Tag Archives: horror movies

From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter

From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter

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Today’s feature is the concluding entry into the From Dusk Till Dawn trilogy: From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter.

From Dusk Till Dawn 3 was co-written by original From Dusk Till Dawn director Robert Rodriguez with his cousin Alvaro Rodriguez, who has served as a writer on the From Dusk Till Dawn television series and Machete.

The Hangman’s Daughter was directed by P. J. Pesce, who also helmed Smokin’ Aces 2, Lost Boys: The Tribe, and worked on television shows like Tremors, Fringe, and Supernatural.

The cinematographer for From Dusk Till Dawn 3 was Michael Bonvillain, who also shot the films Zombieland and American Ultra.

The editor on the film was Lawrence A. Maddox, who has worked extensively on the television shows Raising Hope and Life on Mars, and also cut the film American Kickboxer 2.

The musical score for From Dusk Till Dawn 3 was provided by Nathan Barr, who also did the music for Beerfest, True Blood, Club Dread, Hostel, and Hemlock Grove.

hangman3The team of producers for The Hangman’s Daughter included original From Dusk Till Dawn director and co-writers Robert Rodriguez (The Faculty, Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained, Kill Bill), Meir Teper (Crazy In Alabama, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), Gianni Nunnari (The Departed, From Dusk Till Dawn), Michael Murphey (Dredd, Trick or Treat), Lawrence Bender (Intruder, Reservoir Dogs), and Elizabeth Avellan (The Faculty, Desperado).

The makeup effects work was provided by Howard Berger (The Black Cat, The Faculty, Maniac Cop 3), Michael Deak (Pick Me Up, From Beyond), Chiz Hasegawa (Tremors 4, Scream 2), Greg Nicotero (Intruder, DeepStar Six, From Beyond), Robert Kurtzman (It Follows), Melanie Tooker (Legion, Wishmaster), and Bill Hunt (District 9, Scream).

The special effects team for The Hangman’s Daughter included Andre G. Ellingson (Criminal Minds), Giuliano Fiumani (The Core, Waterworld), Chris Hanson (S. Darko, The Faculty), Albert Lannutti (Fright Night), Wayne Toth (The Faculty, Spawn), Janek Zabielski (The Mangler), and Eugene Botha (From Dusk Till Dawn 2).

The visual effects crew for the film was made up of Jim Carbonetti (Simon Sez, The Faculty), Scott Coulter (It’s Alive, Shark Attack 3, The Faculty), George Johnsen (Dogma, Foodfight), Laurel Klick (Wolfen, Bordello of Blood, Mortal Kombat), Greg Nelson (The Faculty, Torque), Patrick Perez (Speed Racer, Stealth), and Jeremy Yates (Simon Sez).

The cast of From Dusk Till Dawn 3 was made up of Michael Parks (Tusk, Red State, Django Unchained), Danny Trejo (Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, Breaking Wind, Anaconda), Marco Leonardi (Cinema Paradiso), Temuera Morrison (Speed 2: Cruise Control), Rebecca Gayheart (Urban Legend), and Orlando Jones (MADtv, Evolution).

hangman4The name of the film, The Hangman’s Daughter, is taken from a short story written by the real author Ambrose Bierce, who is fictitiously portrayed as a lead character in the movie.

Much like From Dusk Till Dawn 2, From Dusk Till Dawn 3 released straight to video, and was similarly poorly received. It currently holds a 4.8 rating on IMDb. which is still very low, but is notably better than From Dusk Till Dawn 2‘s 4.0.

Michael Parks is fantastic, as he always seems to be. the movie vastly improves whenever his character is on screen. However, he typically appears in conjunction with a couple of bible salesmen, who are a bit excessively cartoonish in the first section of the movie.

The Hangman’s Daughter has a pretty interesting story before the vampires pop up, which is a big improvement over the second movie. The characters (for the most part) are compelling and given some degree of depth, including even the bible salesmen couple as the movie goes on.

hangman1I personally like that the setting of the movie is in the past, rather than another story set in the present day. The lack of the familiar “Titty Twister” bar makes it feel more like a departure from the first movie, which I think is a good thing in this case to keep things fresh.

As was the case with Texas Blood Money, The Hangman’s Daughter definitely looks notably cheaper than the first From Dusk Till Dawn, but I found that the gore and makeup looked much better here than in Texas Blood Money, which relied a bit too much on visual effects rather than practical ones.

