The Night Before Halloween (2016)

Directed by Sheldon Wilson [Other horror films: Shallow Ground (2004), Kaw (2007), Screamers: The Hunting (2009), Carny (2009), Mothman (2010), Red: Werewolf Hunter (2010), Killer Mountain (2011), Scarecrow (2013), Shark Killer (2015), The Unspoken (2015), The Hollow (2015), Neverknock (2017), Stickman (2017), Dead in the Water (2018)]

In some ways, this Syfy original feels likes a mixture between Sorority Row/Tamara and It Follows, with a group of friends covering up an accidental death and contending with some evil entity or something (and I do mean ‘or something’ – we never learn anything about this entity aside from the fact it takes the form of CGI flies). It’s not the worst Syfy original I’ve seen in my many years, but it’s far from the best.

One of the problems is a similar problem to what Sorority Row had – at the beginning of the film, five friends decide to cover up the circumstances of an accident (that in reality, only three of the friends were involved with), and they have the exact same conversation they had in Tamara and Sorority Row. “Oh, this will ruin our futures,” and “Fine, you can call the police if you want to spend the next 20 years in prison,” that tripe. I’m not saying this isn’t theoretically realistic, but I am saying that as soon as that deal is made, my sympathy for any of the characters, even the hesitant ones, is thrown out the window entirely.

So when people start dying, be it the bitchy girl (Kiana Madeira) or the ‘nice girl’ (Bailee Madison), I don’t care, because these people are all horrible and whether they die or not is the least of my concerns. 

It doesn’t help that the entity isn’t made clear – apparently it can use cell phones (and it uses smileys when it texts, so yay for technological demons, I guess) – but we never learn anything about it’s origins, and we don’t even know if “the curse” that gets passed onto them is legit, because it seems that whether or not you complete it’s specifications (if those even are it’s specifications and not something previously -cursed people thought would help), you can be killed by it anyway.

None of this is the fault of the cast, who are all reasonably fine playing hateable characters. Kiana Maderia later showed up in one of Syfy’s better original movies, Neverknock. Bailee Madison was sort of cute, but also played a horrible person. Anthony Lemke (American Psycho, of all places) played an almost-interesting but ultimately generic cop, so no award there.

When everything’s said-and-done, there are worse Syfy original movies out there (look at 2018’s Karma, which even had a similar idea to this), but there are plenty of better, more memorable films, and I’d probably say the only thing I’ll remember about this one was the okay twist. Otherwise, it’s just not a good movie.

5.5/10

Doctor X (1932)

Directed by Michael Curtiz [Other horror films: Alraune (1919), The Mad Genius (1931), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), The Walking Dead (1936)]

This has long been a movie I’ve found interesting. The story in Doctor X itself isn’t amazingly before it’s time (though references to cannibalism are welcomed), but the fact that the movie’s in color – in 1932 – is very much a stand-out. I don’t think it necessarily needed to be in color – it’s not like it made a big difference in any way – but the film is probably easier to get into for those who shy away from older movies, and I’ve always found it a hoot.

Certainly the film is far from perfect, but I appreciate how the story focuses on a very human killer as opposed to a vampire, a monster made up from dead body parts, or a mummy. We have, like any quality horror movie from the golden years, a plethora of potential suspects, and of course, a wise-cracking newsman out to get a story.

Lee Tracy isn’t a big name in the genre, and as far as I’m aware, this was his only role in a horror film, which is a shame, as he does pretty decent here. Maybe he comes across a bit generically, and many people in the industry would have been able to take on this same role without problem, but Tracy does well nonetheless.

Lionel Atwill is no stranger to the genre, appearing in films such as The Vampire Bat, Murders in the Zoo, Son of Frankenstein, Secret of the Blue Room, Mystery of the Wax Museum, and Mark of the Vampire, among others, and does great here as one of the lead scientists. He’s just suspicious enough at times to make for a good suspect, and it’s nice seeing an old hand wear a new (and colored) glove.

Elsewise, we have Fay Wray (King Kong, The Vampire Bat, Mystery of the Wax Museum, and Black Moon), who plays the very attractive daughter of Atwill, and has some rather amusing lines as well, matching Tracy with ease. Preston Foster was the only other one who really stood out, and that’s more due to the fact he looked like a good lead man than anything else.

I always loved the opening atmosphere of Doctor X, taking place on the misty docks next to a morgue with an ambulance coming in. It’s a solid opening, and I think the story is pretty entertaining, especially once they move to the admittedly cliché castle. Still, it’s overall a decent movie.

7.5/10

The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)

Directed by Robert Florey [Other horror films: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)]

It’s been some years since I’ve last seen this one, and I have to admit that I didn’t find it as enjoyable this time around as I did the first time I saw it. It’s not that The Beast with Five Fingers is a bad movie, because it certainly has it’s charm, but I do think an argument could be made that it moderately overstays it’s welcome, and that goofy conclusion didn’t help much.

Of course, it’s great to see Peter Lorre focused on so heavily here. He’s not the main character, no, but he does have an important role, and given how fantastic he was in the eleven-year earlier Mad Love, it’s nice to see him being thrown a somewhat similar role. Robert Alda (who later starred in a forgettable horror film ironically titled The Devil’s Hand) was a decent lead, and with J. Carroll Naish (The Monster Maker), they were an interesting pair trying to figure out what was going on.

Even so, as fun as some of the movie was, it definitely felt like it was dragging past the half-way mark, and again, the final few moments throws in some goofy things that aren’t be any means deal-breakers, but at the same time, I wish they had at least kept it down to one goofy ending scene, as opposed to two.

Still, I’ll give this credit for it’s original idea (especially for a decade like the 1940’s) that predates The Hand by 35 years and Idle Hands by 53 years (these are the only three killer hand movies that I can think of, so take that as you will). I just wish it had cut a few things out. The Beast with Five Fingers isn’t a bad movie, but I do think it’s a bit below average, which is definitely not my view on it when I last saw it.

6/10

Dementia 13 (1963)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola [Other horror films: The Terror (1963), Dracula (1992), Supernova (2000), Twixt (2011)]

This proto-slasher has always been interesting to me. I’ve never found it a great movie, and rarely have I found it good, but I do appreciate the combination of an old dark house mystery style of horror from the 1920’s and 1930’s with the emerging slasher (and arguably giallo) stories of the 1960’s. Dementia 13 isn’t a good movie, but I do think it’s one that’s certainly worth experiencing.

Obviously this isn’t H.G. Lewis – there’s no excessive gore here, and in fact, barely any gore at all. It’s also black-and-white, and focuses more on the atmosphere than it really does the kills. That said, we do get some okay kills here (by an unseen assailant with an ax), and some skin from Luana Anders (no nudity, of course, but solid, smooth skin), and the mystery is almost fun, so that helps also.

William Campbell and Bart Patton were decent as brothers, but I sort of wish we saw more of them actually acting like brothers as opposed to feeling like two people who live in the same house without ever seeing each other. Though now that I think about it, the house is certainly large enough to warrant that excuse. Either way, both were decent, but I don’t think either one was all that amazing.

Neither Mary Mitchel or Luana Anders were really all that special, either – Anders might get higher accolades, though, as her character actually did something. Patrick Magee (who’s been in quite a few horror films, Tales from the Crypt being the role I’m most familiar with) was okay, but he felt a bit over-the-top here, and almost intentionally sinister (and whether or not that’s a red herring, well, you’ll see).

It’s the atmosphere of this one I’ve always liked, and while the mystery is okay, I don’t know if the ending is entirely satisfying, and I wish maybe a few more twists were thrown in. It’s not too hard to figure out the one behind these things, and I wish it were more of a challenge. Even so, Dementia 13 is a proto-slasher that is at least worth one look, if for no other reason, to see how far slashers have come in the years following Psycho and this one.

6.5/10

It’s Alive (1974)

Directed by Larry Cohen [Other horror films: God Told Me To (1976), It Lives Again (1978), Full Moon High (1981), Q (1982), Special Effects (1984), The Stuff (1985), It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987), Wicked Stepmother (1989), The Ambulance (1990)]

It’s Alive suffers from one of the most common problems that haunts 70’s movies, being that it’s dry. It doesn’t help that, like some of Cohen’s other movies (The Stuff and God Told Me To) it has a wider scope, so we’re dealing with more than just the husband and wife of a deadly and murderous mutated child. Because of that, a lot of the movie seems to drag, and doesn’t seem able to ever pull itself out of that.

I certainly enjoy aspects of the film fine, which is the same that I can say for most movies from the 1970’s – I like the vibes they had, and it always interests me to see how far we’ve come in terms of technology. During a scene, the main guy reaches into a refrigerator, and then once he closes the door, there’s what looks like another refrigerator right next to it (spoilers: it’s a freezer). That’s a small thing, and of no consequence whatsoever to the movie, but I like little things like that.

What I didn’t care for was much of It’s Alive, though. It could have ended around an hour and 12 minutes, and I think that would have been welcomed, but it keeps going for another twenty minutes, and I just don’t know why. It’s not like there’s that much here that’s overly interesting anyway, and like I said, it just felt like it was dragging for most of the film.

Never having seen this, I was sort of expecting something like I Don’t Want to Be Born (1975), but you know, as bad a rep as that film has, I thought it was both a lot more fun and a lot more memorable than this one. Here, you have no performances at all that stand out, almost no scenes that stand out, and just an overall lack of interesting content. Maybe I’m missing something, but for the time being, this one just failed hard.

5/10

From Beyond (1986)

Directed by Stuart Gordon [Other horror films: Re-Animator (1985), Dolls (1986), Daughter of Darkness (1990), The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), Castle Freak (1995), Dagon (2001)]

I have to admit that when I saw this film for the first time, it didn’t click. If you were to ask me what I didn’t like about it, I don’t know entirely if I would be able to give a great answer. The truth is I’m pretty sure I watched it on the same day I watch seven or eight other classic horror films, and this just got lost in the sauce, as Howie Hawkins (the presidential candidate I voted for in 2020) would often say.

So seeing it again was a nice surprise. I still can’t admit to loving it, because I don’t. I think the atmosphere is great, the main performances are solid, even the story is decently interesting (with elements of both Videodrome and a sprinkle of Prince of Darkness thrown in), but I lose interest in the last thirty minutes or so (once they leave the house and hit the mental institution). It’s not a bad direction, but I didn’t care much for it.

Of course, Jeffrey Combs (who I recently saw in The Attic Expeditions, and is most well-known for Re-Animator and voicing the Question in Justice League Unlimited) is a treat to see here, and there’s a  decent amount of sympathy felt for his character despite not really knowing much about him. Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator and Chopping Mall) was attractive here, especially in her glasses. Ken Foree (who, in fact, I forgot was in this – I loved him in Dawn of the Dead) was a lot of fun too.

Even with the strong cast and amazing special effects, the atmosphere doesn’t carry over to the mental institution, at least in my view. It’s still a good movie, but I’m rating it around average, and can only hope that I eventually grow to enjoy it as much as many other seem to.

7/10

Scary Movie (1991)

Directed by Daniel Erickson [Other horror films: N/A]

I definitely didn’t know what I was getting into going into this movie. I know that IMDb labels it a horror/comedy, which I guess is a fair description, but what I didn’t anticipate is just how much fun I would find much of the film.

If there’s one main drawback, it’s that I think Scary Movie runs on a bit longer than it needs to. I think they probably could have cut out ten minutes, maybe 15, and made it a quicker experience, because there were a few times when I felt my focus wander off. Otherwise, though, I think that it’s a movie with a lot of spirit and a lovely and charming encapsulation of Halloween.

For the first thirty minutes of the movie, a group of four friends are standing in line to get into a Haunted house attraction. During this time, an insane killer breaks loose. Most of the film, though, follows the friends, specifically the nervous wreck that is Warren (played by John Hawkes).

On a side-note, one of my favorite things in the film was, when the group of friends played jokes and pranks on Warren, this guy standing behind the group in line – not a part of the group, and in fact never actually talks to anyone in the group – laughs along with the others. The camera often puts him in focus as he cackles at Warren, and in fact he’s credited on IMDb as ‘Laughing Man’ (Ernie Taliaferro in his sole role, if anyone’s wondering). That happened multiple times throughout the movie, and it never got old.

What also never got old were the hokey yet charming set pieces in the haunted house, and really, the whole movie reeked of the spirit of Halloween in a way that, to me, few movies have (such as Trick ‘r Treat, Halloween III: Season of the Witch and, of course, Halloween), and for that alone, I had a really good time.

John Hawkes (who later popped up in Identity, which must be where I recognize him from) was an interesting lead character, and throughout the film we see him consistently surviving the horrors he’s facing. He’s a jumpy guy, though, so the amount of horrors he’s actually facing are sometimes in question. Ev Lunning is decent as a sheriff running for re-election, and Zeke Mills (‘You wonder where the yeller went when you brush your teeth with Pepperdent’) has some funny lines. The best actor, though, is probably Taliaferro and his laughing.

I don’t know if the end of the movie is entirely satisfying, but I think it works with the story, and feels oddly dramatic given the rest of the film’s somewhat light-hearted nature. This is definitely a movie that surprised me, though, and Scary Movie is a movie I’d recommend to fans of early 90’s slashers if they want something a little atypical.

7.5/10

The Attic Expeditions (2001)

Directed by Jeremy Kasten [Other horror films: All Souls Day: Dia de los Muertos (2005), The Thirst (2006), The Wizard of Gore (2007), The Theatre Bizarre (2011, ‘Framing Segments’), The Exorcist Files (2011), My Haunted Vacation (2013), The Profane Exhibit (2013), The Dead Ones (2019)]

This is a movie that I wish I liked more. The first time I saw The Attic Expeditions, I was probably too confused to form any opinion other than that I found it a disjointed mess, but seeing it again, I really wanted to appreciate what it was going for. In part, I think I do, but I still found it a movie that leads to far more unsatisfying scenes than satisfying ones, and that ain’t good, as the kids say.

It’s hard to critique the story because it’s difficult to tell what the story here really is. Certainly that’s part of what makes this film memorable, but even so, being as jumbled up as it was, with various different solutions that may be partially or fully true, it makes the film occasionally seem as though it was over-reaching and rather too ambitious.

I don’t really have a complaint about the performances, though. Andras Jones is perhaps the most unremarkable, but for a lead character in a movie like this, he does fine. I hated that haircut, though. Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, From Beyond, and most importantly, the voice of The Question from Justice League Unlimited) obviously brings some quality here – I mean, who doesn’t like a doctor who smokes joints while talking to his patients?

Seth Green (who I mainly know from Without a Paddle, The Italian Job, Rat Race, and, atypically, It) is really fun here, and I enjoy pretty much any time he talks. His line, “Well, that’s awkward for you” cracked me up, and his on-screen presence was on point. Ted Raimi looked really familiar to me, and to be sure, I’ve seen him in a few movies (Wishmaster, The Midnight Meat Train, and Candyman), but none of those roles seem to warrant my immediate recognition of his face, so that’s bothersome. Also, one of the nurses looked really familiar too, but after scanning all applicable characters in IMDb, no dice.

To be sure, there are some interesting ideas and elements here, such as the fact that after Green’s character caught the doctor with the blank book, she uses another patient who writes to supplement the material she can’t read from the book anymore (it’s explained marginally better in the movie). That’s some good paranoia, which is a lot of what this movie’s based around. It doesn’t make for a necessarily coherent story, though.

[This is the paragraph where I was going to compare this movie to other asylum-based horror films from the time period, such as 1997’s Asylum and 2004’s Madhouse, but despite seeing both of those films, I literally don’t remember a single thing about either, so I’ll just use this paragraph instead to insult my weak memory and note that I need to get to revisiting the both of those.]

I wish I liked the Attic Expeditions more. Even though I don’t care that much for it, though, I do admit that it has an atmosphere about it that makes the film unique, and the story, whatever the real story may be, is interesting enough to at least keep the movie moving along at a good pace. It’s something that I’d probably recommend for the experience, but it’s not something that I’d call a good movie at all, I regret to say.

5.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil, and if you’d like to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this oddity, by all means, give us a listen.

Shark Week (2012)

Directed by Christopher Ray [Other horror films: Reptisaurus (2009), Megaconda (2010), Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus (2010), 2-Headed Shark Attack (2012), Mega Shark vs. Kolossus (2015), 3-Headed Shark Attack (2015), A House Is Not a Home (2015), Circus Kane (2017), Minutes to Midnight (2018)]

I’m not playing around with this one, brahs.

I recorded this off Syfy for some unexplainable reason (well, I guess the reason was that, at the time, I recorded almost any horror movie I hadn’t previously seen, so there’s that), and so I got what I expected, and it’s just another God-awful shark movie by the Asylum, void of almost anything enjoyable.

So a crazy guy captures eight people and puts them on his island, where he’ll make them fight sharks and go through traps because he’s angry about the death of his son (all of these people have a connection with that death in some way). It’s basically Saw: With Sharks, only nothing like that, because as bad as the worst Saw movie was, this was worse.

Acting was horrible throughout. Patrick Bergin and Yancy Butler were the worst offenders, but literally no one did well. Frankie Cullen almost looked like David Arquette, so there’s that, and Joshua Michael Allen was almost a hero worth rooting for, but I didn’t care for a single one of these characters at any time, and even if the acting was atrocious intentionally, it didn’t make it ‘fun.’

Obviously the plot is stupid, and special effects were more like not-special effects (see, this film drained away my clever way with words), and were just horrible throughout. Look at the land-mine scene for a good example. Oh, and speaking of which, whoever did the cinematography should be drawn and quartered. Listen, I don’t have the vocabulary to explain exactly the techniques they use – it was like instead of showing a whole scene, they just cut a second out every other second – it’s jarring, annoying, and entirely unnecessary.

A good example, again, is the landmine scene. A guy steps on a landmine. Another guy comes over. And we get a few quick cuts to his foot, then to guy A’s face, then to guy B’s face. It just looks like amateur hour.

Oh, and the dialogue was horrible too, but there was one joke I laughed at, though, so I’ll give it a point for that.

Also known under the title of Shark Assault (not that a retitling is like to change anyone’s mind about this film), Shark Week is horrible, and I don’t know why I bother.

1.5/10

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Directed by Eugène Lourié [Other horror films: The Colossus of New York (1958), Behemoth the Sea Monster (1959), Gorgo (1961)]

Giant monster movies aren’t really my go-to, even if they are classic. Sure, I enjoyed The Black Scorpion well enough, and Them! is a classic I grew up with, but in general, giant monsters running amok isn’t really my cup of tea, and as decent as this movie is, especially for being one of the earliest movies of it’s genre, I don’t personally know if I consider it that special.

Certainly the special effects are pretty good for the time (the stop motion can look a little janky, but it has it’s charm), and most of the destruction and chaos are fun to watch (such as that cop getting eaten – I could play that on loop for the rest of my life and count myself a lucky man), and I even like how they sort of build things up to the final confrontation, but despite all that, it’s not a movie I’d really find myself in the position to watch often.

Part of it may be the generic cast. Aside from Cecil Kellaway, who I loved pretty much every minute while on screen, the cast just had a been-there-done-that feel to them, and though I guess the main protagonist was interesting in that he was a foreigner (Paul Hubschmid, who was born in Switzerland), he still didn’t jibe with me, nor did anyone else.

More than anything, though, it’s the story here that just makes me pull away. I don’t want to give off the wrong impression, though – the movie’s perfectly fine, and I’ll be giving it a solid average rating. It’s just that it doesn’t amaze me the way I wish it would, and it also doesn’t have near as much an anti-atomic weapon moral that you’d perhaps expect from movies of this time.

No one can doubt that, in it’s own way, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a classic movie, and there are some great scenes (aside from the aforementioned police officer scene, don’t forget that lighthouse being taken down), but it’s not a movie I’ve ever happened to love either time I’ve seen it, for whatever that might be worth.

7/10