The People Under the Stairs | Phantasm | Night of the Creeps | The Picture of Dorian Gray | Wrong Turn | Crimson Peak | Bug | The Old Dark House | Cannibal Holocaust | Elvira, Mistress of the Dark | Nosferatu The Vampyre | Let’s Scare Jessica to Death | The Collector | Bio Zombie | The House of the Devil | Don’t Go in the House | Hell Comes to Frogtown | The Verdict


“Do not read the Latin!”

October. Horror movies. You know the drill. No long-winded intros from me this year. I watch horror movies, write some stuff about them, and give them a star rating from one to four in the following categories:

Iconic – Is it well-known or influential?
Scary – Does it creep you out or make you jump?
Bloody – Is it violent/gory?
Overall – Is it entertaining or does it have artistic value?

You can follow along as I update throughout the month, and I’ll make a ranked list and any final comments at the end. Navigation is at the top, so jump around if you like. Previous horror-thons here, here, and here. Into the woods!



The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Well this is… weird. I mean it’s really gonzo, but not in the awesome way that something like Re-Animator or Hausu is. It’s mostly weird like eating a bowl of noodles that you microwaved, and there are cold parts and parts that burn your tongue. It’s an unwieldy mish-mash of tones that never cohere into something unified. The first 30 minutes are awful, with a pre-Pulp-Fiction Ving Rhames as the neighbor/thief/pimp/Kwanza-claus, and 12-year-old Brandon Adams whose every quip is either badly delivered or not properly supported by the rest of the scene. Seriously, it’s amazing how many of his one-liners the film bungles. For example:

Alice: “He said he killed you!”
Fool: “He was exaggerating.”

If you stop the scene for a second and focus on the line before you move on with the action, and if you have him kind of toss it off, then it reads cool. But the way they play it, you just go “Oh, yeah, that would be have been cool if I could have heard it, or if it sounded like he wasn’t reading it off a card.” It goes on this way.

I have no idea who the intended audience for this movie is. Apparently it did pretty well at the box office in 1991, but this is an R-rated movie with lots of blood, cannibalism, stabbings, and a guy running around in a gimp costume, and yet it has no darkness of tone, no scares, no gravitas. It’s like they just got everyone at a Halloween party together and made them run around a house for a while and filmed it.

The film ends better than it begins by pure brute force. It’s thrown so much at us so haphazardly that it’s at least an interesting sort of failure. It’s so unusual as to be a curiosity, but hardly better than that.

Iconic: *
Scary: *
Bloody: ***
Overall: *1/2


Phantasm (1979)

phantasm-crop-1

Allow me to describe the first moments of this film. The title, in red, hovers over a black screen, in the slightly jittery way titles used to do before the digital era. We open on a grainy image of a creepy mansion, later revealed to be a mausoleum. Then, pan through a cemetery until we see two pairs of shoes – high heels and some Chuck Taylors. Yep, it’s two youths doin’ it behind a tombstone. We see their faces, we see her breasts, and then we see the knife, which she plunges into his chest. Her face. His face. Some old man’s face for a couple of frames! Then cut to the same location, day. Now that’s how you start a horror movie! But does cult legend Don Coscarelli’s film rest on its laurels and drag its feet through 30 minutes of boring exposition? YE GODS NO. This film’s pace is relentless, constantly coming up with crazy shit to show you. And by the time it’s all said and done, you may know almost as little as you did when you started.

I love the 70’s horror films. They’re so special to me. I’ve gained this appreciation over time. Something tells me that if I’d watched Phantasm five years ago in my first Horror-thon that I might not have appreciated it nearly as much. The acting is … amateur. The story line is choppy, convoluted, and at times intentionally vague. But that’s not really what it’s about at this point and it sounds wrong to say I judge horror movies in particular by a different standard but I definitely do, because a good horror film doesn’t require the same set of virtues that a good drama film does (necessarily). Particularly low budget love-affairs like this one I can’t help but simply adore all the creativity and carte-blanche weirdness. Sometimes the alienating effects of awkward acting and abrupt character motivation add to the eerie charm in their own way. That’s definitely true here. So much that happens makes no sense, but it’s enjoyable from one scene to the next. Why do Jody and his friend suddenly have a jam sesh on the porch? I don’t know. Why does Jody insist on shooting at a car he already knows has no one inside it? I could not say. What even happens at the end? Your guess is as good as mine, really.

