it as "the night Joe Bob broke the internet." For three full hours I got nothing. And it's not like Shudder was stopping the marathon until they were able to go to Best Buy and purchase a zillion more servers. No. Those of us who were getting left out in the cold, were just out of luck and that's it. So, like everyone else, I took to Twitter to exclaim my disappointment with cuss words and rowdy gifs. Here are a few of my posts:

 Yeah, I was pissed. We all were. But, then magically after three-ish hours, the live feed came on and I was immediately happy again. It was as quick as flipping a switch. Slowly all the feeds started coming on for everybody. There were still problems throughout the night, with a lot of people giving up and swearing off Shudder forever. But I stuck with it. My feed would occasionally flicker out, but I learned that I could switch to my computer to pick it back up, then half an hour later switch back to my Roku. There was even a guy on Twitch who was streaming the live feed with his phone, and I watched a good couple of hours that way. Hardcore fans found a way to make it happen!

I live-tweeted half the night (yes, I fell asleep; I'm a mom, don't judge me) then woke up and continued watching and tweeting over coffee the next morning. It was the most fun I've had in a long time! It took me back to those MonsterVision days where, to enjoy it, you had to tune in on Saturday night. There was no such thing as streaming - there was just you and a TV, probably a beer or two and a bucket of popcorn. I wouldn't trade those nights for anything. This was just the same. Joe Bob hasn't lost a bit of his old sly wit. He even regaled the viewers with some wonderfully pissy tirades! I can't see some jackass messing with their phone now without hearing Joe Bob's voice saying, "Stop fiddlin' with your phone!" Wise words indeed, sir.

During the marathon screening of Sleepaway Camp, fans got a special treat! The star of the film, Felissa Rose, who played main character, Angela, showed up for one of Joe Bob's patented interviews and it was amazing! At that point, I decided to publicly forgive Shudder. Here's my tweet:

We got to watch some great horror films with Joe Bob, and with each other on Twitter, that night! The full line up was (in order): Tourist Trap, Sleepaway Camp, Rabid, The Prowler, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Daughters of Darkness, Blood Feast, Basket Case, Re-Animator, Demons, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Hellraiser, and Pieces. Each of Joe Bob's interstitial bits were replete with knowledge-dropping, interviews, lessons, a heartfelt tribute to John Zacherle, and even sing-alongs.

The full marathon ended with a last, lone shot of Joe Bob in his longhorn chair, taking off his cowboy hat and looking around, then down at his feet, as the lights in the studio went off one by one. I got a little teary-eyed as I watched it and, like probably everyone watching, I hoped this wouldn't really be the last time John Bloom dons that bolo tie and entertains audiences worldwide as Joe Bob Briggs...

Luckily, exactly one week later, I saw this on Twitter!'

He's coming back! The drive-in will truly never die!!! And I will definitely be there to watch. I still have my Shudder subscription and don't plan on turning it off anytime soon. Thank you, Shudder! And, most of all, thank you Joe Bob!!! You made this gal's horror heart sing, and I am so glad you're back!


Lastly, I want to say that I know this isn't exactly a professional review, guys. This is a straight-up fan waxing about something that made me insanely happy. I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience with Joe Bob and I hope you'll join me on Twitter for the next Joe Bob run! Until then, fellow drive-in mutants. Until then...