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John’s Horror Corner: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), a meta-sequel remake of the seminal slasher classic.

January 7, 2019

MY CALL: An engaging and fun movie experience introducing the younger generation to a slasher classic, but unable to deliver on its meta-sequel theme with an ending that falls flat. MOVIES LIKE The Town That Dreaded Sundown: Well, there’s the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976). But for more transformative classic slasher movies, I’d direct you to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Black Christmas (1974) and Halloween (1978).

This film approaches the history of the Phantom Killer and the Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946 with a much more experienced hand. The introductory montage is effective and, thankfully, utilizes a more serious tone than the hokey-dokey 1976 original. We learn that in this metasequel, the 1976 movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) actually exists as a movie, as it is screened at a drive-in on Halloween 2013. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Glee, American Horror Story) continues the story 67 years later and, I must say, I was quite pleased with how he treated this follow-up to the 1976 classic with a pseudo-scene-by-scene honorarium.

REMAKE/REIMAGINING SIDEBAR: For more horror remakes, I favor the following: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Thing (1982; yes, this was a remake), The Fly (1986), The Mummy (1999; adventure genre), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Friday the 13th (2009), Evil Dead (2013), Carrie (2013) and It (2017). Those to avoid include Poltergeist (2015), The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake), Cabin Fever (2016), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Night of the Demons (2009), Body Snatchers (1993; the second remake), The Invasion (2007; the third remake), War of the Worlds (2005) and The Mummy (2017; total adventure-style reboot-imagining). I’m on the fence about An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Halloween (2007), My Bloody Valentine (2009) and Fright Night (2011), which are bad or so-so remakes (in my opinion) but decently entertaining movies.

Our first surviving victim and teen heroine Jami (Addison Timlin; Odd Thomas) is with her mother (Veronica Cartwright; Alien, The Witches of Eastwick, The Invasion) as Chief Tillman (Gary Cole; One Hour Photo, Vamp U, Cry Wolf) questions her about the crime. She is diligent, scared and credible as she conducts her own investigation while Texas Ranger Morales (Anthony Anderson; Scream 4, Scary Movie 3-4, Urban Legends: Final Cut) joins the local police bringing some dry humor along. Meanwhile Reverend Cartwright (Edward Herrmann; The Lost Boys, My Boyfriend’s Back) provides spiritual guidance while muddying the waters of the investigation and the young legacy of the original filmmaker (Denis O’Hare; American Horror Story, True Blood, Quarantine, The Pyramid) creates more meta-thematic leads (or red herrings?). So yeah, they’re trying to do a lot with the plot—maybe too much.

So, what did I like about this follow-up to 1976? I dug the style of the camerawork! Nothing ground-breaking; just effective, moving shots that breathe life into the once-tame classic. The 1976 trombone death scene was more stupid than creative (even if it depicted the sick mentality of the killer) whereas here this scene gets the brutal meanness it deserves, complete with over a dozen stabs with several tandem strikes on-screen—in my opinion, this is very redeeming. I was also happy to see the Phantom Killer depicted less like Leatherface (i.e., less like a mouth-breathing menace who stares at you long enough to give you a head start in your escape).

Yes, I loved the intro-montage and the camerawork. But what about the bad? Well, true to the original, our killer still uses a gun. As I mentioned in my review of the original, this just takes me out of it. But worse, our killer now talks—and, making him less a Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers and more a Ghostface or Freddy Krueger, he talks a lot. And talking is fine… if it adds something to the character. But alas, here it added nothing and all the same scenes could have transpired without the flat dialogue. Thankfully, this dialogue was limited to the first act (and the finale), after which he became the Phantom Killer he should be.

But for its shortcomings, this metasequel was (for me) a far more engaging and fun horror movie experience than the original. And, for those who care, it follows more contemporary horror filmmaking tropes—e.g., the inclusion of a graphic sex scene, abundant nudity, and more brutal death scenes. Despite the nudity, the Leatherface-like panting and breast-chewing perversity were not addressed at all. Some of the more brutalized simplicities include the severed head window break scene (a nice spin on a basic necessity for a killer’s entry) complemented by the victim’s bone-exposed leg break during her escape and water-balloon-bombing blood splatters. These small but appreciated flourishes add a lot to otherwise simple and otherwise typical scenarios.

The meta-sequel approach is certainly uncommon and yields much potential to stir audiences. Films like The Human Centipede II (2011) and Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) made excellent use of the stylish premise. Unfortunately, in this film it produces less critical interplay with the events between the protagonist and the viewer—perhaps largely because, like the prequel The Thing (2011), it essentially replays the original scene by scene with little additional substance. The concept was important at first, and then largely forgotten as simply “the events of the previous movie” to such extant that the big finale revelation had to be “explained” to us in great detail, and rather unnaturally by the killer much like how the Joker runs his mouth so long that Batman figures out how to escape some deadly convoluted scenario. Thus, the third act was the least exciting of the film, and that’s what people tend to remember the most. I wonder if that isn’t the sole reason this didn’t find a timely sequel.

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John’s Horror Corner: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), basically the Texas Chainsaw LITE beer of classic slasher cinema.

January 6, 2019

MY CALL: Yes, it’s a classic. But if this movie was a beer, it would be called Texas Chainsaw LITE. Just take TCM and replace the dire sense of dread with a light feeling of menace. MOVIES LIKE The Town That Dreaded Sundown: Well, there’s the 2014 remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. But for more transformative classic slasher movies, I’d direct you to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Black Christmas (1974) and Halloween (1978).

In the wake of World War II, the once optimistic residents of Texarkana are rattled by a series of attacks in 1946. Local Deputy Ramsey (Andrew Prine; The Evil, Amityville II, Lords of Salem) assists Captain Morales (Ben Johnson; Terror Train, The Swarm) to hunt down the serial killer.

Purportedly based on a true story (presented in the movie itself, and actually based on The Texarkana Moonlight Murders and the Phantom Killer) and released directly in between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Black Christmas (1974) and Halloween (1978), director Charles B. Pierce (The Legend of Boggy Creek, Boggy Creek II, The Evictors) approaches the heavy-breathing Leatherface stylings of Tobe Hooper and strongly influences the eventual The Prowler (1981), The Burning (1981) and Friday the 13th part II (1981). However, this film’s quality falls quite short of its peers of the time.

LEFT: Jason Voorhees, 1981
RIGHT: The Phantom Killer, 1976

Panting so hard that his crude mask flows back and forth over his mouth, our killer may seem hammed up as he brandishes a car’s torn spark plugs before a young couple now unable to make their escape. He stops and menacingly stares at them as they scream, providing every advantage for them to flee much as we’d later see done by Myers and Voorhees. But unlike the slashers of 1978 onward, this killer has no particularly great physical strength or unstoppability. Much as in Black Christmas (1974), he seems to just be a regular but crazy guy with a penchant for killing.

Typical of the era, the violent act of killing (or stabbing) victims occurs off-screen after giving chase. But this film tried a few times to be brutal, and probably sort of was for 1976 considering how few movies like this there were at the time. Of the first two victims, one is dragged through the jagged broken glass of a car window, and we learn (but don’t see) that the other had her back, stomach and breasts perversely bitten and chewed. But this film, unlike TCM, is also rather light and hokey most of the time with an almost Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985) kind of humor. Moreover, with narration throughout the film and scoring akin to the tone of an old Disney movie along with very weak plot development, this almost felt like a long 1970s TV show episode of some cops chasing a rascally crook.

Despite the title, most of the film takes place in daylight—making for a far from dire atmosphere as this captured none of heaviness of Tobe Hooper’s daytime horror. Honestly, when the killer isn’t on screen the atmosphere is rather limp. And even when he is, it’s hit or miss at best. The fact that the killer occasionally uses a gun really takes me out of it, and the trombone death scene was more stupid than creative, even if it depicted the sick mentality of the killer.

I must admit that some of my earlier reviews of classic horror weren’t overly fair—e.g., I spat venom at Black Christmas (1974) for feeling completely un-intense when, truly, it practically created the slasher subgenre after Psycho (1960). Presently I try to focus on these now seemingly tame films (by today’s standards at least) and treat them more like art history as I did with Suspiria (1977) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). But honestly, I felt that this film did very little well. And I muse the only reason it is referenced for its influence on subsequent slasher films may simply be by virtue of its release at the dawn of the “rise of the modern slasher” era (right behind Black Christmas). Still, it has left its mark in slasher cinema history and deserves some recognition. And that some is all I’m willing to afford it as it strikes me as inferior among its peers released several years earlier or past.

MFF Favorite Monsters: The Cotton Candy Glob and its Demise in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

January 5, 2019

Ever since Waterworld featured Kevin Costner murdering a random 2,000 pound sea beast for about 40 pounds of its meat, I’ve been intrigued by random creature death in movies. That is why I’m writing this piece about a random monster that received about 25 seconds of screen time in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. The Cotton Candy Glob was only featured for a short time, but its short life and death left a long lasting impact on me because it died brutally via being eaten alive by the film’s protagonists Scooby Doo and Shaggy.

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I get that the monster is a jerk who was trying to murder a man and his dog. However, things go quickly awry for the monster, and he was eaten alive while yelling “I will give you cavities!” It was an insulting death because the Cotton Candy Glob was a monster who was destroyed by its prey. Writer James Gunn came up with a truly inspired bit and I love the combination of the creatures terrified face and how after they ate the monster Shaggy says “I’m thirsty, I need a liter cola monster.”

You almost feel bad for it.

What is the goal of this piece? This may sound weird but I wanted to know how many calories Shaggy and Scooby ingested when they ate this frightened creature alive. To do this, I read a lot about cotton candy and learned that no two websites have the same answer. So, I averaged the results from the websites and I guestimated the amount of cotton candy that made up the creatures body.

The cotton candy monster has some heft. which means lots of sugar went into its creation

Here is what I’m guessing.

  1. The magical monster is 15 feet tall and made of sugar and pink coloring. He is a big fluffy creature who is very unlucky.
  2. Scooby and Shaggy eat at least 75% of the monster. I don’t think they would leave a half eaten cotton candy carcass lying around. That would be disgusting. The majority of cotton candy left would be strewn about the floor in little lifeless clumps.
  3. According to my research, one pound of sugar makes about 25 servings. Thus, I’m guessing 50 pounds of sugar would have sufficed for the creature. Why 50 pounds? Since the creature is magical, there isn’t the typical amount of sugar that gets wasted due to machines and burning (thank you amazon reviews!). So, with the combination of magic and 50 pounds of sugar, I think that is enough.
  4. If Shaggy and Scooby ate at least 80% of the monster they would’ve consumed 35,000 thousand calories EACH (70,000 total). This math is a result of knowing that 50 pounds of sugar equals 87,000 calories.
  5. They ate the monster in 10 minutes due to their absence from the group not being overly long.
  6. World champion eater Joey Chestnut only consumed 21,000 calories in 10 minutes during his 2018 Nathan’s hotdog record setting performance.
  7. The metabolism and inner workings of Shaggy and Scooby Doo are truly impressive and defy all logic. I wonder what is going on in there?
  8. They showed zero concern about murdering a monster.

I had to show this picture again. The poor thing was terrified

Results? – They ingested at least 35,000 calories each in 10 minutes, while eating the 15-foot candy glob monster who seemed like it felt pain as its cotton candy flesh was being ripped from its body. I love Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed because it is such a weird little thing.

There you have it! I’m hoping you’ve always had questions about this scene, and I hope I answered them.

 

 

John’s Horror Corner: Croaked: Frog Monster from Hell (1981; aka, Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake), a boring cheesy frog monster movie.

January 4, 2019

MY CALL: Not even entertaining as a fun bad movie. Just a boring monster flick about an aquatic bigfoot with inordinate longevity. MOVIES LIKE Croaked: Frog Monster from Hell: For more amphibious fish men, try Shallow Water (2017), Humanoids from the Deep (1980), Cold Skin (2017) or Dagon (2001)—all are much better choices than this. And if you just want a so-bad-it’s-good low budget B-monster movie, watch The Alien Factor (1978). It has much more B-movie sincerity and is ridiculously bad.

An attractive scientist visits a remote lake to investigate a large frog-like fossil discovered by a young boy. Naturally, this lake has a history…

The movie posters for this B-movie are highly suggestive of something more exploitative. You’d almost expect the crass nudity and monster rape of Humanoids from the Deep (1980). Additionally, one may expect lots of blood and guts (even if on a very low budget with cheap effects). Nothing could be further from these expectations.

The movie begins with a 1960s-70s aw-shucks hokiness about it, magnified by light wholesome scoring you’d expect from an old G-rated family movie. Were it not for seeing someone stabbed through the torso with a harpoon, I’d expect this to be a kids’ movie at first. But even when the tone and scoring become more serious, it still never has the atmosphere appropriate for anything life-threatening.

The harpoon death scene occurs more than once, and is just as unexciting as the build-up to the lackluster kills… and I suppose just as unexciting as any other aspect of the movie. This really isn’t a good movie. The monster is a green rubber suit smacking all too hard of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), only it seems more dated for its era as it clunkily throws women over its shoulders and walks them toward the water most likely for some reproductive demise.

The best part—and perhaps the only satisfying part—is when the frog man’s fingers are chopped off with an axe and continue to wriggle. The scare (however weak and cheesy), execution and effects of this scene were the best we’d see. Towards the finale a kid shoots the amphibious monster with a shotgun and it just explodes as if hit by a rocket launcher. A rather anticlimactic one-shot kill for something revered as an ancient Native American frog God. Director Bill Rebane (Blood Harvest, The Giant Spider Invasion, The Demons of Ludlow) does no justice to the folklore presented—just a dumb aquatic bigfoot with inordinate longevity.

Overall, I’d say skip this. Skip this even if you’re a fan of really bad movies. There are simply better options, or “worse” B-movie options that provide more laughable qualities.

The MFF Podcast #166: The Enduring Appeal of Hackers

January 3, 2019

You can download the pod on Itunes, StitcherTune In,  Podbean, or LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

The MFF podcast is back, and we’re talking about the 1995 cult classic Hackers. We love this movie and had a great time rewatching, researching and talking about this gem. This may sound insane, but I think it has aged beautifully and I love how the costumes, hacking and dialogue feel like they’re coming from another dimension (viva la butter zone). The weirdness of it all is endearing, and I think the chemistry of the cast makes the movie feel ageless and crispy in the dark (another in-joke). If you are a fan of Hackers you will love this podcast.

If you are a fan of the podcast make sure to send in some random listener questions so we can do our best to not answer them correctly. We thank you for listening and hope you enjoy the pod!

You can download the pod on Itunes, StitcherTune In,  Podbean, or LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

Unfriended: Dark Web: An Intense Horror Film That Stays With You

December 31, 2018

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Unfriended: Dark Web is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2018 and ranks among the best horror films of this year as well. I am a fan of the original Unfriended (MFF podcast here) and I liked how it used it’s claustrophobic setting to tell a nasty little story involving revenge, death by ghost and Skype. If you are looking for a sequel that improves upon the concept of its predecessor I totally recommend Unfriended: Dark Web.

The story revolves the deadly consequences that follow a guy named Matias (Colin Woodell) after he steals a computer and uses it during an online game night comprised of college friends who have moved around the world after graduating. He stole the computer because his was getting old and doesn’t have enough memory for a sign language app that he “uses” to communicate with his girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). The computer is home to some very bleak material from the “dark web,” and its owner goes to extreme lengths to make sure its contents aren’t seen.

What I like most about Unfriended: Dark Web is how it features likable characters being wiped out without remorse or mercy. They aren’t unlikable characters who have been created so audiences can cheer when they die (which I’ve always found weird). They have a surprising amount of personality and a lot of credit needs to go to the young actors Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse and Andrew Lees who do a great job expressing fear/confusion while looking at computer screens.

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I haven’t been able to shake this film and I applaud director Stephen Susco for plowing forward without irony and embracing the bonkers notion of an incredibly organized grouping of “dark webbers” who are everywhere at any moment. I also found the relationship between Matias and Amaya surprisingly touching, and as things started going to hell, I became worried about their fates and the end result left me shook up. I never could’ve predicted my reaction to this movie and that is a compliment to everyone involved in Unfriended: Dark Web.

If you get a chance make sure to listen to our podcast about the best horror films of 2018.

John’s Horror Corner: Better Watch Out (2016), an easy-going home invasion Christmas and a horror-comedy.

December 30, 2018

MY CALL: This was a nice little thing to watch. It wasn’t sensational or particularly recommendable, but… it’s fine, it’s light and it’s fun. It also makes for an excellent horror movie for people who generally aren’t very fond of horror. MOVIES LIKE Better Watch Out: The closest choice would be Krampus (2015) or The Babysitter (2017). For more Christmas horror try Black Christmas (1974, 2006 remake), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), Silent Night Deadly Night (1984), Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) and Gremlins (1984).

Not unlike The Babysitter (2017), when we meet our horny yet kind-hearted preteen Luke (Levi Miller; Pan) he’s professing his chances with his crush and babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge; The Visit) to his best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould; The Visit). Despite their obvious innocence, these boys talk a big game in his bedroom festooned with boyish toys—it’s kinda’ cute and really on point when I reflect on my own fantasies.

Luke’s parents Robert (Patrick Warburton; Bad Milo, Scream 3) and Deandra (Virginia Madsen; Candyman, The Haunting in Connecticut, Zombie High) are cynical, peevish and his mother is downright mean. In vocal revolt of Robert’s favorite Christmas ornaments she harangues him about college-bro fellatio on fishing trips.

Shortly after Luke’s parents leave for a Christmas party, some funny things start happening. The back door is found open, a strange phone call, a pizza delivery when they never ordered anything… it’s pretty blatant smoke signaling that someone is toying with them or even already in the house. Skip forward a few scenes and home invaders are in the house! Just one thing—it’s not gonna’ go down they way you might expect.

The gore is non-existent and the violence is largely weak, but this movie definitely had its moments. A highlight of mine was the pencil stab to the face, and the Home Alone (1990) paint can gag homage was the brand of feisty I enjoy. And although I really wish that paint can execution wasn’t off-screen, it remained effective.

The cast was solid (with good but far from great writing and line delivery) and everyone did a satisfying enough job. However, something simply must be said aloud… Whether we consider the comic relief of the parents, the preteen libido banter, the “cool babysitter” dynamic, or even the acting and execution and writing, The Babysitter (2017) hands down did all these things better. Way better. And while this may be a sweet, fun, entertaining film. It’s just a holiday-themed relief pitcher to The Babysitter (2017) when it comes to my recommendations. I had my share of laughs, but never very hard; and sure this was stimulating, but never exciting or thrilling (for me, at least).

I’m not trying to discourage anyone. Put simply, director Chris Peckover (Undocumented) made a good movie, and its greatest strength was the depiction of friendly sociopathy and its atmosphere of generally “light” malevolence. I was hoping for more, but I still got something nice. This should serve as the double-feature warm-up movie I’d watch before watching the evening’s feature presentation of The Babysitter (2017) or Krampus (2015), depending on the theme of the evening.

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