31 Days to Scare ~ The Woods

woods-movie-poster

The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in 1965 New England, a troubled girl encounters mysterious happenings in the woods surrounding an isolated girls school that she was sent to by her estranged parents.

Stars: Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel Nichols, Bruce Campbell, Marcia Bennett, Emma Campbell

Director: Lucky McKee

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: The Woods didn’t get much attention when it was released back in 2006, bypassing a wide release and arriving for home consumption with little fanfare. Pity. It’s quite a good little scare show with some nicely creepy moments. The performances are on target (notably Patricia Clarkson, an expert at mellow menace) and I loved how the forest elements made their way into the school corridors and even the wardrobe of the increasingly tightly wired staff. Though it gets a tad overstuffed toward the end and betrays a bit of its ‘girl power’ intentions, it’s an overall taut watch.

31 Days to Scare ~ Killer Party

killer-party-poster-resized-1
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A group of friends get trapped at a baby shower when a mysterious outbreak starts turning people into homicidal maniacs.

Stars: Drew Benda, Stephanie Beran, John Brody

Director: Alex Drummond

Rated: NR

Running Length: 80 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m not too keen on films that deal with mass hysteria surrounding the population turning into raging monsters but there’s something fun just on the edges of Killer Party that keeps things interesting. This low-budget effort earns high marks for its appealing cast and its attempts to both poke fun at the genre while making a not totally unsuccessful attempt at breaking some new ground. There’s a bevy of uber fake blood and guts and at 80 minutes feels too long, but the unexpected moments of humor and the feeling that everyone in front of behind the scenes are pals makes me look forward to the next film from these guys.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Conspiracy

conspiracy_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary about conspiracy theories takes a horrific turn after the filmmakers uncover an ancient and dangerous secret society.

Stars: Aaron Poole, James Gilbert, Ian Anderson, Alan C. Peterson, Julian Richings

Director: Christopher MacBride

Rated: NR

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Please don’t run away when you hear the word found footage, ok? If you pass up The Conspiracy you’re missing a golden opportunity to take in a most surprising descent into the secret society the filmmakers discover. Most effective in its final act, the buildup may feel like it’s taking too long but the ultimate pay-off is worth the wait. This one gave me some good chills!

31 Days to Scare ~ Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

tucker_and_dale_vs_evil_ver4

The Facts:

Synopsis: Tucker & Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids.

Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Philip Granger, Brandon Jay McLaren

Director: Eli Craig

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Check out the list of any of the “best of” horror films in the last five years and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil will likely be on all of them…with good reason. Effectively lampooning every aspect of the slasher film genre of the last 40 years, this is awesomely funny in addition to being rapturously gory. It’s perfectly cast and earns every laugh and groan along the way. So if you’re looking to go light on the scares but not venture into stupid or too family-friendly territory, fire up Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for an assured good time.

31 Days to Scare ~ Clown

clown

The Facts:

Synopsis: A loving father finds a clown suit for his son’s birthday party, only to realize the suit is part of an evil curse that turns its wearer into a killer.

Stars: Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Peter Stormare, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Those with even the slightest fear of clowns likely recoiled at the above poster so let me make this clear…if the sight of Bozo or Ronald McDonald gives you the slightest bit of the heebie jeebies, steer clear of Clown. Though it feels like it should have been shorter and part of an anthology package, Clown gets it right most of the time by not being afraid to go to some dark places. Well designed with solid gore and splatter effects, this one sat on the shelf for a bit before being released but it’s well worth a watch. Just make sure anyone with coulrophobia isn’t anywhere near the vicinity.

31 Days to Scare – Last Minute Ideas

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Boy, where did the time go?  October just flew by and, though I went a bit AWOL toward the end, I hope you’ve found your way to one or two new movies to add to your horror watchlist.  Until next year, I leave you with some last minute ideas if you’re looking for something different.

woods-movie-poster

The Woods

The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in 1965 New England, a troubled girl encounters mysterious happenings in the woods surrounding an isolated girls school that she was sent to by her estranged parents.

Stars: Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel Nichols, Bruce Campbell, Marcia Bennett, Emma Campbell

Director: Lucky McKee

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The Woods didn’t get much attention when it was released back in 2006, bypassing a wide release and arriving for home consumption with little fanfare. Pity. It’s quite a good little scare show with some nicely creepy moments. The performances are on target (notably Patricia Clarkson, an expert at mellow menace) and I loved how the forest elements made their way into the school corridors and even the wardrobe of the increasingly tightly wired staff. Though it gets a tad overstuffed toward the end and betrays a bit of its ‘girl power’ intentions, it’s an overall taut watch.

killer-party-poster-resized-1

Killer Party

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of friends get trapped at a baby shower when a mysterious outbreak starts turning people into homicidal maniacs.

