Pet Sematary (1989)

Hello, I’m back, writing to you from quarantine. Today’s post is about the 1989 film Pet Sematary, directed by Mary Lambert. We should file this under movies that I saw way too young and stuck with me for years. Also, one of the first Stephen King books I ever read, and the first book I read with a sex scene. So, did Pet Sematary hold up for me? Kind of, it didn’t scare me the way it did when I was a child, but I found new things to enjoy.

The story follows the Creed family who moves to Maine from Chicago. Some of their new house’s features include; the smallest small town road that somehow has the heaviest truck traffic, a sprawling pet cemetery in the back,

and neighbor Jud Crandall (Played by Fred Gwynne). Sign me up!

This family is just not likeable in my opinion. I’m going to be up front and say this is one of my least favorite Stephen King families. Louis (Dale Midkiff) is just a jerk for no reason. Rachel (Denise Crosby) is incredibly tightly wound and dealing with the trauma of her sister, Zelda’s death. This movie has a lot of 80s child acting, where the main direction seemed to be “Act big.” But, you don’t have to like the characters to like the story.

As Jud warns them, the family cat, Church, gets hit by a truck while Rachel and Ellie are visiting Rachel’s parents for Thanksgiving. This whole movie could have been solved with a fence. That’s when Jud takes Louis to the real pet sematary, a Mi’kmaq burial ground past the pet sematary.

“The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it. ‘Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own… always comes home to you.”

Church comes back, but he comes back wrong. He reeks of death and is hostile. And, worse, now the burial ground knows the family is near it, and it’s hungry.

Zombie cat.

Yes, with the use of “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” by The Ramones in the background, Gage (Miko Hughes) is hit by a truck. Despite Jud’s warnings to never put a human in the cemetery, Louis digs up his grave and reburies Gage. Gage comes back, but, like the cat, is wrong. The visceral scene that I’ve always remembered since I was little was Gage running around with the scalpel and cutting Jud’s Achilles tendon.

Other things I remember from when I was young: the horror of Louis running into Rachel’s hanging body, and Rachel’s flashbacks of Zelda.

What I missed when I was young:

How much I enjoyed the character of Pascow (Brad Greenquist). Pascow is a patient that Louis tries to save. He tries to guide Louis and warn him of the power of the cemetery, and when he doesn’t listen, he helps Rachel.

The effects hold up well.

Pascow kind of reminds me of Jack in An American Werewolf in London, looking more and more grim with each warning.

As a funeral director, I love a good movie about grief. Yes, this movie is supernatural and cheesy, but it’s also about death and grieving. How do you let go of life? One character chooses to kill herself over what she thinks is stomach cancer. Was that really her choice or was it the power of the pet cemetery? How do you let go of a child or even a pet? I’m sure I know people that would choose even the bad, wrong version of their loved ones back, even for a little while. Louis himself uses the cemetery no less than three times, after watching his cat and son come back wrong. I’ve read that the original ending is more ambiguous, with Rachel just walking into the kitchen, saying “Darling,” and no knife. I think I prefer that version, because the viewer knows she’s coming back wrong.

In thinking of this movie, I always return to the two famous Jud quotes. 1. “Sometimes dead is better.”

2. “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it. ‘Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own… always comes home to you.”

In mortuary school, you learn about grief and grief work. Because grieving is a process that requires work. How you grieve is a major theme in the movie. Rachel admits that she was relieved when her sister died and is ashamed of that, but it’s something I hear a lot from people. The act of dying is hard on those who are left behind. Dying is a burden. It’s physically and emotionally demanding. And Louis just endlessly repeats it, having his cat die, bringing it back, then killing it again, having his son die, bringing him back, then killing him again. In the end, Louis is destroyed by grief.

Posted in 1980's, ghosts, killer kids, psychological, supernatural, you so crazy, zombies | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Black Sunday (1960)

This week, during my mini-quarantine, I watched the Mario Bava classic Black Sunday from 1960.  This was Bava’s first credited, feature-length film.  It’s kind of like if a witch movie had a baby with a vampire movie.  Apparently, Bava was inspired by the popularity of 1958’s Dracula, and the Nikolai Gogol story “Viy.”

Barbara Steele (The Ghost) stars in dual roles as the witch/kind of vampire Asa Vajda and her descendant, Katia Vajda.  The movie starts in 1630 Moldavia.  Asa and her lover, Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are sentenced to death for their unspecified evil, by Asa’s own brother.


They’re branded with the marks of Satan and have masks nailed to their faces. They’re supposed to be burnt at the stake but a storm comes, so the angry villagers just kind of leave it at that. Before she dies, Asa curses her brother’s descendants.


Two hundred years in the future, Dr. Chroma Kruvajan (Andrei Checchi) and Dr. Andrej Gorobec (John Richardson) are detoured on their way to a medical conference.  They wander into the Vajda family tomb, where Asa is entombed.


Dr. Kruvajan accidentally breaks the glass and the cross that keeps Asa in her tomb, cutting himself on the glass in the process. This is enough to revive Asa.

Andrej meets the Princess Katia, Asa’s descendent, who happens to look just like her and is immediately smitten.


Isn’t Barbara Steele just so gorgeous?

Soon, Javutich rises from the grave, attacks Katia’s father, and kills the servant sent to fetch the doctors from the inn that they’re staying at.


The rest of the movie is basically trying to protect Katia from her ancestor, who wants to steal her body.

This movie is just fun. It’s an hour and twenty-seven minutes so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It looks gorgeous. It is kind of unclear exactly what Asa and Javutich are. Their victims have puncture marks in their necks, but neither Asa nor Javutich have fangs, and they’re both repeatedly referred to as witches. I’ve read that fangs were made for the actors, because Barbara Steele complained about hers, but they’re not seen in the film.

There’s minimal gore but there are definitely some creepy moments. I like when Asa is found and reanimated. There’s also an eye stab at the end that took me by surprise. There’s a focus on torture that I’m not used to with films from this period, and you can see it laying the groundwork for future erotic, gothic thrillers, and Bava’s future giallo work. Asa has this overt, evil sexuality that’s unusual for a film distributed by AIP.



It’s great fun watching Barbara Steele alternate between the evil witch, and the quiet, scared Katia.


The movie is in black and white, so you don’t get to see Bava’s legendary use of colored lighting, but there are still some striking, beautiful shots, and a lovely interplay of shadow and light.




Overall, this is a fun movie for anyone that wants a gothic horror that blends the witch and vampire genres.

Posted in 1960's, classics, foreign, gothic horror, thriller, vampires, witchcraft | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Are You in the House Alone?

I got held up by a sinus infection, but I’m back with this week’s Halloween Made-for-t.v. Marathon! Beware, there are spoilers for a 40-year-old t.v. movie.
-Previous Movies:
Trilogy of Terror
The Initiation of Sarah
Are You in the House Alone? aired on CBS in 1978. While the other two movies I’ve watched so far were straight up horror, this felt more like an after school special with horror/thriller elements.

I love the way they did the title.

Kathleen Beller stars as Gail. She’s a bright high school student who likes photography.

Her life seems great but she’s having some issues. Her parents have been fighting and her mom is being strict with her. Her photography teacher is being creepy–asking her to pose for a sexy self-portrait in class and insisting on giving her a ride home from babysitting. And she’s started receiving creepy notes in her locker and creepy phone calls.

The calls and notes become more threatening but pretty much every one she turns to dismisses her concerns. Her best friend, Allison (Robin Mattson) tells her she should be flattered for the attention. Her mom, played by Blythe Danner, is too busy to listen to why Gail wants to change their phone number. She tries to tell her father (Tony Bill, who we last saw as Paul Yates in The Initiation of Sarah) and finds out he was laid off from his job and that’s why he and her mother have been fighting. She tries to tell her guidance counselor, who says things like, “You don’t look like the kind of girl who would encourage this sort of behavior.” The counselor also tells Gail that she “might have been rejecting of a boy” and that “Boys are very easily provoked.” Those are all direct quotes, by the way. Her boyfriend, Steve (Scott Columby) wants to help but points out that they have no way to know who it is and they need to figure out who could be a suspect. The obvious ones are Mr. Elden (Alan Fudge), her creepy photography teacher, and Gail’s ex, E.K. Miller (Randy Stumpf) who’s been bothering her. Gail is determined to figure out who’s tormenting her.

Things come to a head when Gail is babysitting and gets one last call asking if she’s in the house alone. She tries to barricade the house and welcomes her boyfriend to come over when he calls. Someone knocks on the door and she lets him in, since he’s a friend from school, Phil (Dennis Quaid). Unfortunately, he’s Gail’s stalker. He’s also rich and from a powerful family. He brutally rapes her.
The first hour of the movie has the setup of a slasher. There’s lots of POV shots from the stalker’s perspective, creepy notes and phone calls, and ominous music.
The last twenty minutes deal with the aftermath of Gail’s rape and it’s what pushes this into after-school special territory. Gail is afraid to even name her rapist since she doesn’t think anyone will believe her. It takes the woman police officer reminding her that whoever raped her would be free to hurt someone else if she doesn’t name him.

Officer Lady has a cool hat.

Gail doesn’t plan to return to school until her cool, kind of crazy English teacher, Mrs. Malevich (Magda Harout) visits her and tells her that if she isolates herself and hides then she’s the prisoner and the one being punished.

I wish there were a movie about Mrs. Malevich, she’s kind of amazing.

Gail returns to school but Allison, who’s dating Phil, doesn’t believe her. Jessica (Tricia O’Neil), a lawyer friend of the family and the woman Gail was babysitting for when she was raped, points out that the defense will do everything to make Phil look like an upstanding citizen. They’ll also use the fact that Gail recently lost her virginity to Steven, and that she opened the door for Phil, against her.
Her relationship with Steven is strained as Gail tries to come up with evidence that Phil raped her. Gail notices that Phil is harassing another student. She uses a time lapse camera to catch Phil leaving threatening notes in the other girl’s locker. Unfortunately, Phil realizes that Gail is onto him and Steven catches Phil beating her up. The movie ends with Gail noting that Phil pleaded guilty to assault and they dropped the rape charge because of that, and that the system is wrong.
I really liked the first half of the movie. It’s like the start of a good slasher. The second part is uneven. It’s as the filmmakers were so focused on ensuring the movie had a message that the storytelling suffered. Also, honestly, the sexual politics of the seventies are infuriating and I found myself being frustrated by how many people act like Gail is the one to blame. The only thing worse than that is how women still have to deal with these questions today–why did you let him in your house? Why were you alone with him? Did you lead him on?
This was part of a t.v. movie double feature I got from Scream Factory that included The Initiation of Sarah. Apparently they planned to release more but it never really took off. I can kind of see why because the two movies don’t really match. The Initiation of Sarah is really fantasy-based fun horror and Are You in the House Alone? is really grounded in reality and focused on The Message.
The movie isn’t necessarily bad but I don’t know if I can watch it again. The politics are really upsetting and the last twenty minutes kind of take away from the horror aspect. That being said, the performances are good and it’s well-filmed.

Posted in 1970's, crime, cult classics, halloween 2019, psychological, thriller, tv | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Initiation of Sarah (1978)

Welcome back to my Halloween Made-for-TV Marathon!
-Last Week’s Movie–Trilogy of Terror
This week, I watched 1978’s The Initiation of Sarah. Like Trilogy of Terror, it aired on ABC.
Now, the elephant in the room. The basic plot of the movie is that a bullied sorority girl uses her psychic powers to get revenge on the rival sorority girls that tormented her. Carrie was released two years before this movie, and The Initiation of Sarah really does draw quite a bit from Carrie. That being said, I think there are enough unique elements to make the story stand alone.
Kay Lenz and Morgan Brittany star as Sarah and Patty Goodwin, sisters about to go to college.

Sarah is shy and has a more natural style while Patty is outgoing and stylish. They both plan to rush their mother’s sorority, Alpha Nu Sigma. When they meet Jennifer Lawson (Morgan Fairchild!), the president of ANS, it’s clear that Patty is welcome but Sarah is not.

Sarah is advised to try her luck at Phi Epsilon Delta, nicknamed “Pigs, Elephants, and Dogs.” They visit PED and meet indifferent, cool girls that I’d absolutely hang out with in a minute, in a cool, creepy house.

Tensions rise between the two sisters as Patty is accepted into ANS and Sarah is accepted into PED. Jennifer forbids Patty to talk to Sarah if she wants to keep her place in ANS. Even their mother urges Patty to ditch her (Sarah is adopted and her relationship with her adoptive mother is frosty.)
Sarah’s powers that she’d once used to save her sister from a rapist on the beach now turn on Patty. Sarah cracks a mirror after overhearing Patty’s end of the phone conversation where their mother urges Patty to let Sarah go. It’s implied that she made the rope of a piano being hoisted up snap over Patty, but then she rescues her. The tension culminates with Sarah using her powers to push Jennifer into a fountain when she’s teasing her and fellow PED member, Mouse (Tisa Farrow).

Mrs. Hunter (Shelley Winters!), the den mother of PED, recognizes there’s something special about Sarah, and wishes to use her powers to restore PED to glory. She also dresses like Anton LaVey.

Mrs. Hunter teaches anthropology and it’s rumored that she believes in the rituals that she teaches. Mouse uncovers a spooky room behind a door that’s usually always locked.

The bad blood between ANS and PED culminates with Jennifer orchestrating a prank to lure Sarah to a supposed party for her boyfriend, Paul (Tony Bill), where she’s pelted with mud and rotten fruit.

It’s cruel, and as Mrs. Hunter cleans her off, she encourages Sarah to use her powers to get vengeance. Shelley Winters chews all the scenery while giving this amazing speech about “how they covered you with that awful filth!” Sarah uses her powers to scald Jennifer and, demonstrating her ambivalent relationship with her sister, Patty.
Initiation Night finally comes and it’s clear that Mrs. Hunter is a full-fledged witch and plans to use Sarah’s powers to destroy ANS.

Sarah is supportive and even uses her powers to turn Jennifer into a kind of crispy, Corn Flake-faced mummy.

What keeps Sarah from destroying the whole sorority is realizing that Mrs. Hunter plans to sacrifice Mouse. Sarah uses her powers to immolate herself and Mrs. Hunter.
This movie obviously mirrors Carrie the most with the prank. Sarah in her sullied white dress covered in mud looks fairly similar to Carrie in her bloody pink dress. Jennifer gets her boyfriend involved in the prank in a way that’s very similar to how Chris Hargensen gets her boyfriend involved in the prank on Carrie. Jennifer and Chris both have similar looks.
Where I think the movies differ, and I know it’s wild that I’m even saying this, is that The Initiation of Sarah is a more nuanced representation of female friendship. Carrie White doesn’t have a friend in the world until Sue Snell and Miss Collins take an interest in her, and their friendship is tenuous at best. Sarah and Patty are best friends, despite their mother’s disapproval. But there also seems to be resentment that Sarah holds towards Patty. Patty’s better treatment, not just by her mother but by their peers, seems to be something that Sarah is used to. It’s not hard to push Sarah against Patty.
I actually like Jennifer as a villain. Chris Hargensen’s fixation on Carrie white is creepy bordering on stalker-ish. Jennifer’s dislike of Sarah is cruel but feels more natural. She’s a pretty, rich girl. Why would she even be interested in someone as different from her as Sarah?
Also, some of what happens between Sarah and Patty is natural. It’s normal for people to grow apart in college. Sarah has a whole new friend group, where she’s appreciated, and a guy who’s interested in her. You wonder if they’d have normally grown apart even without the sorority rivalry tension.
There’s this vague gay subtext that I appreciated. Trust me, there are loads of long stares and touches between the girls that makes you think “Friends or friends?”
I liked the witchcraft aspect. I really wish we’d gotten to see a full evil sorority coven. And Shelley Winters is just delightful as Mrs. Hunter.
The cinematography is really striking for a movie made with a TV movie budget. Here are some cool shots;

Where this movie falls short is it feels incomplete. Sarah’s heritage is discussed and never mentioned again. We know that Sarah is adopted. We know that Patty’s biological father died. There’s a scene where Mrs. Hunter discusses her dislike of ANS, how Sarah and Patty’s mother was a member, and how she knew Sarah and Patty’s father and he was a big man on campus. Was Sarah adopted and a true orphan or was she Patty’s father’s illegitimate child? Is Mrs. Hunter actually her mother? That could explain Mrs. Goodwin’s animosity towards her. There’s one scene and it’s never mentioned again. Also, what led to the animosity between ANS and PED? It’s revealed that PED used to be as popular as ANS, back when Mrs. Hunter was young, until a girl died during her initiation. I just wish these loose ends had been resolved.
Also, the soundtrack is this mix of orchestral and disco music. The orchestral is nice but the disco is kind of rough.
Overall, this is a fun, surprisingly atmospheric movie for something that aired on network TV. I just really wish that Sarah had become fully evil and created a super witch sorority. I wonder if the character chose self immolation over vengeance because of pressure from the network and the desire not to have a villain winning on network TV.
I know the movie was remade in 2006 for ABC Family. I’d definitely be willing to watch it because they cast Morgan Fairchild as the mother.
This movie is fun if you like supernatural thrillers and if you don’t watch it making Carrie comparisons.

Posted in 1970's, cult classics, cults, halloween 2019, satanism, tv, witchcraft | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Trilogy of Terror

Happy October! It’s officially the Halloween season, even though every day is Halloween for me. I don’t really have the time to do a major Halloween marathon like I see some of the horror bloggers doing, but I wanted to celebrate the season. If you know me, you know I love made for t.v. horror movies and I have a stack of three to watch, so I thought I’d declare this October the Made For T.V. Halloween Season.
The first movie is 1975’s Trilogy of Terror that originally aired on ABC.

In the 1970s, some of the biggest made for t.v. movies came from the ABC network. They generally didn’t cost much to make (Under $1 million) but could draw large audiences. Aging and up-and-coming stars could round out a cast and attract an audience. Trilogy of Terror was directed by Dan Curtis, the creator of Dark Shadows and other outstanding t.v. movies like Night Stalker. Trilogy of Terror was based on the short stories of Richard Matheson, a frequent collaborator with Curtis. Information for this section was sourced from Amanda Reyes’ amazing book, Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999.
The movie is divided into three segments. There’s no narrative book-ending the stories. The closest we get to that is that Karen Black acts as different characters in all three segments.
There are spoilers in this review, so if you don’t want a 44-year-old t.v. movie to be spoiled then don’t read further.

Karen Black plays a mousy college English professor, Julie Eldridge. Robert Burton plays Chad, one of her college students that’s suddenly obsessed with her. He asks her out on a date and uses the opportunity to drug her, take compromising pictures of her, and rape her. He uses the pictures to blackmail her. Until Julie turns the tables on him, implying that she manipulated him to be obsessed with her and that she’s bored with him. She poisons him and burns his house down. She’s had many victims and he’s just the most recent one.
This was my second favorite story in the anthology. It’s deeply satisfying to see the tables turned on Chad. He’s such a predatory creep.
The cinematography in this part stood out the most for me of all three stories.

There were some fun horror easter eggs that I think horror fans would enjoy. Chad checks him and Julie into a hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Harker. The movie they see at a drive in is a vampire movie. Possible nods to Curtis’ past work on Dark Shadows?

Also, her last name, Eldridge, sounds very close to the word “eldritch.” The story doesn’t really explain how Julie manipulated Chad. Was it psychology or magic? I wouldn’t attach much significance to it if anyone but Matheson had written the original short story, he’s a very deliberate writer.
“Millicent and Therese”
Karen Black plays dual roles as the two sisters, Millicent and Therese. Millicent is repressed and prudish and hates her sister, Therese. She accuses her of dark magic and being generally evil.

Therese is loose and just generally evil.

Millicent decides to exact justice on Therese using Therese’s own tricks, voodoo. She makes a voodoo doll of Therese. The family doctor finds Therese dead next to the doll. But, the twist is, Therese is Millicent. Millicent had multiple personalities. Killing Therese was suicide.
I wish I could say more about this story but it felt like filler between the first and last sections. Karen Black is good enough with the material but neither character is very three dimensional. I was bored the whole time until the twist was revealed. I just wished the story could have made both of the sisters more ambiguous–Millicent more evil and cruel, Therese more kind and nice–so it wasn’t just a black and white “I’m going to KILL my sister story.”
Honestly, the most impressive part to me was how mousy and unappealing they made Millicent and how horrible Therese’s wig is.
This is the most famous, iconic story from Trilogy of Terror and also my favorite. I can’t help it, I’m simple.
Amelia has a night planned with her anthropologist boyfriend. She bought him a Zuni fetish doll named “He Who Kills” for his birthday.

It is the ugliest scariest doll.

A gold chain binds the hunter’s spirit to the doll. The chain falls off and Amelia is terrorized by the suddenly sentient, murderous doll.
The story is effective because a lot of the action is implied. We hear the doll’s creepy little feet running. We see the knife it takes stabbing. What we do see of the doll moving looks surprisingly good for a t.v. movie from the 70s. Less is definitely more with this story.
The story is reminiscent of “The Invaders” episode of The Twilight Zone, which Matheson also wrote. Karen Black is entirely alone for this story and delivers a chilling performance as someone hunted by the absurd. Like Agnes Moorehead in The Twilight Zone, Karen Black manages to convey terror without anyone to act against.
I loved the ending. You think that Amelia has outsmarted the doll. Instead, its spirit possesses her. We see her call her mother to invite her over, and then she starts rhythmically stabbing the ground with a knife. Her whole physicality changes as you realize she’s possessed. The movie ends with her smiling with teeth like the evil doll’s.

I love anthology films. They’re some of my favorite in the horror genre. The thing with them is that they’re not always even. So, while I personally didn’t like the “Millicent and Therese” story, you might find it enjoyable. Even with the weak second story, I’d still recommend this because it really is an iconic cult movie. It’s spooky despite the limitations imposed on t.v. in the seventies, both budgetary and regarding content.

Posted in 1970's, anthology, cult classics, halloween 2019, television, tv | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Maury the Miserable Vampire by Jeff Roland

When I was little, I loved The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. It’s the Sesame Street book where an increasingly desperate Grover begs you not to turn the page because there’s a monster at the end of the book. Then, at the end, you find out that the real monster is Grover. I’ve loved monsters from a young age so I was delighted when I discovered Maury the Miserable Vampire, written by Jeff Roland and illustrated by Adamah VanArsdale.

Maury is a crabby vampire that lives alone with his best friend, a bat named Barry. Barry is Maury’s only friend. Maury would be happy to be left alone until the day that Barry goes missing.

Maury is living the dream.

Maury’s quest to find his best friend forces Maury from his castle. He’s forced to meet other monsters and goes on adventures to find Barry and learns that the outside world isn’t necessarily so bad.

I’m going to be honest, I don’t have any kids and I don’t really have any young children in my life. I have no clue if they’d like this. But I also know that my love of monsters started young and I was a misfit from a young age. Sometimes I wonder if a love of monsters and being different tends to go together. So I’d recommend this to kids that love monsters, but also the anxious and the lonely. There are some good lessons about taking risks, being open-hearted, and reaching out for help.
I’d put the reading level at the age when they’re too old for just picture books but not quite ready for chapter books. The illustrations are charming and complement the story well. I appreciate that Maury is cute-ugly and that his design is reminiscent of Nosferatu.
Basically, this book is adorable and I think parents will enjoy reading it to their children as much as their children will enjoy it.
This book did leave me with some questions. Maury is a vampire, so has he killed anyone and drank their blood? Why do the villagers like him so much? I can only assume that Maury dispatched a rival village that was giving them trouble and now they’re indebted to him and support his bloodlust.

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The Dead Don’t Die

I couldn’t resist when I heard that Jim Jarmusch was making a zombie movie, I knew I had to see it. Seeing the mixed reactions to it made me want to see it even more. Personally, I really enjoyed it but I can see why people wouldn’t like it.
The movie stars Bill Murray as Police Chief Cliff Robertson with Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny as Officer Ronnie Peterson and Officer Mindy Morrison. They work in a very small town and usually respond to minor events like Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) stealing Farmer Miller’s (Steve Buscemi) chickens. Over the course of a couple of days they realize that something’s amiss in their town. The animals are acting strangely and daylight saving’s time seems to have the sun setting way too late. This environmental weirdness, strongly hinted to have been caused by polar fracking, cause the dead to rise. The narrative is bookended by Hermit Bob, who exists as an outsider from the town who notices the environmental weirdness and manages to not be attacked by the zombies.

The movie is a slow-burner, with at least 45 minutes taken to establish the strange residents of this small town. The emphasis is on characterization, not necessarily fast-paced zombie mayhem like 28 Days Later or the Dawn of the Dead remake. There’s definitely zombie mayhem and the effects look quite good, there’s just a strong focus on characters’ reactions to the zombies. If you want a fast pace then this movie might not be for you.
What I liked about this movie is what a strong homage it felt like to George Romero, especially Night of the Living Dead. The font of the title card is very similar to the font used on the Night of the Living Dead posters. When Zoe, Jack, and Zack (Selena Gomez, Austin Butler, and Luka Sabbat) arrive in town on a road trip they show up on a lonely country road in a Pontiac LeMans, the same model car that Barbara and Johnny drive in Night of the Living Dead. We see the first two zombies at the cemetery–Coffee Zombie One and Coffee Zombie Two, played by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver–like in Night of the Living Dead.

There’s even a naked zombie showing their butt, like in Night of the Living Dead.
The anti-consumption message is closer to the original Dawn of the Dead. Aside from living flesh, the zombies mostly want what they liked best in real life, whether that’s chardonnay, Xanax, candy, or wi-fi. The zombies can speak like in Return of the Living Dead but they mostly just mutter about what they want. It’s interesting that Hermit Bob, a man with few possessions, manages to exist above the scuffle. He’s living a life like Thoreau in the woods. He even scavenges a copy of Moby Dick, a book about obsession and destructive consumption. He has this dialogue that sums up the anti-consumption philosophy, and it’s the most Tom Waits-sounding line of dialogue ever.

Now, the part of the movie that I think people are either going to love or hate. It’s meta as hell, to the point that one character knows it’s a movie and it’s hinted that they know what will happen throughout the whole movie. There are also characters that are familiar with the horror genre and know what to do based on movies. It felt like Scream, in a way. That’s actually something I really like. It’s weird to me watching a show like The Walking Dead where the characters never reference zombie lore. Does it just exist in a universe with no zombie stories? If you want a straightforward movie about fighting zombies without commentary about narrative or storytelling then this might not be the movie for you. If you like thinking about how stories are told and you also happen to like zombies, then I think you’ll like this movie.
If you like indie movies then you might like this movie. The town feels like it’s slightly removed from reality or like it exists in a dimension slightly next to ours. It has a very Ghost World feel, where it’s like it’s slightly outside of our current time. What’s weird though is that in a lot of zombie media lately, people instantly become heroic. Everyone is like a Ripley. In this movie, people are weak and scared. That somehow feels more realistic, even in the strange reality of the movie.
What first caught my eye about this movie was when I heard about the cast. They really do an outstanding job, even in small roles. It doesn’t feel like their presence distracts from the storytelling. I especially loved RZA as Dean the delivery man, Danny Glover as Hank the hardware store owner, Carol Kane as the chardonnay zombie, and Steve Buscemi as the racist farmer Miller. Tilda Swinton is also delightful as the unusual samurai sword-wielding mortician, Zelda Winston. Her character is so strange, it’s a good thing that she’s used sparingly.
Ultimately, if you go into this looking for a straightforward zombie movie then I think you’re going to be disappointed. I was surprised to hear that Jarmusch was making a zombie movie because it seems like the zombie fad is ebbing and what’s coming out is low quality or trying to capitalize on The Walking Dead’s popularity. This isn’t really a regular zombie movie, it’s more like a commentary on zombie movies and the motivations behind making them. If you go into the movie with an open mind about what kind of story a zombie movie can be then I think you’ll like it.

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Office Killer

I remember reading Fight Club when I was in college, not long after the movie came out. I really like the book and the movie but I’ve always wished for a similar story about women. It makes sense that the novel/movie are so focused on men, they’re stories about toxic masculinity, but I’ve always wanted something similar that showed the many ways that women are dissatisfied with their lives. I don’t mean the many serious works of literature, I wanted something gory and funny. I think I may have found something close with 1997’s slasher Office Space directed by subversive feminist photographer Cindy Sherman.

If you’re not familiar with Cindy Sherman, she’s a photographer who’s been active since the seventies. Her most famous works are probably her Untitled Film Stills series. Cindy dresses herself up for much of her work and embodies different female characters. She’s been criticized for the provocative nature of some of her work, which some feminists view as unnecessarily sexual. My interpretation is that she’s trying to skewer different media portrayals of women. Office Killer is her full-length film debut.
The movie stars Carol Kane as Dorine, possibly the most put-upon woman on earth.

She’s the caretaker of her disabled mother. Their relationship is strained due to how the mother reacted to the knowledge that Dorine’s father was molesting her. Dorine works at Constant Consumer magazine where she’s the butt of jokes for her quirky style and odd mannerisms. Her job is her only life outside of home when she’s downsized and forced to work part-time from home.
She accidentally kills her boss, Gary (David Thornton) when he gets a little too handsy with her but she soon discovers that killing her coworkers is a way to make her life more bearable. She adds a butane cartridge to the asthma inhaler of Virginia (Barbara Sukowa), the editor-in-chief that can’t even remember her name even though she’s worked there for sixteen years.

As Dorine kills more and more the murders become more graphic and we find out what she’s doing with the bodies–she’s built a macabre little assemblage in her basement of dead bodies. She creates a dream office staff that’s really a family. This is reminiscent of Sherman’s own work, where she creates microcosms of the world around her.

Dorine’s spree ends with the murder of Norah (Jeanne Tripplehorn), a coworker that befriended Dorine but who was also embezzling money from the magazine. Dorine sets her house on fire and the last we see of her she has new blonde hair and is driving away with Norah’s head in a bag and a wanted ad for a job looking for a new office manager.

I was mostly interested in the cinematography of this movie since Cindy Sherman is most well-known as a photographer. Most of the set involving Dorine’s house reminded me of Sherman’s “Untitled #96.” Dorine’s house is very warm-colored and might have been fashionable around 1971. It looks like a perfect slice of suburbia but hides disturbing abuse.

“Untitled #96”

There’s also a loneliness to the subject of “Untitled #96” that reminds me of Dorine.
There’s a sensibility to the movie that’s reminiscent of her still work, whether it’s the stifling montage of suburban life seen from the point of view of Gary’s wife, or office bitch Kim (Molly Ringwald) silhouetted in cool light like a noir femme-fatale.

This movie also has one of the coolest title sequences I’ve ever seen with the title and names projected in light over dark backgrounds.

What struck me about this movie is how much of this cast is women. The main leads are all women and the men aren’t seen much except as Dorine’s victims. That’s an interesting reversal for the genre where it’s usually women chased by a man. Carol Kane really brings Dorine to life in a performance that’s sinister and funny.
If Fight Club is a story about the toxic aspects of masculinity then Office Killer is about female anger that goes unexplored. When women get angry they’re stereotyped as on the rag or hysterical. Dorine has very legitimate rage that I think a lot of women could relate to. She was sexually abused and then blamed for her own abuse and then has to be the caretaker of the women that allowed the abuse to happen. She’s overlooked at work, despite being the most competent, except to be made fun of. The movie also skewers the dull conformity of corporate culture. Dorine looks different but turns out to be actually talented when given a chance, too bad the chance is sixteen years too late. Her bosses start to respect her work but Dorine is already on her killing spree by the time she’s recognized.
This movie isn’t necessarily scary but it’s gross and fun. Dorine’s spree is cathartic and there are some truly fun, gross moments, like when Dorine plays with the severed, blackened, decomposing hands of one of her coworkers. Honestly, there were some pacing issues and some parts dragged but at a little over an hour and twenty minutes long the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. It has that kind of vintage feel that a lot of indie movies from the late 90s had, like Welcome to the Dollhouse, But I’m a Cheerleader, and Ghost World. There’s this really cheerful, quirky string music on the score that adds to this feel.
This movie feels quite overlooked and undiscussed so it’s really worth seeing since it’s a hidden gem.

Posted in 1990's, cult classics, slasher, you so crazy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Death Bed: The Bed that Eats

Happy New Year, Happy 2019! I’m back with the amazing cult classic Death Bed: The Bed that Eats, directed by George Barry in 1972. This movie took five years to finish and at the end of that he couldn’t find a distributor. You may have heard of the movie because Patton Oswalt discusses it on his Werewolves and Lollipops album.

A bootleg was made from a copy that Barry gave to a someone who was looking to buy the rights for the UK and this circulated on VHS until Barry discovered that people had seen the movie while he was browsing the internet. The movie got a proper release in 2003 when Cult Epics released it on DVD. That’s the edition I have. It’s incredibly bare bones, it has the movie, an interesting intro with George Barry discussing how the movie got made, and some liner notes.
The title is accurate, this is a movie about an evil bed that devours anything hapless enough to be on it.

People seem to get sucked into the bed where it’s full of acid that turns them into skeletons and they just kind of disappear.

Food that’s left on the bed is eaten and returned as cores and chicken bones and empty bottles.

The movie is narrated by the ghost of a consumptive artist that was devoured by the bed and is now trapped behind a painting (Really a poster tacked on the wall of a drawing by the artist Aubrey Beardsley).

In fact, I think the artist is supposed to be Aubrey Beardsley, he did die of consumption.
We’re introduced to the bed as a couple stumbles upon the building it’s in while hiking. They lay down, start to make out, and the bed devours them.
Next we meet Diane (Demene Hall) and her friends.

Diane is just too cool. She’s sarcastic and funny, drives a cool car, and basically puts up a better fight against the evil bed than anyone else.
Diane’s borrowing the house to get out of the city and her two friends are with her–the weird, neurotic Suzan (Julie Ritter) and Sharon (Rosa Luxemburg). Oddly enough, the bed fears Sharon. We find out the bed’s history from the artist–a demon spirit lived in a tree and fell in love with a woman. It assumed the shape of a man and created a bed. It accidentally killed the woman when it tried to make love to her. It wept tears of blood on the bed and returned to its tree. The blood is the power behind the death bed. It’s strongly implied that the bed has committed unspeakable evil over time, there’s even spinning newspapers and old-timey footage with blood.

The bed kills Suzan and Diane but Sharon may have the power to stop its evil. Her unnamed brother (William Russ, credited as Rusty Russ) tries to stab the bed and, in the greatest part of this movie or possibly any movie ever made, ends up with these skeleton hands.

This movie is bananas in an artistic, surreal way that I think was really popular in the seventies. It’s not perfectly filmed–there’s a lot of day shot for night, and it’s frequently hard to see the faces of the leads if the shot isn’t a closeup. The transfer itself isn’t great and everything is very dark. There’s minimal dialogue, instead there’s a lot of internal monologues that was done in ADR. But there’s something charming about it that I absolutely loved. I’ve seen a lot of love lately for Messiah of Evil that I don’t really get. I think this is infinitely more watchable. It has a good sense of humor and works if you don’t take it too seriously. Also, with a run time of 80 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
It’s not really gory or scary. There are some gross moments with the bed digesting things, the yellow foam just looks really unpleasant. There are some shots that I thought were really cool. Honestly, I wish we’d seen more movies from Barry. I think his vision was genuinely cool and unique, and he could make something good with practice and an actual budget.

This may be the most loving review of Death Bed: The Bed that Eats ever written. At least the movie gave me this moment.

Posted in 1970's, cult classics, demons, ghosts, monsters, supernatural | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)

A couple of weeks ago, my Twitter feed exploded as people realized that there was a 1980 made-for-tv movie called The Legend of Sleepy Hollow starring a young Jeff Goldblum. People were really into the sultry VHS cover. I really can’t blame them, I was fascinated by it too.

If you know me then you know I’m a sucker for tv movies and I love Jeff Goldblum so I thought this would be a match made in made-for-tv heaven! The verdict? I guess I was just naïve to think that NBC would show a decapitation in a movie from 1980 that I’m pretty sure was filmed using old Little House on the Prairie sets.
Here’s a rundown of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, for everyone who’s unfamiliar with the story. Washington Irving wrote it in 1820, it’s a good example of early American literature that isn’t a religious sermon. Ichabod Crane is a nervous and superstitious school master who moves to Sleepy Hollow, a town near Tarry Town (This is based on a real place, Tarrytown, in the Hudson River Valley). He competes with Brom Bones, a popular man in town, for the hand of the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel. Brom Bones plays a series of pranks on Ichabod Crane. The Headless Horseman is the ghost of a Hessian soldier from the Revolutionary War that lost his head to a cannonball. The story culminates with Ichabod Crane seeing what he presumes to be the horseman and there’s a big chase as he tries to outrun the horseman to the covered bridge and then he disappears.
There are certain tropes essential to the story. Nervous Ichabod Crane, a headless horseman, a flaming pumpkin head, and a covered bridge. This tv movie only delivers the nervous Ichabod Crane.
Jeff Goldblum is basically the high point of this movie and is at Peak Goldblumyness as the stammering, nervous Crane. Interestingly enough, he also happens to be a skeptic, which is unusual for the story. He’s usually superstitious, the only other skeptical Ichabod Crane I remember is Johnny Depp’s Crane in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
The movie is heavy on physical comedy. When we first meet Crane he’s instantly treed by some dogs that belong to Brom Bones.

I’m sorry for the screencap quality. I found a version of the movie on YouTube and it has all the original ads, so these are screencaps of a transfer of a 38-year-old VHS.
Brom Bones is played by Dick Butkus. That’s kind of amazing. He instantly dislikes Crane and makes it his mission to torment him. Brom Bones has driven out every school master to arrive in Sleepy Hollow and the people basically believed that he killed the prior school master, Winthrop Palmer (Michael Ruud). I have no clue why the people of Sleepy Hollow tolerate this shit, I guess they’re okay with their children being illiterate.

Meg Foster of They Live is Katrina Van Tassel.

She’s basically stringing Brom Bones along and, honestly, is kind of mean.
The problem with this movie is that it spends more time on the love triangle (Or quadrilateral, I guess) between Katrina, Brom, Ichabod, and Thelma Dumkey (Laura Campbell), Katrina’s rival, than it does on anything remotely scary. Brom likes Katrina, Katrina kind of likes him until she falls for Ichabod, Ichabod likes Katrina who gets over her initial dislike of Ichabod, and Thelma likes Brom. A lot of time is spent with Thelma’s father trying to convince Ichabod Crane to marry her.
There’s also a lot of time spent on Winthrop Palmer.
It turns out he’s not as dead as the people of Sleepy Hollow thought he was (Seriously, why are people okay with this?) He’s just insane and is producing some of the activity that the people attribute to ghosts.
You know what all this time devoted to love triangles and insane former school masters means? There’s very little time devoted to the Headless Horseman. The Headless Horseman (When it isn’t Brom Bones or a kid accidentally pranking Ichabod) has maybe thirty seconds of screen time.
Do you like movies with three sets? Then this is the movie for you. We get to see the school-house, Squire Van Tassel’s (James Griffith, one of the high points of this movie) estate, and a church. I’m pretty sure that the sets and the music were recycled from Little House on the Prairie. The music doesn’t match the action except at the last chase, that’s the only point I noticed where the music was really good.
I love a good tv movie and I try to be understanding of budgetary constraints and tv standards that can limit what can be shown but this movie is just missing so many essentials of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s not scary, not even a little spooky. The pacing isn’t great and the version I watched was over an hour and forty minutes with the ads. A very slow hour and forty minutes until the last five minutes. There isn’t even a covered bridge chase. This movie is just missing so many Sleepy Hollow elements.
I wanted to like this so much more than I did. I honestly can’t even recommend this for kids because I think they’d be bored. You can show little kids the really good Disney cartoon The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. That was one of my favorites when I was little and I think that influenced my love of horror. If they’re older you can just show them Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. I’d say to watch this for Jeff Goldblum and the novelty only if you’re a tv movie completist like me. Here’s a link if you’re really interested. It has all the old ads which is kind of fun, until the political ads start, then everything starts to feel a little Roger and Me. There are also constant reminders of the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Anyway, I know the real reason anybody is reading this–to see pictures of Jeff Goldblum in a tricorner hat. Here you go.

Posted in 1980's, famous movie monsters, ghosts, television | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment