The Boneyard (1991) Review by RevTerry

 
Kids in horror movies have a horrible track record, just like children and action films. A misplaced, whiney spawn in a supposedly mature film series can really fuck up the mood. If you go far enough into any long-standing genre series, you will most likely find a sequel where bad writing was combined with tone-deaf noises and shoved into a small person costume for a starring role. The 80s loved adding youngsters to otherwise grown media, shamelessly shoving an avatar for the younger audience to sell a few toys on the side, or whatever, (actually I kinda miss the toy part) into bloody R rated films. It hardly ever works and didn't go over any better when I myself was a youth. It's rampant really, but there are a few that stand out. Some of my favorite bad ones include the bratty, Mormon looking youngster in RoboCop 2 (1990) and the Krueger possessed Jacob in  A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989). What the fuck is with the dream child shit, who thought that was a good idea? How did Wes Craven not hurt someone? It pains me to make it through the moments that have poor Whit Hertford dressed up like a miniature version of Freddy (and I watch a lot a bullshit). At least RoboCop 2 added some tacky depth, with the fact that Murphy couldn't just run in and start shooting spoiled little shits as he would normally with adult criminals, even if that kind of negates some of the entertainment we showed up for in a RoboCop movie.  Anyway, it just usually fails when they stick a kid in the lead, in anything really. I'm not talking shit on the youth themselves--(I'm still with you Edward Furlong) it's the whole package they are stuck with. It's in the basic writing they are given and only exacerbated by their sometimes fledging talent. The really fucked up part is that kids can be scary, well... kid shaped things anyway. As Charles Band (just) keeps attempting to show everyone, spooky shit can come in some small-ass packages. Using children as monsters is a whole different thing since children are kind of creepy already.  In keeping with the same era for the effective human spawn in horror, my brain jumps to Gage Creed from Pet Sematary (1989) first. After all the gore I have consumed with my eyeballs, that little pasty toddler still ranks pretty high. Say what you will about the Stephen King adaptation as a whole, but with little to no make-up, that milky little undead nightmare is on point. Undead tots are scary, I don't know if it's the size or what, but if a little corpse came after me, I would run (manliness be damned). Especially if it's Gage or something all rotted out and gross like in The Boneyard (1991).
The film opens with detective Jersey Callum (Ed Nelson) and his green partner Gordon (James Eustermann) dropping in unannounced on psychic Alley Oates (Deborah Rose) who obviously hasn't left her house for a while. Miss Oates, we learn, used to work for the police department as a consultant, using her gift/curse to help solve violent murders before going into retirement for somewhat traumatic but murky reasons. After being roused from her pile of dirty laundry and thoroughly coaxed, she agrees to come down to the station to look into a string of strange happenings the detective is having trouble with. Recently, a mortician had turned himself in, claiming to have “ghouls” locked in a basement. When the police went to his business, they found the decomposing bodies of three children and signs that the mortician had been feeding the tots pieces of human flesh. At a standstill (and kind of weirded out), the police, Callum specifically, are hoping that Oats can shed some light on the fucked up situation, possibly bringing the unknown victims some closure. Detective Callum shows Oats the videotaped confession of the mortician, Chen (Robert Yun Ju Ahn),  in which he describes a curse upon his family, one that requires him to play servant to some kind of ancient evil. The mortician explains that the bodies were, in fact, dangerous creatures that would rise again if not contained. When Oats has had enough of the crazy guy babblings, the group heads to the police mortuary (aka the boneyard). While there, they are forced to view the body on closed-circuit television for legal reasons, so a doctor Shepard (Norman Fell) shows them the dead kids with well-meaning, but misaimed social niceties, from down in the basement. Unable to make a connection through the fuzzy tube television screen, Oats asks if she would be able to get a lock of hair with the hopes that physical contact will show her something. The doctor on the TV screen agrees and pulls out some scissors. However, before she can get ahold of the hair, the “dead” youngsters jump off their corpse carts to the surprise of everyone (except Mr. Chen) and start running around the facility killing people (and doing other freaky magical shit). Somehow during the chaos, the group gets locked in the basement and must face off against the little moldy monsters who have taken to possessing (or maybe infecting) their victims in grotesque ways, effectively reproducing. Oats and Callum must combine their skills (and smooth out Oats' personal issues) if they are going to survive the night and solve the mystery of the freaky-ass dead moppets. At some point, there is also a giant fucked up poodle-beast complete with a pink bow, and somebody kind of melts.
The Boneyard has a dry, almost gumshoe-esque feel to it but with cartoon charm. Not quite noir, the story feels like just one of the main character’s many adventures as it's extremely comfortable in its strange skin. If I didn't know better, I would think the film was adapted from a single book in a series of supernatural detective novels you might find at the supermarket. The character Oats and her relationship with the world around her, especially the detective Callum, feel seasoned as if they have had time to build together and planted roots. At times I get a hint of Kolchak the Night Stalker (1974-1975) as the film uses a similar flavor of hard-boiled goofball storytelling. Our flawed but unfaltering duo (Oates and Callum) almost look accustomed to the strange happenings around them, you get the idea it's not the first time they have gone up against some kind of unexplained madness together, and it won't be the last. The well worn almost dusty feel works for it, it is a bizarre, dangerous fictional world while still leaning on the familiar or even bland parts of its influences. It takes a little bit to get going, borrowing the bone structure of a quirky crime show pilot. A lot of time is spent building a case or collecting clues, even though when it's all over very little investigation was actually needed. The comic book tint in the film’s universe harkens to Cast a Deadly Spell (1991 and its semi-sequel Witch Hunt 1994) but with less of the Dick Tracy surrealism. The pseudo-noir build-up leads into a cliche horror lockdown which splits the film and ignites the more horror-laden aspects. After it picks up speed, it takes on a Full Moon-like, isolated back and forth between the gang of survivors and the pint-sized zombies. Like a later Charles Band movie, its story never quite commits to terror, and the creep factor is left up to the effects and editing (which oddly enough, in this case, were both partly done by the same guy). Plenty of the movie’s details are divulged with little or no payout, and the explanations behind the events feel like the wrap of an X-Files episode, only “over” because the threat can be considered neutralized and, possibly, soon forgotten. It is carefree enough that the near-dead ends don't hurt it, and the extended television episode effect ends up working in its favor. There is spacey padding between moments, and each scene seems to go on longer than its content. The crawl aims to create an eerie atmosphere and highlight the pain of Oats’ abilities despite the tendency to roll over into cornball antics without notice. It's only effective about half the time, but the technique reminds me of early Sam Rami or dramatic Hollywood films made two decades before. Even if it meanders a little, the movie never wanders enough to lose my attention. It helps that the story rides a great line between self-aware B-movie antics and serious shlock. Once it starts getting crazy and magic mutants start popping up, little matters beyond the survival of the main characters. It kind of fools you at first, coming across like something your aunt might pick up from the library, until the cadavers are melting and giant googly-eyed abominations are squirting blood-goo everywhere like a well-budgeted Troma flick.
The television-like style carries over to the technical aspects for the most part. In a lot of ways, it feels like it was built by combining two or more episodes of an unaired program together with unused fluff to film its runtime (`a la anime ova or something like the Kolchak TV movies). As I touched on, the scenes seem to stick around longer than they need to, sometimes to just survey around the room. The film’s editing plays heavily into the horror elements as well as the comical tone where the writing is thin or off-subject, with a few fun zooms for effect at opportune times. When they finally show up and start moving around, the practical creature effects are the highlight of the film. The tiny, crusty zombie kids illicit some real shudders when first animated--before becoming something closer to the “Things” from the Cat in the Hat book. Prosthetic work on the faces is consistently unsettling, despite the fact that at some point, I think I saw one do a cartwheel. I imagine it's what you would get if you bred the zombies from a Lucio Fulci movie and the Twilight Zone movie-version of the “There's Something on the Wing” gremlin. Their victim-army ranges from makeup crafted Return of the Living Dead callbacks to oversized, slimy, cartoon-eyed puppets that look like something that might pop up in a manga adaptation of Ghostbusters (if there already isn't one). Extremely detailed, a little silly and filled with the kind of shlop you only get in the days before computer graphics, the creature effects make amends for any slow points at the beginning that may have shaken a few viewers. The bright greens and yellows of the grotesque fluids break up the drab khaki and grey the film is built around, giving it a pay off akin to the final panels of an EC comic set in the 50s. The music is ambitious as fuck if not a little off at times. Its role in the beginning scenes helps sell the straight horror vibe, but it slowly loses focus as the film drops the ploy for the more openly ridiculous. Make sure to stick around for the horribly confused and misplaced pop song that brings in the end credit.
The film was written and directed by special effects designer James Cummins. The work on this film’s creature would cap off a career in effects that spanned ten years and included credits on classics like The Thing (1982) and Enemy Mine (1985). Cummins would direct two more films (Dark:30 1993 and Harbinger 1996) and even move into children's books before dying in 2010 from heart complications. The film was completely filmed and had started final production in 1989 but got its straight to video release in 1991. Deborah Rose plays Oates with a tired, annoyed style that takes a unique route in the washed-up private dick trope. Up to this point, she had played mostly small roles in television and films, none of which I could point out to you. This film's psychic is her first starring endeavor as well as her last acting gig ever (as far as I can tell). Rose’s style, mixed with the writing, makes it feel like we are watching the exploits of another film’s background character, in a good way, as if the bus driver from some teen sex comedy also solves violent crimes on the weekends. She's a strange pick, but it plays off well, and I could see her on her own Monk style show only with voodoo and slippery gore instead of whatever happens on Monk. Hollywood veteran Ed Nelson plays old-school detective Jersey Callum. Jersey feels like a natural fit for Nelson’s brand of ham and pulls from a few of his previous roles, of which he has plenty. Piercing as always, Phyllis Diller appears (sans her wig) as the boneyard receptionist, throwing in her normal brand of comic relief and providing a reason for a poodle to be in the building. Norman Fell plays a government mortician who wears a ponytail and can't really read a room. I have no idea if it's what he was going for, but the drawn-out, awkward exchange between him and the group, via closed circuit television, is the kind of comedy people only really started appreciating almost twenty years later and on mostly on Adult Swim. There's a good chance he was just phoning it in, but it works for me.
The Boneyard is a peaceful blend of made for TV detective tropes, child zombies and body slime. It's based in the familiar but makes some strange choices in its execution that pay off in memorable ways. There is a lot going on and most of it doesn't matter, but it helps the world feel broken-in, like this is just one of its stories. Honestly, I'm still ready for the further adventures of Oats and Callum. It's not the scariest film in the world, it's more fun than anything, but when those little fuckers jump off the table and snarl for the first time--it's pretty fucking unsettling. The fact that they are bite sized only adds to the creep factor. So I guess sometimes the ungrown and horror can mix, just as long they are playing the creature and not the lead (and definitely not mini-Freddy). Nothing against kid actors as a group--they are just more believable as disgusting inhuman creatures, like the ones you see running free range at Walmart.
 1h 38min | 1991
Director: James Cummins
Writer: James Cummins 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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9 More Films RevTerry Will Most Likely Watch on/around Halloween