A handful of decisions that are made throughout the movie are thoroughly confusing to me, like the clairvoyant inebriation of Ambrose Bierce, the sepia dance sequence that comes on without precedence, and the really disappointing conclusion. However, I think there were far more good things going on in this movie than bad, which is more than I anticipated from the film. I would go so far as to say that this movie is a pretty decent sequel for From Dusk Till Dawn, when you take the budget differential into account.

Overall, I think The Hangman’s Daughter is definitely worth checking out for fans of the first movie, or for anyone who enjoyed Michael Parks’s recent work in Kevin Smith’s Red State and Tusk. He is definitely the primary draw here, though there are plenty of other positive things to enjoy in the movie. It isn’t great by any means, but it is serviceable for what it is.

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money

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Today’s feature is the reviled straight-to-video sequel, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money.

From Dusk Till Dawn 2 was directed and co-written by Scott Spiegel, who was also behind the cult classic slasher flick, Intruder. His co-writers on the film were Boaz Yakin (The Punisher, Prince of Persia) and actor Duane Whitaker (Hobgoblins, Pulp Fiction).

The cinematographer for Texas Blood Money was Philip Lee, who provided camera work on such films as Best Seller, Hoosiers, and Jurassic Park III, and was cinematographer for the horror flick Route 666.

The editor for the film was Bob Murawski, who also cut the films Gone With The Pope, Army of Darkness, The Hurt Locker, and Drag Me To Hell, among others.

The musical score for From Dusk Till Dawn 2 was composed by Joseph Williams, who also provided music for The War At Home, Roswell, and Windfall.

The team of producers for Texas Blood Money included original From Dusk Till Dawn director and co-writers Robert Rodriguez (The Faculty, Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained, Kill Bill), Meir Teper (Crazy In Alabama, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), Gianni Nunnari (The Departed, From Dusk Till Dawn), Michael Murphey (Dredd, Trick or Treat), Russell Markowitz (Wishmaster, Suicide Kings), Lawrence Bender (Intruder, Reservoir Dogs), and Elizabeth Avellan (The Faculty, Desperado).

The makeup effects crew for From Dusk Till Dawn 2 included Greg Nicotero (The Faculty, Scream, Maniac Cop 3), Chiz Hasegawa (Tremors 4, Scream 2), Howard Berger (Trancers, Intruder, Troll, Ghoulies), Kamar Bitar (Sin City, The Cell), Michael Deak (Pick Me Up, Demonic Toys, Arena, From Beyond, The Dentist), and Robert Kurtzman (It Follows, Intruder, The Faculty, Vampires, DeepStar Six).

fromdusktillsawntwo2The special effects for the film were provided by Mark Byers (Leprechaun 3, Epic Movie), Jason Collins (Firefly, Ghosts of Mars), Steven Ficke (Cellular, Snake Eyes), Chris Hanson (S. Darko, Vampires), Scott Kodrik (The Faculty, Mortal Kombat), Antony Stone (Jungleground), and Janek Zabielski (The Mangler, From Dusk Till Dawn 3).

The visual effects work for Texas Blood Money was done in part by Jamison Goei (Whiplash, Dracula 2000), Phillip Giles (The Prophecy, Guardians of the Galaxy), Gina Di Bari (Red Planet, Wishmaster), Dave Gregory (Contact, Poison Ivy), Eugene Jeong (Watchmen), Shant Jordan (Bats, Street Fighter), Laurel Klick (Wolfen, Mortal Kombat), and Patrick Perez (Stealth, 2012).

The cast for the film was made up of Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, The Faculty), Bo Hopkins (Midnight Express), Brett Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt), Raymond Cruz (Breaking Bad), Danny Trejo (Machete, Desperado, Anaconda, Breaking Wind), James Parks (Red State, Death Proof), and Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2).

fromdusktillsawntwo3Texas Blood Money was the second of three original movies in the From Dusk Till Dawn franchise, followed closely by The Hangman’s Daughter. The property has since been rebooted as a television series that started in 2014 on Robert Rodriguez’s El Ray network.

From Dusk Till Dawn 2 was reportedly made on a budget of $5 million, but ultimately went straight to video with no theatrical release. Reviews of the movie were overwhelmingly negative, raking in a 4.0 rating on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 9% from critics and 20% from general audiences.

Texas Blood Money is very slow to get started, which isn’t helped by the fact that the criminal set up in the first half isn’t nearly as compelling as the one from the original From Dusk Till Dawn. Even when the action does get going, it isn’t shot or paced particularly well, making the whole film feel much longer than it actually is.

The significant budget constraints on the production mean that the sets and effects look visibly much cheaper than the original film, but they don’t look awful for what they had to work with. The most distracting thing I noticed were the bats, which look really terrible depending on the scene. For instance, in the Psycho-esque shower scene, which is filmed in close confines, the bat looks nothing short of comical. However, in outdoor sequences, it doesn’t look nearly as bad.

fromdusktillsawntwo1A lot of the shots in Texas Blood Money strike me as if the director and cinematographer were trying a bit too hard to be original and artistic, which is sort of a unique problem for a horror movie. The problem is that many of the shots are distracting, and draw the audience’s eye away from the action. For instance, there are a few shots that are done from various obscured points of view, which while interesting, don’t serve much of a purpose. At worst, they are jarring enough to pull the audience out of an otherwise tense scene.

Overall, Texas Blood Money is disappointingly dull above all else. If there is anything that can be said of the original From Dusk Till Dawn, it is that it certainly wasn’t boring. Texas Blood Money totally missed that sense of fun that was captured so well with the original film, which turns it into a bit of a slog. Unless you are a die hard fan of the first movie, there’s not enough here to even justify a casual glance.

Brainscan

Brainscan

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Today’s feature is Brainscan, a 1994 horror film about a killer video game.

Brainscan was written by the combination of Brian Owens (Happy Hell Night) and Andrew Kevin Walker, who is best known for the notable films Sleepy Hollow, 8MM, and Se7en.

The director on Brainscan was John Flynn, who was also behind the movies Best Seller, Out For Justice, and Lock Up, among others.

The cinematographer for the film was Francois Protat, who most famously shot the sci-fi film Johnny Mnemonic and the morbid comedy Weekend at Bernie’s,

Brainscan had two credited editors: Jay Cassidy, known for cutting films like Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Foxcatcher, and Fright Night Part 2, and Phillip Linson Deadfall, who worked on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Tombstone.

The team of producers on the film included Bob Hayward (Step Up, Step Up 2: The Streets), Joe Nicolo (Shade, Tooth and Nail), Michel Roy (Loaded Weapon I), and Jeffrey Sudzin (Idle Hands, Fright Night Part 2, Hamburger: The Motion Picture).

The musical score for Brainscan was composed by George S. Clinton, who also provided music for such films as The Love Guru, Austin Powers, Mortal Kombat, Beverly Hills Ninja, American Ninja 2, and American Ninja 3.

The special effects team for the film included Evan Brainard (Mortal Kombat, Space Truckers), Gary Coates (Trailer Park Boys, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ryal Cosgrove (Scanners II), Jacques Godbout (Scanners, Vigilante), and Steve Wright (Eastern Promises, The World’s End).

The makeup effects were provided by a unit that was made up by Steve Johnson (Dead Heat, Species, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Videodrome, Humanoids From The Deep, Suburban Commando, Leviathan), Adrien Morot (Death Race, Battlefield Earth), Joel Harlow (Battlefield Earth, Suburban Commando, The Langoliers), Loren Gitthens (Darkman, Fright Night Part 2), Joe Fordham (Evolver, Species II), Norman Cabrera (Wolf, Spawn, The Cell), and Mike Smithson (Dollman, Dead Heat, Teen Wolf Too).

The visual effects on Brainscan were done in part by Art Durinski (TRON), Lisa Foster (Wolf, Virtuosity), Aristomenis Tsirbas (Titanic, Star Trek: Enterprise), Teddy Yang (Shark Tale, Mission To Mars), Cosmas Bolger Jr. (Swordfish, Red Planet, The Core, Club Dread), Chris Casady (Tank Girl, Children of the Corn II), Lisa Adamson (Wolf), Michael Rivero (Stargate, Coneheads), Karen Skouras (From Dusk Till Dawn, Tank Girl), and Steve Wright (Superman III, Blade: Trinity).

The cast of Brainscan was made up of Edward Furlong (American History X, Terminator 2), Frank Langella (Masters of the Universe, Small Soldiers, The Ninth Gate, The Twelve Chairs), T. Ryder Smith (The Venture Brothers), Amy Hargreaves (Homeland), and Jamie Marsh (Evolver).

brainscan4Reportedly, Edward Furlong and director John Flynn didn’t get along throughout the production of the film. Furlong was apparently in the midst of his teenage rebellious phase, and was under-performing his role on top of that (in the opinion of Flynn).

Brainscan managed to pull in a $4.3 million gross in its total theatrical run, but I wasn’t able to dig up any budget information. My guess is that it was profitable on what was likely a low budget, but not enough so to justify a sequel.

The reception to the movie was mixed. Critics landed on the negative end of the spectrum from what I have seen, giving it a metascore of 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, on the other hand, have been a good deal kinder, earning it a 6.1 on IMDb and a 61% Rotten Tomatoes audience score.

Furlong’s lead character is introduced to the audience as a voyeur, spying on the girl who lives across the street from him with an advanced camera and computer system. This doesn’t seem to be played by the film as intentionally creepy, and comes off more as a way to establish that he is a socially inept geek. That really started me off on the wrong foot with both the character and the movie in general, because that kind of behavior is pretty blatantly creepy and wrong, and doesn’t inspire any positive feelings from me.

The background of the movie features a lot of pseudo-advanced technology, like a voice-activated personal computer and what seems to be a form of online telephone system. While these are very much real things now, they were pretty far off in 1994. I’m not sure if these are more examples of a cheesy misunderstanding of contemporaneous technology on the part of the production or surprisingly successful futurism by the writing, but either way they are pretty entertaining to see.

brainscan3Brainscan has a pretty serious case of tone confusion if you ask me. The first few minutes build up a surreal and uneasy-feeling setting, which are followed by some impressive gore effects and menacing sequences. However, it turns a bit jokey and lighthearted at times, thanks to the excessively flamboyant villain (which I assume was designed with Freddy Kruger in mind) and some mostly unnecessary gags. What comes out isn’t quite a dark comedy, as much as it is a straight horror movie with poorly integrated humor that mixes like oil and water.

That said, the makeup effects are effectively bizarre, and not just in terms of gore. The Trickster, the Freddy-esque villian, has some of the most ridiculous hair I have ever seen outside of a 1980s music video, and is heavily made up to look vaguely inhuman. The computer generated visual effects, however, have aged very poorly, making the climax sequence almost laugh-out-loud hilariously dated.

brainscan2Overall, Brainscan isn’t an awful horror movie, and does showcase some interesting ideas here and there. However, the execution leaves a bit to be desired, like the idea wasn’t quite percolated on long enough. The practical effects generally do look good though, making it easy enough to watch, but the writing and acting aren’t quite on par. For horror fans, I think it is worth checking out. As a bad movie watch, it has enough cheesy moments, bad acting, and weird plot bits to make it worth digging up, though it definitely isn’t a top-tier choice for me. That said, the tail end of the movie showcases some memorably terrible visual effects that are bound to stick with you.

The Fog (1980)

The Fog (1980)

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Today’s feature is one of John Carpenter’s many cult classic films: 1980’s The Fog.

The Fog was co-written, directed, and scored by horror master John Carpenter as his follow-up to the smash hit Halloween, and was  co-written and produced by his frequent collaborator Debra Hill.

The cinematographer for the film was Dean Cundey, and accomplished shooter who has worked on such movies as Jurassic Park, Garfield, Flubber, Apollo 13, Hook, Road House, Back To The Future, Big Trouble In Little China, Halloween, Escape From New York, and many more.

The Fog featured work by two credited editors: production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween, It, Fright Night 2) and Charles Bornstein (Halloween, Critters 2, Howling 2, Return of the Living Dead 2).

The distinctive musical score for The Fog was provided by director John Carpenter, something he often did for films he was involved with.

The team of producers for the movie included co-writer Debra Hill, Pegi Brotman (The Philadelphia Experiment), and Barry Bernardi (The Punisher, Christine, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Pixels, The Devil’s Advocate, Click).

The special effects team for The Fog included Rob Bottin (The Thing, Fight Club, RoboCop, Legend, Piranha, RoboCop 3), Edward Ternes (Clue, Wonder Woman), Erica Ueland (Children of the Corn, Halloween), Richard Albain Jr. (Assault on Precinct 13, Malcolm in the Middle), and James Liles (1941, Logan’s Run).

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The cast for The Fog included Tom Atkins (Maniac Cop, Halloween III, Creepshow), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, Prom Night, Trading Places), Janet Leigh (Psycho, Touch of Evil, The Manchurian Candidate, Night of the Lepus), Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, Swamp Thing, Escape From New York), John Houseman (Rollerball, The Paper Chase), and Hal Holbrook (Capricorn One, Creepshow, Wall Street).

The Fog notably featured the mother and daughter acting combo of Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis, who have both had highly acclaimed acting careers. However, they only appeared in one other movie together: Halloween H20.

Special effects worker Rob Bottin plays the role of Blake, the lead ghost, in The Fog. He wound up being cast specifically because of his size after he expressed interest in taking an on-screen role in a John Carpenter movie. He would later famously head the effects team for John Carpenter’s memorable take on The Thing.

Director and co-writer John Carpenter was married to lead actress Adrienne Barbeau at the time The Fog was filmed, and the lead role was apparently written specifically for her from the outset. They divorced only a few years after the film’s release, in 1984.

In order the achieve the desired, surreal effect for the fog retreat sequences in the movie, the film had to be run backwards. This means that Adrienne Barbeau had to act in reverse for these sequences, a notable feat.

Reportedly, horror legend Christopher Lee was initially intended for Hal Holbrook’s character, but had a scheduling conflict that prevented him from taking it up.

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The Fog received a 2005 remake directed by Rupert Wainwright, but it was very poorly received by audiences and critics alike. Ultimately, it racked up an astonishing 4% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with an abysmal 3.6 rating on IMDb.

The Fog had a reported budget of just $1 million, and in total grossed over $21 million domestically in its theatrical run, making the movie significantly profitable.

While The Fog was not nearly as profitable or well loved by audiences or critics as Halloween, it is certainly a cult favorite for many. Currently, it holds a 6.8 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 69% from critics and 63% from audiences.

First and foremost, The Fog has an excellently constructed, creepy atmosphere, which is effectively emphasized by Carpenter’s eerie score. Personally, I think that the music is an improvement on Carpenter’s previous work on Halloween, though that is a point that is certainly up for debate.

With the ghostly sequences, Carpenter makes very interesting use of light in conjunction with the eponymous fog, creating a lot of back-lighting, imposing shadows, and halo effects over the monsters. The obscured vision also keeps the tension high, as both the audience and the characters are never quite sure where in the fog the monsters are.

In his review, Roger Ebert pointed out a significant issue with The Fog: that “it needs a better villain”.

The problem is with the fog. It must have seemed like an inspired idea to make a horror movie in which clouds of fog would be the menace, but the idea just doesn’t work out in “The Fog,” …The movie’s made with style and energy, but it needs a better villain.

In general, I agree with this overall sentiment. Horror movies are almost always defined by the threat, and while the image of “The Fog” itself is menacing, the figures within it just aren’t quite scary or imposing enough. The fog effects certainly allow for a lot of horror ambiance, but it doesn’t feel to me like it ever really pays off.  The story is a bit too slowly paced to begin with, which certainly doesn’t help with the lack of viewer satisfaction, particularly in the minds of 1980 theater audiences expecting to see another Halloween.

Overall, The Fog is a solid atmospheric horror movie that has been perhaps unjustly buried in John Carpenter’s body of work. It may not be his best film (or even one of his best films), but it is fantastic on its own, assuming you can divorce it from the reputations of its predecessors and descendants in the Carpenter filmography. If you dig horror movies, you certainly owe it to yourself to give it a watch.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Pick Me Up”

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up

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Today, I’m going to be taking another stroll through the career of writer/director Larry Cohen with the “Masters of Horror” feature, “Pick Me Up.”

“Pick Me Up” was directed by Larry Cohen for the television show “Masters of Horror,” which showcased original work by some of the most famed figures in horror film history. I have already covered two episodes of the series directed by Stuart Gordon: “The Black Cat” and “Dreams In The Witch House.”

“Pick Me Up” was written by David J. Schow, who penned such horror flicks as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre III,” “Critters 3,” “Critters 4,” and “The Crow.”

“Pick Me Up” was edited by Marshall Harvey, a veteran horror editor and frequent Joe Dante collaborator who also cut “Lake Placid,” “Small Soldiers,” and “Matinee” (among many others).

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The cinematographer on “Pick Me Up” was Brian Pearson, who also shot the more recent horror flicks “American Mary,” “The Butterfly Effect 2,” and “Into the Storm.”

The makeup effects team for “Pick Me Up” included Mike Fields (“Dreams In The Witch House,” “The Black Cat”), Sarah Graham (“The Cabin In The Woods,” “Supernatural”), Margaret Solomon (“Timecop,” “The Black Cat”), and Amanda McGowan (“Sucker Punch,” “Final Destination 5”).

The “Pick Me Up” special effects were done by the KNB EFX group, which has worked on “The Walking Dead,” “Maniac Cop 3,” “Army of Darkness,” “The Faculty,” and “Sin City” under the lead of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. The rest of the team included Scott Patton (“The Mangler”), Frank Rydberg (“Devil’s Advocate,” “Drag Me To Hell”), Andy Schoneberg (“Dead Heat”), Shannon Shea (“Leviathan”), Wayne Szybunka (“Lake Placid,” “Marmaduke”), Lindsay Vivian (“Sin City”), Grady Holder (“Lake Placid,” “Small Soldiers”), Robert Freitas (“Men In Black,” “Species”), and Michael Deak (“From Beyond,” “The Dentist”).

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The visual effects for “Pick Me Up” were done by a team that included Sebastien Bergeron (“Tucker & Dale vs. Evil”), Mladen Miholjcic (“Andromeda”), Lee Wilson (“The Fly,” “Videodrome”), and Stephen Paschke (“Watchmen”).

The music for “Pick Me Up” was composed by Jay Chattaway, who also did the scores for the Larry Cohen films “Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2,” and “The Ambulance.”

The cast for “Pick Me Up” features frequent Larry Cohen collaborator Michael Moriarty (“It’s Alive III,” “A Return to Salem’s Lot,” “Q,” “The Stuff”), along with Fairuza Balk (“Almost Famous,” “The Waterboy”), Warren Kole (“The Following”), Laurene Landon (“Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2”), Malcolm Kennard (“The Matrix Reloaded”), Crystal Lowe (“Insomnia”), and Paul Anthony (“Blade: Trinity”).

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Michael Moriarty does some improvised piano work during a sequence in “Pick Me Up,” much like he did in his audition scene in “Q: The Winged Serpent.”

The two dueling serial killers in “Pick Me Up” are named Walker and Wheeler, obviously coined after their modes of transportation: hitch-hiking and an 18-wheeler truck, respectively.

As far as highlights go, there is at least one highly memorable murder committed by Walker, in which he strangles a man with a dead snake. Apart from that, deaths are interestingly not emphasized, and a number happen off-screen. More attention is paid to suspense and the serial killers themselves rather than their actions, which I found pretty interesting.

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“Pick Me Up” features a number of tongue-in-cheek direct references to classic horror movies, including “Psycho” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” The flick also adopts major elements from both of those movies for the plot: the setting of a creepy, remote hotel (“Psycho”), and the presence of a killer hitch-hiker (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”).

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My biggest issue with “Pick Me Up” is surprisingly Michael Moriarty, who seemed more than a bit spaced out to me, like he might have been excessively drunk during the shoot. That might have just been part of the character, but I got the feeling from watching him that that wasn’t the case. Regardless, he is still a scene stealer and has his same quirky charm, but he isn’t on the top of his game.

Overall, “Pick Me Up” works with an interesting premise, and both the writing and directing is done with a clear affection for the genre. There are a couple of solid sequences, but I can’t help but feel that it could have been pulled off better. Compared to Stuart Gordon’s “Masters of Horror” episodes, Larry Cohen’s contribution here is a bit lacking. For fans of horror, it is worth checking out, but it is probably skippable for anyone else.

HorrorHound Weekend Film Fest Wrap

This past weekend, I sat through a whole bunch of movies and short films as part of the HorrorHound Weekend in Cincinnati. Here are my thoughts on the ones that I managed to catch.
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Dark Star

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“Dark Star” is an acclaimed documentary about H.R. Giger that just made it over to North America (I believe this was the US premiere). It is supremely well shot and scored, and provides a great showcase of his body of work. Unfortunately, Giger isn’t quite as cogent as he could be for the interview segments, as it was completed just before his death. I thought that this was one of the best overall features at the festival, and is worth giving a watch if you are interested in his dark bio-tech aesthetic, or if you are just a fan of the “Alien” franchise and want to know more about the visual designs.

Fritz The Nite Owl: Re-Animator

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I have already written about “Re-Animator,” and there isn’t really anything new to add. Fritz adds a nice flair of actor/director trivia in his host segments, and the team clearly had a blast splicing in his head over David Gale’s.

Tickle

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This was the first short I managed to catch at the festival. Basically, it is about a Babysitter trying to scare a child with a bedtime story, after which the story comes to life. The concept of a “tickle monster” troll was interesting enough, but the child acting was just distractingly atrocious. That is one of those things that I just particularly can’t stomach in films though, so I might be a bit negatively biased there. I liked the monster design, but I thought it got a bit too much exposure.

Headless

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Apparently, this is a spinoff from the movie “Found,” which I haven’t seen. Still, it is meant to stand on its own as an homage to classic exploitation movies, going so far as to include a concocted fake trailer at the beginning (“Wolf Baby”, which I honestly would rather have seen). In the story of “Found,” “Headless” is mentioned as the most horrifying and brutal movie of all time, and was ultimately banned across the board. This attempt to create that fictitious movie was not quite on point if you ask me. It is supposed to be filmed and set in 1978, but at no point does that seem genuinely believable. The film doesn’t look like an old exploitation movie in the shots or the film quality, outside of a handful of welcome homages to films like “Maniac” and the classic-style opening trailer. There just wasn’t enough attention to detail or effort put into the style for me to buy it for what it was supposed to be. It looks like a movie filmed in someone’s back yard in 2014 rather than a movie filmed in someone’s back yard in 1978, and that is a very big difference. That said, the effects are very well done, and there is plenty of gore to go around. Overall, though, I thought it was dull and highly repetitive, which arguably makes it a little too faithful to the exploitation genre. Even the excellent lead performance wasn’t enough to keep me invested into the climax.

Killing Poe

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“Killing Poe” is another film that I really liked out of the lineup, in what was a sneak peek showing. Essentially, it is an Edgar Allan Poe plot applied to a stoner comedy, if you can imagine such a thing. A group of students wind up enrolled in a class on Poe taught by an abrasive and eccentric professor, who they ultimately plot to frighten into changing his dastardly ways. The plan goes awry, leading to the professor’s death and some heavy drama for the students. My only big issue with the story is that it gets a little bogged-down in the guilt-driven drama before a really fantastic conclusion. The performances (particularly Rick Plastina as the professor) are spectacular, and the comedic writing throughout is well above par for your typical stoner comedy. I recommend giving this one a watch when it becomes available.

Howl of a Good Time

“Howl of a Good Time” has an interesting concept behind it (a child sneaking into an R-movie, and discovering a horrible secret), but I still feel a bit mixed about the execution. It is hard to get into without delving into spoilers, and the film definitely relies on the twist, but there is cooler idea behind the film than what ultimately shows up on screen. I did like the child actor in this one, which is a rarity, and I also appreciated that the reveals are made gradually. I wish I could watch it again, because I would like to get a second glance at the monster effects: my first impression was that they looked a bit off, but again, I’d love to get another pass on them. If you come across it, this is a short worth watching.

A Way Out

“A Way Out” isn’t really a horror short, unless you are a little creative with the boundaries of the genre. It is a suspenseful crime drama that features a really good performance from character actor Robert Costanzo, who plays an aging hitman looking for a way out of the world of crime. The entire story takes place inside a car (a damn nice looking one at that), providing an ideal bottle setting for a short. I was a little surprised that it didn’t win the prize for Best Short, because its quality really stood head and shoulders over the rest of the field of shorts (even “Painkiller” in my opinion, which won). This a spectacular little short from top to bottom, and is worth devoting some time to.

The Other Side

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“The Other Side” is a zombie movie with high aspirations and an interesting concept. Unfortunately, it has some absolutely fatal flaws. The ensemble of characters includes far too many plot threads, enough so that the story is drug down by them (and one gets dropped for easily half of the feature’s run time). There is also a whole lot of wandering around in the woods without a specific aim or destination, which is really dull and monotonous to watch after a while. There is at least one gratingly awful performance, and a lead character who is pretty much impossible to empathize with. There is a lot of emphasis on the human drama side of the story, which is just not written or acted well enough to carry the movie. That is all really a shame, because there is a perspective on the zombie feature in here that is really interesting and commendable. That said, it all falls apart if you actually put much thought into it, but some credit has to be given to trying new things with a tired genre.

Isabelle

This was the worst short I saw at the festival by a long shot. The best way I can describe it is as an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation of “Weekend at Bernie’s,” but without any elements of humor (“Weekend at Bernie’s 2?”). Nearly the entire story is told through awful voiceover in the mind of an unreliable narrator, who is desperately trying to revive his deceased girlfriend. Despite the heavy-handed melodramatic tone, there are a few odd moments of attempted humor (a guy offers to buy the corpse for $50, unprompted). The short just didn’t seem focused well enough, though there was certainly some potential hidden in it.

Bloodsucking Bastards

“Bloodsucking Bastards” was the highlight of the festival, and the movie I was most looking forward to going into it. Most have described it as “Office Space” meets “Shaun of the Dead,” but I don’t think that even quite nails it. The corporate satire is brutal, and the comedic dialogue is all expertly written and performed. Both “Office Space” and “Shaun of the Dead” are relatively dry in their humor, and “dry” is the last thing you can describe “Bloodsucking Bastards” as. It is a sneer and a sigh, with a ‘biting’ tone clearly pulled from begrudging experience in the corporate world. The gore is almost an afterthought, but it certainly isn’t half-assed: the excessive blood explosions are consistently comedic in their own right, giving the genre a justified elbow to the ribs. “Bloodsucking Bastards” is a little more rebellious and contentious in spirit than most horror comedies, which are typically born out of affection for the horror genre. This is a creature born of hate for and disenfranchisement with corporatism: and that gives it teeth. It is thoroughly enjoyable, to say the least.

