Child’s Play (1972)

Directed by Sidney Lumet [Other horror films: N/A]

It’s been quite a long while since I’ve been blown away by a movie. Child’s Play isn’t amazing, and to be 100% honest, calling it a horror film may not be entirely accurate, but it is a movie that has an insanely heavy amount of creeping tension, and it’s not an experience I can describe easily.

In fact, it reminds me of films like The Wicker Man and Don’t Deliver Us from Evil. There’s an oppressive atmosphere that permeates the whole film, and the tension here just builds and builds (though arguably, it doesn’t necessarily lead to anything). The final scene still carries that tension wonderfully, and you want to see what happens next.

This was truly a nerve-wracking experience. I think the reason for that is it’s based on a play written by Robert Marasco. If you don’t know the name, I wouldn’t be surprised, but because I’m a large fan of the film Burnt Offerings, I know Marasco wrote the novel Burnt Offerings is based on. And like Burnt Offerings, which has a deep sense of uneasiness throughout the film, Child’s Play has the exact same thing.

Plot-wise, some ideas aren’t fully answered or explained, and there’s a bit of an open-ended conclusion here. I would have liked a little more input from some of the student characters, as most of the film focuses around the faculty of a Catholic school, but even with a few issues like this, it doesn’t change how striking the film is.

The cast is amazing. There’s really only three central performances, those of Robert Preston, Beau Bridges, and James Mason, and all three are absolutely amazing. Bridges is the most generic of the bunch, but that’s only because Mason and Preston are Gods among men. They put a lot into this movie, and it just makes the whole thing great. Smaller parts played by Ron Weyand and David Rounds (who plays character I quite appreciated) compliment the central actors nicely.

I need more time to fully digest this one. It’s rare I see a movie as unique as this, and though it’s definitely not a movie for everyone, I do think the experience is worth it. It’s not a fun movie at all; it’s a somber, oppressive mystery filled with a lot of drama and the trials of being a teacher, but it’s still an experience worth having.


Puppet Master (1989)

Directed by David Schmoeller [Other horror films: Tourist Trap (1979), Crawlspace (1986), Catacombs (1988), The Arrival (1991), Netherworld (1992), Possessed (2005), Little Monsters (2012), Puppet Master: Blitzkrieg Massacre (2018), Death Heads: Brain Drain (2018), Carnage Collection – Puppet Master: Trunk Full of Terror (2022)]

The Puppet Master series is an interesting one, partially because it’s actually a pretty good batch of movies, and mirroring my opinions on the Friday the 13th series, I think the first movie is one of the weaker entries.

And the funny thing is that’s not even that much of a knock against this one, because Puppet Master is still decent. No doubt it has a quality atmosphere, and with a nice location and moderately enjoyable story, it’s a decent movie. It just doesn’t do as much for me as some of the sequels do.

I always have loved the variety of puppets here. Some of them don’t get too much into the action (such as Jester and one named Shredder Khan), but plenty get some stand-out scenes, such as the most strikingly designed one named Pinhead (picture a tiny head on a damn strong body) and my personal favorite Blade. I never really liked Leech Woman, but Tunneler is damn awesome, and what makes all of this better is that the effects behind the puppets looks great.

I think part of the reason I don’t care for this one quite as much as later films is the fact this feels a decent amount more somber and atmospheric. I don’t mind the atmosphere, to be sure, but it takes a little bit to get going, and it’s never quite the zany fun you might have with future films in the series.

Even so, most of the cast did pretty well. I can take or leave Paul Le Mat (who was also in the underrated Grave Secrets) as the lead, but Robin Frates, Irene Miracle (Inferno), and Kathryn O’Reilly were solid. My favorite non-puppet character was played by Matt Roe, who had such a business-focused mind. And though he only got the opening scene, William Hickey did great as André Toulon, and really sold the fact he cared for the puppets.

None of the deaths in the film are amazing themselves, but there’s a certain enjoyment in seeing a woman beaten to death with a fire poker by a puppet, or seeing the aftermath of a puppet’s drill head drilling into another character. None of these deaths are all that gruesome (aside from maybe the leech one, but that’s because I hate leeches), but some may stick out in your memory well enough.

I think Puppet Master is a decent movie in a pretty decent series. I’ve only seen these films, at least at the point of this writing, up to the 2010 Axis of Evil, and there’s really only two flops that I can remember (2003’s The Legacy and 1999’s Retro Puppet Master). It’s a generally-solid series, and though this beginning isn’t my favorite, it’s a well-made movie, and is worth seeing nonetheless.


Deadly Stingers (2003)

Directed by J.R. Bookwalter [Other horror films: The Dead Next Door (1989), Robot Ninja (1989), Zombie Cop (1991), Kingdom of the Vampire (1991), Shock Cinema Vol. 3 (1991), Shock Cinema Vol. 4 (1991), Ozone (1993), The Sandman (1995), Polymorph (1996), Witchouse II: Blood Coven (2000), Witchouse 3: Demon Fire (2001)]

Originally titled Deadly Stingers, Mega Scorpions (which isn’t near as interesting a title, in my opinion) is classy early 2000’s creature feature fun. It’s far from a good movie, but if you enjoy films such as Spiders, Python, Glass Trap, and King Cobra, you may well enjoy this.

Of course, the special effects are pretty horrible, especially the giant 3D ants, which truly look awful. And yet, I can’t help but postulate that they still look better than post-2010 Syfy efforts (Lavalantula, 2-Headed Shark Attack, those types of things). I mean, it’s no doubt shitty, but this was from 2003, so it’s almost charming, whereas later films don’t have near as much an excuse.

It’s also worth mentioning that Deadly Stingers had some unique story arcs. Some characters that I would have bet would have lasted longer died somewhat early on, and though this movie is really no better than any number of generic giant insects go wild films from the time period, I did appreciate how it almost had an air of unpredictability, or at least more unpredictability than you’d expect from a movie of this caliber.

The cast here was pretty fun all around. True, some of the performances didn’t shine (such as Sewell Whitney, Marcella Laasch, John Henry Richardson, and Stephen O’Mahoney), but then you have decent performances from Nicolas Read, Sarah Megan White (who had horrible delivery, but her character grew on me), and a personal favorite Trent Haaga (of Slices and Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula). There was even a one-hit wonder in the form of a short scene with Ariauna Albright, who I know as one of the leads in Bloodletting.

Now as you can imagine, portions of the story are flimsy, and with the special effects being a general failure, this is one of those movies that a large swath of people, even horror fans, would likely not seek out. I will give mild credit to a sequence in which an autopsy is done on a giant scorpion in order to remove it’s venom sacks – that scene was #gnarly.

I did have more fun with this movie than I suspect many would. That doesn’t mean I think the movie’s good, of course, but if I’m being fair, I do think, especially for the type of movie it is, that it’s watchable, and I think that it’s one I’d be okay watching again.


The Mad Magician (1954)

Directed by John Brahm [Other horror films: The Undying Monster (1942), The Lodger (1944)]

In many ways a companion piece to 1953’s House of Wax, The Mad Magician is a film I heard little about, and in fact, aside from Vincent Price’s starring role, I went in blind. I came out pretty happy too, and though not an amazing movie, I do think The Mad Magician had a decent amount going for it.

Like House of Wax, this film stars Vincent Price, who I’ll talk about in a bit, but also, this is a 3D film. In House of Wax, the 3D was inconsequential (such as a guy using a paddle ball thing), and in this film, it’s much the same, as we see a guy playing with a yo-yo, and see someone jab a sword in the camera’s direction. It’s a pretty pointless gimmick, made maybe a little worse by the fact that, unlike House of Wax, this film is black-and-white.

Otherwise, though, the story this one has is pretty fun, dealing with Vincent Price getting revenge on some horrible people, which is always a blast. It’s amusing to me how young he looks here, as this is before he sports his recognizable moustache, but his performance is no less good that you’d expect, and I thought he definitely did an amazing job. I love the element of Price’s character making masks of his victims so he can assume their identities, and the whole of the film is just a good example of quality.

Price (who I know best from House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, Theatre of Blood, The Haunted Palace, Pit and the Pendulum, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Bat, Witchfinder General, and The Fly) of course did amazing, as I said. Most others, such as Lenita Lane (also in The Bat), Donald Randolph, Mary Murphy, and Patrick O’Neal, did perfectly okay, but when Price is involved, it’s somewhat difficult for anyone else to stand out.

I did enjoy the off-screen decapitation (and on an amusing note, I watched this on a day when I watched five total horror films, and two others also had decapitations, being Bloody Moon and The Omen), and the crematory was pretty fun. The finale was unfortunate if only because I enjoyed Price’s crusade against the hideous copyright laws holding him down, and it admittedly was somewhat choreographed (in the same way the finale of The Mask of Diijon was).

Even so, The Mad Magician was a lot of fun, and being an early Price film, not to mention a digestible one, it went down quite easy. If you enjoy the classics, this might be worth seeing if you’ve not already done so.


Sam’s Lake (2006)

Directed by Andrew C. Erin [Other horror films: Playdate (2012), Havenhurst (2016)]

So Sam’s Lake is a movie I’ve seen a single time, that time being back in October 2009. I haven’t seen it since then, so revisiting it in October 2021, I was somewhat curious. I didn’t remember much about it aside from the fact that there was a lake involved, and so was certainly interested in seeing it again.

As it is, Sam’s Lake isn’t that good of a movie at all. The first 50 minutes or so were competent, as far as generic slasher-fare and character building is concerned, but some elements pop up toward the last third of the film that I just didn’t care for. Apparently this film is based off the director’s 2002 short with the same title, and I sort of wonder if that one had the same finale this one did, because if not, that short might be a better version of the same story. Regardless, the fact this is based on a short goes a long way to explain how threadbare this feels.

Fay Masterson, Salvatore Antonio, Sandrine Holt, and Stephen Bishop (who I randomly know from the sports drama Moneyball) all did a decent job, despite the fact that the story didn’t give a whole lot for some of these characters to do. There’s not a big cast in the film, though, and the fact that half of the main cast was decent is at least something to commend.

For the most part, though, this story is just generic slasher stuff, and absolutely none of it is surprising or noteworthy. None of the kills were really anything to write home about, and the twist that sets off the last thirty minutes was something I saw coming ten minutes in (and I know I said I’ve seen this, but given it’s been around 12 years, you can rest assured knowing I had forgotten about all of these characters, not to mention any twists the film might have had). There’s just little of interest here.

Sam’s Lake isn’t a good movie. If you want to see an okay slasher from the mid-2000’s, I guess you can go check this out, but I just don’t think most people would find it particularly worth it, and I suspect most would find this as forgettable as I have.


The Omen (1976)

Directed by Richard Donner [Other horror films: Two-Fisted Tales (1992, segment ‘Showdown’)]

Though not a movie I consider amazing, I always have thought The Omen was pretty good. It has a decently compelling story, made all the better by the mystery of Damien’s birth, and plenty of solid performances. It might be occasionally dry, but I do think it’s very much a classic.

Not being a religious individual myself, I don’t personally buy into any of the religious ramblings about the Antichrist, but unlike many exorcism films, I find that I can get into this movie far better, and it’s not all that trying. I think part of it is the fact I did first see this (or pieces of it) when I was quite young, and coupling that with the presence of a few familiar faces and classic scenes, despite not believing in the premise, I still have quite a good time.

I mean, just look at the kills here. From a woman hanging herself at a birthday party to a priest being impaled in front of a church, not to mention someone getting decapitated by a pane of glass and another individual getting pushed out a window of a hospital, there’s a lot to be found here if you’re primary concern is interesting deaths. In fact, the glass pane decapitation looks like it could be pulled out of any Final Destination movie, and while simpler in concept, the same could be said for the impalement.

Of course, it’s not only the deaths that stand out. There are a lot of great sequences, such as some characters being chased by rabid dogs in an old, dilapidated cemetery, or perhaps the baboon attack that Damien and his mother go through at the safari park. Even the finale is pretty solid all around, save for maybe the cheesiness of the final shot.

Gregory Peck (who I know best from the 1962 classic Cape Fear) was great as the lead, not buying into the Antichrist business at first (who can blame him – Patrick Troughton was a horrible messenger) but slowly figuring out the mystery and learning more about Damien’s origins. David Warner (Nightwing and a couple of other films) worked well with Peck, and the two of them scouring the Rome countryside, from monastery to cemetery, provided some of my favorite sequences in the film.

Patrick Troughton (not only one of my favorite Doctors from Doctor Who, but also The Gorgon) was a terrible messenger, but he did amazing as a religiously-inclined individual. He only got a few minutes of screen-time overall, but he dominated what he got with personality. Billie Whitelaw (Night Watch and Murder Elite) was somewhat similar, possessing a strong sinister aura. Leo McKern was a strong one-scene wonder, Lee Remick had her moments, and for a child actor, Harvey Stephens can smile with the best of them.

Overall, The Omen may not appeal to fans of more modern horror, as some of the film can feel a bit on the sluggish side. I wouldn’t call it a slow-burn – we get plenty of death throughout the whole of the movie – but it can be slow, and since it’s around an hour and 50 minutes, you might feel it. That said, I’ve always thought it hit most of the right spots, and like I said at the beginning, though I don’t find it amazing, I do think The Omen is pretty good.


Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Directed by Michael Curtiz [Other horror films: Alraune (1919), The Mad Genius (1931), Doctor X (1932), The Walking Dead (1936)]

I can’t say for sure how long it’s been since I’ve last seen this one, but I definitely know it’s at least been six years. I think I’ve seen it twice before, making this my third time watching this classic, but from my faulty memory, you wouldn’t know it.

Part of this may come from the fact that House of Wax, a 1953 remake of this movie, is just naturally fresher in my mind. Not only have I seen it moderately recently, but the story itself is a bit more striking (in that film, Price’s character has a wax house of horrors – here, it’s more beautiful wax figures without the horrific charm).

All that said, I was deeply interested in revisiting this one, and while it didn’t quite hold up as much as I was hoping it would, I had a decent time. I think the story is a little bit more streamlined in the 1953 movie, and of course, they had Vincent Price, so that’s going to be hard to beat anyway.

What Mystery of the Wax Museum did have, though, was beautiful color. To be sure, we’ve seen color before (in fact, the director of this film, Michael Curtiz, also directed Doctor X, another early horror film in color), but it looked a lot fresher here, and I imagine that’s partly due to the restoration the print has had done to it.

Though not all of the elements of the story come together (I’d have liked more background on the revenge Lionel Atwill’s character got on Edwin Maxwell’s), the little mystery here is pretty solid, and having a reporter running around and trying to figure things out does keep things decently engaging. Of course, the main problem then becomes that the woman running around, being Glenda Farrell, wasn’t playing the most likable character.

Which isn’t to say that Farrell didn’t do a great job. As a snappy, witty reporter, she did quite well, but her character irked me far more than she endeared me. Somewhat amusingly, though, Fay Wray bothered me more – she was no doubt a beautiful woman, but honestly, 90% of what she did in this movie was scream. It wasn’t her choice, I imagine, but the point remains. Lionel Atwilln (Murders in the Zoo, Doctor X, The Vampire Bat, etc.) did great as the tragic character that was Ivan Igor, and I definitely felt for him.

It’s hard for me to quantify the nature of my issue with this one. I don’t dislike it – Mystery of the Wax Museum possesses a good, quick story, and things move along at a nice pace with occasionally great scenes (not to mention beautiful color) – but I didn’t love it either. I think it stood out to me more positively the first time I saw it than it did this time around.

As rough as the Technicolor looked in Doctor X, I think that story was perhaps just a bit more fun. And while I ultimately might enjoy House of Wax more than this original story, Mystery of the Wax Museum is still worth seeing, but personally, at least with this viewing, I wasn’t overwhelmed with glory.


Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983)

Directed by Jim McCullough Sr. [Other horror films: N/A]

With a title like Mountaintop Motel Massacre (which is quality alliteration, by the way), I’d sort of expect the film to be a bit more cheesy. As it is, this film isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t feel at all like most 80’s horror, and almost possesses a bit of a somber feeling to it.

It also stands apart by not being the natural slasher that one might expect by reading the plot. There is some slashing, but beforehand, we’re given something like twenty minutes to get to know the killer, an older woman recently released from a psychiatric institution. It feels more like a character piece at the beginning, the horror not fully kicking in until would-be victims rent a cabin from her.

And because of that, things don’t really pick up until forty or so minutes into the film. It doesn’t help that, at the beginning, our insane woman is content with just scaring her many guests (by letting snakes, rats, and roaches into their rooms). It sort of helps with creating a dark atmosphere, what with her creeping around in underground tunnels and letting bugs loose into peoples’ cabins, but it’s not always the most enthralling material.

Anna Chappell was perfectly acceptable as a woman who’s lost it, but after a while, with little character insight, I can’t say she made an amazing impression. Most of the rest of the cast are in the same boat, sadly. Amy Hill and Virginia Loridans looked good in white, wet t-shirts, and Will Mitchell rocked a solid moustache, I guess. I did sort of like Major Brock in his sole movie role, and Bill Thurman did have some feeling, but these two are the only ones that really stand out.

If it weren’t for the sluggish nature of a lot of the film, I think I’d like the movie more. Once the killing starts, it’s not too shabby. Chappell’s character uses a sickle to kill, which is an inspired choice, and the special effects aren’t half bad. A woman gets badly struck in the face, someone loses a hand, another has their throat slit. When things actually start going down, they go down well. It’s just getting there that’s half the battle.

Now in this movie’s defense, I do appreciate how it attempts to stand out from many of the other horror films at the time by avoiding 80’s sensibilities, such as fun. That might sound like an insult, but it’s more me trying to say that this movie feels much more like a product of the late 70’s than it does the early 80’s. It’s not campy whatsoever, and while there’s an amusing line here and there, the whole atmosphere is somewhat oppressive and somber.

Even so, it’s not my piece of cake. When I first saw this one many years back, I think I was similarly befuddled, because I don’t recollect too much about my reaction, and seeing it with fresh eyes, I can get why a younger me would be confused. Mountaintop Motel Massacre is a movie that should be a cult classic, and perhaps it even is, but it’s not my thing. It’s still worth seeing, to be sure, but if you go in expecting a traditional 80’s slasher, you may not be in for a good time.


Ghost Stories: Graveyard Thriller (1986)

Directed by Lynn Silver [Other horror films: N/A]

I first heard about this over ten years ago from a VHS-collecting friend of mine, and it’s from him that I also heard last about this. That may be written poorly, but my point is that Ghost Stories: Graveyard Thriller is quite obscure, and after finally seeing it, it’s not difficult to see why.

If you’re familiar with An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe, then you’ll understand what this straight-to-video movie was going for. If you’re not, here’s a little background: An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe was a 50-minute movie in which Vincent Price recited four stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. They weren’t normal anthology stories – it was purely spoken word. And because Vincent Price was reciting them, it’s a nifty experience.

This movie was going for the same thing – we have a host (Bob Jenkins) who is walking around the Tuesday Hill Boneyard (classy cemetery name) and introducing extended family members (cousins, a brother-in-law, that type of thing), each of whom have a story to tell. They tell their story – occasionally with props (such as a coffin, a bolt, or a severed hand) – and it’s onto the next tale.

Overall, the whole thing lasts 56 minutes or so, and while perhaps the most low-budget thing I’ve seen in my life, I can’t say I wasn’t occasionally entertained. Only two of the five stories are really worth it, but it’s more the whole of the product than the individual pieces, and this was just fascinating.

Though it’s not listed anywhere in the credits, I believe this was filmed in South Carolina. Not only was South Carolina mentioned at least three times throughout the film, but also the production company is named Alamance Entertainment – Alamance is one of the counties of South Carolina. That goes a long way to explain some of these accents, some of which are quite southern, and adds a little spice to the recited stories.

Of the five stories (‘Where Have You Been Billy Boy, Billy Boy,’ ‘Mr. Fox,’ ‘Buried Alive,’ ‘Hunting Werewolves for Uncle Albert,’ and ‘Reunion’), the only two that I’d recommend based on content would be ‘Where Have You Been Billy Boy, Bill Boy’ and ‘Mr. Fox.’ ‘Mr. Fox’ is narrated by one Laura Kay, and while she’s not great, the story itself is sort of fun. ‘Where Have You Been Billy Boy, Billy Boy’ is nicely narrated by Ralph Lucas (who also wrote the story), and the story is perhaps the best written, what with an asylum, disfigured patients, and rats who sexually assault women.

‘Buried Alive’ isn’t the most original nor most interesting tale, but it does possess a deeply amusing aura, as it’s narrated by one Sandra McLees (who in fact not only wrote ‘Buried Alive,’ but also wrote ‘Mr. Fox’). McLees is a Southern woman through-and-through, and her dramatic recital of this story is just great (“Oh God, they’re gunna bury me alive!!”). It’s what men refer to when they speak of the ‘higher arts.’

‘Hunting Werewolves for Uncle Albert,’ which is actually a story told by our host Bob Jenkins, is just too silly to really get into. It has some okay portions (such as Uncle Albert telling the host that if he were a jaybird, “it’d fly backerds” [my attempted phonetic pronunciation of how this guy pronounces ‘backwards’]), but it also has Frankenstein’s monster chewing tobacco with the main character, and just has a terrible ending.

Somewhat related, the final story, being ‘Reunion’ recited by Maria Hayden, was occasionally funny, but mostly a generic yarn about witchcraft.

I probably enjoy this more than I should, but that doesn’t mean I’m fooling myself into thinking it’s a good movie. No doubt it’s interesting, and were it a play, it might go over well, but despite some good recitals (Sandra McLees and Ralph Lucas) and an animated, occasionally-amusing host (Bob Jenkins), this really isn’t a movie I think would appeal to many.

Because I love cheap, SOV horror films, I knew I had to see it, and I’m happy I did. Even more, it wasn’t near as dull as I thought it’d be. Despite all of that, though, it’s definitely not a good movie, and more a curiosity than anything else.


Valley of the Zombies (1946)

Directed by Philip Ford [Other horror films: N/A]

Possessing a somewhat misleading title, Valley of the Zombies is an okay way to spend 56 minutes. It’s a lower budget film, to be sure, but it still has that snappy dialogue that made the time period so fun, and an occasionally interesting (if not original) plot. 

From the title, one might expect some voodoo shenanigans (as that was the cause of zombies pre-1968, the most classic examples being I Walked with a Zombie and White Zombie), but that’s not what this is at all. There is someone who might count as a zombie, and there is in fact a reference to the “valley of the zombies,” but the bigger culprit is occasional hypnotism.

I don’t know the name, but Ian Keith did a pretty solid job as the menacing killer. He just has that face, and despite the cheapness of the film, did have a good presence. Not unexpectedly, Robert Livingston (Riders of the Whistling Skull) was a bit generic, but he still worked well with Lorna Gray, and the pair had some good snappy dialogue, which is always a joy to hear.

Of course, this being an older movie, Gray didn’t have that great of a range. She was great with her quips, no doubt, but she also got scared at the sound of a windowblind crashing down, not to mention fainting when she heard the word ‘zombie.’ Fainting. sigh Sometimes the sexism and racism (as Gray here took the place of someone like Mantan Moreland à la King of the Zombies) in these older films are hard to swallow, and I just wish they didn’t have to throw in “Oh, the woman is scared of everything” trash. It just gets old.

Otherwise, Valley of the Zombies is competent. The finale (taking place on a fog-covered building roof) was pretty solid, and like I said, Ian Keith did really good in his threatening role. It’s also quite digestible, at a solid 56 minutes. To be sure, there’s nothing spectacular here, but there’s also not anything making the film unworthy.

Really, this isn’t a good movie, but it’s definitely not what I’d call a bad movie. Even for the time, it might have been a bit outdated, but it was serviceable, and while below average, when it comes to 40’s horror, you could certainly do a lot worse.