80’s Horror Throwback: “Where are the Children?”

On her birthday, San Francisco resident Nancy’s two kids Peter and Lisa disappear, later to be found dead. The police wrongly accuse a devastated Nancy of being the killer. Nancy is found guilty and sentenced to the gas chamber, but her attorney manages to get her conviction overturned. Much to the District Attorney’s dismay, Nancy can’t be put back on trial because key witness has left the country. And Nancy’s husband, college professor Carl, commits suicide.

Seven years later, Nancy has relocated to a town in Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Nancy has changed her identity, re-colored her hair, and has married a realtor named Ray Eldridge, with whom she has two kids named Michael and Missy, and the terrible pain from what happened to Peter and Lisa has begun to heal. But today is Nancy’s birthday. She has allowed Michael and Missy to go out to play in the back yard. Nancy opens the newspaper and is stunned to find, in the local section of the paper, her picture and all of the details of the murders of Peter and Lisa. Nancy rushes out to the back yard to get Michael and Missy and bring them back into the house, but Nancy finds only one of Missy’s red mittens…and Nancy knows that the nightmare is beginning again.

Because of the disappearance and murder of Peter and Lisa, Nancy is understandably concerned about finding Mike and Missy before they are hurt the way Peter and Lisa were. Local police chief Jed Coffin, who has read the newspaper, wrongfully sees Nancy as a suspect in the disappearance of Michael and Missy. When people in the town read about Nancy in the newspaper, virtually everyone suspects her of murdering Mike and Missy. But Mike and Missy have been kidnapped by a man named Courtney Parrish. In the desperate search for Mike and Missy, everyone will discover the devastating truth as to who Courtney Parrish really is. And there is also another question — was it Parrish who killed Peter and Lisa years ago?

Sound like a lot of plot? “Where are the Children” is overloaded with plot, characters, and red herrings. This is the type of movie in which you keep asking yourself questions like “Who is that?” and “Where did they come from?” Of course this doesn’t have to be a bad thing as movies with too much plot tend to be a bit more successful than movie with far too little plot. Nonetheless, by the end of this movie you will be wondering how all of the pieces fit together and how several characters were connected. It’s a shame really because the film features some great performances (Frederic Forrest is quite chilling as “Uncle Courtney”) and some incredible atmosphere (I know I’m not the only horror fan that likes a good “mansion by the sea” murder mystery)> When this movie reaches its laughable conclusion, I was laughing at the movie and never really all the scared. That being said, there is definitely some fun to be had here. Sadly, for whatever reason, this movie isn’t available on DVD but is available on instant through Amazon.

Remembering “USA’s Saturday Nightmares”

As I grow older, I feel sometimes as if I am the last slasher fan left that remembers “USA’s Saturday Nightmares.” Growing up, it was the ultimate Saturday night experience for the up-and-coming slasher fan. “USA Saturday Nightmares” was an unhosted show on the USA Network in the 1980s and early 1990s. The show came on at 8:00 p.m. every Saturday night. They showed a lot of B Horror and Slashers Films from the 1980’s. Most of the movies shown also appeared on Commander USA’s Groovie Movies and USA Sci-Fi Theater. After airing the movie they showed episodes of “The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, “The Hitchhiker”, and “The Ray Bradbury Theater.”

The most famous intro to the series had you going through a CGI haunted house (in the early days of CGI) where the paintings changed. It started outside the house and moved inward. The first painting went from Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, Mr. Hyde, and The Wolfman. The second painting changed between “The Brood”, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. The last part of the intro showed a movie screen and the voice over would welcome you. The most famous of the voiceovers came rom Alan Kalter of “Late Show with David Letterman” fame. “Saturday Nightmares” also had bumpers that featured scenes from B horror films as well as scenes from old episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Let us take a moment and remember the lost early of the 80’s slasher movie and 80’s slasher television. USA, you used to be so cool Brewster.

Wes Craven’s “Deadly Blessing” is a Deadly Delight

If there is a bigger Wes Craven fan than myself, I haven’t met them. From his early work, the incomparable “Last House on the Left”, to his latest work, the hugely entertaining “Scream franchise”, there are very few movies of his that I don’t enjoy on at least some level. Of course, all of this comes into play while reviewing the slasher gem of the night, the little known and unappreciated “Deadly Blessing.” How people have never heard of such an elegant and supremely suspense film is a mystery to me. Yes, dear reader, it really is that good.

“Deadly Blessing” begins with young couple Martha (Maren Jensen) and Tom Schmidt (Jonathon Gulla) living in an isolated farm named ‘Our Blessing’, where most of it’s population are of the Hittite religion. Jim used to be a Hittite himself but left the community when he got married. Martha tells matron Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton), who is the mother of Faith (a sweet but dim Lisa Hartman) that she is pregnant. That night, Tom searches in the barn after hearing strange noises from inside, but is murdered when a mysterious figure runs him over with his tractor. This is seen as a mechanical accident.

Friends Lana Marcus (Sharon Stone, trying not to channel her inner bitch) and Vicky Anderson (Susan Buckner) visit Martha after Tom’s funeral. Some time after Martha refuses to sell the farm to Isaiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine), the leader of the Hittites, and slams the door in his face. When William Gluntz (Michael Berryman) goes to the house at night to search for his shoe he accidentally left earlier when sneaking around, he is stabbed through the back by an unseen figure.

Wouldn’t you know it, Martha is now being accused of being the incubus. Lana enters the barn the next day to look for something in the haystack but all the doors and windows suddenly close, trapping her inside. In a panic, she searches for a way out but encounters a figure dressed in black. When escaping out the now open barn door William’s corpse swoops down at her, hanging from a rope. The police clears up the mess as the sheriff (Kevin Cooney) advises the three friends to move out of town, as someone may be after them. However, Martha descides to stay where she is and buy a gun for protection. Multiple events follow, such as a snake being put into Martha’s bathroom while she’s taking a bath by an unseen figure who creeps in her house. She manages to get out of the bath and kills the damn snake. Snakes are scary, very scary. Did I ever tell you how much the snake attack scene in “April Fool’s Day” scared the crap out of my when I was a little boy? Well, now you know. Anyway, back to Martha, little do her friends know that the trouble has only began.

I cannot possibly oversell “Deadly Blessing”. The cinematography is pitch perfect, the deaths are extremely suspenseful, and the ending, while a bit “out there”, stays completely true to the story. It is with this film that Craven showed the film world that he could make a horror movie that relied on actual intelligent filmmaking as opposed to cheap scares. While it is true that the film is a bit slow and meanders a bit in its middle act, it is still a fine horror movie that deserves a re-release. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out immediately. Sadly, however, it is only available in region 2 release so unless you have a VCR or a multiregion dvd plyer, you may be out of luck. EDIT: It is now available on Netflix Streaming for a limited time so watch it while you still can!

This review is part of Final Girl’s Film Club. Check out her awesome blog for some kick ass horror reviews.

80’s Slasher Throwback: “The Burning”

In a summer camp named “Camp Blackfoot”, a group of boys are planning to pull a prank on the weird, alcoholic, masochistic caretaker, Cropsy, during the middle of the night. They sneak into his cabin and set a rotting skull on fire, only to have Cropsy wake up and accidentally knock the skull onto his gas tank, causing flames to spread all over the cabin. The horrified boys then watch as Cropsy, engulfed in flames, stumbles out and falls down a ravine into a river, putting out the flames. Five years later, Cropsy is released from hospital, wearing a heavy coat, sunglasses and hat to hide his deformities. Out of rage, he murders a female prostitute. He then sets out to another summer camp named “Camp Stonewater”.

The camp is populated with many characters, who are each going through their own situations: Eddy wants to get it on with the shy hottie Karen, Todd struggles as head counselor and seeks to find time to be with his girlfriend Michelle, eccentric and shy Alfred is trying to make friends with Dave, Woodstock and Fish, who are all trying to get back at cocky, cruel Glazer, who lusts for cutie Sally.

Cropsy makes it to the camp as everyone is playing baseball, and almost kills a female camper, but hesitates too long. The next morning, Sally goes to take a shower, senses that someone is inside the showers, and pulls back the curtain, exposing a shocked Alfred, who runs out of the shower. Sally’s screams bring Karen, Michelle, Todd and Eddy, who catch Alfred, who Michelle insists should be thrown out, but Todd takes him to have a stern talking-to instead. During this conversation, Todd learns that Alfred does not have any friends, and was just trying to pull a prank on Sally to make her laugh. After the discussion, Glazer attacks Alfred and warns him to stay away from Sally, but Todd breaks them up, telling Glazer to cool off, and lets Alfred go and apologize to Sally.

Night rolls around, and Alfred spots Cropsy outside his window, but no one believes him, so he, Dave, Fish, and Woodstock go to the mess hall with everyone else. While everyone is eating, Karen tells Michelle that she and Eddy are going to spend the night together, and that she should be back before morning. After supper, everyone then goes to sleep, except for Karen and Eddy who sneak off into the woods by another lake, to skinny-dip. They begin to fool around in the lake, while someone takes Karen’s clothes. Just as Eddy and Karen are about to have sex, Karen decides she’s not ready, upsetting Eddy who tries to force himself on her, making her slap him. Eddy is outraged and orders her to leave him, which she does, only to discover that her clothes have been strewn all over the woods. She begins to collect them all, until she reaches her last article of clothing on a tree, where she is grabbed by Cropsy and has her throat viciously slashed. And Cropsy is just getting started….

A fun “Friday the 13th” rip-off that has some great death scenes and a memorable villain (Crospey has been and will always be freaky as hell. The problem with “The Burning”? Too many damn characters. So many characters in fact that none of them really leave an impression so that you don’t care who lives and who dies. This is a fun movie, don’t get me wrong, but I always thought that it could be a better movie than what it is. So, why is it one of my favorite slashers of the 1980’s? Simple. The deaths. And I do mean the deaths. The deaths in this splatter film have to be seen to be believed. Everything that you would want to see with garden sheers to nubile teens are done to extraordinary effect. Credit Tom Savini who does some of his best make up work to date with this fun little slasher title. Looking for a gory good time? Make a date with “The Burning”.

80’s Slasher Throwback: “Fright Night”

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a huge fan of traditional Gothic horror films. He stays up late at night to watch the horror movie TV series “Fright Night” hosted by Hammer Horror style actor, Peter Vincent, who played a vampire killer for many years in horror movies. Charley discovers that his new next door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. Upon coming to this terrible realization, Charley tries to tell his naturally skeptical yet loving mother, and asks his friends for their help. In desperation he calls the police but when he reveals his suspicions to them they believe he has a wild imagination and ignore his claims. That night Charley gets a visit from Jerry himself who offers Charley a “choice” (something he claims he lacks) to look the other way about him. Charley can’t bear the idea of people being killed to feed this monster so he tries to use his cross only for Jerry to stop him. Jerry then tries to throw Charley out of the window and nearly succeeds until Charley stabs him in his hand with a pencil. In rage and retaliation Jerry destroys Charley’s car.

Charley turns to his vampire-hunting hero, actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for help, but Vincent dismisses Charley as an obsessed fan. Charley’s girlfriend, Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse), fears for Charley’s sanity and safety so she hires the financially-desperate Vincent to “prove” that Jerry is not a vampire by having him ingest what they claim is “holy water” but it turns out to only be tap water. Peter Vincent accidentally discovers (in a truly frightening scene) Jerry’s true nature after glancing his lack of a reflection in his pocket mirror, which causes him to accidentally drop and smash the mirror. With this new, terrifying information, Peter flees but Jerry learns of Peter’s discovery after finding a piece of his pocket mirror on the floor. Will Peter Vincent and Charley Brewster be able to save the town from Jerry before it is too late?