As I have touched on before, Halloween is a little different for someone who watches horror films all year long. I fully support the efforts made by others to watch loads of spooky shit during October, but some of us are always kind of doing that, so it doesn't feel as much like a “seasonal” activity. Personally, I use the season to run through all my favorite flicks that pertain to the holiday directly in some way. Luckily for me, the yearly subject is a perfect fit for the genre, so the setting gets used frequently, and I have plenty to go through annually. Last year, around this time, I wrote 5 Movies RevTerry Has to Watch on/around Halloween, and while finishing off with some honorable mentions, I ended up with a list longer than the films in the main article. Every holiday needs a tradition, so in addition to last year's list, I bring you in no particular order:

9(ish) More Films RevTerry Will Most Likely Watch on/around Halloween. 

Lady in White (1988)

Honestly, this one should have been on the first list as it's kind of a fucking classic. It manages to include some of that Spielberg/Stephen King nostalgia vibe while still being wonderfully off and entirely its own thing. Actually, I'm surprised it's not more popular as that “coming of age but with supernatural problems” thing is the trend right now in mainstream media. If you haven't seen it, I personally recommend adding it to your holiday horror playlist this year. I'm also under the impression that it's a good one for the less “seasoned” crowd, although I am historically bad at gauging that kind of thing. Gather the folks, and tell your family it’s the Halloween prequel to A Christmas Story, or something (don't do that).

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) and Halloween 5 (1989)

The Halloween series is a “choose your own adventure” of various timelines, all using the first two films as a starting point (or in the case of the latest one, just the first). More accurately, it could be said that viewing a working story, in this case, requires some creative assembly, and there are always pieces left over. The longest running continuous string of cannon to date (comprised of the first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth films in the franchise), at its apex, introduced us to future genre champion Danielle Harris. Harris would later cement cult status with other films as well, but the role of young Jamie Lloyd (/Strode/Myers) has to be one of history’s least annoying children in a horror film. Arguably, the arch’s belated closing chapter doesn't quite satisfy as much as one would hope,(Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, 1995,  I can get down with it sometimes, but I can't help but think of Aliens 3 after the first fifteen minutes), but the original fourth and fifth entries in the twice rebooted (three times if you count the Zombie flicks) series make a nice mini-epic when watched back to back on their own.

Jack-O (1995)

Nothing says Halloween spirit like a killer pumpkin and more Linea Quigley for the yearly marathon. I reviewed this one in full at the start of the month-- check that out HERE.

Ginger Snaps (2000)

A seasonally appropriate, heartwarming tale about high school life, growing up with a close sibling and turning into a werewolf. It has justly earned a pretty hardcore following since its release (from what I understand) and was also followed by one worthwhile sequel (as well as a kind of shitty prequel).

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Are scarecrows like a fall thing? They feel like a fall thing, but I guess farmers and birds can’t disappear sometime in November and lay dormant for a year. Either way, Dark Night of the Scarecrow takes place around Halloween, so it doesn't matter. One of many evil scarecrow films in existence, it features some authentic creepy atmosphere, at times, and plays into the theme with a hearty salt of the earth type grit.

Murder Party (2007)

I found out about this one late and only caught it a few years ago, but it's been a go-to departure from straight attempts at horror in my October line up ever since. I reviewed this one last week, in full. Check that out HERE.

The rest of the Night of the Demons series (1994,1997,2009)

While there's nothing that can top the original (see last years list), the entire NOTD series employs enough haunted, trashy antics to make any Ill-fated party entertaining. Chapters II and III stay pretty true to the spirit of the original to make a clean trilogy, both follow the adventures of Angela as she returns to torment other peoples Halloween parties throughout the years.  Even the 2009 reboot makes a pretty solid addition to the group and can be watched back to back without killing the mood. I reviewed the third movie a few weeks ago-- check that out HERE.

Trick or Treat (aka Ragman 1986)

Not the one with the “'r” (that one is on the first list) or the 1988 one with the “s” at the end (Trick or TreatS). This one has Ozzy Osbourne and the creepy dad guy with the ponytail from KISS. Underrated and drenched in 80s hair metal, this ode to the dark forces of music strikes me as what you would get if you mixed a Penelope Spheeris movie with Witchboard (1986). There's a surprisingly engrossing story in there, packed with cornball angst and guitar feedback.

Satan's Little Helper (2004)

I don't know why I want to call a movie where a baby in a stroller gets run over by a speeding shopping cart a word like “cute”, but if I said words like “cute” I think I would, for whatever reason, call this movie a word like that. Silly, but never close to boring, the semi-recent tribute to Halloween and video games feels like something Nickelodeon would make if they had lost their minds in the middle of the 90s. Fuck it-- you know what? That shit’s cute.

Whatever you end up watching on the only holiday worth celebrating this year, I hope your Samhain evening is both safe and spooky as fuck. I also want to remind you to support trick or treating in your neighborhood. It's up to us to keep the one good national tradition involving fictional monsters alive.
What are you watching this year? Let me know below or hit me up on one of the social outlets like Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter.

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Murder Party (2007) Review by RevTerry

I don't mean to get emotional, but it doesn't get much worse than being alone on Halloween. The only holiday worth celebrating is also a social one, whether that means trick or treating as kids, hanging out with a loved one watching horror flicks or attending a costume party. Just the thought of a lone trick-or-treater brings a fucking tear to my eye--some poor friendless ghost child still determined to get candy out in the streets alone. Fuck man, now I'm all bummed. That's some shit you spill to a therapist or they put in your made for TV movie later in your life.  Getting in costume to beg for candy is a group activity, and the same goes for getting dressed up as a fictional character to get drunk. The Halloween party is the stuff of anonymous bad choices and exciting fashion statements. It's important to spend at least one night in your life with Dracula, the Wolfman and a gaggle of Harley Quinns (or whatever it is that year) as they melt away back into regular (drunk) people.  Above all else, I find Halloween to be a romantic holiday. Breaking out a few classics you’ve saved for October and getting all hugged up with a partner, pausing only for snacks and to hand out candy when the doorbell rings, is some next level American-dream type shit in my opinion. It doesn't get much better, and once you have properly experienced it in its entirety, no other holiday sexiness will do. Nothing says lovemaking like fake gore. No matter what your Hallows Eve entails, an almost universal ideal states that you spend it with others, and there is even a social reason to wear a mask in front of people as an added incentive. So being forced to spend that time solo can be depressing at best. Sure you can still get dressed up, watch a few horror flicks and even try to explain the nuances of Hellraiser 2 to a pet, but that doesn't feel as fulfilling on Halloween (as it does on a normal day) when somewhere human people are getting spooky together-- without you. So I can almost see why the protagonist of Murder Party (2007) made a choice to attend something called a “murder party” after finding a mysterious invitation on the ground. Almost.
Christopher, a solitary government employee, plans to spend Halloween with his cat and a few horror flicks he picked up. On his way home from the rental store, he sees a very elaborate invitation on the sidewalk for something called a “murder party”. Not one to waste good stationery, he takes the fancy card to his abode with him to settle down for a lonely night of candy corn and movies. When he goes to sit in the single chair in his apartment, he finds his cat already using it. He politely asks it to move, but, characteristically, the cat does not comply. It must have been the last straw in the relationship because this makes Chris decide to cancel the couple’s holiday plans and attend what (I guess) he assumes is a murder-mystery themed party (or something) despite it being obviously a little out of character for him. He is a pretty crafty dude, and not wanting to show up empty handed, he whips up some kind of pumpkin loaf real quick as well as a sweet knight costume made of cardboard to wear and heads out into the world after passive-aggressively talking shit to his cat some more. Making his way through rapping public transit riders, hordes of costumed partyers and spooky industrial areas, he arrives at a basement level warehouse in a suspiciously remote part of town. There, he is greeted by a small group of costumed individuals who all drop the weird shit they are doing to greet him. Right away, shit starts to seem fucked as the room is mostly filled with random weapons, and the gang of snickering strangers crowds in on Chris, seemingly doing their best high school bully impressions. A few awkward moments later, some lackluster pleasantry leads into a botched attempt on his life, and after a frantic tussle, Chris ends up tied to a chair.  Unfortunately, the invitation said “murder party” because this group intends to kill somebody as some kind of career-launching, creative performance. As it Turns out, poor Christopher has run into a troupe of art-students all trying to leave their mark on the world and possibly obtain a $300,000 grant being lorded over each of them by some guy named Alexander. With the help of fate, Chris has unknowingly positioned himself as the subject of the poorly planned endeavor, but luckily for him, everyone involved is too full of themselves to do anything right. The project goes downhill fast as a night full of drugs, sex, and bad life choices follows instead. As it should be, art is complicated and subjective, but there is coke involved so it counts as a party, and there is definitely some murder before it is over.
Murder party has a unique comedic charm that runs consistently throughout, no matter what's happening on screen. At first, it seems like a brand of humor orbiting close to the awkward, surreal non-jokes made popular by things like Napoleon Dynamite (2004) with hints of British comedy television, but by the time the first blood drop hits the floor, it is evident that the style is very much it's own. The inspirations are broad, coming from classic comedy routines, horror, and even some sci-fi. It's situational humor, relying on a sequence of unlucky, or even fateful events to create a mousetrap of allusion and satire. The movie squeezes a lot of real-world insecurity and loneliness out of it's quick, silly dialogue and not just from the relatable main character but also the wannabe prodigy assholes that take him captive. It is definitely an “indie” film and has the proto-hipster vibe to match, all while it openly pokes fun at the deep art crowd that mostly partakes in this type of film. Somehow it manages to be subtle when still being overtly ridiculous at the same time, with gags that come in both broad and simple strokes. There is a level of slapstick in there somewhere akin to a Leslie Nelson film but hidden under layers of life experience and all too real personalities. Shock is a large part of the overall entertainment value, and the movie is almost segmented into chapters by abrupt brutal on-screen violence. The cross segment of art students and their tribulations lull you into a fall sense of safety before a death comes out of nowhere. Even as it has happened multiple times before, you can start to believe in a characters narcissism right before they get it in some fucked up way. The crew of artists is made of people I feel like I have met, completely full of themselves and indifferent to the real world. They are not the normal kind of movie evil, just chronically selfish and insecure. The rainbow of megalomaniacs contrasts against their victim, the boring government worker, who finds a way to contemplate his negative effects on the world around him along with his feelings of insignificance. Almost every character feels like a familiar douchebag, relatable extreme or both. The writing uses a sharp, layered wit and it can be fun to pick apart on multiple viewings, but at face value, it is just pure dark entertainment. Whether on purpose or not, it destructs the “important” indie film formula that it's born from (in more ways than one) without feeling too “meta” or like a parody.
I have no real technical complaints. Despite its visible tight budget, the chaos holds together well. It makes good use of a select few locations, mostly the warehouse that Chris is held captive in. The confinement of the story feels natural, not brought on by resources. Inside the location, lighting is fittingly dingy for the surroundings,and sometimes it experiments a little with color during choice moments. The camera runs circles around the room to chase the quick manic action, and dialogue only verges on the annoying, unnatural high-speed conversation style that some “smart” indie films use. It's firmly planted in reality no matter how brutal or silly the action is, and the film somehow dodges any corn while mixing its horror and comedy. The gore is somewhat plentiful for this type of flick and somehow always seems to come out of nowhere. It's all respectable splatter and really doesn't pull any punches in its effects in this regard. The final scenes have kind of a “throwing buckets of syrup at Bruce Campbell” thing going on, but it's pretty fucking fitting at the moment. Accompanying the film is a very reserved soundtrack that keeps it all business apart from a few “scene” appropriate post-punk tracks for street cred. There are large periods of time where the scoring is absent and it speaks to the horror elements of the blend. It’s heavy, but it works and ends up with a Hostel (2005) meets classic Universal monster flick sound going on in that department. If anything, the editing gets a little textbook, and the cheap digital filming hinders some of the speedier camera movement, but overall it is the kind of film that couldn't have done much better with a larger budget.
The film was the first full-length feature for writer/director Jeremy Saulnier and his production crew “The Lab of Madness”. The group started production on the film immediately following their short film Crabwalk (2004) and with no outside financial backing until the project had already picked up some steam. Saulnier would go on to make Green Room in 2015 with Patrick Stewart and the late Anton Yelchin utilizing several of the same techniques, including abrupt grotesque violence. A lot of the film's strength comes from its well placed on-screen talent, as everyone looks and physically acts the part. Founding Lab of Madness member Chris Sharp plays the anxiety-ridden protagonist perfectly, even tied and gagged for most of the film. A majority of the main cast has double duty, taking a production credit of some kind as well as their roles, and have only taken part in a handful of low budget films (in the same Swiss Army knife fashion). Bill Tangradi looks like a familiar face as the Russian drug dealer, but I have probably just seen him on Law and Order or some shit.
Murder Party is a refreshing, holiday-themed cup of jet black humor and blood.  It isn't a horror film really, but it probably has at least one more effective violent moment in it than the last few straight horror flicks you have seen. The comedy is oddly dynamic, and there is a lot of it, ranging from gore-gags to subtle human behavioral humor. There is a good chance it's going to be one of those hate it or love it type flicks. It's probably not for everyone, but in this case, that’s almost a good thing as it wouldn't do well for imitation. Not wanting to hype it up too much, I think everyone should give it a try, even if the fact that I said “indie” like three times in this review scared you a little bit. I find it oddly life-affirming and a good break from my normal October horror-a-thon. Here’s hoping I'm never lonely enough to fall for something like poor Chris. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go costume shopping with my dog, and I should get all my crying out beforehand.
1h 19min | 2007
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Night of the Demons III (1997) Review by RevTerry

There is something about Halloween that seems to call for a little hell raising. I guess it's different as an adult-- from what I understand, you move farther from the spirit world as you grow older and move closer to things like a prison sentence, if you get in trouble. As a card-carrying adult, at best I get drunk in a costume and say something I shouldn't, which I guess still counts. As a kid, however, Halloween was time to fuck shit up and eat candy. Trick or treating provided apt cover for all kinds of juvenile criminal activity. Maybe on some level, I thought the authorities of the world would be too busy dealing with the undead or goblins (or whatever) to deal with boring old me, even if I too was up to no good that particular night. It is tradition, as indicated by the “trick” part of the “trick or treat” phrase-- although by the time I was out doing my costume thing for candy, the term had culturally become an idle threat, if that. I don't even think I knew it was a threat, just something I said when the person opened the door.  Even still, I understood the true spirit of the night. There is something about the whole holiday's motif that just begs for a little hooliganism. Officially, I think it's customary to do your bullshit the night before (during "Devil's" or Mischief night), but then you lose the protection that comes from being just one of many flocks of masked kids out at one time. Back in the day, even some of the stricter parents dressed their kids up and let them loose on the streets. If you didn't get a little crazy, it would feel like you wasted an opportunity, one that came only once a year and had the best alibi. Good-humored trouble for the most part, just kid stuff--maybe a little fire here and there, but no attempted murder, like the bizarro Scooby gang that make up the lead of Night of the Demons III (1997).
We open at the Hull House on Halloween night as a police cruiser rolls through its gates and up its driveway. After complaining to dispatch about having the “shit detail” and getting creeped out by what sounds like an unseen KMart Halloween decoration, the cop enters the house, flashlight in hand. He examines the house a little before being greeted by a woman who seems to be oblivious to the fact that the house is abandoned and creepy as fuck. The ghostly surprise host, who we know (having seen the first two films) is the demonic earthly leftovers of Angela (Amelia Kinkade), debates the extent of the law concerning private property with the lawman before using her ghost/demon powers to snatch off his sheriff badge and lodge it into his forehead like a ninja star. The scene fades away on a pumpkin (consumed in bad CG flames, I think) into the credits which, for some reason, have been baked on top of a god awful music video-esque art project that looks like the deformed, nonsensical love child of the ReBoot cartoon and the first Resident Evil video game. Once that monstrosity finally ends (in flames again, I think), we meet a van full of assholes as they demonstrate the entire current hierarchy and power struggle of their congregation in less than five minutes. Most importantly, we learn they are delinquents of some kind, and the film quickly moves on to the home of Abbie (Patricia Rodriguez), coincidentally, just as she is getting dressed. After being thoroughly interrupted by her siblings, her friend Holly (Stephanie Bauder) arrives with plans for them to head to the Halloween dance together. Without missing a beat, she gets undressed as well, and the two discuss college (and other important things) for a little while--topless. Back in the douche-wagon, the group takes turns threatening each others lives, and then they discuss their plans for the night. As luck would have it, the gang comes upon Holly and Abbie who have broken down on the side of the road. With mixed intent, the aggression-squad pulls over to offer them a ride,  which the girls reluctantly accept after they verbally agree to drop the duo at the school dance. The banter in the van goes about as well as you would think for cliche, fictional high school personalities, before the alpha male with the parted bangs (Kristen Holden-Ried) has them pull over at a gas station for some cigarettes and beer. Inside the store, one of the hooligans (Joel Gordon) makes quick work of aggravating the store clerk with a fake ID and some “momma” jokes, which by pure luck and ridiculousness, leads to a standoff between the group's de-facto leader and a bunch of cops. A police officer is blown through a window with a shotgun, and the kid with the shitty fake ID takes one in the stomach before the crew finally escapes the disastrous beer run and makes it back on the road. They don't go very far, however, before realizing the gas tank of the getaway ride has been damaged, and they are forced to seek refuge from the law in the first spooky ass, abandoned house they see. Of course, the only one they can find is the now famous Hull House with its occupant Angela who coincidentally loves entertaining parties of mature looking teenagers on Halloween.
In a lot of ways, NOTD3 follows the same basic premise of the first two Night of the Demons films: A collection of “teenagers” made up of both “bad kids” and “good” kids holed up in the Hull house for Halloween night. Angela returns, and kids alternate getting skin conditions to kill each other until there is a select few left. Unfortunately, the third entry manages to hit all the same points without supplying many memorable plays on the theme. This is mostly in comparison to the others, as both before it managed to cram a lot of personality into their cheesy packaging. The third feels more generic, for lack of a better word, and it has little of the wit or satirical time appropriate attitude. None of the characters really stick with you and are barely fleshed out enough to hold a conversation. Mostly, they fall back on well-used tropes--non critically, almost missing the traditional wink at the camera. The partygoers of the first two seem like satirical representations of their era’s “teen” demographic respectively, in the vain of the Return of the Living Dead’s punks (incidentally, Linnea Quigley was in both-- Night if the Demons in 1988 and Return in 85). As far as I can tell, these are less a comedic sample of social groups and more just random horror movie victims.  It's not without merit, however, as it is a simple, entertaining watch and avoids putting a wrench to the series. Just as it makes no extreme positive effect on the “Demons” films up to that point, it safely has no damaging impact. Oddly enough, this makes the original three-film series something of a rarity among its peers. Other American horror film series’ of its type had gone through extreme transformations as they made their way from the late 80s and into the 90s (see The Prom Night series). Even with the more one-off feel of this third example, the Night of the Demons movie canon stays virtually intact. It seems kind of weird that this makes it stand out, but the fact that nobody shoved an unrelated, reworked film into this series is actually kind of amazing. Even with the reboot that was made in 2009 to cap it off, the whole series degrades nicely and makes a good, trashy October marathon.
While never breaking the mold or even truly filling it, NOTD3 still provides schlocky demonic possession in a fast-paced and entertaining manner. The story is kept simple. Our signature ghost, Angela, is found still just chilling at her house on Halloween, waiting for her next victims-- no special magic ritual required for return (or whatever). Logic seems a little shaky, but the film really seems oddly grounded, coming from the kung-fu nun with a barrel full of holy water in the NOTD2. There is nowhere near the level of camp of the first two. Instead, it takes on a mean-spirited, but bubbly indifference towards its characters--outside of Angela. At the same time, it leans into a less-than-spooky family film vibe--think, those live-action Casper the Friendly Ghost movies but crass and nihilistic. The pacing is brisk, and no time is spent getting to some on-screen action. It's hard to give a fuck about anyone involved, but that really doesn't take too much away from what that the film has to offer. It feels like an Angela side quest, or just the less significant story, depicting a time she and the haunted house screwed with some other assholes. I don't know what the fuck she does all year elsewise, or why she is the only ghost that comes back, but I enjoy the idea that she gets to dispatch with one would-be party crew annually, after the events of 1988. Maybe this particular Halloween Angela and the Hull house seem to have run a little low on creative steam and budget, but they still dust off the demented muppet voice to get the job done. Noticeably absent is the signature body horror moments the first two set forth. In particular, the affinity they had for luring a victim in using some boobage, only then to have the breasts themselves turn on the horndog in some nightmarish way. It's hard to follow up Linnea Quigley's disappearing lipstick trick, but number two at least tried, and it kind of seemed like a signature move of sorts, up until this point in the series.
The budget seems to be scaled down considerably in this entry. Admittedly, the scariest moment in the film is the bare-bones 90s CG intro, which had me worried it would be done entirely in that style. Luckily, while the film does have some truly terrible computer-generated special effects mixed in, it still squeezes in some of the familiar possessed prosthetic makeup. This go-around it is a little more Buffy the Vampire Slayer and less Demons (1985, I always dug that the makeup was reminiscent of the classic Bava series with “demon” in the name, but that can wait for a review of the first film). Most of the gore and kill effects worked for me when on camera. The splatter is kept mostly practical, and what it lacks in imagination, it tries to make up for in abundance. The biggest disappointment of the film comes when one of victim’s arms is turned into a snake`a la some terrible 90s graphics. I think it's supposed to be the film’s surreal kill, replacing the haunted rack scenes from the first two (as mentioned above), but it falls drastically short if that's true. It goes nowhere, and looks like a shitty superpower from an off-brand X-Men or something. Only the horror-gods know what that scene was going for there, but I only see an undiluted mix of bad ideas and soulless special effects. Like a grip of films from the same time, there’s an awkward balance between the types of techniques it uses to bring its visuals to life, in this case, when it's not using video game garbage and sticks to the gooey shit, it has inspired moments. The editing is fair, for the most part, but gets a little choppy. Part of this may be due to rating edits, as I have seen multiple cuts of the film at this point.  It also recycles a few scenes from the first film of Angela getting her float on, which feel a little jagged. The music is all over the place. Best I can tell, someone used a time machine to ransack a Richard Band catalog from future Full Moon films and only threw in little chunks to throw him off (and not affect the time-space continuum). The soundtrack really only matches up with rest when it wants to, and at its best helps a joke fall flat. There is some budget hair-metal in the end credits, but it's kind of too little, too late. Altogether it's an “OK” use of a smaller budget and suffers greatest from its era’s cheap special effects.  Even feeling slightly broken at times, it amounts to a van full of one-sided assholes getting disposed of by a demon, so it works.
The film is directed by Jim Kaufman, who does most of his directing for television and holds a first assistant director credit on the early Cronenberg racing film, Fast Company (1979). The first film’s director Kevin Tenney wrote the script, coming back to the series after nine years. Along with Night of the Demons (1988), Tenney gave us a handful of watchable trash flicks including the first two Witchboards (1986,1993). Reportedly, Tenney would later indicate he wasn't happy with his script or the film's final product, but I won't hold his change of heart against him. The sequel is Amelia Kinkade’s third appearance as the (now) demonic Angela. Counting the obviously reused segments, she has more screen time here than the last film and at times feels like the main character. Kinkade seems to have a blast in the role and brings the Angela character right back to life despite the obviously lowered quality around her. Her lines aren't half as fun as her banter in number two, but she is instrumental in making the film work for the series. As a candidate for Most Level Headed Lawmen in a Horror Film Lieutenant Dewhurst, we have veteran voice actor Vlasta Vrana. His character here is a hardly seen and almost useless but somehow a highlight nonetheless. Vrana has a lengthy filmography that continues to this day, including providing personalities for video games and animated features, as well as appearing in a wide range of films (including the Cronenberg flicks, Rabid 1977 and Shivers 1975). The rest of the cast is made up of frequent mainstream movie and TV show filler actors, who make the best of what is possibly left over oneliners from the first two films. 
Night of the Demons 3 isn't nearly the essential viewing of its predecessors, but it's a trashy enough third helping for a seasonal marathon. Being that it is the second sequel in a horror franchise, it could have been very different. I have no problem watching it yearly, as its a relatively inoffensive addition to the series, even with its flaws. It is wholesome holiday fun with plenty of brainless nudity and some splatter. Plus, it's good to let kids know there are limits to Halloween hooliganism, and that you should pick your crew well. I feel like this is especially important in today's world. Holiday shenanigans should be about having fun and fucking shit up, not taking gas station clerks hostage. Don't be that guy, or nobody will care when you end up dead in an abandoned house due to sketchy circumstances.
1h 25min | 1977
 Director: Jim Kaufman 
Writer: Kevin Tenney

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Jack-O (1995) Review by RevTerry

I fucking hate gourds and their brother the squash (if there is a fucking difference--I'm not an expert on the Cucurbitaceae family). You don't have to eat every fleshy plant just because it has vitamin C in it. That shit is gross. No hate if that's your thing. A lot of people swear by the disgusting ground-fruit, so it might be me. I find the taste is a complex mixture of earthy and bitter, with notes of packing soil. And the strange stringy ass texture doesn't help at all. It’s not all bad though, I guess... This doesn't make me want to eat it, but sometimes when it's cooked just right, it looks like the Graboid guts from Tremors (1990), and that's cool. Oh, and pumpkins are alright in my book because they are a special case. I certainly don't like the taste of pumpkin--it's just as bad as the rest of the squash/gourd family (if not worse for the whole pumpkin-spice factor that gets forced down your throat), but I'm always happy when they start showing up around town. At some point, in Samhain's transformation into the modern Halloween, people stopped carving faces into turnips and shit and settled on the pumpkin, presumably for its optimal carving husk (and because they are more fun to stab). The fruit itself is not particularly thrilling, but I have come to recognize it as the normal person's signal for “it's time to get spooky”. Some of us never really leave the Halloween spirit behind when October ends each year (watching horror movies year round on the regular, just being a creep daily etc…). But when those organic, lumpy basketballs finally return to Walmart, it means that, for a little while at least, the rest of America is about to get a little creep-tastic as well. The pumpkins mark that occasion. I also get a kick out of carving one up into a scary face or some shit. Not usually a tradition kind of guy, I still find it hard not to love playing with knives and making a mess (as long as I don't have to taste any of the offensive orange flesh). Even better is seeing what other people manage to stab out of their own pumpkins. I love checking out the neighborhood and inspecting what those on the block have hacked on to their own fleshy canvas. You don't even have to be a great artist to make something Halloween appropriate. Just as long as it's spooky, which is key. I'm not down with the pop culture, comedic or cute pumpkins. It has to be a scary face or just do the triangle eye classic. Keep it appropriate for fuck's sake-- for the kids. It's Halloween. You have to at least try and elicit a few scares--like the movie Jack-O (1995).
The film opens with a man and boy as they sit on logs in front of a campfire. Abruptly, the adult (Bernie Fidello  in a weasley voice fit only for a creepy bus driver or something) starts into the story of a vengeful spirit known as Jack-O, as the boy, Sean (Ryan Latshaw), listens on like an unmanned muppet. Apparently, the incident, which involved a wizard and an ancestor of the duo (played by Ryan Latshaw as well), invoked an unkillable monster with a seasonally appropriate giant, glowing pumpkin for a head. The creature, forged from the wizard’s hatred with a bone to pick, runs around killing those with the last name Kelly and anyone else that gets in its way. As the father barks this at Sean, a mysterious woman watches from the woods but does not rouse the attention of the two. Instead, the movie cuts to the boy waking up in his bed in fright, as if both the campout and the father's tale had been a dream. He jumps from his bed and runs to the window where he peers out into the backyard. Its extra spooky out there, so he jumps back in bed and (his best creepy kid voice) whispers “the pumpkin man” straight into the camera. The credits play over stock footage of lightning, and afterward, we see Sean and two other children on the way to school. The neighborhood decorations bring the kids to a very natural sounding discussion about “Jack the pumpkin man”. One of the kids is very hostile about the whole thing, and after verbally and almost physically assaulting the other two for not being Jack-O believers, he decides to throw rocks at some lady for being a witch. Luckily he isn't a very good shot, and his first handful lands embarrassingly short. When he goes for another try, Sean, sick of his bullshit at this point, tells him to cut it out. Unsurprisingly, the kid with issues and a handful of rocks doesn't take criticism well, so he knocks Sean down for the ol’ movie-kids-fight ground and pound. Before any real damage is done, the would-be stoning victim (Catherine Walsh, who unbeknownst to Sean had been lurking in the woods during his quasi-father-son camping trip, that may or may not have been a dream) runs over to break up the beating. After scolding Sean's ex-homie, the stranger, who introduces herself as Vivian Machen, accompanies him home for whatever reason. After a short walk, she meets his father (Gary Doles ). Vivian explains Sean's honorable tussle and insists on helping his father decorate for Halloween.  She hangs out for bit, mostly long enough to also tell a version of the Jack-O VS the Kellys legend, adding an emphasis on the Kellys’ role and the possibility that the pumpkin-headed demon was still out there doing his thing. It's about this time that Sean really starts tripping balls, having visions of creepy mood lighting, fog, and of Jack-O himself. In these strange waking nightmares, he is visited by a babbling man in a hood and the bloodied ghost of Jack-O’s victims. Having had three people recite the legend to him recently, and being a pretty reasonable pre-teen, Sean tries to shake off the hallucinations as his imagination. Sure enough, as Halloween draws closer, the bodies start piling up around town, and Sean's visions start to seem more tangible. It becomes apparent that the Jack-O is more than just a legend and might be out for Sean and his entire family.  Decapitations and low-rent slasher style babysitter shenanigans follow, as the living embodiment of an after-Halloween sale at Walmart stalks the fictional town of Oakmoor Crossing.
Jack-O (aka Jacko Lantern) was directed by Steve Latshaw and produced by Fred Olen Ray. It was the third film in three years that Latshaw directed for Olen Ray’s American Independent Productions, following Dark Universe (1993) and Biohazard: The Alien Force (1994). All three films were quickly shot in 1993 in Florida, utilizing much of the same cast and crew.  After the partnership, Latshaw continued to work in low budget cinema, predominantly as a writer providing the script for things like Megaconda (2010, directed by Fred Olen Ray’s son, Christopher Ray) and The Curse of the Komodo (2004, Jim Wynorski). Latshaw’s longtime collaborator Patrick Morgan pulls double duty on Jack-O as he did with the other two aforementioned films, being credited as both a writer and as the actor behind the titular monster mask. Moran had previously worked with Latshaw on their debut film Vampire Trailer Park in 1991, and the two would reunite behind the camera for Return of the Killer Shrews in 2012.
The film's story is pretty standard cornball stuff padded with dead ends and stock footage. Latshaw plays it seriously, almost entirely, using only a few intentionally comedic lines (that I can remember). It's almost endearing how much the film is not in on the joke. Trying it's best to establish a lore for its creature, it repeats it's “old nursery rhyme” numerous times, which only seems less authentic or spooky with each rendition. I think parts are supposed to be ripped off from Pumpkinhead (1988) and have taken its title to a literal extreme, but they come off more like the 90s gritty reboot of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966). There is a ton going on, especially considering how much actually happens when you add it up in the end. It introduces characters seemingly by the minute sometimes, they appear, blurt out a few lines and just kind of meander off, possibly being killed, taking their plot points with them. The chunk of the film, pre pumpkin -man massacre, would feel like unrelated television episodes--if the same wooden kid didn't show up every so often to link them. There are some strange winks at the father's infidelities, shrugged off nonchalantly, with no purpose. Leana Quigley’s shower scene comes out of nowhere, intercut with unrelated subplots for ten minutes (not a complaint) before she is even introduced, and she is one of the more lasting characters. It's a fucking mess of stolen elements and fillers that have been strung together to somehow to make a warm b-movie blanket, perfect for fall. It's really the lack of tongue in cheek humor that makes it great. There is no point in charting the holes in the story of the film, and it will be more fun to experience them yourself. It's never boring, even as it struggles through long periods of broken dialog, as its beauty lies in its pure awkward, unintentional humor and straight-faced love of the holiday.
Along with its intentions of being a serious horror film, it also makes some earnest attempts at being a Halloween “holiday” movie. The slice-of-life scenes really want to go for that Stephen King family retro thing (the late 80s/90s one, not the 2017 IT, Stranger Things one we have going on now, think more Silver Bullet and 1990's IT) and tries to impose a whimsical vibe despite its bloodshed. It picks up the familiar yearly horror marathon moments from Halloween (1978) as well as a few flea market versions of its characters and soundtrack. The holiday is its unifying feature and it is prominent in everything, from all the random pointless subplots to its makeshift monster's legend. The whole thing feels like a crowd-sourced list of favorite Halloween related cliches acted out in a local school play. No matter how ridiculous it is at any given moment, it stays true to the holiday spirit. Just like John Carpenter's genre-defining classic (only much less successful in this and many regards), it yearns to be the kind of flick that gets played on through the years in Halloween movie marathons. It partially succeeded in at least that one regard, as I watch it yearly myself, although it may not be for entirely intended reasons. At its best moments, it feels like an extra bloody Halloween special of a 90s family TV show (like the Friday night kind), but at the same time, behind all the stolen pieces and goofy ass moments, there is a lot of love for the only holiday worth celebrating, I can get behind that.
In the spirit of true honesty, Jack-O is damn near pure garbage. Every release I have seen has terrible sound that seems to get the loudest just as an actor’s voice breaks or gets too squealy. There's a possibility that before editing, some of the story made more sense but was chopped into a cinematic salad. More than once we see a character’s face on the screen without knowing who the character is, as if it was just a leftover snippet from a later part of the film, and it somehow slipped into the wrong pile. The film also features more than one point where a character must wake up twice inside of a nightmare. A trick that doesn't go over well when done just once on TV shows for comedic effect and is even less effective in a “serious” horror when done multiple times (for no reason). The lighting is somehow too bright and too dark at the same time, which is a neat trick. Most of the nighttime moments look like they were filmed in a dark fictional interrogation room with the spotlight haphazardly placed on some of the important action. To its credit, the color pallet was chosen well for every scene to help make it feel like the right season, and to give it a suburban fall flavor despite being filmed in February. There is a pretty high body count, with most of the victims being decapitated. Rolling heads and blood splatter are the go-to, but there is a few uniquely goofy kills, including an old lady that accidentally gets cooked into a Kmart skeleton by her pop up toaster. The music, provided by Jeffrey Walton, does it's best to follow along with the familiar elements by cribbing the soundtracks of the classics that came before it. It all comes together as the kind of entertainment that's going to lose a few types of viewer in its first few scenes but can provide yearly holiday cheer for the right crowd.
As per her usual, all-time favorite Linnea Quigley is easily the highlight of another b-movie. In this case, not only is she the most engaging of all the actors on screen, but she also provides ninety percent of the nudity and fifty percent of the film’s sparse intentional humor. Both John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell appear in the film posthumously via Fred Olen Ray's canned footage stash. Mitchell’s horror TV host filler is one of my favorite parts and helps with the whimsical mood of the film. The Carradine footage feels disconnected, but most of his later roles were phoned-in anyway, so it's not too jarring (even being filmed eight years prior). Also making the cast via cut-and-paste, Brinke Stevens is seen briefly on the Kelly family's television, running around in a black cape.  Among the cast carried over from 1994s Biohazard, Steve Latshaw brought Catherine Walsh and his son, Ryan Latshaw. Ryan who also previously had a role in Latshaw’s Dark Universe (1993), plays this film de facto lead with the grace of a sentient wounded piece of wood. It really is some terrible acting and there is a lot of him in the film. In his defense, it works with everything else the film has going on, and frankly, ninety percent of child actors suck, especially in horror films.
Jack-O is a special kind of enjoyable holiday garbage. Is it a well-made movie? No, not at all. It's very, very fucking bad in almost every respect. But it fails in such entertaining and oblivious ways, that I find myself watching it once a year, right around the time the pop-up costume stores open their doors for business. It doesn't get much more seasonal than a killer demon with a pumpkin for its head. Plus, It may not be scary, but it gives it a fucking try, and that's all I ask of anyone on Halloween. So this year, when you carve up the one exclusion I have to my almost universal hatred of squash, Remember Jack-O and resist the urge to cut yourself short by going cute, funny or meta with your pumpkin. Instead just try your damnedest to make something scary, even if you fail miserably...
| 1995
Director: Steve Latshaw

Writers: Brad Linaweaver, Patrick Moran and Fred Olen Ray

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Review by:
RevTerry


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