Killer Legends

Joshua Zeman, the director who made Cropsey is back with a new documentary about the origins of urban legends, Killer Legends.


I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with urban legends. Part of it is probably my steady diet of Cropsey stories I grew up hearing in Staten Island. I discovered the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series when I was six or seven, quite possibly the greatest series of books to ever emotionally scare kids with their uncanny illustrations and stories of skin-stealing scarecrows. Plus, I grew up in New Jersey, the home of Weird New Jersey magazine. I lived within driving distance of the Devil’s Teeth at the Watchung Reservation, Demon Alley, Thirteen Bumps Road, and Devil’s Tree. Damn, there was a lot of devil-naming going on in central New Jersey in the 80s and 90s.
I thought I’d briefly go through the legends movie discusses and the real-life cases they link up with.
The Hook

A couple goes to Lover’s Lane to make out. The boyfriends presses the girl to go farther but she’s not comfortable. He drives her home and turns on the radio, where there’s a report about an escaped mental patient with a hook for a hand. The guy gets out of the car to let the girl out and there’s a HOOK hanging from the door handle. I’ve heard about a dozen versions of this urban legend, including a particularly gory version where the guy gets out of the car to investigate scraping noises coming from outside, leaving the girl alone. Then she starts hearing a scraping noise coming from above her and her boyfriend has been HANGED and it’s his heels making the scraping noise.
Zeman and researcher Rachel Mills link the Hook story with the Texarkana Moonlight Murders from 1946. The killer, known as The Phantom, wore a white hood with holes cut out for his eyes and mouth, and attacked couples in isolated areas. You might be familiar with this case because Charles B. Pierce made a fictionalized slasher about it, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a full two-years before Halloween was released. The Town That Dreaded Sundown became a late-night cult classic and featured a memorable scene where the killer attaches a knife to a trombone and kills his victim by trombone-stabbing.
Anyway, it’s believed the Hook legend comes from these killings. Interestingly, my original thought was the Zodiac Killer, who had a similar MO to the Phantom.
The Candy Man
candyman
If you’re a certain age, then you probably don’t remember a time where your parents didn’t search your Halloween candy. Everyone knows there are psychos poisoning candy and putting pins in razor blades in apples.
Believe it or not, there is but one case of someone poisoning Halloween candy. In 1974, Ronald Clark O’Bryan’s son, Timothy, got deathly ill after eating some Pixy Stix he got for Halloween. He died en route to the hospital. Suspicion fell on Ronald when it was realized that he had taken out a hefty life insurance policy on his son. So there aren’t random strangers trying to kill children on Halloween, just their own parents.
The Babysitter
BlackChristmas
A young woman is home alone. Sometimes she’s babysitting. She starts getting gross, threatening calls. She calls the cops and phone company and ask them to trace the call. The pervert calls back and the cops successfully trace the call. They frantically call the girl and tell her to get herself and the children outside because the calls are coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE.
A similar scenario happened to Janett Christman, who was babysitting in Columbia, MO. in 1950. She was just thirteen when she was raped and murdered while babysitting for three-year-old Gregory Romack. Janette got no warning though, and was actually part of a rash of killings in the area. There was a suspect but he was never charged and actually sued the sheriff’s department.
It must be hard for people of a certain age to understand the kind of anonymity we used to have. Before cell phones, caller ID, and star-69, you could really prank call anyone. You can really see the fear of the unknown and fear of strangers in this story. But, statistically, children being babysat are more likely to be injured by their babysitters than babysitters being hurt by random killers.
Why So Serious?

Everyone knows not to trust a clown because you don’t know what’s under his makeup. When I was writing for horror-writers.net I noticed a trend of people dressing up as clowns and just walking around. When did people become so scared of clowns?
John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer from the Chicago-suburbs who killed at least thirty-three young men, was notorious for dressing as Pogo the Clown for his charity work, but he didn’t use the clown to lure his victims.
Clowns have always been dark, they were just sanitized in the fifties and sixties for children’s television and commercials. So maybe the fear of clowns is just the clown mythos coming back full circle? Look at Pagliacci, the murderous opera-clown.
What I liked about the documentary was that it made connections that I hadn’t made before and actually taught me the origin of a legend that I hadn’t heard before.
That being said, it felt constrained by time limits. Each legend gets about twenty minutes to examine the story and then go into its origins. I’m not sure a movie is the best format for this. I would have cut the “Why So Serious?” portion because John Wayne Gacy’s crimes are only tangentially related to the scary clown legends whereas the other legends have more solid footing.
The movie was definitely entertaining but I think I’d love to see it as TV show or miniseries. There are so many legends with killer roots that you could probably do a solid hour-long episode per legend. I definitely recommend this to anyone who like urban legends and creepy real history.

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The Taking of Deborah Logan

I am one of the biggest complainers about horror on Netflix streaming. It’s always a struggle to find something to watch that isn’t an Asylum flick or some SyFy bad-on-purpose movie. That’s why I was so excited to see 2014’s The Taking of Deborah Logan.


The story follows a documentary film crew–Mia (Michelle Ang), Gavin (Brett Gentile), and Luis (Jeremy DeCarlos)–and their subject, Deborah Logan (Jill Larson from Shutter Island and All My Children), an older woman with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Deborah is resistant to filming but her daughter, Sarah (Anne Ramsay) wants the film to be made, since they’re going to lose their house.
Things seem pretty normal as they film but events escalate fairly quickly including Deborah’s odd behavior, making it clear that there are forces beyond just mental illness at play here.
What I really liked about this movie were the strong female characters. Deborah Logan is a formidable woman, someone I don’t always agree with but I still find interesting. Her physical transformation as she increasingly loses her mind is intense and Jill Larson’s performance is amazing. Sarah is just as formidable but in a different way from her mother. And Mia clearly has her own agenda amid the chaos of the increasingly supernatural events.
What makes the movie work is that the house is its own character. It’s huge, impressive, and on the edge of some pretty creepy woods.
HouseDeborahLogan
As Luis says, in my favorite quote from the movie, “White people and their basements and their fucking attics.” This house has three creepy attics. You can see how this house could be a kind of portal to something evil, especially with Deborah’s abandoned switchboard in one of those attics.
PaintingDeborahLogan
The movie packs some great scares. Aside from the possibility of possession and ghosts, there’s some serious body horror here including an intense spinal tap. It reminded me of The Exorcist when Regan is undergoing all the psychiatric procedures. It just strikes you as unfair and evil that anyone would have to undergo that.
The movie is filmed like a documentary but it uses minimal shaky camera. It’s kind of Blair Witch-lite without all the nausea. The security footage is used to good effect, letting the viewers see the paranormal activity but without the huge boring sections like <a href="Paranormal Activity. It’s easy to scare people if you get them bored enough and then add a jump scare, it’s harder to build up tension like this movie does.
My only complaint is the ending. It felt overdone. It’s set in these really spooky caves and has a very The Descent feeling. That is scary enough but the director pushes it too far. Plus, maybe because I’m a seasoned fan, but I could see where they were going within the last twenty minutes. I wish there had been more restraint.
That being said, it’s still an interesting and scary ghost/possession mash-up. The Babadook got a lot of positive buzz in 2014 but it’s a shame I didn’t hear more talk about this movie.

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I Sell the Dead

Look, a blog post. It’s been awhile. I’ve missed you guys, I hope you missed me too. Things have been a crazy mixture of good and bad. I’m in mortuary school taking a bunch of credits, I have a new job that’s basically part time but still 30 hours a week. My best friend and my stepdad died recently. I still love horror but, at the moment, I don’t like much of anything anymore. This isn’t permanent and I’m trying to work on the things I love. I think you have to do that when you lose someone, focus on the things you love and that feel meaningful to you. That’s why I made this picture of Pinhead and Robbie the Robot reenacting the pose from Titanic, my best friend, Richie, was always asking me to draw that.
PinheadAndRobbie
So here’s a post about the 2008 horror-comedy I Sell the Dead.
ISellTheDeadTitleCard
I love that title card, it reminds me of the Mario Bava classic Black Sabbath.


Dominic Monaghan is Arthur Blake, a 19th century grave-robber on death row for murder and the aforementioned grave-robbing.
DomISellTheDead
When Father Duffy (Ron effin Perlman) shows up, Arthur recounts his partnership with Willy Grimes (Larry Fessenden) who taught Arthur the tricks of the trade, and his adventures with vampires, zombies, and even grey aliens.
RonISellTheDead
Angus Scrimm, you know him as the Tall Man from Phantasm, plays Dr. Quint, a doctor who blackmails Blake and Grimes for free corpses under the threat of turning them in to the police.
This movie is a fun, unique period piece. I really loved the humorous take on their adventures and 18th century life. Monaghan and Fessenden have great chemistry together and good comedic timing. I especially liked the filmmaker’s unique spin on folklore. Seriously, that grey alien thing cracked me up. I especially appreciated the nod to vampire stories and the creepiness of the vampire in the movie.
VampireISellTheDead
Blake recounts a scuffle with the House of Murphy, an infamous and vicious gang of grave-robbers led by the unseen Samuel Murphy. A few weeks after their encounter Blake is arrested for the murder that lands him in jail. Father Duffy seems unusually interested in his involvement with the House of Murphy and that’s all I want to say.
Stylistically, this movie is gorgeous and gross to look at. The bodies are appropriately icky and the background is appropriately gothic.
PrettyShotISellTheDead
The filmmakers occasionally use comic book panels for transitions. This works well because the storytelling format recalls anthology movies like Creepshow and Black Sabbath.
comicFrameISellTheDead
My only complaint is that the pacing wasn’t great. Parts of the movie dragged and Blake’s last heist felt overlong. I think hardcore horror fans would really enjoy this movie and people who love their horror mixed with comedy.

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Silent Night, Deadly Night 2

Before I start my review, let’s just all take a moment and get this out of our systems.

Is that out of everyone’s system? Good. Yes, that misshapen satsuma at the bottom of your stocking is 1987’s Silent Night, Deadly Night 2.

Brought to you by TOMS.

Brought to you by TOMS.


The movie takes place on Christmas Eve about ten years after the original. Billy’s brother, Ricky (Eric Freeman) is in a mental institution talking to a psychiatrist, Dr. Bloom (James L. Newman).
RickySilentNight2
You get the feeling that the movie is going for a Michael Mann Manhunter kind of feeling but it just doesn’t have the budget or the talent.
SilentNight2RickyDoc
The movie is then about forty-five minutes of footage from the Silent Night, Deadly Night. Ricky recounts Billy’s killing spree with extensive flashback footage, like in Jaws: The Revenge when Ellen Brody remembers things she never experienced.
The word on the street is that the director was told to re-edit the original into a new movie but Lee Harry insisted on shooting new footage with a terrible budget. I have to admire Harry’s desire to go forward and try to create something new.
The movie picks up a bit after recapping what happened in the original. Ricky is adopted by a loving couple but never really recovers from the trauma of his past and starts killing people he deems to be naughty. I’ll admit, Lee Harry did try to add memorable kills to the movie. This includes death via umbrella.
UmbrellaKillSilentNight2
Things come to a head when Ricky’s at a movie theater and a Vanilla Ice lookalike is being particularly obnoxious.
SilentNight2AnnoyingDude
Ricky goes to confront him and catches his girlfriend, Jennifer (Elizabeth Kaitan) with her ex, Chip (Ken Weichert). “Chip” is such an eighties name and it’s always synonymous for “Aryan douche.”
SilentNight2Chip
Ricky is enraged by Jennifer’s perceived lack of purity. His spree really kicks off with him electrocuting Chip and strangling Jennifer.
SilentNight2ChipsDead
This is what sent Ricky to the institution. The movie has come full circle and, back in the present, Ricky kills the psychiatrist, escapes and goes to exact revenge on Mother Superior (Jean Miller, in heavy makeup to disguise the fact that she’s not Lilyan Chauvin).
Parts of this movie work. The kills were interesting and the most tense part was when Ricky was going after Mother Superior.
So much of this movie just doesn’t work, though. Part of it is the writing. Ricky just isn’t sympathetic. In Silent Night, Deadly Night you really felt bad for Billy. He had the worst luck. You wanted him to succeed but you’re helpless as he’s pushed over the edge. This movie seemed to be going for a Hannibal Lecter motif with Ricky as a violent, cunning sociopath but Ricky really lacks the charm and restraint of Hannibal Lecter. Remember in The Silence of the Lambs when Clarice first sees Hannibal in person and he’s just perfectly still? He doesn’t need to move to have presence. The plexiglass barrier adds to this sense of menace. Ricky is the opposite of this, he bounces all over the place and is snarling and angry. Some of this can be chalked up to bad writing and direction but a lot of it lands on the actor whose main method is extreme eyebrow usage. He emotes like a silent movie villain.
In the end, this movie leaves us with no one to root for, whether victim or killer. I found myself checking my phone a lot. I can see why it has such a cult following but it didn’t really have as many laughable moments as The Room. It’s garbage day, indeed.

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Bird Box

Would you blind your children if it was the only way to save their lives? This is one of the many dilemmas faced by Malorie, the protagonist of Josh Malerman’s horror/sci-fi novel Bird Box.
Malorie finds out she’s pregnant as the world goes crazy. The reports of people going mad, killing those around them, and then killing themselves start in Russia and slowly spread until they reach the U.S. via Alaska. What the stories all share in common is that the people all saw something just before they go mad. No one knows what they saw, just that it brings on madness. Soon, people are covering the windows of their houses and are too scared to go outside.
Malorie finds a group of survivors who have banded together to learn how to survive in this new world. The narrative shifts back and forth from Malorie’s past with the group and her friendship with their unofficial leader, Tom, to the present where Malorie is taking advantage of a foggy day to row a boat blindfolded down a river with two children in hopes of finding a sanctuary. We see the rules Malorie has imposed that are cruel but also necessary to keeping her children alive. They include teaching them how to wake up with their eyes closed and blindfolding them and teaching them how to hear better than any person with vision.
We never learn what precisely is making people go mad, whether it’s aliens or interdimensional creatures. We never learn what their intentions are, if they make people crazy on purpose, are horrified by what happens to humans when they see them, or are indifferent. Malerman effectively taps into a vein of horror familiar to fans of H.P. Lovecraft (Without the racism). There’s the fear of the unknown and the fear of infinity.
My real complaint with the book is that it overreaches for its length. I got the Nook edition and it’s 148 pages. We don’t really get to see how Malorie evolves from a fairly normal young woman trying to survive impossible circumstances to this Ripley-esque woman who can row a boat blindfolded and fight wolves. The book could have been twice as long and wouldn’t have suffered. I really wish some of the characters had been fleshed out better because some of the survivors tended to blend together.
That being said, the book feels unbelievably tense and I had a very hard time putting it down. It’s one of the few recent books I’ve read that I wanted to reread immediately after I finished. Malerman is good at creating horror out of what should be the mundane. It’s scary every time one of the characters steps out of the house (blindfolded). There’s the inherent fear that every person with vision has of what they can’t see combined with the fact that there’s something unknown outside. It was very easy for me to put myself in the place of the survivors and wonder if I could survive something like this. It was a very personal horror for me since I’m an artist and rely on vision so much. My hearing isn’t great but I love to see and I’m not sure I’d want to live in a scenario where I couldn’t safely look at a place unless I was sure it was free of monsters. Losing my sight is a huge, personal fear for me.
There’s also the fear of what the madness drives people to do. There are several very memorable, very gory scenes. The reader gets the picture quickly about the effects of whatever is outside.
The book feels very contemporary in its treatment of how information spreads. The first reports of the madness are based on found footage. The madness starts to take up more and more time in the 24 hour news cycle until it’s all that’s discussed on the news. Then, there’s no news at all. You definitely feel this real thirst that the survivors have for information and a desperation to see if there are other survivors.
This book is worth reading but it could definitely be more expansive. I recommend it for fan of Lovecraft and H.G. Wells.

Posted in 21st century, aliens, apocalypse, books, fantasy, psychological, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Babadook

“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” So goes the rhyme in the mysterious children’s book in the much-anticipated The Babadook. I have a whole bunch of movies piled up to watch but I’ve been kind of obsessed with the idea of The Babadook since I read the Rue Morgue magazine cover story about it. I’m going to try to keep this review somewhat spoiler free so you can be shocked and enjoy the movie too.
Essie Davis stars as Amelia and Noah Wiseman stars as her son, Samuel.
AmeliaSamuelBabadook
Samuel is a sweet child but he has behavioral problems. He’s obsessed with making weapons and gets in trouble for using them in school. Amelia is raising him alone and is clearly at her wit’s end. Her husband and Samuel’s father, Oskar (Benjamin Winspear) died in a car accident while driving Amelia to give birth to Samuel. Amelia clearly loves Samuel very much but you can also see this resentment of how her life is and the association between her husband’s death and Samuel’s birth. One night, Samuel finds a creepy mysterious book called “Mister Babadook.”
TheBabadook
The book scares Samuel deeply and their already tenuous relationship starts to fray as creepy things happen around their house. Samuel claims he can see the Babadook and his behavior problems grow along with his obsession with protecting his mother. Amelia is unraveling after sleepless nights and dealing with Samuel’s problems. The movie starts to take on a dreamlike feel that reflects Amelia’s sleep-deprived state. Is there really a monster in the house or is Amelia just using that as an excuse to take out her anger on her son?
The movie reminds me of the book The Shining. Both feature very damaged parents dealing with what happened in their past. Amelia’s descent resembles Jack Torrance’s descent into madness and they’re both haunted by ghosts from their past.
The performances by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman are just awesome. Davis portrays someone who is deeply ambivalent very well and Wiseman is charming as a sweet but troubled boy. What really helps is how well they’re written. I like Amelia because she’s so human. Sometimes she does shitty things, like leaving work early to take care of her sick son but really going to the mall, but that makes her feel real. I don’t think I would have cared about Amelia if she were some GOOP-y Gwyneth Paltrow mom, I’d probably root for the Babadook then. Amelia’s relationship with Samuel actually reminds me of Eva’s relationship with Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
It’s interesting that the horror genre is willing to talk about these complicated family relationships and say things like sometimes parenting sucks. You can see the psychological distance between Amelia and Samuel in some key scenes in the film reflected in their physical distance.
AmeliaSamuelSleepingBabadook
AmeliaSamuelDistanceBabadook
I’ve always thought that what makes a really good horror movie is the people. You need to care about the people and be interested in their story. That’s what separates an average horror movie from an outstanding horror movie.
Aside from telling a really good story, the movie is actually very tense and scary. It manages to tap into childhood fears. First, the fear of monsters. The big one, though, is the fear that your parents don’t love you or won’t love you anymore if you’re bad.
The character design is just really superb. Writer-director Jessica Kent hired American illustrator Alex Juhasz to create the unsettling pop-up book “Mister Babadook.” I was intrigued by the movie when I read the interview in Rue Morgue with Jennifer Kent and she discussed the influence of silent movies on what the Babadook would look like.
Compare this…
GermanBabadook
With Lon Chaney in London After Midnight.


There’s something timeless and creepy about silent movies, especially German expressionism.
While I generally loved the movie, the ending felt almost anticlimactic. I liked the message about how we face our demons but I’m not sure I would have ended the movie that way. That being said, I highly recommend this and think it may be one of the best horror movies of 2014.

Posted in 21st century, creatures, foreign, monsters, possession, psychological, supernatural | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Inferno (1980)

Hey, remember that time I wrote movie reviews? I know! Sadly, as Walker Stalker Con approaches and I deal with my new job, I’ve entered this crazy state of stress. I needed something beautiful to watch so I chose Inferno, Dario Argento’s 1980 movie. Like John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, where the movies are thematically connected but don’t share characters, Inferno is part of Argento’s The Three Mothers series. Suspiria is the first in the series, dealing with the Mother of Sighs, Inferno is the second, and The Mother of Tears is the third movie.


I have to warn you up front that this movie doesn’t really make a lick of sense. It’s a glorious, beautiful journey, but there’s no straightforward way to describe it.
Irene Miracle stars as Rose Elliott, a poet living alone in New York City.

She purchases an old book, The Three Mothers, and learns how just like there are Three Furies, Three Graces, and Three Fates, there are Three Mothers. The Three Mothers are ancient, evil, and powerful witches. Mater Susperiorum is the Mother of Sighs from Suspiria. Mater Tenebrarum, Mother of Darkness, is the middle and most cruel sister.

Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears, is the youngest and most powerful of the sisters. Rose learns that an architect, Varelli (Feodor Chaliapin Jr.), built houses for the Three Mothers and suspects that she is living in one of them.

Rose reaches out to her brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey). Horrible fates befall anyone who investigates the house and The Three Mothers. Mark’s friend, Sara (Eleonora Giorgi), is stabbed after reading a letter from Rose to Mark that he left behind in their class. Rose is brutally guillotined by a sheet of glass.

This is pretty much all of a summary I can give. Not a lot in this movie makes sense but it’s a very fun, beautiful journey.
There are definitely some motifs carried over from Suspiria. These include candy-colored lighting, especially pink and red, colored glass-work, and death by glass. The music is gorgeous but quite different from Suspiria. Instead of working with longtime collaborator Goblin, Argento had Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer compose the music. As a result, the music is less synth-driven and more bombastic. It sounds like a crazy Verdi opera. I really liked this section;

The movie also falls back on some Dario Argento and Mario Bava themes, like the killer in the black gloves. It’s not a Bava film without some creep in black gloves. This makes sense since Bava collaborated with Argento in a number of uncredited roles for this movie.
This movie is gorgeous, tense, and dreamlike but I don’t recommend it for anyone looking for a straightforward slasher.
My last note on this is that I watched this on Hulu. Hulu sucks for taking screencaps. There have been times when I’m watching Hulu when they offered a chance to watch all the ads up front and then I can watch the rest of my program uninterrupted. I sincerely wish they’d offered me that chance with this since watching something like fifteen ads broke up the tension.

Posted in 1980's, foreign, slasher, supernatural | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments