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Saturday, October 22, 2016

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2016-Day 22: BAD MOON (1996)

Thor the German Shepherd: this is the face of a true-blue hero.

A few years back, as the TWILIGHT juggernaut rolled on and perpetuated the whole pussified vampires thing, I once more took solace in the werewolf movie genre and got my hands on a copy of BAD MOON, a flick I'd heard of but ignored for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was its rep as yet another of the many low-budget throwaways in the genre, and if there's one thing I should have learned by now it's that you cannot judge a horror movie's quality by it budget or relative lack thereof. The original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD cost about fifteen bucks to make, even almost fifty years ago, and now it's a bona fide classic. Same for the original THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Though not quite within the realm of those exalted landmarks, BAD MOON is a minor gem that does something different with the hoary conventions of the cinematic werewolf yarn.

The film is based on the 1992 novel THOR, by Wayne Smith, a story told from the point of view of the titular faithful German Shepherd who lives with a family of humans that he understandably considers his "pack." In the hierarchy of the pack Thor functions as the very capable protector, and his natural abilities are put to the test when a relative, Uncle Ted, comes to visit the family and only Thor, thanks to his animal senses and intuition, realizes that the guy is a werewolf. I have not yet read the book (I ordered it from Amazon and will review it once I've finished with it), but the movie apparently follows the book's plot basics, only losing the family's husband/dad and two of the kids, leaving Thor to look out for a single mother (Mariel Hemingway), and her young son (Mason Gamble, the kid from the horrid DENNIS THE MENACE movie). Thor proves his worth as a guardian early on, when a con man tries to fleece money out of the mother by provoking Thor to attack him, unaware that the woman is a lawyer who has prosecuted dozens of would-be hustlers just like him, and from that incident onward the audience knows to trust Thor's instincts.

After an expedition to a foreign land where his colleague/girlfriend is savagely killed by a werewolf and he himself is stricken with the curse of lycanthropy while trying to save her, Uncle Ted (Michael Paré) returns to the States and embarks on a quest to find a cure for what has befallen him. Unfortunately, all avenues prove a dead end and Ted moves into a trailer somewhere in the deep backwoods of the Northwest, where his homicidal lunar activities will stand less of a chance of getting out of hand (a plan that doesn't work because his transformations are nightly and he's wracked up a body count of five before the plot even really gets rolling). When he invites his sister and nephew up to visit (with Thor along for the ride), Ted gets it into his head that the company of his family may be just the thing that will curb his rapacious supernatural urges. It is during this daytime visit that Thor is allowed to sniff about freely in the woods, where he picks up strange scents and the remains of a forest surveyor, a trail that leads right back to Uncle Ted. Thor may not be able to articulate what he senses, but he knows Uncle Ted is something very, very dangerous, and from that moment on he holds the man under very close scrutiny.

Creepy Uncle Ted, now a werewolf and safely ensconced within the bosom of his family...

...which puts him within Thor's territory of guardianship, and Thor knows EXACTLY what's up. And he doesn't like it one bit.

Following his latest murder and with the police investigating literally right outside his trailer door, Ted calls his sister and asks if he can stay with her for a while. Once he parks his trailer outside the family home, Thor immediately sets up a vigil to keep an eye on the lupine visitor. Ted, very much aware that Thor has his number, creepily tries to insinuate himself into a position of power within the pack while going out nightly to chain himself to a tree as his transformed self rages without causing harm to anyone.

Uncle Ted, all wolfed-out.

Thor witnesses the chained werewolf and has his worst fears realized, returning to the house and pissing on Uncle Ted's camper as a territorial warning. From that moment, you had better believe it's on, and in no time Thor's seemingly vicious and totally mis-interpreted aggression toward Ted lands him in the pound, leaving his pack very much in harm's way. But never underestimate the power of a boy's love for his dog, or the dog's love of his humans...

The film's low budget is certainly evident, but the story more than makes up for any deficiencies in the department of production values. The movie even has a werewolf that's much better than expected, although the transformation sequence is somewhat-justly maligned. Though low on gore (at least by my standards), the film is a lot of fun thanks to its unusual protagonist and if you're a dog-lover like me, you will root for Thor like you haven't rooted for a hero since Indiana Jones went after the Ark of the Covenant. Played by a pooch named Primo, Thor is a canine hero to be reckoned with and he even takes on the werewolf — a goddamned WEREWOLF!!! — twice, in what can only be called savage, animalistic combat. When stacked up against Thor, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and Benji are a bunch of pussies and they can each suck it.

If not for a wholly unnecessary sex scene at the film's very beginning, I would recommend this as suitable for all ages, provided the kiddies can take scares that are mild by adult standards. This really is the heroic dog story taken in a different direction and as such it has the potential for great cross-audience appeal. BAD MOON awaits re-discovery and I suggest that you give it a chance. RECOMMENDED.

Cover art for the DVD release.

Friday, October 21, 2016

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2016-Day 21: PIRANHA (2010)

A lovely day at the beach.

Cribbing its title and basic "chew 'em up" thrust from the 1978 cult item of the same name, PIRANHA has nothing on its mind but giving the audience that likes this kind of thing exactly what it wants: a shit-ton of vicious gore spurred by carnivorous fish, accented with copious amounts of buck nekkid tiddies and buttsteak. The beauty of this particular serving of such delights is that it was crafted by people who understood just what kind of movie they were making and were in on the gag.

The story relates the dire events following an earthquake that unleashes a massive number of prehistoric piranha upon the unsuspecting drunk and horny attendees of Spring Break in the fictional town of Lake Victoria, with the plot knowingly eschewing deep character development in favor of sheer fun ultra-gory humor. The principals include the sheriff (Elizabeth Shue), her partner (Ving Rhames), her kids (a teenage son and two pre-teen siblings), a couple of porn stars (I'll get to them presently), and their super-sleazy "girls gone wild"-style boss, a pornographer played to the hilt of amusing loathsomeness by Jerry O'Connell.

Jerry O'Connell primes Riley Steele for tequila body shots.

The plot borrows from several notable films in the "carnivorous fish eat the living shit out of everybody in sight" genre (including a terrific cameo role by Richard Dreyfuss as pretty much Matt Hooper from JAWS) but never once feels like a ripoff because it uses its antecedents as fodder for lampooning that notches the insanity up to "11." You get the water populated by revelers who won't listen to the warnings of the authorities and people being eaten as they engage in assorted aquatic fun (as seen in pretty much every JAWS movie), folks stranded on a dodgy seafaring craft that's only moments away from allowing the hungry fish access to the strandees (think JAWS 2), and crazy set pieces in which bathers are eagerly devoured in glorious displays of arterial spray and mangled carnage, only with said gore and carnage piled on to a ludicrous degree, resulting in a final twenty minutes in which all hell breaks loose (and then some).

Jet skis, shotguns, ravenous fish...sheer bliss.

In other words, a perfect example of this specific genre, a roller coaster of waaaay over the top lunacy that solidly delvers on all counts.

I won't give away the plot particulars because it's all simply a more intelligent and intentionally funny take on stuff we've seen countless times since JAWS hit in 1975 and you could pretty much write most of it yourself, but I will stop to point out one sequence that literally stopped me in my tracks. There's a bit where the pornographer sets off on a yacht to film his two porn star companions performing a nude underwater ballet in swim fins that evokes images of sensuous mermaids performing fluid arabesques unhampered by the constraints of gravity. This moment of stunning gorgeousness is a painstakingly choreographed submerged pas de deux brought to vivid life by British model and actress Kelley Brook and porn actress Riley Steele and it must have been a visual knockout when seen projected in 3-D.

The awe-inspiring "mermaid ballet" sequence: an instant classic moment in world cinema.

While the sequence certainly has its exploitative aspect, it's kind of odd because although it provides loving glimpses of just about every millimeter of the actresses' nubile flesh, the action is tasteful — digital shading eliminated any shots that would have been too gynecological in nature — and the musical accompaniment, the familiar "Lakme-Flower Duet," renders the visual truly compelling. It's a moment of genuine artful beauty in a film otherwise populated with looniness and people being ripped apart by slavering CGI piranha that must have been amazing in its original 3-D version, and I thank French director Alexandre Aja for every frame of it. And yes, I'm being completely sincere.

The simple sensuous beauty of the human female form as seen in action underwater.

And while the blonde of the pair (Steele) is certainly easy on the eyes, it's Kelly Brook whose goddesslike form and face nearly made my peepers fall out of their sockets since there is now little worth seeing after witnessing her at all, much less unabashedly and confidently naked.

The wonder of nature that is Kelly Brook. Jumping Jesus in a basket of honey-glazed chicken...

I'm assuming her Euro upbringing left her without the squeamishness regarding onscreen nudity that most American actresses bear, so she gets extra points for being so game about it all. Then again, if I were a woman and looked like her, I would never wear clothes, simply on general principle. In fact, there should be an internationally-agreed-upon law forbidding Brook from ever being clad, unless it's really cold or something. And adding to this excellence is the fact that she's funny and can act!

Bottom line: PIRANHA is is a ton of fun if you have a taste for this flavor of cinematic excess, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Its content is about as extreme as it gets for a film with an "R" rating, and I would like to know who was asleep at the usually stringent MPAA ratings board the day this one came up for consideration. (According to the director's commentary, the film was passed without cuts, and if that's true, I'm frankly astounded.) Damn, I wish I'd seen this on the big screen and in 3-D!

Poster from the original theatrical release.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2016-Day 20: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)

A valid question...

In an odd twist of cinematic fate, 2008, the year when the movie version of TWILIGHT hit,  also saw the release of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, a Swedish take on the “boy meets girl and one of them is a vampire” chaste love story thing, but that film could not be more different from TWILIGHT if it tried to. Whereas TWILIGHT strove to be a pop confection for tweens that worked within the conventions of the relatively family-friendly high school narrative genre, although with fantastic elements thrown into the mix, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (also based on a novel) is immeasurably more bleak and examines a bond born of desolate loneliness rather than gazing-out-the-window dreaminess.

Taking place near Stockholm in 1982, the story revolves around the relationship between twelve-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a quiet and rather solitary boy who is tormented by some cruel schoolmates in an escalating wave of sadistic bullying, and the mysterious Eli (Lina Leandersson), a sad-eyed girl who moves into the apartment next to where Oskar lives. Noting her arrival in the middle of the night with a man we’re meant to think is her dad, Oskar sees the girl move in and notices that Eli’s windows are immediately blocked with cardboard to prevent the sunlight shining in (not-so-subtle clue Number One). The two adolescents meet one dark, frigid night as Oskar sits in his apartment complex’s sparse playground and Eli shows up in attire more appropriate for a spring day rather than the kind of gear necessary for survival in snowbound Sweden. That’s unusual enough, but Eli also displays a physical nimbleness that’s not quite normal, a trait that does not go unnoticed by Oskar, but he doesn’t care so long as he has someone his age to talk to.

When the unnatural collides with soul-deep loneliness.

As soon as Eli moves in, murders begin in which the victims are drained of their blood, first by what looks to be a serial killer and later some kind of wild animal, but it soon becomes apparent that Eli is a vampire and Oskar is at first kind of shocked by that discovery. But he has come to know and care for the sad-eyed girl, valuing her friendship over his understandable fear of her feeding habits. Several complications arise during all of this, but chief among them is the fallout once Oskar heeds Eli’s advice and violently fights back against the leader of his tormentors, an act that snowballs to a conclusion that would have been horrifying even without the presence of a vampire…

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is less of a horror story than an examination of how two lonely souls find each other in the middle of a literal wasteland, and the two young stars could not have been better cast. Neither kid is a fantasy glamour figure a la a film made here in the States, both looking as ordinary and awkward as kids their age should be, and that factor helps sell the believability of the narrative. While Oskar clearly has feelings for Eli, he is perfectly happy to be with her in a non-sexual way because the connection he experiences with her goes beyond the merely hormonal; it’s a meeting of hearts and minds that is deeply affecting and genuine, unlike anything I saw in TWILIGHT, and the film’s icy location and deliberately slow pacing punctuate the “life” embodied in the relationship of the two kids. Though physically twelve, Eli has been twelve “for a long time,” and the film makes it clear that her un-life has been one long stretch of misery and isolation, constantly moving so she won’t be discovered, so when she befriends Oskar despite her own declaration that it would best for both of them if they were not friends, it has real meaning, and while Eli had her own needs, if ever there was someone who needed a friend, it was Oskar.

One item of particular note is a sequence where Oskar sees Eli changing clothes and catches a brief and innocent glimpse of her crotch, but when I saw the scene I said to myself, “What the hell was that? Is that scarring?” Thanks to the magic of the DVD player’s remote I was able to freeze-frame the shot and given a severe case of the crawlies when I saw clearly that Eli’s female bits appeared to have been mutilated and long healed-over, but no explanation was forthcoming. I did some research and found that in the source novel at some time in the past Eli was the victim of a particularly nasty vampire lord who delighted in cruelty such as manually emasculating young boys… You do the math. That bit of information added a whole new element of tragedy to her story and I wonder why the filmmakers decided to leave it out. Perhaps they not incorrectly assumed a mutilated pubescent pubic area was bad enough and just left it at that… Whatever the case, I’m now interested in reading the book to see what else was excised or changed for the screen.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is and excellent film but don’t buy all the review quotes about it being “one of the essential vampire movies” or “one of the best horror films ever made.” As previously stated, the film is more of a character study than anything else and as such it’s great. However, there are no scares to speak of, at least not in the sense that American audiences expect, and the gore is tastefully minimal, being almost totally related to Eli’s feeding, so don’t even think about recommending this to any gorehounds you may know. Well, maybe you should, provided they’re willing to give a chance to a “horror” film that’s all about the slow-paced story allowing the viewer to get to know its characters. BOTTOM LINE: if you're going to choose one of the similarly-themed 2008-releasse suckface romances, go with the Swedish one.

Poster from the U.S. release.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2016-Day 19: TWILIGHT (2008)

Oh, fuck you.

For those who somehow missed it, the TWILIGHT phenomenon hinges on the chaste romance between a teenage girl and a vampire boy, and considering how such stuff could be handled on film I expected a movie that, to paraphrase my dear friend Raven Woman, would make me menstruate. Indeed the film is geared to fuel the fantasies of twelve-to-fourteen-year-old females and I am in no way its target audience, but I was surprised to find myself not hating it for the first hour or so and enjoying it as a kinda/sorta WB-flavored high school yarn. It’s all about pasty-but-pretty Bella (Kristen Stewart) moving in with her dad in some overcast Washington state town and starting over at a new high school while her mom and mom’s baseball-playing hubby move to Florida to facilitate said hubby’s baseball career. Now the new kid in school, Bella falls in with a bunch of generic movie/TV high school kids (about whom the less said, the better) but finds her head turned by hunky and also-pale-as-a-stick-of-chalk-in-a-blizzard Edward (Robert Pattison), who happens to be a vampire, albeit a vamp whose family follow a code of not feeding on humans, thus making him relatively harmless (translation: a big, sensitive pussy, and I don’t mean the kind found in “tenderloin” cinema).

It takes Bella most of the film’s first hour to suss out that Edward’s a revenant suckface and it’s kind of interesting getting to that moment of realization, but once that big reveal takes place the movie loses all interest and careens down the toilet at near superluminal speed. There are endless close-ups of longing gazes and meaningful glances with not even a dry hump to be had, and I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but the girls I knew growing up who were of this film’s target age definitely enjoyed moments of erotic adventuring that were light-years more advanced than this story’s imagined-by-an-eight-year-old (or a Mormon housewife) romantic scenarios. Come to think of it, many of the girls I knew at that age had already graduated to intra-vaginal fingering with eager young bohunks, the kind providing of bare tit and beyond, and most of them were what anyone would consider to be “nice” or “girl next door” archetypes. But those were also the days just before herpes and AIDS, so I guess it was a theoretically more consequence-free era. Keeping that in mind, I had a very hard time buying into TWILIGHT’s post-millennial innocence.

Excluding the film’s dose of narrative Salt Peter, the sequences that turned me against the movie were the annoying “meet the family” moment when Edward brought Bella home to introduce her to his fellow undead, the idiotic bit that explained why the vamps don’t like to be seen in broad daylight — do NOT get me started on vampires being able to walk about in broad daylight at all, let alone what happens when they do.


In fact, that scene is so stupid and awful that it must be seen to be believed — and the incredibly painful bit in which Edward and family bring Bella along for a family game of baseball involving vampiric superpowers. There’s also a subplot involving a trio of suckfaces who merrily feed on human prey, but even their potential to liven things up falls flat and the lone member of the trio who proves to be a direct threat to Bella (in this installment anyway) is really only there to ensure Bella and Edward’s bonding. Thanks, dude. Thanks ever so much.

The film culminates in a fashion that can best be described as “My Vampire Prom Date,” and when all is said and done, TWILIGHT proves to be a cloying abstinence parable that removes the lusty elements that make many vampire stories appealing. But, again, I am not this film’s audience, so my opinion of it is definitely moot. I don’t recommend it for the majority of grownups of either gender or sexual orientation, but that’s merely my opinion. And don’t forget I’ve been known to enjoy “girly” fare quite a bit, such as ENCHANTED, THE CUTTING EDGE, SAVE THE LAST DANCE, EVER AFTER and ELLA ENCHANTED, so I’m not just trying to hate on the femme stuff.

Again, WORD.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Yes, you really are seeing this.

In the 1850's a Native American community was massacred in order to make room for white men who were caught up in Gold Rush fever, and their shaman called upon Skookum, their god of vengeance, to settle the score. Skookum unleashed spirit Great White sharks that swam through the snow and devoured their enemies, and now, in the year of 2013, they are back and just as ravenous as ever.

Apparently made to cash in on the already ludicrous SHARKNADO phenomenon, AVALANCHE SHARKS gives us everyone's favorite marine carnivores and moves them to the slopes of a ski resort, where they spend eighty-two minutes munching on twenty-somethings who are obnoxious enough but too old to be the cast of any given FRIDAY THE 13th installment. And while all of that's going on, the filmmakers even manage to rip off JAWS by throwing in a mayor who doesn't want to close the resort because it would curtail seasonal profits.

The vengeance of Skookum.

Now, I've seen some stupid movies in my time, but the idea of sharks rampaging at a ski resort is certainly something new and extra-stupid, so my hat is off to AVALANCHE SHARKS for that, if for no other reason. It's competently made and entertaining enough to hold the viewer's attention, but there's a ton of ultra-boring padding before things get bloody, and when things do get crazy, the gore and mayhem are as cheap and cheesy as possible.

JAWS this ain't. Hell, it ain't even LAST SHARK!

WHILE the SHARKNADO movies entertain because of their towering intentional stupidity, AVALANCHE SHARKS gives it the old college try but only manages to come off as a tepid time-waster. For shark completists only, this is a novel and goofy concept that swiftly fizzles out once one is over the basic setup's joke. You miss little if you skip this one.

Oh, and while there is an avalanche, it really has nothing whatsoever to do with the sharks. It just happens and then is immediately forgotten.

Art from the DVD release.

Monday, October 17, 2016


When you see a publicity photo like this, you know exactly what you're in for.

I thought I'd seen the nadir of derivative genre clonings when I endured the fabtasy confection that was ERAGON (2006) but, boy howdy, was I ever unprepared for NEVER CRY WEREWOLF, an almost impossibly-shameless ripoff/remake of the excellent 1985 vampire classic FRIGHT NIGHT, only minus all of that film's wit and originality, and each instance of vampiric lore replaced with every werewolf trope in the book. In fact, it's such a fucking swipe-job that I laughed out loud throughout its running time and repeatedly uttered "You've gotta be fucking kidding me!' at the screen as the bald-faced knockoff unspooled. In other words, it's almost worth seeing because its shamelessness is hilarious.

Note that I said "almost."

FRIGHT NIGHT told the story of an awkward teenager who realizes his personable new next-door neighbor is actually a vampire, and with the help of his at-first-disbelieving girlfriend and weirdo/dork best friend sets out to stop the supernatural predator before the vampire kills him. During the course of this mishegoss, the kid also enlists the services of a washed-up TV personality to aid in his errand of execution and all hell breaks loose in the finale. Everything you just read in the my FRIGHT NIGHT capsule synopsis occurs in NEVER CRY WEREWOLF, as well as assorted minor plot details such as the teen spying on the monstrous neighbor and witnessing the creature killing a hooker, the washed-up TV celebrity — in this case HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS' Kevin Sorbo subbing for Roddy McDowall — being confronted with shocking evidence that monsters really do exist and the monster putting the lead's significant other in their hellish thrall, with the only real difference of note being that the monster's a werewolf (who resembles a defective gene-splicing of Gary Sinise and Hugh Jackman) and the protagonist is a girl. The whole damned thing is ridiculous and even though FRIGHT NIGHT successfully trod the often thin and uneven line between comedy and outright horror, NEVER CRY WEREWOLF fails to provide either intentional laughs of legitimate scares, so you, the viewer, lose. TRUST YER WEREWOLF-LOVIN' BUNCHE and give this waste of time and film stock a miss and instead check out a werewolf movie actually worth watching, namely Neil Marshall's instant classic from 2002, the superb DOG SOLDIERS.

And one last thing: exactly how did the makers of this film get away with so flagrantly ripping off FRIGHT NIGHT and not get the living shit sued out of them?

The DVD box art.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

31 DAYS OF HORROR-Day 16: MOON DANCE (1989) by S.P. Somtow

NOTE: This is another oldie retrieved from the archives of my primary blog, but I fish it out again because it totally fits in with the series and describes a book that every serious fan of quality horror should read.

-Yer Bunche

I'd heard of this described both as "the Great American werewolf novel" and also "the GONE WITH THE WIND of lycanthropy," so as a fan of lycanthropes how could I not be intrigued?

Somtow crafts an epic tale of European immigrants coming to the dying Wild West in hope of setting up a colony where their community of werewolves can hunt and thrive without being hunted to extermination by normal humans, but what they don't take into account is that the area they've chosen might already be home to another community of shape-shifters, this time of the Injun variety. Anyone who's read a western novel or seen a western movie in the past forty years knows that situation will lead to a clash of native spiritualism and European devaluing and destruction of a "lower" culture, and that's exactly what this book is about.

This epic unfolds amid a framing device where a young writer in 1963 seeks out a mental institution in South Dakota that's home to an aged inmate with multiple personalities who committed a series of hideous psycho-sexual murders, violent atrocities that earned him infamy as "the Laramie Ripper." As the writer interviews the madman, she discovers that he, or rather one of his personalities, was prophesied by the shapeshifting Shungmanitou tribe as a messiah who would bridge the gap between man and beast and heal the world in the process. But the road to that clearly failed mission is a long, hard and cruel odyssey of genocide, unbridled racial hatred, scads of brutal western-style violence — i.e. loads of shootings, scalpings, torture and rape — Native American metaphysics and examinations of exactly what may or may not separate man from beast, all populated with a cast where every single character is earmarked for some sort of tragedy.

MOON DANCE is first and foremost a western on an operatic scale, and if not for the lycanthropy hook it would have been a straight-up downer western to rival 
SOLDIER BLUE (although much better written). It is utterly unflinching in its depiction of a filthy, nasty west whose spirit is being ravaged by the juggernaut of Western Expansion and the decimation of indigenous peoples (and the Chinese, in sequences that are genuinely stomach-turning), and the violence and gore will no doubt be extremely off-putting to some readers (but not me, lemme tell ya!).

The other element that might not sit well with some is the rather sensible depiction of the habits and behaviors of the werewolves, both Eurotrash and Injun, which includes such wolflike traits as relentless scent-marking (even when in human form), disturbing displays of dominance that are equivalent to rape and torture (depending on how one looks at it), and the powerful and visceral effect that certain smells have in causing sexual arousal in the werewolves and the humans caught helplessly in their thrall. The description of a redheaded female werewolf's shameless presenting of her befurred, menstrually-dripping nether parts to a cavalry officer she seeks to mark as hers is at once utterly revolting and highly erotically charged (the bit where she pretty much paints his face is so graphic that you'll damned near feel like it's happening to you), so if grotty imagery of human and inhumanly bestial shape-shifters engaging in all kinds of ultra-animalistic sexual shenanigans disturbs you, I suggest you give this one a miss.

MOON DANCE is extremely well written and is much better than many horror stories I've read, especially those featuring werewolves — my favorite archetypal monster, but they always get the shit end of the stick when it comes to fiction, although the wolves in this book probably wouldn't balk at a doody-covered stick — and its epic length is definitely worth making one's way through. My only real caveat is that it's a major downer from start to finish, and even the bright spots that really communicate the sacred and beautiful connection between the shape-shifters and the natural order of things cannot lift the tale's inevitable and depressing conclusion. We know what happened to the Indians in real life so you already know how this story ends, but the storytelling magic lies in the book's ability to compel as we journey along with the characters to a bleak oblivion.

And if there is a Hell for fictional characters, I sincerely hope that both the incredibly evil and sadistic Cordwainer Claggart and United States Cavalry Colonel Sanderson are suffering an enduring and vitriolic torment for the agonizes they wrought upon many characters in this book. Both are among the most heinous villains I've ever encountered in literature, and they will leave an indelible mark upon any who read MOON DANCE.

Lastly, what with Hollywood mining all corners for movie fodder, I strongly doubt that MOON DANCE could ever be successfully translated to the big screen with its spirit and intent intact for a number of reasons. Its scope alone would prove cost-prohibitive, and then there are the understandably touchy depictions of Native American genocide — something covered to nigh-unwatchable effect in SOLDIER BLUE — and the ultra-gory ravaging and gleeful disembowelings perpetrated by the werewolves. The assorted acts of cruelty and gender-regardless rape and torture committed by Claggart and Sanderson would push this straight into instant NC-17 territory, even if handled with restraint (how?), and don't even get me started on all the territorial pissing (even on people) and wolf/human sex... The MPAA's collective head would explode!

Saturday, October 15, 2016


You know you're in trouble when an alleged horror movie opens with a bunch of wind-up toy robots and tanks bumping into each other as the credits lists the perpetrators.

Sometimes this whole 31 Days of Horror exercise is a real cross to bear. Every now and then my film-reviewing duties throw me under the bus that is a truly bad movie, and I write this while healing from injuries sustained upon being flattened by THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES. 

After getting the axe from the space agency, scientist John Carradine crafts bootleg "astro-men" from plans stolen from a colleague. Intended for space exploration, the astro-men are remote-controlled human/machine hybrids whose human components are culled from murdered civilians or car accident victims, and for no apparent reason (or maybe I was so bored that I missed the explanation) they occasionally escape from the scientist's lab and embark on a mindless murder spree.

One of the titular creatures goes to work.

While the space agency lugubriously investigates the murders, they also become aware that a spy ring  headed by big-titted cult icon Tura Satana (FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!) seeks to obtain the plans to the astro-men and sell them to a foreign government. What ensues can barely be called a horror movie and instead drags us into the mire of late-1960's feeble would-be James Bondian espionage nonsense. Seriously, perhaps a fifth of the film is straight-up horror and the rest would not pass muster as a below-average third season episode of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Characters search in vain for a decent script.

 THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES features the sort of plot that would be ideal for introducing kids to the genre but its emphasis on the spy angle while claiming a pure horror pedigree fucks it right in the ass,  but the movie's cardinal sin is that it is incredibly boring. Loaded with un-involving secret agent shenanigans, long shots in the lab in which the camera stays rooted to the spot while nothing of interest happens, John Carradine spouting endless streams of meaningless techno-babble, and a marked paucity of scary mayhem, the film is an endurance test for even the most die-hard of bad horror movie masochists.

What I wish had happened to me instead of sitting through this turd.

Despite having a memorable title and having been co-written and co-produced by Wayne Rogers, aka "Trapper" John McIntyre from the television version of M.A.S.H., about the only good thing to come out of this film is that it inspired one of the Misfits' signature tunes.

Director Ted V. Mikels was a master of low-budget schlock, some of which was could be entertaining, such as GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS (1968), CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS and the THE DOLL SQUAD (both from 1973), but THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES is the cinematic equivalent to being forced to stare at a dead cat for 91 minutes. Life's just too short.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

Friday, October 14, 2016


NOTE: This one's an oldie from the archives, but I'm running it because I realized it fits right in with this series of essays/reviews. If you have no idea what Warren was, you're in for a treat!

EERIE #60: a milestone in my complete and utter ruination.

Was there ever a greater friend to the young horror fan than Warren Publications?

Livingston, Alabama, 1974. Imagine the plight of a nine-year-old boy, dragged along to yet another family gathering in the middle of Alabamian nowhere with nothing whatsoever to do except be doted over by oddball relatives who were about two minutes away from taking the dirt-nap. Let me set the mood: a television with questionable reception which, if memory serves, got only three channels (this was before cable, for all you young whippersnappers reading this) and ran nothing but soap operas or what seemed like an endless loop of "The Price is Right." The ominous four-foot cattle prod suspended in the gun rack of my uncle's pickup truck. The vicious mother hen, a bundle of pissed-off poultry that ran around the yard and would descend upon you like a crazed harpy if you looked at her chicks the wrong way. Being told with absolute certainty by a scary old lady with skin that looked like a dried-up river bed that "toads will give you warts, so you better not be handlin' 'em, boy!" My "touched" older cousin who wanted nothing more than to show me his "jockey strap." In short, a Tennessee Williams-esque hell of killing boredom and inescapable strangeness.

Begging for any sort of diversion, I asked my parents if I could buy some comic books; in other words, familiar friends that would rescue me from the all-black version of DELIVERANCE crossed with the family from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. We made it to the local dry goods store and I surveyed the periodicals rack with an eye like a hawk on the hunt. By Crom, if I were going to get some comics I'd get some good stuff that I could read over and over during my week-long sentence!

Some favorites were readily snagged, such as Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and the now mostly-forgotten Jack Kirby epic of the post-apocalypse Kamandi-The Last Boy On Earth (which is in sore need of color collected editions). Then there was a magazine-sized comic roughly squeezed into a rack slot that was too small to accommodate it. I picked it up with the intention of putting it back where it presumably belonged, but then I noticed the rather lurid cover. It featured a painting of a buxom woman on an obviously alien world, held in the slimy tentacles of a multi-eyed Cthuhluoid wiggly. And what was most intriguing to me was that she had a sort of dreamily relaxed look on her face like she was kind of digging the attentions of her molester. The magazine in question was EERIE # 60, from Warren Publications (a company I knew for giving the world one of the greatest monster movie mags ever, namely FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND) and I blame it for forever changing how I looked at not only horror comics, but also horror in general.

I've always appreciated good illustration and contained in the pages of that comic was art the likes of which I had never seen. No superheroes were present, but that perceived oversight was made up for with an abundance of ultra-violent b&w gore and mayhem, a knockout color section that turned out to be my first exposure to Richard Corben (whose art I immediately fell madly in love with) and the non-MAD work of Wally Wood (illustrating the Gerry Boudreau-scripted "The Man Hunters", the story upon which the painted cover was based), and the icing on the cake, the first installment of the classic "Night of the Jackass" serial which contained the holy grail for young lads: pictures of nekkid women! I treasured that issue of Eerie and read it until it fell apart.

Over the next seven years I got hooked on not just Eerie, but its companion publication CREEPY, and even the HEAVY METAL-inspired (read "rip-off") 1984 (later retitled 1994), yet the only member of the Warren family that I never was able to find much love for was VAMPIRELLA; excellent art notwithstanding, the main character's stories smacked too much of mainstream comics for my growing tastes (if I wanted super heroic soap opera, I had Marvel for that, thank you very much), although the unrelated backup stories were frequently incredible. Featuring art by mostly South American talent, these books boasted visuals of such a high standard that there is perhaps no equal to the Warren talent roster other than that which spawned the classic E.C. line in the early 1950's; in fact several alumni of the E.C. years would go on to contribute to the Warren line (Alex Toth, Reed Crandall and Frank Frazetta spring instantly to mind).

The writers also had a scabrous claw firmly wrapped around the throats of readers, regularly doling out heaping helpings of demons, man-made monsters, anti-social psycho killers, the dangers of time travel and anything else their evil little imaginations could vomit up. My personal favorite was (and still is) the disgracefully under-appreciated Bruce Jones; perhaps best known to comics readers for his terrific recent run on THE HULK, Jones's stories had intelligence and creepiness to burn, with a number of shock endings that would have had Rod Serling kicking himself for not coming up with anything even half as good. Looked at now, his stories haven't aged a day.

There are too many Warren stories and serials worth reading to attempt an in-depth analysis here, but the bottom line is that they raised my standards of expectation for horror in general; in fact, if I had to give Warren a motto it would be "If you're gonna go there, go there. Don't pussy around." That said, what follows is a list of the Warren tales that will stay with me until the day I give up the ghost. You can't go wrong with any of these, and they are well worth the sometimes-steep back issue prices.

"Pinball Wizard" (CREEPY #66, November 1974)- from writer Doug Moench (of MASTER OF KUNG FU fame) and Richard Corben, this is the story of nice old man who runs the neighborhood malt shop, but he is constantly harassed by mob thugs who rough him up for protection money. When the thugs kill the kindly old duffer, a pinball-loving young boy takes matters into his own hands, proving that you'd better be nice to kids (and those they love) because you never know what kind of powers are at their disposal...

"Thrillkill" (CREEPY #75, November 1975)-writer Jim Stenstrum and artist Neal Adams team up for what is considered by many to be the single finest hour for the Warren stories. A horror story of an all-too-human nature, this chronicles a sniper with a hunting rifle who perches atop a building and starts picking off random innocent passersby. While shocking carnage is depicted in ultra-realistic detail, the script relates what leads up to the bloodbath and its shattering in-the-moment terror.

Neal Adams at the top of his game, and that's saying something!

It sounds pretty sparse, but this is hardcore stuff with an excellent script and is one of the highlights of Adams's already impressive career. Simply put, this is one of the best stories ever printed in the comics medium and if created in the post-Columbine environment it would probably never see print.

"The Super-Abnormal Phenomena Survival Kit" (CREEPY #79, May 1976)- when the Warren crew did humor it was usually pretty funny, but this entry stands out head and shoulders above their other comedic efforts. Written by Jim Stenstrum and lushly illustrated by E.C. alum John Severin, this is pretty much an eight-page ad for a kit that contains everything you'd ever need to hand any supernatural threat its ass. The framing device involves a family holed up in their house as every kind of monstrous bugaboo imaginable lays waste to the neighborhood (in a laugh-out-loud panel that depicts among other things a giant ape crushing a car, assorted nasties happily rampaging and a bunch of monsters roasting some poor bastard on a spit at the start of the walkway).

Fortunately their son had the presence of mind to order the aforementioned kit, which is handed over by a one-eyed, tentacled horror that matter-of-factly states, "We just ate your mailman, kid." Once Junior has the kit, we are treated to a crash course on monster slaying that will delight horror fans of all stripes.

"Harvey Was A Sharp Cookie" (CREEPY #83, October 1976)-my favorite Warren team was that of writer Bill DuBay and the finest illustrator ever to grace the b&w page: Jose Ortiz. Talented to an unfair degree, Ortiz's use of heavy black and command of visual storytelling was enough to nearly drive those who sought to imitate him to douse themselves with gasoline and spark up; underrated is not a strong enough term for the guy's work. Working in territory similar to "Pinball Wizard," "Harvey" tells of an amusement park owner's troubles with extortionists, and when they decide to send him a message by disfiguring his lovely daughter with a box-cutter horrific revenge is just around the corner. You'll never look at ground beef again without thinking of the finale of this story.

"Process of Elimination" (CREEPY #83, October 1976)- a Bruce Jones and Russ Heath tour de force about a man who meticulously murders his wife and children with a silenced pistol while wearing a look of overwhelming concern on his face. Why the wholesale slaughter of his loved ones?

Russ motherfucking Heath, baby. Bathe in the excellence.

When you get to the ending, you'll realize that he was doing them a favor that only someone who really loved them would have been capable of.

"In Deep" (CREEPY #83, October 1976)-gruesome and tense to the point of delirium, this is the infamous Bruce Jones/Richard Corben tale of a young couple stranded in the middle of the ocean, clinging for dear life to a safety float. Hope of rescue is bleak and the only sustenance between them is a bottle of ginger ale. And then the sharks arrive. Since the rest of any given issue of a Warren mag is in black and white, the color sections were usually reserved for the stories that would be most unsettling in color. Nowhere was that more evident than here, with Corben's fleshy hyper-realism allowed off of the leash for one of his most stunning works. Have a barf bag at the ready for the final panel.

"Orem Ain't Got No Head Cheese" (CREEPY #85, January 1977)-nothing warms the heart like a story of graphically depicted cannibalism, incest and a monster composed of rotting human offal. DuBay and Ortiz strike again, and the scene of two inbred hillbillies preparing and cleaning the corpses of freshly-killed city-slickers for the smoke house with the nonchalance of professional abattoir-workers is one of the watermarks of bad taste in comics and it totally roasted my mind when I read it at age eleven. Highly recommended!

"Night of the Jackass!" (EERIE #s 60, 63-65, 1974/1975)-Bruce Bezaire and Jose Ortiz put a terrifying spin on the whole Mister Hyde thing with Hyde 25(m), a drug that when administered into open wounds causes the user to develop super-human strength and endurance, lose all morality whatsoever and rape and kill with unholy abandon, a practice that comes to be known as "jackassing." Under the baleful influence of the serum, the disenfranchised poor of Victorian-era London would take over whole buildings full of people and work their way up, floor by floor, taking revenge upon the society that allowed them to live like vermin and since the drug proves fatal after 24 hours, the users face no repercussions from the law. A trio of heroes (including the female scientist who developed the serum) sets out to field-test a potential anti-serum, but they must throw themselves headlong into full-blown jackassings and fight hordes of super-human maniacs in order to see if the antidote works. The most appalling of these jackassings occurs in issue #64 with "The Children’s Hour," and depicts what happens when the Hyde serum falls into the hands of boys in an orphanage and they decide to check out what the big deal is. The reader must then suffer along with the heroes as they face the horror of child-monsters who commit atrocities such as gang raping their stern governess, stopping only due to the inconvenience of her unplanned expiration. Truly hellish, this would make one hardcore horror flick.

"Within You, Without You" (EERIE #s 77, 79, 87, 1976/1977)-Bruce Jones and Richard Corben provide the last word on time travel in this terrific three-parter.

To say more would spoil things, but the run-in with a T-Rex in chapter one is scarier than anything in JURASSIC PARK.

"You're A Big Girl Now" (EERIE # 81, February 1977)

Another classic from Bruce Jones and Richard Corben, this one puts Corben's talent for illustrating lush-figured beauties to very good use. It's the tragic story of beautiful young girl named Rachel who is a giantess in the most fantastic sense of the word: at birth she weighs upward of fifty pounds (the image of her dead, splay-legged mother with blood everywhere as the huge infant lays squalling near her is one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen) and by the time she reaches young womanhood she is a mercilessly exploited freak of around eighty feet in height. Like any young woman she longs for love, but finds none from the father who has hated her since birth and can't find romantic/physical love since there is no one else of a compatible size. Looking like a Jolly Green Giant-sized blonde surfer goddess in a cute yellow bikini, her only friends are a pair of humpbacked whales (who stick around because she keeps them free of barnacles) and the man who has acted as her biographer since her infancy, a man whom she develops an impossible crush on. This one is a real heartbreaker, and it only gets worse once it is determined that Rachel will never stop growing and that she will eventually break through the ionosphere, thus endangering the entire world. If ever there was a character that deserved a happy ending it was poor Rachel, but this is after all a Warren horror magazine...

"Rex Havoc and the Ass-Kickers of the Fantastic" (1984 #s 4-6, 9, 1978/1979)-from the twisted minds of Jim Stenstrum and Abel Laxamana sprung this hilarious series about a team of experts at handling paranormal threats. Operating under the staggeringly honest team name "the Ass-Kickers of the Fantastic" (complete with a team emblem of a boot print superimposed over a pair of butt-cheeks), our heroes are lead by Rex havoc, a fearless adventurer who somehow manages to run the crew despite suffering from serious brain damage wrought during an ambush by a golf club-wielding vampire.

Their globetrotting adventures pitted them against all manner of weirdness and it would be criminal of me to give away any of the details. Note: three of the four Rex Havoc stories were collected in Warren Presents #14 (November 1981) as "Rex Havoc and the Raiders of the Fantastic, so it might be easier to look for that.

"Yellow Heat" (VAMPIRELLA #58, March 1977)-this is without question the best backup story ever to run in Vampirella. This compelling Bruce Jones/Russ Heath tale of an African tribesman's trials against a lion in order to win a luscious young girl is rendered in pencils that verge on the photographic and may just be the finest work Heath ever produced (and that ain't hay, amigo!). The ending will shock the living hell out of you and once you read it try to put yourself in my place, reading this just shy of my twelfth birthday. When I finally found this again via eBay in 1999, I showed it to my co-workers in the DC Comics production department and they almost fudged their undies over how gorgeous it looks.

Every one of the books mentioned are well worth your hard-earned bucks and no serious comics fan can consider their collection worth its salt unless it has a strong showing from the Warren stable. Trust me on this one, get out there and start hunting!

Thursday, October 13, 2016


 "Come out, Morgan..."

Three years after a plague has transformed the human race into semi-intelligent pseudo-vampires, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) is apparently the last uninfected person on the planet. He spends his days patrolling his city and staking vampires when he finds them, disposing of the bodies by chucking them into a perpetually burning pit of corpses. His nights are marked by waves of the infected showing up at his garlic-festooned home, attempting to break in while eerily trying to entice him to come outside. The bleakness and solitude of his situation is taking its toll but things take a turn when Morgan finds companionship first from a dog and then from a woman (Franca Bettoia) who may be infected...

Disposing of the dead.

This Italian-American co-production is the first adaptation of Richard Matheson's classic novel, I AM LEGEND (1954), and much like later versions it really only takes what it needs from the source novel and lets the chips fall where they may. This version is closest to what Matheson's book was going for but it's still kind of a mediocre effort. The reason I bring it to your attention is for its very obvious stylistic influence upon George A. Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVNG DEAD (1968). The scenes where the vampires besiege Morgan's residence play like a dry run of Romero's zombies converging on the abandoned house that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD's ill-fated characters take refuge in. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is worth a look for completists but it's not essential viewing.

Poster from the original theatrical release.