Stars: Drew Benda, Stephanie Beran, John Brody

Director: Alex Drummond

Rated: NR

Running Length: 80 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m not too keen on films that deal with mass hysteria surrounding the population turning into raging monsters but there’s something fun just on the edges of Killer Party that keeps things interesting. This low-budget effort earns high marks for its appealing cast and its attempts to both poke fun at the genre while making a not totally unsuccessful attempt at breaking some new ground. There’s a bevy of uber fake blood and guts and at 80 minutes feels too long, but the unexpected moments of humor and the feeling that everyone in front of behind the scenes are pals makes me look forward to the next film from these guys.

conspiracy_ver2

 

 The Conspiracy

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary about conspiracy theories takes a horrific turn after the filmmakers uncover an ancient and dangerous secret society.

Stars: Aaron Poole, James Gilbert, Ian Anderson, Alan C. Peterson, Julian Richings

Director: Christopher MacBride

Rated: NR

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Please don’t run away when you hear the word found footage, ok? If you pass up The Conspiracy you’re missing a golden opportunity to take in a most surprising descent into the secret society the filmmakers discover. Most effective in its final act, the buildup may feel like it’s taking too long but the ultimate pay-off is worth the wait. This one gave me some good chills!

 

clown

Clown

The Facts:

Synopsis: A loving father finds a clown suit for his son’s birthday party, only to realize the suit is part of an evil curse that turns its wearer into a killer.

Stars: Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Peter Stormare, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Those with even the slightest fear of clowns likely recoiled at the above poster so let me make this clear…if the sight of Bozo or Ronald McDonald gives you the slightest bit of the heebie jeebies, steer clear of Clown. Though it feels like it should have been shorter and part of an anthology package, Clown gets it right most of the time by not being afraid to go to some dark places. Well designed with solid gore and splatter effects, this one sat on the shelf for a bit before being released but it’s well worth a watch. Just make sure anyone with coulrophobia isn’t anywhere near the vicinity.

tucker_and_dale_vs_evil_ver4

 

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

The Facts:

Synopsis: Tucker & Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids.

Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Philip Granger, Brandon Jay McLaren

Director: Eli Craig

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Check out the list of any of the “best of” horror films in the last five years and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil will likely be on all of them…with good reason. Effectively lampooning every aspect of the slasher film genre of the last 40 years, this is awesomely funny in addition to being rapturously gory. It’s perfectly cast and earns every laugh and groan along the way. So if you’re looking to go light on the scares but not venture into stupid or too family-friendly territory, fire up Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for an assured good time.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Stepfather (1987)

stepfather

The Facts:

Synopsis: After murdering his entire family, a man remarries a widow with a teenage daughter in another town and prepares to do it all over again.

Stars: Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack

Director: Joseph Ruben

Rated: 89 minutes

Running Length: R

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Long before he reached a career zenith with his role on television’s Lost, Terry O’Quinn was mostly known as “that one guy in that one film”. A dependable character actor, he popped up in big movies and small but was rarely required to truly carry the heft of a film and if you look over his resume you’ll see he’s worked with just about everyone.  However, back in 1985 when The Stepfather went into production (it wasn’t released until 1987), O’Quinn wasn’t a familiar face and that worked to his advantage in showing that his harmless appearance masked a nutball determined to find the perfect family.

Opening with the grisly tableau of murder and the blood soaked man that did the deed, The Stepfather jumps ahead in time to find Jerry Blake (O’Quinn) settling in with a new family in a new town. His new wife Susan (Shelley Hack) thinks he can do no wrong and is grateful to have a man around the house but his stepdaughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen, a popular fave in horror films of the ‘80s) isn’t too keen on the guy.  Stephanie isn’t just bugged by Jerry’s cornball old school values, she’s wary of his outbursts that don’t align with his calm demeanor.

Director Joseph Ruben moves the pieces around nicely for the first half of the film, creating tension as Stephanie does some detective work while Jerry knocks off anyone that gets in the way of his happiness.  He eventually realizes that Stephanie has to go but doesn’t bet on the fact that as much as he’s willing to kill for the perfect family, Stephanie’s just as game to keep him out of hers.  It gets a bit heavy-handed as it unspools with the final showdown gratuitous on many fronts…such as a strange shower scene for Schoelen that feels icky and exploitative.

O’Quinn is scary good here, treading the line between tightly wound and out of control with a nice balance.  He makes the character more than just a killer in a tweed jacket and argyle socks and brings a real sense of psychosis to Jerry.  Hack is sorta bland but that’s also how her character’s written.  Even so, you’ll be driven mad by how long it takes her to catch on that her new husband is cuckoo.  As is usually the case, Schoelen is an engaging heroine that you’re willing to root for.  With a voice that always sounds like she was screaming for hours the night before, she’s a nice fit with the role and a good match for O’Quinn.

While The Stepfather ends with a pretty final dénouement, if you do your homework you’ll see that it spawned two sequels, the first of which featured O’Quinn reprising his role in what’s basically just a remake of the first film.  It’s a decent sequel but steer clear of the third entry that recasts its lead and doesn’t drum up much excitement.  A modern remake was released in 2009 but it failed to make anyone forget how solid the original film was.

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

happy_birthday_to_me_poster_01

The Facts:

Synopsis: At the snobby Crawford Academy, popular high school senior Virginia Wainwright survives a freak accident, but suffers from memory loss and traumatic blackouts. As she attempts to resume a normal life, something terrible is happening – her friends are ruthlessly murdered one-by-one.

Stars: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Jack Blum, Matt Craven, Lisa Langlois, Tracy Bregman, Lenore Zahn, Lesleh Donaldson

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: By the time Happy Birthday to Me rolled into theaters in May of 1981, movie houses were becoming saturated with holiday themed slasher pics after the booming success of Halloween in 1978 and Friday the 13th in 1980.  No government holiday stone was left unturned and no religious day of remembrance was safe from having a killer (or killers) hunting down people that just want to have a good Easter egg roll or plant in tree in honor of Arbor Day.  See Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, and Terror Train if you need a refresher.

What sets Happy Birthday to Me apart from the others is that it actually feels like it’s trying for the majority of its running length, aiming to provide audiences with some unique kills and a fair number of red herrings to keep you guessing until the totally ludicrous finale.  Underneath the gore and out of left field plot twists lies a fairly interesting film that isn’t totally lost along the way to its genre’s normal trappings.

A puzzling late career entry for director J. Lee Thompson (the original Cape Fear, The Guns of the Navarone) and one of actor Glenn Ford’s last roles, this nicely budgeted Canadian produced flick has Mary Ingalls herself (Melissa Sue Anderson) as a popular girl who just can’t keep her friends alive.  Still feeling the lingering effects of a traumatic brain injury due to a car crash that claimed the life of her mother, she starts to suffer blackouts and when she wakes up finds that another coed has been murdered.  With her birthday approaching the guest list gets liberally trimmed by a killer that likes to off their victims in a most cinematic fashion (I mean, just look at the poster!).

It’s clear that along the way the original script was jiggered with and lost some of its intended focus.  Though it feels like it’s headed one way for its big reveal, the ending provided is one no one would ever be able to predict in a million years.  I’m guessing there was a last minute reshoot to make the conclusion less obvious but in doing so it renders a heap of earlier clues and plot points useless.  It’s a cheat and a big cheat at that, but it’s just looney tunes enough to make it memorable.

Anderson never was that strong of an actress and it shows here as well.  Whether crying, screaming, or saying her lines in a flat monotone, a Scream Queen she was not destined to be.  Ford collects his paycheck without much shame while a bunch of Canadian teens never make that much of an impression, save for Matt Craven (Indian Summer) and Tracy Bregman as Anderson’s doomed chums.

It’s a film that goes from spooky to silly to scary to stupid but it’s not a bad party to think about attending – trust me, you’ve been to way worse real birthdays.  And don’t forget the creepy theme song that plays over the end credits…

31 Days to Scare – Screams from the Past

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Well, we’re a little over halfway through October and you’re probably starting to plan your Halloween night watch list.  If my selections so far haven’t given you the willies, I wanted to call out some special frights from the past that I just can’t let go unnoticed.

  1. The Changeling (1980) – A man staying at a secluded historical mansion finds himself being haunted by the presence of a spectre. 
    • One of the few films that consistently sends a shiver up my spine.  It’s got great atmosphere and the kind of scares that build into a goosebump frenzy.  Some pretty hair-raising frights await you.  Just don’t get it confused with the unrelated Angelina Jolie/Clint Eastwood movie.
  2. Hocus Pocus (1993) – After three centuries, three witch sisters are resurrected in Salem, Massachusetts on Halloween night, and it is up to two teenagers, a young girl, and an immortal cat to put an end to their reign of terror once and for all. 
    • Bombed when it was first released thanks to a dumb summer release date but has lived on and on and on in countless TV showings and yearly viewings from fans.  Disney even brought back The Sanderson Sisters for a live Halloween show at their Disneyland theme park (I saw it…it was fantastic).
  3. The Innkeepers (2011) – During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees determined to reveal the hotel’s haunted past begin to experience disturbing events as old guests check in for a stay. 
    • This is one that may take a while to dig into but once it gets started it has some neat-o moments and a fun performance from Kelly McGillis as a grumpy psychic.
  4. Waxwork (1988) – A wax museum owner uses his horror exhibits to unleash evil on the world.
    • Newly released in a snazzy BluRay edition, Waxwork continues to delight all these years later and is especially a find for horror film buffs that will get a lot of the inside jokes.
  5. Wolfen (1981) – A New York cop investigates a series of brutal deaths that resemble animal attacks.
    • This is a real good one from the early ’80s featuring Albert Finney as a cop looking into some pretty gruesome murders.  It’s a fascinating film with a great score and some interesting twists and turns.  It’s not as well known as it should be but it’s worth tracking down.

See all of my past 31 Days to Scare selection from 2012 here and 2016 here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

elvira_mistress_of_the_dark

The Facts:

Synopsis: When her great aunt dies, famous horror hostess Elvira heads for the uptight New England town Falwell to claim her inheritance of a haunted house, a witch’s cookbook and a punk rock poodle. But once the stuffy locals get an eyeful of the scream queen’s ample assets, all hell busts out and breaks loose.

Stars: Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg, William Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Susan Kellerman, Frank Collison, Jeff Conaway, Pat Crawford Brown, William Duell

Director: James Signorelli

Rated: PG-13

Running Length 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Along with the classic horror films and modern shockers, it’s nice to have a few scary-adjacent films in your back pocket on the off chance you find yourself in the company of someone who’d rather not feel the fright.  There are plenty of these types of films, with family fare like Hocus Pocus finding a wider audience outside of the PG crowd throughout the years.  I’d also add Elvira, Mistress of the Dark to the pile of alternative titles that can be a fun substitute when gore just won’t do.

Originally introduced in 1981 as a midnight movie hostess on a local cable access station, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) soon gained wider popularity thanks to her revealing attire and tongue in cheek snarky comments about the low-budget horror films she was showcasing.  People started to tune in just to see Elvira and treated the movies like commercial breaks.  With multiple products bearing her likeness and licensing deals for promotions on a global scale, what better way to capitalize on that fame then to have Elvira star in her very own movie, right?  A total no-brainer.  And that’s what you get.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is pretty silly and downright stupid at times but watching it again recently I was amazed at how brisk it moved and how much energy Peterson brings to the character.  When Elvira gets sacked from her late night gig and owing money to producers of her upcoming Las Vegas show, her future looks grim.  Then, out of the blue, she’s informed she’s the beneficiary of an inheritance just waiting for her to claim in a conservative New England township.

She’s not in town long before she’s alienated the local goody-goody (Edie McClurg, Frozen), run afoul of a trio of no goodniks (Susan Kellerman, Frank Collison, & Jeff Conaway), and thrown a wrench into the plans of her uncle (William Morgan Sheppard, Star Trek) who has sinister inclinations involving witchcraft.  She also catches the eye of the town hunk (Daniel Greene) and rouses the town’s teenagers from their fun-free, repressed comas.  There’s plenty of boob jokes and bad puns, all delivered by Peterson with zany charm and a totally wacky musical number at the film’s conclusion.

Look, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is no shining example of cutting-edge writing or overly competent filmmaking but it’s quite funny and self-aware.  Co-written by Peterson, the movie is tailor-made to fit into the Elvira brand and while not a critical or box office hit, it gained enough notoriety through video rentals to keep Elvira alive and kickin’.  Even today, Peterson looks like a million bucks in her Elvira get-up and keeps her fans happy with each appearance.  Though a sequel, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, appeared over a decade later it couldn’t quite match the fun of her original outing which has aged well…much like its star.