Posts Tagged ‘original

10
Jan
16

Phantasm (1979): All that we see or seem…

phantasm-poster

a Primal Root written review

“First he took Mom and Dad, then he took Jody, now he’s after me.” – Mike, Phantasm

I never planned on writing a review for Phantasm. However, with today’s passing of the beloved horror icon, Angus Scrimm, who breathed life into one of my all time favorite cinematic boogeymen, I felt compelled to take a look back at not only of the most enduring and admired horror films, but one I hold very dear to my heart.

Let me start off by stating that there is no real way to create a summary of Phantasm that honestly does the film any justice. It’s the kind of film that takes place inside between the conscious world and that of the subconscious, the the realm of primal, deep, dark human emotions, and at that, from the perspective of a young boy in his early teens who has lost so much he’s having trouble coming to terms with it. Well, Hell, okay…at least let me TRY to tell you what the film’s about.

Young Michael (Michael Baldwin) is living with his older, adult brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) after the untimely death of their parents. Michael is already having trouble coping with the sudden lose of his parents, when he comes to the realization this Jody is considering leaving town and handing custody of Mike over to their Aunt and Uncle. The thought of not only losing his parents, but being a burden on his older brother, who is thinking of leaving him behind, is adding to Mike’s pain and turmoil. There’s a fantastic, heart breaking sequence where Jody rides his bike down the street as Mike chases after him on foot unbeknownst to his old brother. Mike can’t keep up and eventually, begrudgingly, gives up. It’s a pitch perfect moment that visualizes the dreaded feeling of abandonment and the inevitability of change.

To make matters worse, Mike witnesses some very strange goings-ons at the local Morningside Cemetery and Funeral Home. At the funeral of one of Jody and Mike’s friends, Tommy,  Mike witnesses a shadowy, sinister Tall Man (Angus Scrimm, Rest in Peace) lift up up Tommy’s corpse filled coffin all by his lonesome…and load it back into the hearse rather than lowering it into it’s grave.

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As young Mike investigates further he discovers there seems to be a sudden infestation of tiny, brown robbed creatures haunting the cemetery, a knife wielding blonde, big breasted seductress intent on poking every man she can lure into the cemetery to death and the mortuary is guarded by brain sucking, high velocity flying killer spheres. And who looks to be behind it all? The black suited Tall Man who has set his evil sights on Mike.

It takes quite a bit of convincing to get Jody to believe that what is happening over at Morningside is true. With the crazy stories Mike keeps spouting, who can blame the guy for chocking it up to a kid’s imagination? But when Mike comes home with a living, moving, nasty little momento from his last encounter with The Tall Man, Jody hops on board as does their ice cream selling buddy Reggie (Reggie Bannister). The three lay siege to Morningside cemetery int he hopes of uncovering The Tall Man’s true purpose in their small town and send him back to whatever Hell this monstrous being came from. However, as is the case in Phantasm, nothing is exactly as it seems…And the final revelation of Phantasm is devastating, beautiful and deeply disturbing.

**** SPOILERS AHEAD ****

Okay, I am going to discuss the film a bit and I recommend you see Phantasm first before reading further.

One of Phantasm‘s greatest strengths is it’s respect for a child’s perspective. To try and make sense of what is happening int he world around you. It plays almost like an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? that pulls no punches. There is something evil and sinister happening in their small town, and it is up to Mike to convince his older brother and for them to solve this horrible problem. There’s a great since of mystery and wonderment as well as mounting dread and tension, but it’s all handled with a real sentimentality and heart that is hard to find in most popular horror cinema of the 70’s era.

Now, before I start making this film sound like the ultimate bummer, Phtasm also has an excellent sense of adventure and fun on it’s surface. Jody, Mike and Reggie are a damn funny trio and their reactions to the ludicrous happenings around town and pricless. Darkly hysterical moments like Michael finding an enourmous flesh eating bug tangled in his hair, Jody asking Mike is the strange breathing sounds he heard was the “retard” up the street and, my personal favorite, when Mike is confronted inside the mortuary by The Tall Man who stands several passes down the hall from him, Mike, speechless utters in complete My-Goose-Is-Cooked fashion, “Oh, shit…” Phantasm is a damn good time about one darkly sobering mother fucking subject matter.

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Phantasm is a horror movie about the sad but honest fact that everyone we love will die. That those closest to us will have to eventually leave us one day and that no matter how hard we fight, or try to hold on, or battle against it, we will ALWAYS lose. I understand the notion that we carry these people with us forever in our hearts and memories, that they live on forever in the tales we tell of them and the ways that they’ve touched us. But we will never get to sit down and hold their hand, feel the comfort of their presence of enjoy a glass of whiskey with them ever again. They are gone. Gone. And so shall we be. And that’s something we all must face.

At the end of Phantasm Michael and Jody do battle with The Tall Man and end up trapping him in an abandoned mine shaft and dropping a dozen or so gigantic boulders on top of the sucker. Our last glimpse of Jody is from onto of a high hill from where he rolled the boulders on top of The Tall Man, sealing his fate. Mike sees his brother, bathed in light with his arms held high over his head in triumph. Mike and Jody have one. Then the film reverses on Mike and he awakes in his bedroom. He is comforted beside the living room fireplace by he and Jody’s good friend Reggie. Reggie explains that not only are Mike’s parents dead, but Jody is also dead, killed in a car accident.

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This is a moment of true horror, a devastating moment that still breaks my heart just thinking about it. And this is where Phantasm succeeds so well, in making us care for the characters that are part of this tale. You can sense the brotherly love between Jody and Mike, their sense of camaraderie and their shared feelings of grief and confusion over the loss of their parents and the prospect of both their uncertain futures. To find out that Mike has lost the entirety of his immediate family, the people he has known and loved since birth, is a crushing blow.

Phantasm is a horror film that dwells in the dark, most assuredly, but it also has a great deal of heart and warmth to it, which as I stated above, is something of a hard commodity to come across in 1970’s era horror cinema. Just look at Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. It was a bloody horrifying decade for horror. Phantasm, too, explores the shadows of human nature. But, as odd as it might sound, Phantasm reminds us of what makes life worth living and that life is fleeting and serves as a reminder that we must cherish each moment of happiness we have. To show those we hold close that we love them, that we care and that we are here for them. Because one day, as we all know, they will be gone and we will never get that opportunity to hold them near and tell them we love them again.

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Phantasm is a masterpiece, plain and simple. From it’s unique story penned and directed by a very young Don Coscarelli, it’s unforgettable, dreamlike score by Fred Myrow, and it’s natural, engaging performances by everyone involved,  Phantasm is a type of dark fairy tale about the inevitability of  change and loss which digs deep into our most horrifying childhood fears about death. It takes us right back to the time when we were children and had to make sense of this adult world, a real world we were just beginning to become acquainted with. Phantasm is an audacious film which dares to take a trip through the mental landscape of a deeply scarred, traumatized child. By film’s end, Mike and Reggie decide they must leave their small town and find a new start. Mike begins packing his bag so that they can hit the road and head into a new day, a new future where they can begin to come to terms with their pain. Mike closes his closet door revealing The Tall Man in his mirror. “BOOOOOOOOY!” The Tall Man growls…and Michael is caught. Pulled through the mirror and into darkness.

One day you and I will face Death. Inevitably, as The Tall Man says, “The Game is finished. Now, you die.” And when that day comes, that unavoidable day when we reach our ultimate fate, we can only hope that in death we will fine peace and comfort. Not a brutal Hell made up of our most nightmarish childhood fears.

Phantasm and it’s iconic boogeyman, The Tall Man, would live on with many colorful, imaginative, bonkers sequels that pick up and continue the story admirably well. But, if you were to ask me, the tale begins and ends with the original 1979 classic Phantasm. One of the most poetic and lovely horror stories ever told.

I award Phantasm FIVE out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

19
Nov
13

The Pit aka: Teddy (1981) Boners, Food and Homicide; The Puberty Triple Threat

pit_poster_01

a Primal Root written review

It’s high time we talked about “The Pit” aka: “Teddy”, one of the creepiest goddamn coming of age movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  The plot goes something like this; a young, mentally deranged teenage boy named Jamie (Sammy Snyders) with parents who apparently travel quite a bit and regularly leave poor Jamie in the care of attractive female twenty something year old psychology students.  And buy, does he burn through them.  See, Jamie is kind of a creeper. The extent to which this kid will go to express his love aka: raging hard-on for just about anything wearing a bra is pretty impressive. He even tries the old “I dropped my napkin” ruse at the dinner table when he’s being introduced to his summer caretaker, Sandy (Jeannie Elias). Of course, this scheme works a whole lot better when you don;t announce loudly “OH NO! I DROPPED MY NAPKIN!” and then lunge your whole body head-first under the table to gaze up a woman’s skirt and into the crotch fabric of their panties.

You'll wish he'd written "Redrum" when this is all over and done with.

You’ll wish he’d written “Redrum” when this is all over and done with.

But this is the least of Jamie’s issues. See, he also has a teddy bear he he talks to…and Teddy talks back, stoking young Jamie’s deviant behavior and offering up suggestions on how to be a more effective weirdo. Also, Jamie happens to know the location of an isolated pit deep in the woods populated by furry, malevolent, flesh eating creatures with glowing yellow eyes.  Teddy and the Tra-La-Logs (Why, oh, WHY is this not a band name?) are the two folks Jamie feels he can confide in. and it makes sense, seeing as everyone in the town seemingly loathes this kid. From the his teenage classmates who lovingly punch him in the face and pull humiliating pranks on him, to the Librarian lady who refuses his pervish advances, even the elderly woman in the retirement home down the street can’t stand Jamie and even predicts he’ll probably just grow up “to be one of those hippies!”

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No one understands me like the beasts on the edge of Hell.

So, yes, Jamie airs out all his issues with a the psychotic voice in his head he hears through the inanimate object named Teddy and a batch of vicious monsters living in a hole deep in the woods.  The Tra-La-Logs do not judge Jamie, they simply gnash their teeth, stare at him and drool as he explains the twisted thoughts of his diseased mind. Jamie grows to care a lot about these critters and Teddy hits upon the winning idea of starting to feed the little monsters! So, in between sessions of staring at Sandy’s bare breasts while she sleeps and faking kidnappings in order to snap some Polaroids of  Librarian next door’s  hush puppies, Jamie steals some of Sandy’s cash and buys a ton of hamburger meat and feeds it to the creatures in the woods.

That's a bad touch, Sandy.

That’s a bad touch, Sandy.

 

Of course, this can’t last, as Sandy catches on quickly to the fact her cash is vanishing quicker my singles at a strip club. Where can Jamie find a new, cheap source of meat for this ravaging, razor toothed, carnivorous creatures? Why, yes, tossing the screaming, soon to be devoured bodies of the people who have wronged you is completely valid option!  In a montage of great dark comedy, Jamie lures about a half dozen people to their untimely deaths including Sandy’s boyfriend who he tricks into the pit by throwing a football around with him and making the guy “go long”, which leads him right into the jaws of the enemy. Even better,  Jamie kidnaps the mean old lady from the retirement home, rolling her down the nature trail as she shrieks and waves her hands around in terror, and launches her into the pit where she is ripped to pieces.  I’m not kidding, I laughed so hard I farted.  this is prem-o stuff, Gang.

Suck it, Grandma!

Suck it, Grandma!

There’s even a slightly more profound moment where Jamie is about to roll a young girl into the pit who laughed at him while he was getting the snot beaten out of him.  “You sure are a pretty girl. But only on the outside. Inside you;re ugly and you will probably spend your whole life giggling at the pain of others.”  a pretty chilling statement about the nature of bullying and the violence it spawns. Treat people with kindness or you might find yourself the main course in gore drenched buffet of fury. Never mess with the kid who is rumored to be psychotic, he may just prove you right. It’s a moment I think all kids who were picked on can relate to. I think at some point we all wished we had a giant hole int he ground we could roll our tormentors into so we would never have to hear from them again.  I can see a little bit of wish fulfillment here.

D'Awwww...

D’Awwww…

After making the major miscalculation of actually showing Sandy the Tra-La-Longs down in their pit, she insists they bring out some scientists to check out the discovery when Jamie made her promise to keep them a secret, Jamie ends up accidentally pushing her into THE PIT where she is slowly ripped into meaty chunks and feasted upon by the ever hungry monsters. It might be the bloodies moment of the movie and works like gang busters and Sandy’s bright red entrails and slurped down and her bones and crunched to pieces by the terror of the Tra-La-Logs.  Jamie is traumatized by the death of someone he actually wants to put his penis in, and decides to throw a rope down the hole and let the creatures loose upon an unsuspecting public and, in the process, unleashes holy Hell upon the inhabitants of his little hamlet.

What follows is probably the most ineffective, yet still entertaining, sequence of “The Pit”. The movie takes the focus away from Jamie and, instead, focuses on the rampage of the Tra-La-Logs which are obviously nothing more than short people in furry suits running around the woods. Int he darkness of the pit the creatures came off as scary and mysterious, in the bright light of day they are laughable. Still, they manage to run about the rural area ripping young folks and big breasted teenage skinny dippers (one of which happens to be the director’s daughter) into finger food before a posse of angry, card carrying NRA locals track them back into their pit and blow into blood spattered shag carpeting.

Cut back to Jamie who is now headed to his grandparent’s farm to be taken care of for the rest of the summer, only this time he is not alone. His younger little lady cousin is there and they run off to go play together. It looks like Jamie has finally found a friend. Someone who is not sickened or terrified of his mere presence.  The sun is setting in the sky as the two children laugh and run off into the woods…only, they find something…another pit in the ground. Jamie knows all too well the horror that lies ahead. “They eat people…” he says. “I know.” She replies…

It's basically a prequel to "Ted"

It’s basically a prequel to “Ted”

“The Pit” is one very unique, sleazy, unusual and even disturbing little slice of forgotten horror gold.  It has the usual limitations you might expect from a low budget 80’s horror flick, but it still manages to pull off it’s concept for the majority of the running time. Sammy Snyders’ performance as the bizarre, creepy teenage killer is damned impressive. This is some very strange and often whacky material for a young actor to be performing, but the guy really gives his all and ends up giving a very believable and unsettling performance.  I’ve read interviews with the “The Pit” screenwriter Ian  Stuart and his disappointment in what was originally intended to be a much darker story with far fewer  flourishes of dark comedy. I understand what he’s saying, and I do wish that version could have been made, but the film we ended up with is still one pretty goddamn strange cinematic cocktail. From the bizarre sexual obsessions and oglings of Jamie, to the crew of bloodthirsty Hell beasts and the psychotic voices in Jamie’s head who transmit themselves through the boy’s Teddy bear, it’s one of those movies so peculiar it truly has to be seen to be believed.  I’d put it along side movies like “Tourist Trap” and “Pin”, movies that are damn strange and certainly effective, but lost and waiting to be rediscovered.

Three and a Half out of Five Dumpster Nuggets

Stay Trashy!

-Root

 

31
Oct
13

Root’s Top 5 Tales from the Crypt

Tales

The Primal Root’s Dirty Thoughts

Greetings, Creeps! It’s your ol’ pal The Primal Root here, getting into the groove of another Halloween season. Recently Ms. Bootsie Kidd and I sat down to enjoy a marathon of the entire series run of HBO’s original series “Tales from the Crypt” based on the old and incredibly popular 1940-1950’s horror comic book series of the same name. The comics featured gruesome morality plays where evil doers always ended up of the gory end of karma’s comeuppance. The comic book series, including such title as “Tales from the Crypt” “The Vault of Horror,” “The Haunt of Fear,” “Two Fisted Tales” and “Sock SuspenStories” were censored into oblivion by the Comic book Code, which blamed the aforementioned comics as the prime contributors to our nation’s juvenile delinquency problem,  were all resurrected in the late 1980’s as an HBO series entitled “Tales from the Crypt”, which  adapted stories from every horror/action/thriller comic at some point or another. The impact of these comic books left a huge impression on the the talents who came together to breath new life and pay tribute to these once thriving graphic novels.  Filmmakers such as Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Tom Holland, Mary Lambert, and countless others all were dying to take a stab at their favorite stories and turn them in twenty five minute long short films.  The show didn’t always knock it out of the park, but when it did, it was glorious. and, Hell, even their weakest episodes proved to be interesting, at the very list.

What I did find myself doing, however, was constantly saying “Oh, this is a great!” or “This is one of my favorites!” just about every other episode. That’s when I decided I really needed to sit down, do some soul searching and make a list of my Top Five Favorite Tales from the Crypt. It was a tough process whittling it down to only five, but I must admit, I was chomping at the bit to see which ones would make the CUT!  So, without any further a due, let’s see which Terror Tales made the final CUT!  AAARRRGGHHHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahaha…

5) “People Who Live in Brass Hearses” dir. Russell Mulcahy (Season 5, Episode 5)

Who knew the ice cream truck industry was this depraved? Bill Paxtion plays a scumbag ex-con Billy DeLuca, who enlists the help of his emotionally stunted younger brother Virgil (Brad Douriff) to pull of a heist that will even the score with ice cream truck driver and excellent puppeteer,  Mr. Byrd (Michael Lerner) and Billy’s old boss  Mrs. Grafungar (Lainie Kazan) after they sent Billy to prison for stealing from the till.  When everything goes wrong  and their heist ends up in a blood bath leaving the brother’s with nothing, they must turn to desperate measures in order to get the money Billy feels he so richly deserves.  But, as per usual with the Tales from the Crypt formula, nothing is as it seems, and this sick puppy has a twist ending that comes somewhere out of left field and pegs you right in the gob.  This is among the strangest episodes of Tales from the Crypt in my book and the fact that it features such an excellent all-star cast makes it every bit stranger. Once our players are established the tale hits an insane pace that feels almost like an action story, but then the meat hooks start being gouged into people’s skulls and folks begin having their skulls chunked all over the dining room from well placed shotgun blasts. Trust me, even with all these gory goodies, the episode still manages to whack you over the head with it’s sleazy, disgusting and inspired conclusion. You’ll laugh in disbelief as soon as you pick your jaw up off the floor.

4) “Four-Sided Triangle” dir. Tom Holland (Season 2, Episode 9)

I’ve always been an admirer of down home horrors and “Four-Sided Triangle” is one fine example of horrific wages of dysfunctional rednecks. This episode is a small, intimate one featuring three players on a isolated farm. Old married couple, the limping, strict, and stern Luisa (Susan Blommaert), her lecherous, scheming and alarmingly horny husband George (Chelcie Ross),  and their young, voluptuous, sexy as Hell captive farm worker, Mary Jo, (Patricia Arquette). As you might expect, the story revolves around George trying to get his monkey tail down Mary Jo’s sweaty bloomers. In fact, the very first scene features George’s wide eyes peering into the chicken coup as Mary Jo bends over and writhes around as she sexily, yet innocently, collects eggs for her white trash captors all while displaying her ample bra-less bosom in a tiny tank top and her robust booty in a pair of well worn, skin tight pair of LEVI’S.  After a failed rape attempt in which Mary Jo gets the living snot beat out of her by George, she stumbles into the corn field where she hallucinates that a scarecrow reaches down to help her. Her brain must be batter, because she becomes obsessed with the scarecrow and declares loudly and frequently how much she loves him while singing songs about how she doesn’t care about chicken pot pie.  Anyhoo, Luisa is on to George’s lustful yearnings for Mary Jo, even going as far as to threaten him with performing the same procedure on him that they do when they want to change a bull into a steer.  As we all know, these threats typically fall on deaf ears when it comes to horny rednecks and “Four-Sided Triangle” culminates in a  conclusion that is both bloody and inescapable.  We can see where the story is headed but the tale is so well directed, staged and acted, you feel every bit of suspense and horror and the doomed “Four-Sided Triangle of the title meet their doom. This was among the first Tales from the Crypt episodes I ever saw and it made a lasting impression on me. And introduced me to Patricia Arquette, for which I am eternally grateful.

 

3) “What’s Cookin’ ” dir. Gilbert Adler (Season 4, Episode 6)  

One of the smartest, sickest, most wonderfully depraved episodes of Tales from the Crypt, “What’s Cookin” features a great comic turn from Superman himself, Christopher Reeve, as a struggling restaurant owner named Fred. See, his restaurant specializes in one thing and one thing only… Squid. Yes, squid. As you might expect, the restaurant he runs along with his wife Erma (Bess Armstrong, from My So-Called Life) is way overdue on their rent and hasn’t seen a customer in weeks, well, with the exception of officer Phil (Art LaFleur) who drops by for coffee from time to time. Their busboy, shady drifter, Gaston (Judd Nelson) keeps prodding Fred to try out his family’s classic barbecue recipe, but Fred won;t stand for it. The man’s got a dream and refuses to give up on it. That dream nearly ends when Chumley (played in a bit of truly inspired casting by Meatloaf), the landlord, shows up and evicts Ed for being over two months late on rent. The following morning, as Fred and Erma begin to shut down, Officer Phil comes in for coffee and eggs. To Erma’s astonishment, there are a half dozen fresh steaks in the fridge than Gaston brought in from his own, private supplier. Erma cooks this up for Phil, and just as he takes his first bit Gaston reveals to Fred just who is supplying the steaks. Yep, there in the meat freezer, to Fred’s dismay, hangs the corpse of Chumley. Soon, Fred and Erma’s Steakhouse is an overnight sensation with everyone in the city stopping by for a bite of their delicious, hand cut steaks. Only problem is, the police investigation into Chumley’s death is paving a pth right to Fred and Erma’s restaurant and as Fred’s feet get colder and colder Gaston begins plotting a double cross. “What’s Cookin'” is one very macabre and gruesome episode with a wicked streak of dark comedy. The performances are great and the final twist in the end, in typical Tales from the Crypt fashion, will leave you just as satisfied as one of Fred and Erma’s steaks. Is it wrong that this episode always makes me hungry?

 

2) Showdown dir. Richard Donner (Season 4 Episode 8)

Originally created as part of a three piece pilot for a rejected pitch to FOX for a “Two-Fisted Tales” spin off series, “Showdown” spins the tale of Billy Quintaine (Neil Giuntoli), a hardened, remorseless, legendary gunslinger who is cornered in a small desert town by an equally notable Texas Ranger Tom McMurdo (David Morse). After a facing off in a shoot out in which Billy murders Tom, he enters a nearby saloon for a drink, and after ingesting some snake oil from a traveling salesman, realizes he might not be as victories as it might seem. Showdown is one of the most poetic and beautiful episodes of Tales from the Crypt and manages to pack in a plethora of themes including the inevitable outcome and price of violence, the inevitability of death and our current irreverence for our own bloody past and re-marketing it as family friendly, tourist bullshit. Character actor Neil Giuntoli gives a hauntingly human performance as gunslinger Billy Quintaine, as he becomes slowly and painfully aware of his own fate we watch this cynical, callous, man breakdown before our very eyes reminding us that the most despicable  character is, at the end of the day, also a human being. “Showdown” is frightening in it’s implications on a far deeper level than it’s Tales from the Crypt brethren and deals with life and death on a far more thought provoking and meaningful level than the typical epsiode. All that said, “Showdown” ends on a moving, up lifting note leaving us with the hope that when we shed this mortal coil, when all these pretenses are dropped, perhaps we can all finally ride off into the sunset as brothers.

1) “Death of Some Salesman” dir. Gilbert Asler (Season 5, Episode 1)

Good God, this episode is revolting. It’s a buffet of loathsomeness where, as a viewer, you ill wonder if you should laugh, cringe, or go for the barf bag. “Death of Some Salesman” is the story of Judd Campbell (Ed Begley Jr.), a charismatic, sleazeball con-man posing as a cemetery plot salesman. The man is a gifted liar, using his skills to con old widows out of their inheritance and even to convince  nubile young waitresses to “drop their panties” by pitching love and escape. The man is a scum bag that you know will be paying for his trespass and the man get’s his rotten just desserts in the form of The Brackett family. By blind luck, Judd ends up knocking on the door of Ma and Pa Brackett (Both played by Tim Curry). Judd’s invited in and the sale seems to be going incredibly well as Pa and Ma Brackett head down to the basement to get Judd the money for two none existant cemetery plots. That is, until Judd discovers the decaying corpses of several dozen salesmen who previous had the misfortune of knocking on the Brackett’s door. Judd is captured with Pa Brackett intent on killing him, but Judd sees a way out if he can only convince Winona Brackett (also played by Tim Curry), Ma and Pa Brackett’s comically hideous daughter that he loves her. This is the pitch of Judd’s life as he must chock down the bile and try to convince the skeptical Winona that he does, in fact, love her. the lengths of which Judd must prove is unwavering devotion is extrodinarily and will have you groaning and laughing on your couch. Tim curry gives the performance for the ages as The Brackett family, managing to blend mirth and menace in equal amounts. And the always game Ed Begley Junior should have received the medal of valor for this things.  “Death of Some Salesman” encompasses everything I love about the old E.C. Comics horror anthologies.  Sick humor, nasty violence, a damn fine twist ending, and a fantastic morality tale. Curry and Begley Jr. who are performing what is basically a two man show, give such phenomenal performances it practically MAKES the episode.  It’s a stomach churning, hysterical tale which taught me at a young age that deceivers and liars will invariably find themselves in a world of hurt.

Well, kiddies, there you have it! My Five Favorite Tales from the Crypt! A mixed bag, but a damn good time, if I do say so myself.   Feel free to let us, here at The Trash Cinema Collective, know what your favorite episodes are! Have a Trashy Halloween!

-Root

06
Jun
12

Cabin in the Woods: Roll with the Changes

a Primal Root review as originally published in Tallahassee’s Capital City Villager

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, okay, here goes. A jock, a slut, a pot head and a mousy chick decide to spend a  weekend in the woods only things don;t go as planned as malevolent forces beyond their control put a bloody an unexpected halt to their fun filled outing. Sound familiar? To any fan of the horror genre the principle set up could be lifted from any one of the multitude of slasher films released between the late 70’s to today.

It’s the same formula that’s been set up, rinsed and repeated for generations. But this basic premise is where the similarities between “The Cabin in the Woods” and your typical teen body count horror films end and the inventiveness begins.  This is precisely what makes the film such a tent pitchingly awesome treat for both hardcore horror fans and even general audiences who have, no doubt. become well aware of such genre tropes. Joss Whedon (the man behind the immensely popular and critically acclaimed “Buffy the Vampire” television show) and co. have created a horror film that not only includes  all the fun, over the top brutal violence, imaginative creatures, and gratuitous tits and ass we’ve all come to expect and love about this type of flick but also imbues the picture with a wealth of knowledge about horror tales in general and uses that as a way to revitalize it by packing enough wit, brains and a plethora of unexpected surprises to keep even the most well versed fan second guessing themselves as to just what will happen next and what cliche will be chopped down and tossed onto the fire.  As a connoisseur and life long fan of this well worn cinematic sub-genre, I am purposefully sidestepping any further mentioning of the veritable cornucopia of plot turns and unexpected twists, because to do so would be an unforgivable disservice to any audience plopping their asses down to view “The Cabin in the Woods” for the first time.

“The Cabin in the Woods” from writer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard completely annihilates every convention of the genre and reminds all of us that there are still avenues left unexplored in what some might see as an exhausted form of storytelling. It may only be a matter of story tellers hiking off the trail and further, deeper, into the woods.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

12
Sep
11

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark…Well, that’s a load of shit!

a Primal Root written review

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (2011)

My buddy Sam and I recently checked out the Guillermo Del Toro produced and written remake of the cult classic 70’s made for TV horror movie, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. A television movie, I must admit, I had not seen until recntly.  What Del Toro and company have delivered is a moderately entertaining spook show replete with CGI, tooth eating monsters, scared little girls and Katie Holmes looking as dazed and confused as she did in Batman Begins.

Yeah, it passed the time and wasn’t very memorable.  I was never once truly frightening beyond a jump scare level and treaded some pretty well worn Del Toro territory and comes off feeling remarkably similar as if his overrated fantasy flick, “Pan’s Labyrinth” had been cross bred with the original plot line of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. Our central character is a little girl whose negligent father and step mother allow her to wonder around a gigantic mansion that is being renovated without any supervision.  What’s the worst that could happen, right? Well, for one, she could come across a portal to hell where she manages to unleash a bunch of calf-high, albino, hunch back tooth eating demons intent on dragging her tiny ass down to the depths of a hidden fire place pit where she will be mutilated and her soul will be in torment for all eternity. You know kids…

A Crest Kid's worst nightmare.

As you might have guessed, this is exactly what happens and when the little girl tries to tell her father (Guy Pierce, dialing it in as if this were MCI Friends & Family) he refuses to believe and shoves a few more Ritalin in his kid and goes back to focusing on his burgeoning career as an architect and a tool. The only one who kind of believes what’s going on is the little girls new, um, step friend (played by Katie ‘Deer in the Headlights’ Holmes) See, she’s not yet technically the little girl’s step mother. Dad’s still giving her a spin in the sack to see if he wants to go through with the marriage thing from what I gather. Hope the Scientology thing isn’t a deal breaker.

Well, no one fully believes our pint sized protagonist until it’s too late despite the mountains of evidence all over the place in the form of photos shot using the legendary Million Shot Polaroid Camera and even a crushed albino demon carcass that is jammed in a bookcase…but is never mentioned…Did anyone even find this guy’s squished little body? I’m sure that fucker started to stink after a while.  And by the end of the movie, well, let’s just say there are no happy endings. Although there are happier for some than others…Let’s just say, never get caught between a rope and a fire place.

Vague enough? Good. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” looks fantastic! It comes wrapped in a very enticing, glossy, package…but once you look beyond that lovely exterior, there’s not much else there being offered up to the viewing audience.  And don;t even get me started on how they botched the entire story by changing the little creature’s M.O. I was wondering why certain events transpired at the end of this updated ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” when the little creature’s M.O. was teeth…yet they seemed thrilled to tear people to pieces and not even come close to touching their chompers…It wasn’t until I watched the original that I truly understood what had happened with this retelling of the story and why these added elements feel totally unnecessary.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (1973)

The original telling of the “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” tale was broadcast as the ABC Movie of the Week  near Halloween in October 1973. The production was helmed by the late, great,  John Newland (host and director of “One Step Beyond”) and has gone on to become a cult classic in many horror circles. And after my very first viewing it became readily apparent just why it holds such special place in the hearts of so many fans of the genre.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is the sad and frightening tale of a young marriage on the rocks. Lonely housewife, Sally (Kim Darby) who lives with her career obsessed husband, Alex (Jim Hutton) in her Grandmother’s old, gigantic mansion. Sally is left home alone a lot with her only company being an elderly groundskeeper. Yes, I know, this sounds like the beginning of a tale from Penthouse Forum. However, Sally’s boredom and curiosity lead her into her Grandfather’s old study as opposed to the grounds keeper’s drawers.  And, of course, she unleashes a posse of viscous, sadistic, furry fun-sized beasties intent on dragging poor young Sally into their realm through the fire place.

They're just like the Keebler Elves, only they're from Hell.

Sally immediately reports her situation to her husband and he helps her cope with these monsters and the both win the day and live happily ever after. Just kidding! As you might expect, Alex doesn’t believe a word of what Sally’s freaking out about and decides she’s upset and jealous over the fact he’s so devoted to his work (as opposed to her)  and, as matters escalate at a dinner party, he just considers her a raving lunatic and that these monsters  Sally claims are afraid of light, want to “steal her spirit” and kill the interior decorator with a well placed, Home Alone style trip chord, are nothing more than figments of her angry housewife imagination.Who has the last laugh? Well…no one actually.

In the thrilling climax to the film, Sally is sedated and dragged into the basement study by these evil creatures who are intent on stealing her away to their realm. Sally slowly wakes up and tries in vain o grab onto whatever she can to stop this from happening. It;s not enough. In a last ditch effort she grabs a Polaroid camera and snaps one single shot of these malevolent beings. It startles them for a moment…but they quickly regain composure and, again, begin dragging Sally towards her doom.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”  is basically a one woman show and is a decidedly grown-up affair. Sally’s horrific ordeal and pleas for help are greatly ignored by her absentee husband who scolds her as if she’s a child whose acting up. She’s trapped here, in this house, in this marriage, alone to fend for herself. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”  works exceedingly well as a metaphor for a loveless, unhappy marriage where the little things, literally in this case, begin splitting the couple apart.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” functions on so many levels as a psychological horror, a monster flick, a suspense thriller, marital drama…it has something for everyone and these elements all meld together so naturally, so well, that one never overwhelms the other. Also adding to the appeal, for The Root anyway, is the feel of the piece. It never feels rushed or hurried and the story develops naturally, never feeling forced. Plus, the retro look of the film in a way enhances the unsettling nature of the film itself . It’s age certainly shows, but I feel it is to the film advantage.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” works and works well. As I am sure you’ve guessed there are no happy ending here as Sally’s husband comes to his wife’s aid far too late…and the final moments, the final lines of the film are among the most chilling portions of either telling of the tale.  It’s the stuff of nightmares.

In Conclusion

Is it not normal for my bedroom to look like this when I shut off the lights?

I can see where Del Toro is coming from with the remake of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. It’s a film he’s always had an affection for ever since it traumatized him as a child and felt the need to retell the tail with his own spin. I understand and appreciate that and the updating of the tale works on some levels and I am sure will appeal to a mainstream audience.

But why add that whole teeth subplot to the creatures as opposed to going after people for their spirit? And if this is the case, why does a certain individuals spirit speak at the end of the film from the bowels of the fire place? The flick makes some strange choices in an attempt be slightly different than it’s source material( Del Toro’s got a thing for little girls. Just sayin…) yet keeps all the great elements that made the original fantastic…even though it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the new rules they’ve set up.

Both films work on two separate levels.  “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” 2011 works as spectacle. There are jumps scares, more gore, CGI monsters and more Gothic atmosphere and baffelingly bad decisions than you can shake a tooth at.  “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” 1973 works as a story and character piece. The film takes the time to build characters, tell it’s tale, create genuine suspense and dread and then completely devastate and creep out it’s audience by the time the credits roll.

Now there’s a “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” for both camps. I’m sure it’s pretty apparent which version I prefer. But I know times and tastes change and the more they do the more I feel like I come across as some old curmudgeon telling the kids how much better things used to be while I yell at them to stay off my lawn while waving my cane wildly above my head as cream corn dribbles down my chin. I guess I am okay with that…Seems like I am the only living man in America who completely loathed the Fright Night remake.

Either way, the next time you find yourself in a gothic mansion with a creepy study that contains a fire place that leads straight to Hell and the owner tries to comfort you by telling you “Don’t be afraid of the dark?” Fuck that noise and get yourself a nightlight. Better yet, go find a Ramada.

Stay Trashy,

-Root

Please, don’t be afraid of The Darkness.

06
Apr
10

Don’t Fall Asleep: A Nightmare on Elm Street Revisited

a review by The Primal Root

It’s easy to forget Wes Craven’s original 1984 masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm Street. The horror audiences experienced when the lights first dimmed in theaters all those years ago and were introduced to a new boogieman. The ghost of child murderer. A man burned alive by one generation whose children’s lives, their futures, are now in danger due to their actions. Wes Craven created a classic horror film. One that holds up just as well today as it did in the 80’s. But more importantly, like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead or Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a product of it’s time encompasses the Reagan Era, post Vietnam/Cold War generation. The notion that those horrible deeds done by a generation before us will be payed for by the blood of those being born. We are inheriting new life as well as paying for the misdeeds of those fading away.

Yes, it’s easy to forget what A Nightmare on Elm street represents. In the wake of the film’s success came the assembly line of sequels incapable of holding a flickering candle to the original Nightmare. Freddy became a cartoon character rather than the boogieman and in the process diminished any form of fear the audience may have carried for the child killer. The series became less about character and more about spectacle. Less about scare and more about effects. And the genesis of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the whole purpose of the original, became more diluted and washed away…

Now, on the eve of the A Nightmare on Elm Street relaunch I feel is the perfect time to take a look back at one of cinema’s most influential and groundbreaking films. Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The Original Nightmare Kids : From left: Rod, Tina, Glen and Nancy

Our film begins with Tina, an attractive teenage girl, running through a dark and steamy labyrinth of pipes and metal. Running from something stalking her in the shadows. A horribly scarred and disfigured man in a red and green striped sweater and equipped with a glove with blades fastened to the tip of each finger. This is Freddy’s boiler room. A place representative of all the things our society tries to cover up and forget about.The subterranean. Freddy closes in for the kill as Tina screams in terror and jolts up in her bed…it was all a nightmare. But the four slices down the front of her nightgown are far from a fantasy. There’s something terribly wrong on Elm Street.

The very next morning as Tina and her friends Nancy, Glen and Rod head to school it is implied that they are all suffering from the same unsettling dreams. All the teens try to shrug it off until the night Tina is brutally, mercilessly butchered during a sleep over. The murder takes place before her boyfriend Rod’s eyes only he cannot see her attacker and is incapable of helping. And Tina’s bloody, mid-air death might be the best in the series. Her death scene is ferocious and disturbing and taken in from the perspective of the fully awake and helpless Rod the audience can clearly imagine how deeply mortifying this moment is.

This scene is a masterpiece in the annals of horror and sticks with the viewer long after it occurs. Unlike later Nightmare film which rely heavily on set pieces and elaborate creature effects, this sequences focuses instead on the slicing of young flesh and the spilling of warm blood. This focus on the organic, the human makes the phantasmal seem real as well as the consequences. And Craven stays true to this concept throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street and it proves to be one of the pictures greatest strengths.

Craven uses the mix of the organic and the phantasmal with an arsenal of trick shots to find unique and twisted ways to unsettle the audience, keeping them on edge. Like the diabolical murder of Glenn where a spinning room is employed and gallons of fake blood are pumped up through his mattress creating an enormous geyser of blood. As presented to the audience the bed is on the floor and the blood comes up out of the mattress with incredible force. The affect of this clever, simple idea is instant and unforgettable. It’s a shot that clearly expresses the rage and pure violence backing Krueger’s attack. He annihilates Glenn with such power that the guy comes squirting from his bed as if he was put in a giant blender set to puree.

Glen once Freddy's done with him.

But this nightmare violence would mean nothing without Craven’s intelligent and strong characterizations. One would do A Nightmare on Elm Street a great disservice if they didn’t bring up Heather Langenkamp’s portrayal of our young final girl, Nancy. A child of divorce who must cope with her alcoholic mother and an absent father. Nancy already has been acquainted with the dark underbelly of Elm Street. Of our American dream. And through her experiences in waking life she is equipped to connect the pieces between both her dreams and reality. Heather brings Nancy to life as an independent, strong, resourceful and incredibly intelligent young woman and is one of the finest , most enduring examples of slasher cinema’s final girl.

It’s also interesting to note Craven’s depiction of the family unit here. Early on the first adult we are introduced to is Tina’s mother who awakens Tina from a night terror only to scold her. She is then interrupted by an obviously drunk boyfriend who asks, “Are you coming back to the sack or what?” Later, through dialog between the teens characters, we learn Tina’s father abandoned the family a decade prior. Nancy’s father, Don, a police detective in Springwood, is comparatively absent from her life. He is patronizing and debasing towards her when she asks for his help but is quick to exploit her as bait when it helps his investigation. Nancy’s mother, Marge, is a sickeningly dependent alcoholic who hides bottles of booze all over the house, including the linen closet in the off chance she might need to swig her feel good juice while she’s walking from her bedroom to Nancy’s.

Not to mention both of Nancy’s parents, like all the Elm Street parents, are murderers. They are among the parents who took justice into their own hands and killed Fred Krueger when the judicial system failed. Their guilt, their sin, are all passed on to their children in the form of the demonic and purely evil Krueger. Thus, A Nightmare on Elm Street literalizes the notion that the sins of the father are passed on to the children. We will pay in blood and treasure for the misdeeds of those who came before us.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most important films of the last fifty years. A wellspring of creativity and ideas which maintain great currency within the genre. It gave American culture it’s most identifiable boogieman in the form of Freddy Krueger. Although, in this original Nightmare Freddy had yet to become the fun, silly M.C. he would transform into over the course of the franchise. Instead, he is a real monster, a mean spirited creep who enjoys torturing, molesting, and killing children. He’s a sadist who delights in inflecting pain on others with a wrath that is inescapable. Maybe that’s one of the things that’s so damn scary about Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street. That through supernatural means Freddy, a murdered child killer, has gained almost infinite powers to haunt us forever and murdering us in our most intimate and private of places…our minds. And there’s no escape. Because sooner or later we all must fall asleep. So Freddy isn’t only eternal…he’s unavoidable.

The mantra throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street is “Don’t fall asleep.” This is Nancy’s urgent warning and her battle cry. In the context of A Nightmare on Elm Street this line means much more than simply avoiding a confrontation with our razor gloved antagonist. It’s warning us not to be lulled into a false sense of security. To dig out the truth, to question authority, to fight corruption, lies and complacency. Do not give in, do not give up and…

Don’t Fall Asleep.

13
Apr
09

The Vulture’s Eye: A Cyber Slasher Review

Vulture’s Eye – hemorrhaging horny hounds on horses!

Review by: Ryan D. Libbert

 

          vultures_eye1  A headache, upset stomach, bad posture and a possible erection is all that is in store for those brave and or dim-witted enough to view the 2004 straight-to-convention vendor-release known as The Vulture’s Eye.

 

            An unknown amateur by the name of Frank Sciurba writes and directs this strange and awful tale through the grainy lens of what I assume is a home movie camera typically found in a pawn shop or mom and dad’s closet.

 

            The poor video quality laced loosely with agonizing audio (music, dialogue, and sound effects alike) does little to distract from what is already a confusing and vomit-inducing storyline.

           

            The plot opens by introducing Lucy, a very wealthy, bitchy and quite as busty young lady who lives in the equestrian-obsessed region of Virginia called Westenra Estate with her loving Camelot-buddies.  Aside from riding horses all day, the prideful folk of Westenra are gearing up for Lucy’s wedding day in which she is set to marry Arthur, an equally rich toad who is very catholic, very worrisome, and somehow very good in bed.

 

            The trail to paradise is spoiled however when Lucy and her pals are introduced to their new neighbor, Count Klaus Vogul, who is quickly invited into their world of cocktails and studding riding crops.  After which, things start turn awry.

 

            A failed dinner party which ends in Lucy’s rants of unfulfilled bedroom antics by Arthur raises the eyebrows of Foghorn Leghorn-inspired Dr. Van Helsing who uses his flamboyant “suthun chahm” to decree a war on Count Vogul.  The winner of which will retain the destiny of the souls of the Westerna clubhouse cronies.

 

            The following second half of the film is not as confusing but nearly twice as boring as we witness the perversion of Vogul, the heroics of Helsing and the male population of Weserna, and the same awful dialogue that smudged the brains of viewers during the first half.

 

            Near as I can tell; this whole film must have started with someone in a bar drunkenly stating “Hey guys! My friend Frank just got a video camera for Christmas. Let’s go make a movie!”  Budget is obviously something that could fit into your weekend drinking funds as evident from the poor video quality, untalented actors, meager audio value, and the absence of anything that resembles professionalism in filmmaking.

 

            Investors were not the only thing missing from the production value as it seems casting agencies were not called either.  Lack of acting talent is something I suppose has become a staple of trash cinema, but have ugly and fat people also become the norm?  Honestly, if you’re leading lady is portraying a character of promiscuity and seductiveness, then I think it’s highly regarded she be a fit and attractive actress to boot. Next time Frank, try splurging a little on some Trimspa for your lead talent. (*coughing in direction of Brooke Paller*)

 

Not worth the money to buy, not worth the time to watch, not even worth the effort of mentioning at bars and parties.  Vultures Eye keeps modern cinema tradition alive by proving correctly of the statement “Just because something is original doesn’t make it good.”  This film equals pure rubbish!




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