Old 37

old37

“Old 37” has a very cool concept behind it: two brothers operate a fake ambulance, which they use to intercept 9-1-1 calls and abduct injured people for their nefarious purposes. Kane Hodder, best known as most of the later incarnations of Jason in the “Friday the 13th” franchise, plays one of the brothers, and brings his trademark menace to the role. There are some really solid shots throughout the movie, and the production design is thoroughly impressive. That said, there are some pretty serious issues with the movie. The story primarily focuses on some of the least likeable teenagers that a screenplay could possibly cook up: to the point that they don’t seem realistically human (particularly the women). Even characters that the audience members are supposed to be sympathetic to are beyond the scope of reality: the high school protagonist insists that she get a boob job half-way through the movie, to which there is no significant objection or monetary discussion. That seems particularly unbelievable for a rural, single-parent household. The love interest is even revealed to be a hit-and-run murderer, which quickly axes his likability. A vast majority of the film is spent with these teenager characters, which makes these character/writing issues stand out significantly. Worse, there isn’t a whole lot of time spent with the brothers who operate the “Old 37” ambulance. There are a number of flashbacks that set up a little bit of background for them, but not much outside of that. Honestly, their dynamic was far more interesting than what the teenagers were doing, and I wanted to see more of their emergency responding in action, if for no other reason than to at least get some time away from the high school drama.

The thing that stood out most to me about “Old 37” was the Alan Smithee directing credit, which is almost always a bad sign for a feature. I asked about it in the post-film Q+A (to some visible dismay). Apparently, as I kind of suspected, there was an irreconcilable difference in vision between the director and the rest of the team. The director was described as being about “art, art, art”, and the rest of the team favored “horror, horror, horror” and “blood, blood, blood.” The original director left before post-production, leaving that work in other hands.

For an Alan Smithee’d movie, “Old 37” isn’t too bad. There are some good performances, and there is a lot to like about the cinematography, production design, and the story concept. It is better than a lot of stuff you will see out there these days in the world of horror, but I still found it a bit lacking overall.

Painkiller

painkiller

“Painkiller” presents yet another very cool concept for a short. The story follows a couple of young, arguably obsessed scientists determined to create a more effective type of painkiller: a lab-created symbiotic organism. The organism is designed to feed off of pain (?), and then release endorphins into the body as a byproduct. When they finally test it, this proves to create a side-effect of intense masochism, because the positive byproduct is too strong. It is all pretty interesting until you put a little thought into it, at which point nothing makes sense. The scientists are supposedly experts, but go ahead with an experimental trial that could not be reversed, used in an official research capacity, or was even relevant for the purpose of the research (they tested it on a person not in chronic pain)? The mistakes they make are just impossible to fathom, and take a lot of suspension to believe. The ending is also disappointing, and could have gone in a much more intriguing direction. Still, it was a good short and an interesting watch.

Holocaust Cannibal

This was one of the more fascinating experiences of the festival. Not because of the movie itself, which was impossibly boring, offensive, vapid, and repetitive, but because the writer/director Bill Zebub was in attendance. I had seen one of his other films, “Antfarm Dickhole,” and knew what I was in for with this flick. However, most of the rest of the audience did not, and watching them exasperatedly trickle out of the theater was a real delight. A lot of people left before the 15 minute rambling Q+A was finished (which was held before the movie, because Bill Zebub rightfully predicted that most people would leave). Bill Zebub basically sets the standard for film-making incompetence, but seems to think he makes up for it with shock value. Outside of awful attempts at humor, some of the least convincing gore effects you will ever see, and acting that is beyond wooden, there is just nothing happening here. No joke, I think upwards of 70% of this movie was in slow motion. It was nearly impossible to watch: not because of the shock value, but because the film is “slow” in the sense of both the effects and the pacing.

What made the experience fascinating to me was the way Bill Zebub seemed to relish in it all. Somehow, having people walk out on him just inflated his ego all the more, and added gasoline to his fire. I’m not sure if this is all some kind of joke for him, or if he is genuinely just deluded on the level of Tommy Wiseau. Either way, it doesn’t change how unwatchable his films are. From what I have seen, nothing he has done is worth the time to sit through, and this one isn’t an exception.