House (1985)

Directed by Steve Miner [Other horror films: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Warlock (1989), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Lake Placid (1999), Day of the Dead (2008)]

House holds a special place in my heart. It’s not an overly special movie, but it’s a movie I remember very vividly seeing bits and pieces of as a kid, and though it’s not particularly frightening nowadays, this movie really scared me when I was younger.

To tell the truth, some scenes here still got my heart racing, as pathetic as that might be to admit. While the comedy did occasionally veer to too silly a level, it’s the scares here that stood out, such as that ghoul woman attempting to abduct the child or the multitude of monstrous hands attacking the protagonist from the mirror.

Really, I find the whole concept of House intriguing. The main character (played by William Cobb) is dealing with both the trauma of his experiences in Vietnam along with his recently losing his son, who has gone missing. The house in question, which contains within it different dimensions (or something akin to that – it’s not much touched on), looked quite grand, and the whole mirror sequence onward were true quality to see again.

Cobb did sometimes get a bit goofy, but he was still a very solid main character, and I enjoyed the conclusion, which ended somewhat like the first A Nightmare on Elm Street. None of the side characters really added as much as you’d hope for (be it George Wendt or Mary Stavin), but as the movie’s really a personal journey for Cobb’s character, I think that could be excused. Richard Moll made for a solid antagonist, though.

The way House was put together really works, too. With many flashbacks to Cobb’s time in Vietnam setting up the conclusion, and plenty of ghoulish attacks (that overweight ghoul perhaps being the most memorable) and adventures (Cobb’s journey into the mirror onward), the movie really came together wonderfully, and though I wish a few things were added to the end, and some of the humor stripped down, the film’s enjoyable whether or not there’s a blot of nostalgia over it.

Sure, some of the special effects seem a bit goofy, and the comedy sometimes becomes a bit much, but there are some decently funny lines and scenes in here too, and the multiple issues that Cobb’s character deals with works even ignoring the comedic overlay. It’s a movie that scared me as a kid, and seeing this again after some time, it’s a movie I really enjoy now.

8/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

Satan’s Servant (2021)

Directed by Ethan Gomez Zahnley [Other horror films: N/A] & Jack McDermott [Other horror films: N/A]

I have to admit to having rather mixed feelings about this lower-budget film. On one hand, I appreciate some of the performances and dialogue in Satan’s Servant, for all it’s awkward glory, but on the other, I really wish I loved the base story a bit more.

Certainly I find the film a bit of a mixed bag. Still, considering the extraordinarily low score on IMDb (at the time of this writing, it boasts a 2.5/10 with 126 votes), perhaps such a mixed reaction should be seen in a positive light. I mean, compared to some films I saw from 2020 (such as Tokyo Home Stay Massacre, Wolfwood, and I Think We’re Alone Now), this was downright spectacular.

Also, I won’t lie – I had fun with a lot of the first three-fourth’s of the film. It’s labeled on Prime as a ‘coming-of-age slasher’, and while I don’t buy that description, it does deal primarily with teenagers, meaning we get uber-beast teen slang (such as the word ‘sus’ and ‘swear’, as in ‘Swear, what’s the move now?’). Also, ‘damn near the move’, ‘bust the mission’, and ‘vibing’.

I’m not making fun of the film – I’m guessing this is what modern-day teens talk like, and I found it fascinating, along with a little amusing. I mean, I say ‘bro’ and ‘brah’ a lot, and sometimes use ‘hella’ ironically, but it almost feels like a third of the words used here.

So yeah, I found a lot of the film fun just for the fact it centered around some teenagers in California (this was likely filmed near Kensington, California, on a side-note, given how Kensington Hilltop Elementary School was seen in a couple of scenes). I’m almost 30, so I have no idea if it’s a realistic portrayal of teens nowadays, but did I have fun? Yes, sir.

The performances were, as you can imagine, shaky. Some definitely lacked the appropriate emotion for the situation. That said, there was only one performance I actually disliked, being Emily Maya Keyishian, who was just a bit over-the-top comedic at times for me to fully buy into.

Ironically, the younger actors and actresses here all kept me entertained. I absolutely loved Sean Okimoto’s character, who spent most of the night trying to fight Satanists while faded as fuck. I dug that performance a lot. Josephine Thompson had some weak moments, but I generally thought she did pretty well. Though she had shorter screen-time, the same can be said for Erin Wynden. Carlos Noreña didn’t seem to have as much character as Okimoto, but he was an okay lead, and Garrett Bush had a moment here and there.

Also, while the gore here isn’t great, they at least try. Someone gets their arm ripped off, and a throwing knife flung at their skull. Another unfortunate soul gets stakes through their wrists. There are two different decapitations, along with a slit throat. None of these scenes are great, but I admit, I did like seeing someone get their arm torn off, so no complaints.

What I did find more problematic was the comedy. Sometimes, it totally worked, such as the scene in which James (Carlos Noreña) and Tyler (Sean Okimoto) were discussing how to get past a lock. Other times, though, I didn’t think it landed. Mostly, this happened toward the finale, which I found overall rather unsatisfactory, if I’m being honest, and that purification scene (“You’re in the splash zone”) was particularly painful.

I don’t doubt that many would look at the lower-budget nature of the film and write it off, which I don’t find particularly fair. I definitely had some issues with Satan’s Servant, but for what they had, I thought they did an admirable job. Oh, and the fact they could film at 2:00 am without pissing off their neighbors is quality praxis.

Satan’s Servant isn’t likely to make many people’s must-watch list, but I definitely found it largely serviceable. I do think it ultimately falls below average, if only because the story sort of loses my interest about half-way through (to be fair, that’s true for many movies with a Satanic subplot), but it was a damn fine attempt, and I had a good time with a lot of it.

6/10

Tremors (1990)

Directed by Ron Underwood [Other horror films: N/A]

Ever since I was a kid, I loved the Tremors movies. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen the first three movies combined, so to say I grew up with them will be the best I can do. The first film isn’t the best horror film of the 1990’s, but I’ve always found it enjoyable, and nothing has changed.

It’s a pretty simple monster movie with a rather small cast, but Tremors keeps us entertained with the quality character building, interesting ideas, and a decent amount of humor sprinkled throughout (though never becoming too overbearing as to distract from the suspense). If one of the many monsters movies from the late 1950’s had been made around the 1990’s instead, this is definitely what they’d hope to be.

Kevin Bacon is one of those big names that I honestly pretty much only know from this movie. I mean, I’ve seen Death Sentence, and of course I’ve seen Friday the 13th, but as far as Bacon individually standing out, Tremors stands alone. He works fantastically well with Fred Ward, and seeing the two of them interact throughout the film is a lot of fun (“Legs that go ALLLLLLL the way up!”).

Of course, it should go without saying that Michael Gross (who I know best from Family Ties) is great here, along with his wife (played by country singer Reba McEntire), as a pair of gun-nuts who are incredibly fun to watch, and Gross himself has plenty of funny lines (deadpan, “For my cannon” is probably my favorite). It’s clear why Gross made such an impression, even more so than the stars that were Bacon, Ward, and Finn Carter.

The monster design here was pretty interesting, even though we’re basically talking about giant worms. They look suitably dull, and seeing them killed in various ways is fun enough, but also the fact that they do learn as the movie goes on gives them a little more of a fear factor, even though they’re never quite terrifying.

Also, let’s speak briefly about the setting, being the (very) small town of Perfection, Nevada. It was indeed perfection, as a population of about 14 people total has always amazed me, just seeing the way that these people would live as opposed to those in a larger town or city. I couldn’t imagine living in such a small place, and maybe due to that, this setting always stuck out to me as something really memorable.

Other films from the early 1990’s combined humor and horror better than Tremors did (I’m primarily looking at Arachnophobia, which came out the same year), but Tremors has been a pleasure to watch since I was a kid, and I still really enjoy the first three movies, and wholly recommend the first two if you haven’t seen them before.

8.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Tremors.

Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (2005)

Directed by Ana Clavell [Other horror films: Horror 102: Endgame (2004), Creepshow 3 (2006)] & James Glenn Dudelson [Other horror films: Horror 101 (2001), Museum of the Dead (2004), Creepshow 3 (2006)]

I’ve seen some bad zombie movies in my time, this has got to be one of the worst I’ve seen in the last six months, perhaps longer.

In truth, this movie might be of slightly higher quality than 2006’s Dorm of the Dead, which I’ve seen somewhat recently. Certainly this film was more coherent than that low-budget offering, but I didn’t have near as much fun with this as I did that one.

Partially this is due to it’s rather drawn out set-up – the movie’s already a bit long, at over an hour and forty minutes, but it takes something like an hour to really get moving. Not that I mind a little character-building, but boy, most of the characters in the film weren’t really worth building. And that ten-minute opening prior to the title screen was somewhat terrible, but at least it was consistent with the following hour and thirty minutes.

There’s a few decent things about the film, such as the laudable special effects and maybe a sympathetic character or two (not that the acting here really merits much). The make-up is rather iffy, and sometimes really shoddy, but it’s still okay insofar as the budget is concerned. I do wish the gore was a little more enjoyable, but I guess much of the lower-budget zombie genre has the same issue.

Laurie Maria Baranyay was fine, and a decently cute actress, but her story here did her no favors. Her relationship with actor Justin Ipock was of moderate interest, but not altogether all that endearing. I did like Stephen Wolfert in his role, and his form of treating his patients felt far more humane, which was sort of nice.

I can’t possibly look past how boring much of this movie was, though, nor how utterly generic most of it felt. Even the original content, such as the zombie virus causing people to “evolve,” was messy and generally unenjoyable. What’s worse was the pseudo-philosophical babble that was the first-person narration (by Ipock’s character), which popped up a handful of times. It was never interesting or engaging, but again, I guess that’s at least consistent.

And not to berate this film even more, but that ending was absolutely terrible in pretty much every way.

Zombie movies are hard to get right. And perhaps more to the point, I’d be the first to admit that zombie movies aren’t my cup of tea. No doubt there are great zombie movies out there (look no further than Dawn of the Dead, The Return of the Living Dead, or Zombi 2), but so many of the zombie flicks post-2005 are generic drivel, and this movie, an unofficial sequel to Romero’s Day of the Dead, is little different.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine many people becoming too enthralled with this. If you want to pass the time with a shitty zombie movie, then sure, Day of the Dead 2: Contagium would be fine. Actually sitting down and watching the whole thing, though, is just a painful ordeal that I would never want to put myself through again.

3.5/10

Lake Placid 2 (2007)

Directed by David Flores [Other horror films: Boa vs. Python (2004), S.S. Doomtrooper (2006), Sands of Oblivion (2007)]

Honestly, there’s little to say about this pointless sequel. I’m a big fan of the first movie, but this Sci-Fi flick is pretty much what you’d expect – hideous CGI, unremarkable characters and acting, and little going for it.

It utterly pales in comparison to the first film, of course. They had a Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt)-like character, though so much less interesting. Same with Betty White’s replacement. It’s just a shallow film with really atrocious CGI most of the time (about none of the crocodiles looked remotely well-done, nor any of the arms or legs that got torn off).

John Schneider didn’t impress me remotely, nor did Sam McMurray. And in fact, Chad Michael Collins didn’t do that much for me either, but I don’t really hold that against him. It’s true there are a few attractive women (Sarah Lafleur and Alicia Ziegler), but there are others like Joe Holt who could have done so much more, but the story here had no use for that.

Instead, it’s badly-generated crocodiles, because that’s the go-to for Sci-Fi movies. As far as I can tell, the only reason anyone would endeavor to check this out is to see what Schneider’s been up to, but it’s really not worth it, and while I’d highly recommend checking out the first movie for a fun romp, this is just what you’d expect, which may not make Lake Placid 2 a bad film, but certainly does make it unremarkable.

5/10

1408 (2007)

Directed by Mikael Håfström [Other horror films: Skuggornas hus (1996), Strandvaskaren (2004), The Rite (2011)]

Based on a short story by Stephen King (which is around 53 pages in the copy of Everything’s Eventual that I own), this film is a piece of trash. The original story is great, fantastic, even, but this adaptation was way too Hollywood to have any real chance at matching the uneasy atmosphere of the story.

For Hollywood horror, 1408’s okay. Here’s the problem: the short story is virtually perfect, and if they had wanted to make a movie based directly off the story, they probably could have done it in a 45 minute short, with three actors. They didn’t need to add in a mentions of Mike’s father, or have his ex-wife appear, or have their ghostly daughter appear (in fact, no daughter is even mentioned in the short story whatsoever), any of that.

It’s no surprise they added the dead daughter to the story though – see, it makes for an emotional scene when Mike is hugging his long-dead daughter, only to have her crumble before his eyes (he knew it wasn’t really his daughter, but of course he gave into the temptation to touch her), and then that fantastic conclusion with his ex-wife and him hearing their daughter on the tape recorder is oh so god-damned emotional too, right?

Bangs head against desk

Listen, the original King short story is great. At just over 50 pages, it’s not near as short as some of his other stories, but there’s a palpable sense of unease during the whole of the hotel stay, and while this movie included some of it (such as the “Even if you leave this room, you can never leave this room” line and referenced the “My brother was actually eaten by wolves one winter on the Connecticut turnpike” line), they threw in so much utterly ridiculous and pointless fodder as to render the actually effectively spooky stuff moot.

Such as that fake-out ending. You know, it seems that he makes it out of the room, he actually imagined the whole thing while unconscious from that surfing mishap at the beginning of the film, and all is well until – here’s a shocker – he’s still in the room. He never got out. It was an illusion (like most everything else the room does).

Bangs head on desk

Wow, Hollywood, that’s original.

I liked John Cusack in this role, and actually, Samuel L. Jackson as Olin wasn’t bad either. And shout-out to Drew Powell (Butch from Gotham), who had a handful of small appearances here. But with the story as butchered as it was, Cusack’s performance here doesn’t save anything.

Had I not read the story before watching the film, it’s possible more of this might have impressed me. Honestly, though, even that might be a stretch, because this movie is so utterly generic and as unsurprising as you could possibly imagine.

I get it, a 40-minute movie couldn’t be released in theaters, and Samuel L. Jackson or John Cusack probably wouldn’t have signed on for it, but would you rather have a good movie that’s short or a generic, glossy production that looks nice but has no substance?

From that stupid predictably fake-out ending that anyone who has ever seen a movie saw coming from a mile away to the whole needless addition to the daughter, I can’t think of a single good reason to recommend 1408. Read the story; throw this away.

3/10

Criminally Insane 2 (1987)

Directed by Nick Millard [Other horror films: Criminally Insane (1975), Satan’s Black Wedding (1976), Doctor Bloodbath (1987), Death Nurse (1987), Cemetery Sisters (1987), Death Nurse 2 (1988), Dracula in Vegas (1999), The Turn of the Screw (2003)]

The 1975 Criminally Insane would never win any awards, but I liked it well enough for it’s pure grind-house aesthetic. This sequel, though, has to be among one of the worse straight-to-video horror flicks of the late 1980’s (and no doubt there’s plenty of competition).

Partially, this is due to the fact that a third of the film is made up of flashbacks from the first film (mostly in the form of Ethel’s dream sequences). I enjoyed the first film, but just reusing various scenes (sometimes multiple times) in order to pad the already short running time (this clocks in at about 70 minutes) is just weak sauce. It’s not as bad as Puppet Master: The Legacy, but it is definitely weak.

With the story we’re given, though, of Ethel being moved into a halfway house following budget cuts to mental institutions, it’s okay. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s really, really dry, boring as all hell, and leads only to a collection of weak kills and stilted conversations (the tea conversation between Ethel and some guy she was trying to kill, for instance), but hey, they tried.

As it is, the movie actually could have been fine if only they had cut back on the amount of flashbacks they inserted and instead added a bit more story and maybe character background (also, there’s a scene here which indicated there are four patients at this halfway house, but we only ever see three). I mean, Priscilla Alden came back for this, and the least you could do for her is give her a script worth shooting.

Honestly, this film is pretty much an insult. Some of the conversations here are amusing (for all the wrong reasons), but there’s really not much charm at all to be found here. The quality is that of a homemade movie from the 1980’s, and the very dull sets and stilted dialogue just make the whole affair laughable.

I can’t think of any good reason to go out of your way to seek this out. The first movie, as I said, was pretty enjoyable for it’s time, but this one is just beyond pathetic, as the IMDb rating (a hefty 1.9/10 at the time of this writing) can attest to. I don’t rate it quite that lowly, if only because I was personally amused at some of this, but boy, talk about a poor film.

4/10

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Directed by Steve Miner [Other horror films: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), House (1985), Warlock (1989), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Lake Placid (1999), Day of the Dead (2008)]

Following the first two great movies, the third film in this franchise, while still solid, doesn’t stand out quite as much, leaving us with few characters to really remember and maybe just a handful of actually memorable kills.

Throwing Jason a hockey mask halfway through the film, giving him his most classic look, was a nice touch (though I do sort of miss Part 2 Jason), as was starting the film off with the final minutes of the second film, but much of this film just does what you’d expect from a Friday the 13th movie, and like I said, I don’t think it really stands out near as well.

Chris, played by Dana Kimmell, was a decent lead (though nowhere near as good as Amy Steel’s Ginny), though her whole flashback story just felt out of place. So once, after an argument with her parents, she runs out into the woods, runs into Jason, fights him a bit, blacks out, and Jason doesn’t kill her?

Actually, somewhat interesting fact here: Jason is never once referenced by name, so whether or not these people even know this is Jason is in question. Because of this, the fact that Chris has a dream-like experience with Jason’s mother at the end leads me to think that it more likely than not actually happened.

Regardless, the whole “I met this creepy, disfigured guy before, and now he’s killing my friends because he didn’t kill me when he had a perfect chance” thing always felt really, really off to me, especially because Jason seems to realize it’s the same girl (that scene where he pulls his mask down to show her his face displays that). The whole thing’s odd.

I also wish that Vera (Catherine Parks) had more of a role in this one. She doesn’t really amount to much, but I sort of wonder if she wouldn’t have been a better final girl than Kimmell, if for nothing else to throw the audience a loop. Otherwise, aside from Shelly (played by Larry Zerner, himself a shadow of Mark Nelson’s goofball Ned from the first movie), who else here really stands out? Paul Kratka? Nick Savage? As far as memorable characters go, these people are pretty weak.

The kills aren’t that bad, though. I mean, like I said, I don’t think that many stand out, but all of them are pretty serviceable. I liked that upside-down machete slash, along with the pitchfork scene, the harpoon gun, and the guy getting his hand cut off. Heck, the knife going through someone’s throat was solid also. Still, compared to the first two movies, I don’t think there’s too many stand-out deaths here.

Finale-wise was somewhat interesting too, actually. Instead of a rather chaotic rainstorm, we’re instead treated to strong winds. I don’t like it quite as much, but the scene with Chris running into the cabin and trying to seal the wind-swept windows was decently compelling. The fight in the barn was decent, and it was fun seeing Jason sent over the edge of the barn, but the first films certainly have more memorable finales.

Of the first four movies, Part III is probably the weakest. It’s not helped by the gimmicky 3-D (and to be fair, while I started watching the 3-D version on my DVD copy, I switched to the 2-D version before too long), but what hurts it more is the utterly unremarkable characters and kills. It’s still a solid slasher, and I still, if for no reason other than nostalgia, find it above average, but I definitely think the first, second, and fourth movies are better.

7.5/10

This film has also been covered by Fight Evil’s podcast – listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this on in detail beyond imagination.

Halloween II (2009)

Directed by Rob Zombie [Other horror films: House of 1000 Corpses (2003), The Devil’s Rejects (2005), Halloween (2007), The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009), The Lords of Salem (2012), 31 (2016), 3 from Hell (2019)]

Boy, this was a surprise. Now, I’ve seen this sequel before, but it’s been years, and I was hoping that, upon seeing it with fresh eyes, it’d have grown on me a bit, and I’d end up rating it equal to, if not better, than Rob Zombie’s first Halloween (which I’ve never been a fan of).

That is, alas, not what happened at all.

Truth be told, this film struck me as overly terrible and shallow. I’ll attempt to touch on my biggest concerns, but the sooner this film is forgotten, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

Story-wise, the movie started strong, mimicking the original Halloween II with Laurie in the hospital and Michael coming after her. But PLOT TWIST – the first twenty minutes are a dream. It’s a shame, because it was probably the most solid segment of the film, but it was all a dream. Great stuff, man. Loved it. Didn’t feel like an utter waste at all. I promise.

Following that terrible dream sequence, we get a bunch of psychedelic segments with Michael and Laurie thinking about family and horses and ghosts appear at the end (or it was a psychotic break, but it’s not made clear, so whateves), and it’s a great story. I mean, we pretty much get no reason to care for Laurie or her friends (Annie, Mya, and Harley), so when they die, who cares? I know I don’t.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say the story was bad. I just personally couldn’t get invested past the annoyingly-long dream sequence, and once they started throwing in visions of Sheri Moon Zombie, that indifference grew. I felt nothing through most of this, which is only made worse due to pretty weak kills, and rather dreary lighting.

While it was a minor pleasure seeing both Richard Riehle (Hatchet) and Octavia Spencer (Ma) in cameos, pretty much no one else does anything for me. Malcolm McDowell (who I enjoyed in Silent Night well enough) played such a terrible character, making it impossible to get behind him. Scout-Taylor Compton, Brad Dourif, and Danielle Harris? Harris was far better in Halloween 4 and 5, Compton was entirely generic most of the time, and Dourif made no impression.

Personally, I think this is on Halloween: Resurrection level terrible, and to be entirely frank, I might like Resurrection more. In fact, it’s not ‘might’ – I do. This movie was just atrocious with very little going for it, and I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to see this one again for any reason.

4/10

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Directed by Albert Lewin [Other horror films: The Living Idol (1957)]

While certainly more a morality tale than a straight horror film, there’s a reason that this classic is often listed as part of the genre, especially come the end of the film in it’s debauched glory.

More than anything, The Picture of Dorian Gray questions morality. Personally, when it comes to many aspects of the hedonistic lifestyle portrayed in the film, I didn’t have a big deal with it. It was a different time, though, so if you can get past how tame Dorian’s ‘sins’ seem (some of the worst stuff is off-screen, only alluded to), you can have a good time.

The cast here is stellar. Hurd Hatfield does a great job as the debonair but somewhat soulless Gray, and his youthful appearance lends credibility to the story. He’s never really been in much that I’ve seen, but given that this was only his second role, it shows the quality of his performance. Honestly, though, George Sanders and his amoral character impressed me more. He was witty, fun, and most importantly, entirely able to defend the actions others see as questionable. Sanders here really brought a great character to life.

Donna Reed and Angela Lansbury played two love interests of Gray at different periods of his life. Reed was decent, but it was Lansbury who made a bigger impression, and the scene in which she’s singing prior to meeting Gray was great. Her time with Gray was short and tragic, especially come the test of her virtuousness (all thanks to Sanders’ character).

One more name need be mentioned, and that’s Cedric Hardwicke, who narrated the film. I sometimes have an issue with narration (look at how awful it was in Curse of the Faceless Man), but it was very solid here, and only added to the tone of the film.

Another thing very much worth pointing out was how, despite the film being black-and-white, there were a few scenes in full color, when first showing the titular picture of Dorian Gray and again toward the end once, showing just how far his soul has fallen (which led to some unnecessary “Pray for your soul, Dorian,” stuff, but whateves, I can deal with it). It was a very effective use of dramatic coloring, and that, coupled with a murder that happens moments after the second portrait reveal, really bring the horror element of the film to the forefront for those scenes.

When it comes to classic films, it’s not uncommon for horror elements to get mixed up with heavy dollops of drama, and this movie is a prime example of that. For fans of modern-day horror, The Picture of Dorian Gray might not be up to their standards. It’s a great mixture, though, of a morality tale, throwing in elements of romance, horror, and the desire for one to better himself. Certainly a movie that’s recommended, and referred to a ‘classic’ for a reason.

8/10