Body Bags

Man, oh man, do I have some serious love for the 1993 anthology flick, Body Bags, directed by John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, and starring John Carpenter as the creepy coroner who bookends the stories. John Carpenter also did the music with Jim Lang, so we’re treated to his awesome synth music.
This movie brings just the right balance of gore and funny and, with its many cameos, is like a gift to horror fans.
“The Gas Station”
Alex Datcher stars as Anne, a college student working the overnight shift at a gas station in Haddonfield, Illinois.
That town has a killer problem. She deals with an assortment of weirdos, creepy devilish artwork in the bathroom, and the fact that a killer (Robert Carradine) is stalking her.
I think this might be my favorite segment. There is a legitimate sense of dread but it doesn’t have the brutality of “Eye.” Anne is a resourceful final girl and it’s delightful watching her take out the killer.
“Hair” is the funniest of the three segments. This segment was also directed by John Carpenter. Stacy Keach plays Richard Coberts, a middle-aged man who’s self-conscious about his thinning hair.
He sees an ad for a miracle hair thickening treatment and, voila! He has a long mane of masculine Fabio hair.
But there’s a price, as the hair doesn’t seem to stop growing and starts taking over the rest of his body.
There’s some great body horror in this segment, as we see hair coming out of wounds and eyes. Keach has a legitimately funny and sad performance as someone who’s so insecure and whose vanity has such bad consequences.
The last segment is directed by Tobe Hooper. Mark Hamill stars as Brent Mathews, a baseball player whose career is endangered when he’s in a car accident and loses an eye.
The Queen of Fashion, Twiggy, stars as his wife.
Luckily, Brent qualifies for a revolutionary eye transplant, courtesy of Drs. Bregman and Lang (Roger Corman! and B-movie mainstay John Agar).
Things get dark as Brent finds himself dreaming about killing women and having sex with them. Turns out the eye donor was an executed serial killer. Brent unravels and becomes more obsessed with killing women, including his wife.
This one was hard to watch. It had a distinctly different feel from the other segments. I’ve used the word “brutal” to describe it earlier and I think that’s accurate. You can feel Brent’s anger as he becomes more and more possessed and Mark Hamill really turns in a great performance as he goes crazy.
Apparently, this was supposed to be a Tales from the Crypt kind of the show but it wasn’t picked up so we’re just gifted with this little gem.
I’m not sure if this is on purpose but I was struck by the similarities between “Eye” and “Hair” and the “Hell Toupee” story in The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror IX,” when Homer gets a hair transplant from Snake after Snake is executed and starts acting like Snake.

I’m not sure if this was on purpose, I’ve only found some Simpsons-themed Wikipedia entries that mention it.
For me, one of the funnest things about this movie were the cameos. Sam Raimi and Sheena Easton had roles. There was also;
Greg Nicotero torments Stacy Keach with his luscious hair in "Hair."

Greg Nicotero torments Stacy Keach with his luscious hair in “Hair.”

Wes Craven in "The Gas Station."

Wes Craven in “The Gas Station.”

Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper as morgue assistants.

Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper as morgue assistants.

This movie is perfect for people who like their horror gross and liberally sprinkled with humor.

Posted in 1990's, aliens, anthology, body horror, comedy, possession, serial killers, slasher | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An American Werewolf in London

Hey guys. I’m back after a hiatus for school.
I’ve never really been into werewolves before. I just never really found them interesting until I read Harry Potter, really. I immediately liked Remus Lupin. He was kind to his students and managed to be funny and was probably the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher that wasn’t a secret Death Eater. I always imagine how awful it was for him to wake up on November 1st, 1981. He woke up that morning and found out that two of his best friends were dead, a third was presumed dead, and the fourth was responsible for all the deaths. Yet he still managed to have a positive and kind nature, unlike my favorite character, Snape.
I love the book version of Remus Lupin and I think that David Thewlis did a good job of portraying him but, damn, that movie transformation.