Iconic: **
Scary: **
Bloody: ***
Overall: ***



Night of the Creeps (1986)

Fair warning – I was pretty tired when I watched this. I can’t say with confidence that I’ve given it the shot it deserved. I will say generally that it did not “thrill me.” It’s a decent horror comedy but one that lacks the wicked spark of a Slither or even a Gremlins. It’s just too goofy even when brain slugs are reanimating 30-years-dead axe murderers to kill old ladies in front of their TV sets. Granted, if you were wondering what to expect, the sci-prologue in which aliens that look like this chase down one of their own to prevent an experiment from breaking loose gives you a pretty good idea of the movie’s tone: over-the-top, silly, 100% 80’s. I realize all those things might sound like you need to watch this movie immediately. I just wish that the follow-through on this setup had been a bit sharper – jokes funnier, gore nastier.

The film wears its influences on its sleeve, cheekily name-dropping horror directors (characters are named Cronenberg, Hooper, Romero, etc.) and cult classics like Plan 9 From Outer Space. Its setup pays homage to The Blob and 50’s sci-fi like Invasion the Body Snatchers, as well as zombie movies. Tom Atkins is fine as the gun-toting, one-liner-spewing cop, but he’s not exactly Leslie Nielsen. His presence is emblematic of the film’s problems, i.e. trying to cover a weak script with performance and self-awareness. The movie has a lot going for it, including some actually great effects (the space slugs) and winning if not exactly great actors in the likes of Jill Whitlow and Steve Marshall (Jason Lively is, ironically, a charisma sink) but the way all these elements are handled just feels sloppy. It lacks momentum and excitement, and can’t quite get by on affection for horror cinema.

Iconic: *
Scary: *
Bloody: **
Overall: **



The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

The lurking horrors of man’s own soul have seldom been so well portrayed. The nugget of Oscar Wilde’s story – a man gains eternal youth while his portrait ages – is well known; but I wonder how many have actually seen this 1945 film starring George Sanders (who despite top billing is not Dorian Gray), Donna Reed and a very young Angela Lansbury. It’s a stylish moral thriller about the seductive danger of amoral, hedonist philosophies and the path that a man sets for his life. Sanders’ fast-talking character reminded me of James Stewart in Rope, another seemingly learned man who talked at length extolling the questionable virtues of a worldview that even he didn’t really believe in (whether Harry believes it in the end is never solved). Here his ideas take root in the mind of wealthy young Dorian Gray, who decides to test his young fiancee’s purity with a twisted mind game. This begins a downward spiral that puts blood on Gray’s hands and begins to isolate him.

The movie seems a bit longer than similar films of the era, but there’s plenty of story packed in. My conception of this tale differed from the actual one in a few important ways. Crucially, the portrait does not merely age but also decays, giving expression to Gray’s inner evil. Second, merely looking upon the painting does nothing to affect the curse, as Gray views it many times throughout the film. The full color inserts of the painting are fantastic, and responsible for the one really horrifying moment. I was not expecting this movie to give me a jolt like that. The great thing about this is that while it doesn’t often try being scary, the creepiness is subtler than most films and has the weight of moral force behind it. Framing and composition is also really strong, and the use of light (for example, the swinging lamp in the storage room) and deep focus are laudable. The biggest weakness is probably the narration which guides us through some important moments so we don’t miss the specifics of what’s happening in Dorian’s thoughts. I’m not one of those “all narration is bad!” types, but here it feels like a bit of a handicap. Quibbles aside, the film surprised me with its thoughtfulness and elegance.

Iconic: ***
Scary: *
Bloody: *
Overall: ***



Wrong Turn (2003)

wrong-Turn

This is it. This is the movie The Cabin in the Woods was making fun of. If you followed the bad horror movie template beat by beat you’d be hard-pressed to make something more by-the-numbers than Wrong Turn, a limp, stupid horror movie about attractive youngsters who break down in backwoods West Virginia and get attacked by some inbred cannibal types. You know the ones. It’s The Hills Have Eyes but with more trees and less rape. One of the characters even mentions Deliverance as if he lives in a world where movies exist. None of them, though, have learned how not to make the kind of terrible decisions that get movie characters killed. For example, if any of these kids had ever seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, they’d know better than to enter a rural home uninvited and then go poking around like a jerk. Sure, murderous savages may live in the house, but does that give you the right to go through their refrigerator full of human body parts or mess with their severed doll heads? A little consideration would go a long way here, folks.

Here’s a partial list of the stereotypical and dumb things that happen:

1. Guy goes to a quiet, burned-out gas station in the middle of nowhere to use the phone, which of course does not work. Station is staffed only by an old decrepit dude. This is the Harbinger.
2. Guy breaks down by doing something stupid, in this case just not looking at the dang road.
3. Main cast of characters is five strong, two guys and two girls.
4. There are two stoners. They have sex, then they die.
5. They split up, leading to #4 above.
6. They enter a strange cabin.
7. They do not immediately leave said cabin on first sign of Scary Shit.
8. One of them creates a diversion, and then another one repeats the diversion, thereby further splitting up the group and putting himself in unnecessary peril. He dies from the peril.
9. There’s an observation tower made of wood in the middle of a forest that they do not know but their adversaries do. They decide it’s best for all of them to climb it, making them sitting ducks. I wonder if the bad guys will try to knock over the tower or burn it down?
10. They burn it down.
11. They jump into the trees, and no one has broken ribs.
12. A guy gets shot in the leg and then spends most of the movie not limping or anything.
13. Why do the cannibals take Eliza Dushku and tie her to the bed instead of killing her? They kill literally everyone else immediately and then chop them up later. The stoner girl was killed from behind. Other dude shot with arrows. Other girl killed with swift axe to the head. Police arrowed to the head and chopped up at the house. Then they just decide to kidnap her and keep her there a while. I guess it could be rapey but doesn’t seem strongly implied especially since they’re inbreds. (Answer: plot armor)

The only way I see that this diverges from the formula is that it’s not the just final girl who makes it out (sorry, elder gods). Seriously though, a lot of this stuff wouldn’t matter if the movie was strong dramatically, or stylistically, or even if it was proper scary. But it isn’t any of those things. About the best I can say is the effects by Stan Winston look pretty good (and I guess I liked the part where the girl’s head stayed ax’d to the tree while her body tumbled to the ground), and the cast is pretty, and Eliza Dushku isn’t as bad an actress as the main guy, who is quite wooden. It’s an utterly bland, boring, unoriginal movie with no thrills. Useless. How does this have like 6 sequels?

Iconic: **
Scary: *
Bloody: ***
Overall: *



Crimson Peak (2015)

crimsonpeak

A bloody, deranged fairy tale – Crimson Peak is nowhere near as great as Pan’s Labyrinth, but it nevertheless evidences Del Toro’s strengths as a storyteller. His films often feature young heroes and heroines, and a childlike sense of discovery even in the most gruesome of contexts. In Crimson Peak, a key or a letter can hold an enticing secret, and those secrets are kept just long enough for us to squirm with anticipation.

Like The Visit earlier this year, reactions to this film are certain to be damaged by fraudulent expectations. The film isn’t very scary, and only once or twice does it really try to be. The wispy CG ghosts that always seem to be screaming are indeed the worst bits about a movie that didn’t necessarily need them. Of course, the movie also predicts that reaction and preempts it by wrapping the whole tale in a meta-story – the device is that the film we see is essentially the book being written by the main character. It goes one step further, even, and explains its metaphor up-front. The film’s palate is largely that orange/blue mix we’ve been seeing so much, and then a character compares red/green color-blindness with inability to see ghosts, thus tying the film’s aesthetic to its content. We eventually see the ghosts, who are often bright red apparitions. In this, Edith may be the only one not too colorblind to notice them.

The meat of this story is a period romance like something out of Jane Austen (also name-dropped) that gets all gothic and tragic and melodramatic and bloody on us. Occasionally it flies a bit too close to Tim Burton territory for my taste, but it’s enjoyable to watch even when it’s playing it so, so big. Jessica Chastain in particular has a few lines that would probably be intolerable were they not draped in a British accent. Hiddleston and Wasikowska work effortlessly in their roles and are believable together. But what is Del Toro’s obsession with Charlie Hunnam? And why would you cast him as an American? Or at all?

I can’t help but feel this is a slight entry for someone I know is capable of something as deeply imaginative, horrific, and emotionally powerful as Pan’s Labyrinth. However, it’s not fair to any filmmaker to ask them to continually top their greatest achievement. Crimson Peak is a handsome film and a ripping good yarn.

Iconic: *
Scary: *
Bloody: ***
Overall: ***



Bug (2006)

bug

I like this movie more in theory than in practice. In theory, it’s well acted and directed, a tough, nasty, lean paranoid thriller that should be right up my alley. In practice it’s lacking something. My instinct is that it’s Tracy Letts’ script, adapted from his play. It’s hard to sell us Ashley Judd’s character drinking Michael Shannon’s Kool-Aid so quickly and so completely. Some of the dialog seems repetitive and the monologue at the end where Judd convinces herself of an astonishing load of bull crap is…really something. The foil-covered hotel room interior is moody but constantly reminds us that both these characters are crazy as some loons.

Bug is probably the best acting I’ve seen out of Ashley Judd, who works hard to play down her Hollywood good looks. She’s a fragile mind, an ostensibly tough character who has taken so much that her defenses are down and she’s ready to believe absolutely anything to keep Michael Shannon’s Peter in her life. Shannon of course does unhinged about as well as anyone ever, and he played this role on the stage to boot, so he’s got it pretty well down. It’s hard to watch him gaslighting Judd so completely. He probably really believes everything he’s doing – it would be a pointless deception – but he’s so methodically manipulative that we see through him. If you ask me there’s not much ambiguity to the story. That the film never shows us a single bug (a mantis in an expressive quick cut not withstanding) is telling. It’s all in their heads. Folie a deux. A madness shared by two.

Whether this properly qualifies as a horror movie is up for debate, but it has a relentlessly downbeat quality and things get awfully bloody and chaotic to the point that I’d say it fits. I’d like to award more points for the bravura on display but I just can’t muster much enthusiasm for it.

Iconic: *
Scary: *
Bloody: ***
Overall: **



The Old Dark House (1932)

This seems like the kind of movie you would show on cable after midnight as a palate cleanser following a real horror movie like Halloween or The Exorcist. It’s light entertainment with a good humor about it. Three travelers are caught in a storm that threatens to wash away their mountain road and so they take shelter in an old, dark house with a nervous man and his exacting sister, and their brooding butler played by Boris Karloff. Once joined by Charles Laughton and Lilian Bond, the now five impromptu houseguests must chat around the fire and deal with the drunken butler, the 102-year-old in the bed upstairs, and his eldest son locked away on the top story. It’s a low-stakes gothic story that honestly doesn’t amount to much. The actors are all fine, adjusting for 1930’s acting styles. The print unfortunately wasn’t that great on the DVD and so the scratchy picture and sound detracted a bit from the experience. Most the fun is had by Melvyn Douglas and Lilian Bond, who fall in love over a single night, and the film culminates in a marriage proposal. The efficiency of these old movie courtships never ceases to amaze me.

Iconic: *
Scary: *
Bloody: *
Overall: **



Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

cannibal-holocaust

I ate hotdogs during the last 15 minutes. Should I be worried about myself? I’m a little worried.

I sort of think Cannibal Holocaust is a legitimately good film. I mean… it’s horrible. It’s not the kind of movie you want to admit to people that you watched. But it’s so effective and interesting on so many levels – theme, influence, structure, effects. I was expecting pure exploitation and while it definitely is that it’s also more than that, at least for a while. There was a point at which I wondered if it wasn’t a strangely moral film. Even the infamous animal slayings are not protracted – the turtle scene (which is very difficult to watch) shoots for a quick, one-hit kill and then the animal is eaten.

The human violence is obviously fake, even though the handheld shooting style lends verisimilitude. Some of it is so unmotivated that it’s almost funny. They find a member of secluded tribe that no one has ever encountered, and the first thing they do is gang rape her? Even the one guy whose girlfriend is standing right there? It’s such a bizarre thing that it casts the whole situation as metaphor. The ham-fisted ending doesn’t manage to totally undercut the way the film questions what’s real and what is illusion. There’s a savvy intertextual element at play.

Somewhere around the time the world’s worst documentarians and most terrible people are having sex on the cinders of a tribal hut they just burnt down and in full view of the aborigines, I gave up trying to rationalize the film’s excesses. There’s absolutely no excuse for going as far as they go. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? It keeps you watching. “I want all this material burned.”

Iconic: ***
Scary: *
Bloody: ****
Overall: ***



Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Okay, so this isn’t horror – like, at all. If there’s such a thing as a “world of horror,” this film exists parallel to it. But Elvira is, apparently, a horror icon (I can’t say I knew about her prior to watching this) and in this film her gothic appearance and salacious demeanor butt up against an uptight small town when the out-of-work horror hostess roadtrips to Massachusetts to collect an inheritance from her great aunt. It’s a light-hearted comedy with a touch of horror trappings in the vein of something like The Burbs. I should really check my recommendations carefully before getting the DVD from Netflix, cause when I saw that this was a movie about a character whose greatest assets are… obvious, and that it was PG-13 to boot, I thought I had made a mistake.

Not so, it turns out, as Elivra is perfectly charming and this is delightful if innuendo-filled silliness that resembles the Marx Brothers more than it does Rocky Horror. I suppose to some it might seem scandalous that Cassandra Peterson’s ample cleavage is perpetually on display, and that the surprisingly funny script consists largely of double entendres. It’s gonna be too much for young teens probably but it made it me laugh quite a bit (“Well, so much for my big opening,”; “Alright, I’ll do it for fifty bucks,” etc). Her delivery is sort of vaudevillian, deliberately campy but not so overdone that the sarcasm doesn’t work. Elvira just kind of does her thing and the movie revolves around her.

The plot does take a sinister turn in the last few scenes and there’s a bit of black magic and an ugly head wound administered by a high heel, but it never goes for scary or bleak – it’s all just theater, a cabaret of sorts, a variety show hosted by our hostess with the most-est, in love with bad movies but thankfully not resigned to imitate their worst qualities.

Iconic: **
Scary: *
Bloody: **
Overall: ***



Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

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As the culmination of an amazing decade for film, 1979 saw the release of a patient, slow-burn thriller about an underhanded employer who sends a hapless man out to meet a force he can’t possibly reckon with, a force which is able to propagate itself as it kills others in the process. The vile threat is then defeated by a strong, virtuous woman in a burst of blinding light. It was the greatest horror movie ever made.

And that movie was called Alien.

Also some other people made some movies and one of them was this remake of the famous 1922 silent Dracula movie Nosferatu, which is a snoozer. Klaus Kinski is suitably creepy as Count Dracula and Herzog puts together some great compositions, but nothing else in the movie is particularly interesting. It runs about 24 frames per hour and would probably be more effective as a picture book. If the T-Rex from Jurassic Park looked at the screen while this movie was playing, it would not be able to see the TV for lack of motion. Some of the scenes are weirdly funny but always seem kind of out of place, like the cackling boss (who went crazy why, exactly?) and the hilarious inquisition at the end where the guy off-handedly asks Dr. Van Helsing if he did kill the Count with “that stake there.”

Yes, it’s also about the plague but they say as much, it’s not like there’s a lot of subtle symbolism. The flying vampire bat motif is about as circumspect as the rat at the end of The Departed. Honestly I find vampires pretty silly to start out with so it takes a great movie to make them interesting, and this just isn’t it. The 1922 version is more iconic and does the same story better. Or at least quicker. In this case I’ll take what I can get.

Iconic: **
Scary: *
Bloody: **
Overall: *



Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

A woman is maybe crazy, or maybe there’s a vampire. It’s less exciting than it sounds. This is a slow, quiet psych drama with no scares, that would probably fare better were it not billed as horror. The only saving grace is its slightly weird 70’s aesthetic, but it’s not enough for this film that simply doesn’t do very much. Not awful but kind of a non-starter.

Iconic: *
Scary: *
Bloody: **
Overall: *1/2



The Collector (1965)

I have so many questions; like, “William Wyler directed this?” and “Why have I never heard of it before?” The Collector is an extraordinary movie. It’s a bit like The Vanishing in that we get to see, briefly, the machinations of a man as he calmly plots to kidnap a woman. It’s also like Misery, taking place almost entirely in a house with two people, one holding the other captive. Miranda Grey’s stay is arguably more pleasant than Paul Sheldon’s was (no one gets hobbled) but that hardly matters, which is exactly what Franklin (Stamp) can’t see. Both actors do great work here, Stamp with his intense eyes and wounded ego, and Eggar with her wit and fragility.

They’re also given uncommonly good material to work with. For some reason most movies of this type have the characters not asking the obvious questions or not taking advantage of their opportunities. Here we feel like Miranda and Franklin are both smart, believable people, though one is clearly disturbed and the other under duress. Wyler’s direction is also exceptional, not flashy but assured and rich. His camera placement impressed me throughout, giving depth and intrigue to scenes that might easily be shot more blandly. The bathtub scene with the water running out into the hall is a set piece worthy of Hitchcock.

For a picture released under the production code, this virtually bloodless film is surprisingly sexy, harrowing, and even disturbing on a very human level.

Iconic: *
Scary: *
Bloody: *
Overall: ****



Bio Zombie (1998)

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Zombies in a shopping mall – sounds familiar, right? This Asian comedic twist on Dawn of the Dead pre-dates Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and its video-game references (on-screen prompts to re-load, Bee figures out that he should destroy the head by remembering his games) pre-figure Scott Pilgrim’s holistic 8-bit aesthetic. Though obviously low budget with effects that never approach Savini’s masterful gore, it’s nevertheless a creative and energetic film, not content to let its limitations prevent it from being stylish, funny, and even emotional.

Director Wilson Yip and co do some cool things with mirrors, including using them to make a small-ish zombie hoard seem more menacing. There’s also a great moment when the effect creates a split-screen as Woody and Bee give wildly different testimonies to the police, and then the shot merges to show us they were in the same hallway the entire time. The characters are a bit stock but they are fun to watch and the dialog is amusing. We actually come to like them even though they’re mostly scoundrels. It allows what’s mostly a surface-level romp to take on a certain weight. It’s typical of zombie films, even lighthearted ones like Shaun, to take on a depressing tone as the walls close in, the situation becomes more helpless, and people either die or become zombies and difficult decisions must be made. Bio Zombie doesn’t lose its cool, but it comes just up to the line.

After credits rolled, the DVD menu put this jam in my head.

Iconic: *
Scary: *
Bloody: ***
Overall: ***



The House of the Devil (2009)

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Late-70’s/early 80’s throwback is a treat for the eyes. The color palate and the grain are wonderful. The opening credits are like candy for fans of this sort of thing, just really well-judged compositions and perfect angles. It’s a filmmaker’s film. Look at this shot. It’s one of my favorite I’ve seen all month. There’s another later that bookends it nicely. The first half of the movie builds subtle suspense with lingering closeups and slow zooms. It’s a little unsettling but almost too handsome to be afraid of.

I love Greta Gerwig in anything. Tom Noonan is creepy as the old man, and the clever shots and low angles make him look utterly enormous as he towers over the girls. Quick demon face inserts show that the powers that be have attached themselves, recalling The Exorcist. I have a lot of love for the craft of this film, and while the ending is pretty great stuff, it takes for damn ever getting there. And it’s not boring, really – the way West lingers on the minutiae of Sam’s stay in the house has a certain magnetism, but I came out feeling like there should be more to the story. It’s almost like the movie is a single act, building up for 75 minutes to one, like maybe a good episode of The X-Files.

Still, the aesthetic decisions coupled with strong acting and an effective finale make this a mature and worthwhile effort. And there’s definitely a couple of things you won’t see coming.

Iconic: *
Scary: **
Bloody: ***
Overall: ***



Don’t Go in the House (1980)

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Believe me when I tell you I hate to say this, but… this should have been nastier. Knowing the hook going in, I was genuinely unsettled for about the first 20 minutes. There’s a subtle terror to the first scene in which Donnie sees his co-worker catch fire and just stares in awe because it fascinates him so. His fascination is our repulsion, and there’s a build-up to a really terrible kill. After that, however, the movie has nowhere much to go. It pulls back and studies the troubled psycho guy – which, to be fair, is sort of an interesting approach to take. It goes for something a bit more substantial than pure exploitation, and some of that works. There are actually some scares that come off decently well, perhaps because we aren’t expecting them in a movie that doesn’t purport to be about anything supernatural. It’s a bit dull, then, in the back half. The effects are obviously fake, a quality for which we should perhaps be thankful as it might make this a lot more watchable than it could be otherwise. Gritty little movie.

Iconic: *
Scary: **
Bloody: **
Overall: **



Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987)

hellfrogtown

Call this a bonus. It’s not horror at all. Once again, I really need to check my recommendations. But do you see that frog-headed guy in the photo? Do you think it’s hilarious? Because I do. Frogtown is such a weird, funny, campy, silly, wtf-did-I-just-watch affair that it almost has to be seen to be believed. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper stars as one of the few men and fewer fertile men left after a nuclear war scorched the earth. He’s recruited by a government squad to help repopulate the planet ’cause he has a high midichlorian sperm count (this is really the plot). They send him in the company of two very attractive women – because how could that ever go wrong? – to rescue some “fertiles,” human women who have been kidnapped by the mutant frog people. Again, this is actually the plot of the movie. To ensure he doesn’t run off, they put him in a chastity belt rigged to explode if he gets too far out of range. It also allows his handler, Spangler, to cause him crippling ball pain to keep him under control. It’s literally about a woman having you by the balls. I take back what I said about this not being horror.

As dumb as this all is, it’s pretty damn entertaining. Piper is not taking this mess seriously, and indeed everyone involved seems to be having a grand time. It knows what it is but it’s not calculated, a la Snakes on a Plane or Sharknado. It’s just wonderfully wacky, like someone’s low-budget passion project. It honestly plays a lot like a Saturday morning cartoon in the G. I. Joe era, where characters whip back and forth between melodramatic pronouncements and playful attempts at sarcasm. The “villain” is “revealed” as a guy we met for like a minute earlier, a reveal that carries no weight. He then immediately lays out his entire plan without anyone even asking, a point immediately lampshaded. He points a huge, phallic rocket launcher at the heroes, because this is a movie about who is the most potent. Of course, it’s Piper, who throws an equally phallic sword at him, with assistance from one of the girls who helps him get it up. He spends the entire movie groaning about the prospect of having to do his duty and impregnate beautiful women to ensure the survival of the race, and women (and frog women) throughout the movie throw themselves at him. It’s a masculine fantasy at its most bare. Though there is some confusing stuff in there like a frog with three dicks and not nearly enough boobs for this sort of material.

As an example of the amazing writing, the Frog’s town is called Frogtown, and the main character is named Sam Hell, so that Hell can literally come to Frogtown. The less said about the verb in that sentence the better.

Iconic: *
Scary: *
Bloody: *
Overall: **1/2



The Verdict

So that about wraps it up. This year I watched 18 horror films, and I’ve ranked them below in order from favorite to to least favorite.

Top 5
1. The Collector
2. Phantasm
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray
4. Cannibal Holocaust
5. The House of the Devil

and the rest…

Crimson Peak
Bio Zombie
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
Bug
Hell Comes to Frogtown
Night of the Creeps
Don’t Go In the House
The Old Dark House
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
The People Under the Stairs
Nosferatu the Vampyre
Wrong Turn

Bonus Awards

Scariest
1. The House of the Devil
2. Don’t Go in the House
3. Phantasm

Bloodiest
1. Cannibal Holocaust
2. Bio Zombie
3. Phantasm
This category is a bit of a crap-shoot. Cannibal Holocaust is the clear winner, and there are lot of things that could be second. I’m going with Bio Zombie and Phantasm for the beheadings and the hose-like spray from the orb, respectively.

Chamber dramas featuring two major actors
Bug (Ashley Judd & Michael Shannon)
The Collector (Samantha Eggar & Terence Stamp)

Movies in which a reptile is killed on-screen
Cannibal Holocaust
Hell Comes to Frogtown

Movies in which a naked woman is covered in gasoline and then lit on fire
Bug
Don’t Go In the House

Movies with gratuitous nudity (in order of gratuitousness)
Cannibal Holocaust
Night of the Creeps
Phantasm
Crimson Peak

Movies with gratuitous cover-ups (in order of how much they went out of their way to avoid showing skin)
The Collector
Hell Comes to Frogtown
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
Bio Zombie
Don’t Go in the House

Movies whose titles are complete sentences
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Don’t Go in the House
Hell Comes to Frogtown

That’s all the categories for now. See you next year!

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