“Fright Night” is quite possibly the best vampire movie that I have ever seen. The mood, the setting, the atmosphere…everything in this movie works. From beginning to end, this film reeks of dread and, more so, the 1980’s. I don’t mean that to be a smack in this movies face, I truly mean that as the ultimate compliment. If one were to make a time capsule of the movies that embodied each decade, this movie, along with “Heathers”, would have to be near the top of my list for movies to include. There is not a single damn thing that I don’t like about this movie. “Fright Night” made vampires scary, erotic, and fun. Compare this to “Twilight” and you will see there is no comparison.

80’s Slasher Throwback: “Chopping Mall”

A group of teenagers working in a mall decide to get together for a all night party of their lives. When the mall goes on lock down before they are able to get out, the robot security system (seriously? in a mall?) activates after a slight malfunction (is there anything that electricity couldn’t do in the 80’s?) and they go on a killing spree. One by one the three robots try to rid the mall of the teenage intruders. Chaos ensues and few will leave this party alive.

There you have the premise for “Chopping Mall”, one of the best named slashers of the 80’s, and one of the best premises too. “Chopping Mall” is the kind of movie that couldn’t have been made in any time except the 1980’s. Killer robot security guards taking over a mall by night? Sound like a good time? It does to me. The beauty of a cheesy horror movie like “Chopping Mall” is that you will either buy into this wacky, overblown premise or you won’t. Chances are that if you are in the mood to rent or buy a movie called “Chopping Mall”, you will probably have a good time with it. The film is a camp delight from beginning to end with just enough laughs and gore to make the whole thing watchable. Is this great cinema? Hell no. Can you do a lot worse than this little gem of a slasher flick? You bet.

Oh and I neglected to tell you dear readers the very best part of this film….it’s 78 minutes long. That’s right. It gets in, does its damage, and gets the job done before the audience can even come to their senses as to what hit them. And, let’s be honest, who can hate a film with dialogue like “I’m just not used to be chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots.” I sure as hell can’t.

80’s Horror Throwback: “Poltergeist III”

Every horror franchise has its dark sheep of the family. For “Nightmare on Elm Street” it is “Freddy’s Revenge”. For “Friday the 13th” it is “A New Beginning”. For “Scream” it is “Scream 3”. For “Poltergeist” it is “Poltergeist III”. The amount of hate for this film could fill up ten novels. The film was both a critical and commercial failure upon release and even the cast and the crew seem ashamed to be a part of it. But, the real question is, does the film deserve the hate. Is “Poltergeist III” really the abomination the cinematic world would like us to believe it is? Maybe not…

“Poltergeist III” begins with young Carol Anne being sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle in an effort to hide her from the clutches of the villainous Reverend Kane. In typical horror movie logic, he tracks her down and terrorizes her in her relatives’ appartment in Chicago’s John Hancock Building. Filled with windows and mirrors and evil behind reflections, can Carol Anne save the day and finally be able to rid her life of Kane? Or will he finally achieve his target and capture Carol Anne again? It’s up to Carol Anne and her psychic pal Tangina to save the day.

“Poltergeist III” is, by all means, a film that I should hate. It’s a sequel with only two returning characters (Carol Ann and the ever reliable Tangina), it’s PG-13, and it’s supernatural. By all means, this should be on my worst list of horror sequels. Hell, that’s where most other horror fans would put it. But it’s a good film damnit and it’s a film that I will defend until the day I die. To be honest, I just don’t understand the hate for this film. The mirror effects are surprisingly effective and the film attempts to bring closure to the story (even though there are only two returning cast members, it is surprisingly faithful to the original two films). The film is just plain fun from beginning to end and what the film lacks in logic it more than makes up for in inventive special effects. Sadly, this is young Heather O’Rourke’s (Carol Anne) last film as she would pass away shortly after filming would commence. Sure they may say Carol Ann about a hundred times too many but it really just adds to the fun of the film. Have a few drinks and do a toast to Miss O’Rourke, one of the genre’s youngest scream queens that was taken far too soon.

For those of you who love this guilty pleasure as much as I do, make sure to check out the fantastic “Poltergeist III” website by Webmaster David Furtney. This site gives you everything that you want to know about the making of, history behind, and the controversy around the horror sequel.