This is mainly why I’m not into werewolf movies. It’s just really rare that I see a screen werewolf that’s convincingly scary. Poor Remus, he deserves better than that mangy, skinny werewolf.
Another example–I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Oz is one of my favorite characters but werewolf Oz looks like a gorilla wearing a fruit-bat mask.

That’s my main complaint with werewolf media, I rarely feel scared by them. So I was really reluctant to give the John Landis production An American Werewolf in London a chance. I’ve been burned too often by cheesy werewolves. I’m really happy that I was wrong because this ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable movie.
David Naughton and Griffin Dunne play David and Jack, two college students backpacking across northern England. They seek shelter in The Slaughtered Lamb pub, a place packed full of Harbingers of Impending Doom.
They get lost in the moors and are soon attacked by a large animal. Jack dies and David is hospitalized in London. David begins to have visions of a decomposing Jack telling him that he’s now a werewolf and that victims of the werewolf’s curse survive in limbo after death. The only way to lift the curse is to kill the most recent werewolf.
These effects still look quite good, even after thirty-five years.

These effects still look quite good, even after thirty-five years.

The movie has several strengths.
It’s incredibly funny. I particularly like the scene where Jack and all of David’s victims are in the porno theater and trying to convince David to kill himself. It’s just a very funny scene in its Britishness, everyone is so damned polite except maybe the hobos.
David is a genuinely likable character. He has a a self-deprecating humor that’s nice and he seems like a genuinely nice guy, not an Urban Dictionary kind of nice guy. I’d actually say that can be applied to Remus Lupin and Oz as well. I can’t say that I’ve encountered a lot of unpleasant, gross werewolves. A movie focused on a character like Fenrir Greyback would be very different.
What makes the movie scary is seeing someone who’s genuinely good become a monster and the absolute horror of the transformation. Rick Baker, whose work we’ve seen in The Funhouse, It’s Alive, and Squirm, just really outdoes himself with David’s transformation.
The final result is scarier than I expected, it actually looks like a beast that could be dangerous.
For a movie that’s thirty-five years old, there’s quite a lot of male nudity. I’m not complaining at all. It’s weird how imbalanced it’s become all these years later, I’m speaking about the media in general. It’s very strange watching older movies that portray men and women healthily enjoying sex when the subject is so fraught and dysfunctional nowadays.
More specifically, the wolfman is inherently sexual since it’s a human struggling with his animal nature but portrayals over the last decade have become somewhat sexless. I haven’t read the Twilight series but I’m aware of Jacob, the Native American werewolf (Because stereotypes are fun!), imprinting on Renesmee when she’s an infant. This sort of bonding for life must seem ideal for a Mormon housewife. Remus Lupin spends most of his life terrified of infecting someone, lives a solitary life, and is horrified when he finds out what he did at the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He only pairs off reluctantly, never seems happy with Tonks, and spends a good part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows worrying whether his child will inherit his lycanthropy. Of the werewolves I’ve mentioned, Oz is the most sexual. He ends up leaving his girlfriend, Willow, after cheating on Willow with fellow werewolf, Veruca. After returning to Sunnydale when he’s learned to control his lycanthropy, he reverts to his wolf state when he smells Tara on Willow and realizes that Willow has had a sexual relationship with someone else. David as a werewolf is the sympathetic werewolf of modern times but he’s not the neutered werewolf of recent times.
If you’re looking for some fun and you happen to be in New York City, there is a pub based on The Slaughtered Lamb.
The pub in the movie.

The pub in the movie.

I spent a recent birthday at the Slaughtered Lamb pub on 4th St. and it was a load of fun. There’s a rotating werewolf on display and the drinks are good. My photos like my memory of that night are kind of a mess so here’s a picture of one of my birthday presents from that night and a werewolf foot.

Posted in 1980's, body horror, famous movie monsters, monsters, things involving me, werewolves | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Uninvited (1944)

I’m keeping up my trend of classy black-and-white ghost movies so you might want to straighten your monocles for 1944’s classic ghost movie The Uninvited.  Like my last entry, The Innocents, The Uninvited is consistently high ranked on critics’ top horror lists and is a known favorite of Guillermo del Toro.

It’s a very different movie from today’s haunted house movie.  It relies more on atmosphere and mood than on jump scares or gore.  So don’t watch this expecting to be scared the way you were during Insidious.  The vengeful ghost and huge creepy house actually reminded me more of The Changeling than anything else.

The movie is set in 1937 in Cornwall, England.  Brother and sister Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ruth Hussey) fall in love with Windward House.


They buy it for a suspiciously low price from Commander Beech (Donald Crisp).  If I’ve learned anything from ghost movies and Scooby-Doo it’s to always be suspicious of real-estate deals.  The only person not pleased with the deal is the Commander’s granddaughter, Stella Meredith (Gail Russel).


Stella grew up in the house and doesn’t want to lose it.  Stella ends up befriending Pamela and falls in love with Roderick.  By now, Pamela and Roderick have realized that something isn’t right with the house.  They’re awakened by the sound of a woman crying.  Their dog won’t go up the stairs.  Flowers wither in what was Stella’s father’s art studio and there’s a consistent dreary feeling.  Stella attributes the feelings to the ghost of her mother, Mary Meredith, who died by falling off of a cliff nearby.  Is the ghost Stella’s mother or is it her father’s model and mistress, Carmel, who died shortly after her mother?  They hold a seance, with Roderick hoping to resolve the issue and end Stella’s obsession with the house.  Roderick is clearly controlling the glass at first but they do make contact with one of the ghosts.


Commander Beech is disturbed by his granddaughter’s obsession with the house and sends her to Miss Halloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner), a friend of Stella’s mother.  It’s there that Pamela and Roderick discover the true nature of Stella’s mother and how Carmel really died.  I’m revealing nothing here, not because I believe in spoiler alerts for 72-year-old movies, but because it’s fun putting the pieces of the mystery together.

There are two things that really struck me about this movie.  First, was the creative use of lighting in the scenes.  Second, was how pretty gay Miss Halloway’s speech about.

Windward doesn’t have electricity in the movie so there’s the opportunity for lots of dramatically lit, spooky shots.



Now, Miss Halloway’s speech about Mary Meredith.  Miss Halloway runs a sanitorium and has a painting of Mary Meredith in her office.  She explains, “Mary was a goddess, her skin was radiant, and that bright, bright hair…The nights we sat talking in front of that fireplace, planning our whole lives.  It wasn’t flirtations and dresses we talked about.  We were no silly, giggling girls.  We intended to conquer the world.”  It’s so reminiscent of Mrs. Danvers’ obsession with Rebecca de Winter in Rebecca.  I thought it was just me with my modern sensibilities noticing this but people wrote letters to the censors when the movie first came out.  Oddly, the British censors were less concerned with the gay subtext and more concerned with the incredibly vague ghost.


The movie has an odd sense of humor that’s very refreshing.  I enjoyed the banter between Pamela and Roderick and think it keeps the movie grounded and from becoming melodrama.  This movie is definitely worth a view if you’re in the mood for a ghost story from a different era.  Plus, it’s left us with this creepy, beautiful song that was written for the movie and became a jazz standard, “Stella by Starlight.”

Posted in 1940's, classics, ghosts, psychological | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Innocents (1961)

Watching Crimson Peak last month put me in the mood for a spooky story.  Something old, set in the past, and with ghosts.  Luckily, I had 1961’s The Innocents on hand.  Guillermo del Toro regards this as one of his top horror movies and you can really feel its influence on Crimson Peak

The Innocents is based on the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw.  Sadly, I actually haven’t read this work but I’m familiar with James’ writing enough to know that the supernatural in his stories is used as a means of discovering people’s psychological states.  This is a case where the ghosts may not be ghosts.

The movie stars Deborah Kerr as rookie governess Miss Giddens.


She’s interviewed by the unnamed Wealthy Uncle (Michael Redgrave) who only cares that Miss Giddens take full responsibility for his niece and nephew.  Giddens takes the post and moves to Bly, his country estate.

There she meets and is taken with his niece, Flora (Pamela Franklin).


She’s a sweet girl but is somewhat creepy, especially in this scene where she observes a butterfly fighting off a spider.


Her creepiness factor is increased when she predicts her older brother, Miles (Martin Stephens), will be returning home from school despite the fact that the holidays aren’t near.

In fact, Miles does return after being expelled.  He’s sweet, smart, and incredibly flirtatious.


Miss Giddens finds the children to be unsettling and is troubled by the entire estate, especially when she sees a man on the tower.  She learns that Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), the Uncle’s valet, died on the grounds.  He’d been engaged in an emotionally abusive affair with the children’s first nanny, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jesop).  They were indiscreet and it’s possible the children observed them.  Miles especially admired Quint and saw him as a father figure.

At first Miss Giddens thinks the estate is merely haunted but she becomes obsessed with the idea that Quint and Miss Jessel are possessing the children, especially after Miles recites a poem saying, “What shall I sing to my lord from my window? What shall I sing for my lord will not stay? What shall I sing for my lord will not listen? Where shall I go when my lord is away?”


She tries to exorcise the ghosts from the children but how do you free someone who isn’t possessed?  The haunting at Bly is less about the actual ghosts and more about Miss Giddens’ mental state.  The children in the movie are incredibly creepy but this may be a result of the fact that they’re parentless, left to be raised by boarding schools and the housekeeper.  Miles is incredibly flirtatious and shares two kisses with Miss Giddens but is he possessed or just emulating the behavior of someone he admired?  In the end, the results of Miss Giddens’ interference are disastrous.

This movie isn’t the kind of movie that’s jump at you scary.  It’s more intense and atmospheric, like the sequence where Miss Giddens searches for the source of unearthly voices and ends up in the room she shares with Flora.

In a lot of haunted house movies, I end up saying that the house is a character.  That isn’t true for this movie.  I don’t think we ever even see a full shot of the house.  The house is all large windows with billowy drapes and fireplaces but I don’t think the audience sees a full room.  Unusually, the movie is mostly tight shots with incredibly stark lighting.



This is to emphasize that it isn’t the house that’s the problem.  Stephen King once said something like “Bad places attract bad characters.”  This isn’t the case, the problem is the people inside, not some kind of inherent wickedness.  Even with their flaws, Quint and Miss Jessel exhibited nothing more than usual wickedness when they were alive.

Another thing that makes the movie so unusual is the use of synthesized music and ambient sounds as opposed to the usual orchestral score.  It works well and is an unusual choice for that time period.

In the end, the movie is less about ghosts and more about Miss Giddens becoming unraveled.  She’s a vicar’s daughter who’s extremely innocent and becomes extremely unglued in the face of prepubescent flirting.  You can even see a change in her clothes as the movie progresses.  At first her wardrobe is primarily light but as time passes it becomes darker and darker, perhaps hinting at the heavy mourning Miss Jessel went into fter Quint’s death.  In the end, the viewer is left wondering if the children were ever possessed and if it isn’t Miss Giddens that’s really possessed.


Posted in 1960's, foreign, ghosts, psychological, you so crazy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Crimson Peak

In his introductory essay, “Haunted Castles, Dark Mirrors,” to American Supernatural Tales, del Toro says;

When I was a child–roughly seven years old–I started purchasing and collecting fantastic literature…
The discovery of the horror tale at such an early age was fortuitous for me. This sort of tale serves, in many ways, the very same purpose as fairy tales did in our childhood; It operates as a theater of the mind in which internal conflicts are played out. In these tales we can parade the most reprehensible aspects of our being: cannibalism, incest, parricide. It allows us to discuss our anxieties and even to contemplate the experience of death in absolute safety.
And again, like a fairy tale, horror can serve as a liberating or repressive social tool, and it is always an accurate reflection of its time and the place where it gets birthed (xiv-xv).

I’ve been noticing mixed reviews of Crimson Peak and, after seeing it, I can understand why. I enjoyed the movie but I also read a lot of gothic literature, from Poe to Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and H.P. Lovecraft. This movie has the feel of a 1960s gothic horror, with lots of supersaturated colors and lush settings. It’s not the fast-paced hour-and-a-half of jump scares that the Paranormal Activity series and pretty much anything that Blumhouse makes, that people are used to.
Del Toro goes further back in time than he did in The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth, back to turn of the century Buffalo, New York. The movie opens with a battered Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) telling the viewers how she’s always seen ghosts and that ghosts are around.

The movie goes back in time, where we properly meet Edith, an aspiring writer and daughter of a widowed builder, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). We see her meet the poor but titled baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who asks Carter for money to help save his clay mines.

Carter, and Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), a childhood friend, are suspicious of Thomas and his odd sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), to the point of hiring a private detective to investigate them.

Edith has seen ghosts from the time she was young, and her mother’s disfigured, grisly ghost warns her multiple times of “Crimson Peak.” It’s too late, though, by the time she gets there.
Edith falls in love with Thomas and ends up leaving the country with him even in the wake of the brutal death of her father. Side note, Carter’s death scene looked amazing, I think it was mostly practical effects, and I wish some of the other effects looked as good as his death. She moves to his dilapidated estate, Allerdale Hall (Also known as Crimson Peak, because of the red clay that leaches through the snow), with Thomas and his sister. The hall itself is a character unto itself, like the Overlook Hotel and Hill House rolled into one, with actual bleeding walls. Edith sees more ghosts as she grows to hate the house more and more and is disturbed by Lucille’s strange behavior.
In the beginning of the movie, Edith debates with her editor about whether her story is a ghost study. She says it’s a story that happens to have ghosts in it. That can be said about Crimson Peak, it’s really a story about people and isolation, and there happen to be ghosts in it.
It wouldn’t be a del Toro movie if there wasn’t lots of atmosphere and creepiness. I liked that the ghosts are hideous, disfigured, and disturbing. Some of them bear resemblance to Santi from The Devil’s Background, with visible wounds and floating gaseous blood.

Sadly, some of the ghosts were too CGI looking, they all had this plastic sheen that I could have done without, like Pixar movie characters. The one ghost I did like was the bathtub ghost, because it was one of the only ones that seemed to have a real person playing it.
I generally enjoyed the movie but there were some pacing problems. It felt a little too long in its exposition. Some of the tropes were obvious and I figured out where it was going within the first fifteen minutes. It’s still fun getting there, and I think fans of Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and the Lovecraft story “The Rats in the Wall” will enjoy this movie. I particularly liked when Thomas tells Edith that their hearts are connected and if the connection is severed then he’ll die because it reminds me of Jane Eyre when Rochester says something similar to Jane. I just wonder if, in my mind, del Toro’s best work will always be his Spanish language work.
So, fans of Mario Bava, The Haunting, and gothic literature, there’s a movie for you.

Posted in 21st century, ghosts, haunted houses, psychological, you so crazy | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stage Fright (2014)

So my deep, shameful secret is that once upon a time I was a theater geek. A super theater geek. So I thought I’d love a movie set at a theater camp with a musical killer slashing the kids. I was wrong. So, so wrong.

The movie even opened up with a True Warning, which everyone knows I’m a sucker for.
Sadly, this could not save this movie.
Allie MacDonald stars as Camilla Swanson, the cook at a theater camp.
Her mom, Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) was murdered a decade ago while starring in a production of “The Haunting of the Opera,” a Phantom of the Opera knockoff since I’m so sure they couldn’t afford the rights. Now Camilla and her twin brother, Buddy (Douglas Smith), are in the care of Roger McCall (Meat Loaf), the producer of “The Haunting of the Opera” and owner of the theater camp.
He looks like Stephen Jay Gould...

He looks like Stephen Jay Gould…

All Camilla wants to do is sing and act and it seems perfect to cast her in her mother’s role in the revival. Until people start being taken out one by one by a killer in a kabuki mask–oh yeah, the revival is set in feudal Japan because when a certain type of pretentious white people want to be edgy they add “ethnic.”
The killer is literally the only character with any interest because every other character is too busy being insufferable.
I fancy that I’ve watched a lot of slashers and can speak on some authority about what makes a slasher good. If every character is going to be awful with no redeeming qualities then the kills had at least better be satisfying. In this movie, the characters were so paper-thin that I couldn’t care about any of them and the kills weren’t gory enough to make up for this.
Honestly, Camilla was the worst character for me. I expect more grit from my Final Girls (Although the body count is so low that she barely qualifies for the title). She’s all big eyes and fragility. When the play’s director, Artie (Brandon Uranowitz), starts making it clear that Camilla will only perform opening night if she has sex with him, Camilla just goes along with him (until backing out at the last minute). But she’s basically ready to sleep her way to the top for a part in a community theater play. Or is this a case of sleeping your way to the bottom? I just can’t see Laurie Strode or Nancy Thompson putting up with that load of malarkey.
Is it fair that the whole time I was watching it, I was comparing it to Opera? Probably not. Still, Stage Fright makes my least favorite Argento flick look really good.
How I felt while watching "Stage Fright"...

How I felt while watching “Stage Fright”…

It made me wish that instead of creating a fake musical with horrible lyrics that they just used an old opera. THAT is creepy! And that lends itself to cool and creepy visuals. And, most importantly, it lacks white people in kabuki costumes shouting “Hi-yah!” Seriously, that really happened.
The killer’s reveal ended up being incredibly boring and unoriginal. I watched it with my best friend, who doesn’t watch as much horror as I do, who commented, “This entire movie feels like a Fear Street book. Did R.L. Stine write this?” No, there are Goosebumps books that are scarier than this movie.
I’ll just leave you with a video of the only interesting part of the movie.

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The reason that my best friend is my best friend is she understands that I’m the kind of person who wants a movie about exploding heads for my birthday.

The 1981 Canadian horror film follows Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack). He’s a young vagrant who’s unable to function in society due to his highly advanced psychic abilities. He hears everyone’s thoughts very loudly.
He’s discovered by people working for the private security firm, ConSec, and brought to Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), the head of a program studying and weaponizing scanners, people with advanced psychic abilities.
The scanners program is under pressure after a renegade scanner infiltrates a demonstration and makes a man’s head explode.
Ruth teaches Vale to control his psychic abilities, with the help of a drug called Ephemerol, and sends him to hunt Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), an incredibly powerful rogue scanner. For the first time, Vale is able to meet other scanners like Benjamin Pierce (Robert Silverman), an artist living in his huge sculptures.
Vale uncovers a corporate conspiracy involving ConSec and the drug company Biocarbon Amalgamate, with the help of fellow scanner Kim (Jennifer O’Neill).
For all of its body horror, the plot is very conventional and follows fairly standard sci-fi tropes. My main criticism is that, except for Vale, none of the other characters are particularly well developed. Scanners is particularly famous for being a difficult shoot with Cronenberg writing the script in the early hours before filming. I don’t really understand all the nuances of Canadian film financing–just enough to thank them for giving us some amazing horror films–but I know that Cronenberg was working in a very short amount of time to take advantage of this. That short working time is probably why the characterization suffers.
That being said, the performances are quite good. Even with minimal personal information about the characters, the actors make you care. Stephen Lack, in particular, brings humanity to a character that other characters describe as inhuman.
Scanners gets a lot of attention because of the famous exploding head scene–accomplished by shooting a foam latex head from behind with a twelve gauge shotgun–but the overall effects are amazing and hold up quite well, considering this movie is older than I am. That’s no surprise, with Dick Smith consulting–we’ve seen his work in The Exorcist. For me, the highlight of the movie is the psychic battle between Vale and Revok.
The score by Howard Shore is also notable. It creates an incredible amount of tension, especially during the scanning scenes.
While the movie deals with the issues of our very thoughts being dangerous, you can also see the influence of the thalidomide scare in the plot. In the late 1950s, thalidomide was marketed as a wonder drug to cure morning sickness in pregnancy. Unfortunately, it caused severe birth defects in fetuses when ingested by the mother before the third trimester.
The movie was good but I don’t think it’s my favorite Cronenberg sci-fi–I think that title goes to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh/mind?

Posted in 1980's, body horror, supernatural, thriller, you so crazy | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments