March 15, 2018


John Hough’s 1982 horror oddity THE INCUBUS opens in typical slasher style, with bikini-clad babe Mandy and her boyfriend attacked by someone unseen as they putz around the beach. Though the boyfriend doesn’t survive the attack, Mandy does, albeit with a ruptured uterus, the terrible side effect of a rather brutal rape. New-in-town doctor Sam Cordell, a distant and troubled middle aged guy with a vivacious teenage daughter, can’t find a drop of semen in the victim. With Mandy currently comatose, the chances of finding the culprit are pretty slim.

Thankfully (unfortunately?), the rapes don’t end there. The next victim is found dead and ravaged, her uterus positively overflowing with what appears to be red semen. The savagery and excessive bodily fluids lead Sam and the local Sheriff to believe these attacks might be caused by a vicious gang of brutish men. But the real answer might be something much more fantastical. Across town, Tim, the teenage boyfriend of Sam’s daughter Jenny, is having nightmares of a woman trapped inside what appears to be a medieval torture dungeon, replete with numerous robed Inquisitors. Tim’s dreams seem to correspond with the attacks on the local women. Is this a psychic premonition or is Tim somehow connected to a dangerous, supernatural force leaving a trail of mutilated and violated corpses all across the little town of Galen?

THE INCUBUS is a real mixed bag of nuts, emphasis on the nuts. It’s one part murder mystery slasher and one part supernatural monster flick, all wrapped in a kind of plastic reality nightmare film that instantly calls to mind other better plastic reality nightmare films like THE SLAYER and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. To say that these individual narrative styles abrasively rub against each other is a bit of an understatement. It’s the slasher elements that most get in the way. There are simply too many POV shot-laden stalk and slash set pieces going on here. THE INCUBUS was based on a pulp novel by the prolific author Ray Russell and I imagine the film works better as a 100 plus page tome than a 90 minute film, if only because Russell didn’t have to factor in the amount of theater showings during his writing sessions.

The supernatural side of things is pushed way to the side in the film so Hough can squeeze as many slasher set pieces in as possible. As a result, once we finally learn what’s going on in this little town, the solution doesn’t quite hold up. Tim’s dreams really do have a connection to the rape/murder spree, though the quick three and a half sentence explanation just brings up more questions. At this point, I don’t think it’s spoiling anything (I mean, the film is called THE INCUBUS after all) to say that the culprit is an ancient, magical rape monster with a major backlog of red semen to purge. But why exactly is this beastie roaming the streets? We learn that the town already had a rash of unexplained rape/murders 30 years ago. Why is the Incubus back on the prowl? Why does it choose to take the form it chooses to take and what exactly is the solid, concrete link it has to Tim? 

None of this is ever really answered because the film doesn’t have any running time to spare. And those are far from the only unanswered questions. We learn that Sam’s age inappropriate girlfriend had died quite awhile back, possibly even murdered by Sam himself. As a result, Sam is a big bundle of aimless sexual yearning, a fact that is most obvious when he spies his 18 year old daughter naked in the bathroom. As Sam begins his investigation, he meets a local reporter named Laura who is the spitting image of his dead girlfriend. But why? In a film where nothing is really a coincidence, I would expect something to come from Sam’s sudden face-to-face with his dead girlfriend’s doppelganger yet nothing ever does. It’s like there’s a whole other movie lurking just below the surface that the film keeps hinting at, possibly as a way to sell more paperbacks.

That isn’t to say that what is on offer here is worthless. There’s a lot of fun to be had with THE INCUBUS. If you’re looking for a film that truly embraces its inner sleaze, you’ll probably be disappointed. It might be a film about violent rape/murders, but it rarely indulges in graphic bloodletting (well, apart from a half-decapitation with a shovel and a most unfortunate errant shotgun blast) instead focusing more on an upsetting tone, and a nice, oppressive atmosphere. The performances are actually quite good all around and that really helps the film stay firmly in the realm of believability, even as the narrative takes a turn for the loopy. It also boasts a remarkably great final scene, a real shocker that sends the film out on a high note.

THE INCUBUS is a film best watched at 50% cognitive power. There are plot holes and unexplained narrative developments galore, but as a piece of understated supernatural horror, it’s actually a decent little film. I just can’t help but think it would have been a better film had it ditched its fang toothed terror for a true blood slasher villain or vice versa. It’s positively jam packed with enough shit to fill three low budget, semi-obscure horror films from the early 80s. When the film is at its peak, the schizophrenia enhances the absurdity and, as a result, enhances the fun. But that aftertaste… When it’s all said and done, it’s what isn’t explained or explored that really sticks in the mind after the credits roll. I'm not sure that's what Hough was going for.

March 9, 2018


The slasher film wasn’t just dead by 1989, it was a rotting, festering corpse. What little creative energy was left in the sub-genre had long since abandoned camp grounds and high schools for plastic reality nightmare films. The slasher had been Xeroxed into the dirt, with years and years of rip-offs, retreads and lazy sequels leaving all but the most passionate slasher devotees longing for something new. To be honest, it’s quite astounding that the slasher film lasted as long as it did. After all, there’s only so many variations on “man in mask kills teenagers”.

Not that we went to see these films for their creativity. No, we went to see each new slasher for no other reason than we enjoyed the ride. It’s really no different than visiting the same amusement park each summer. We don’t go in expecting that our favorite roller coasters will have suddenly grown loops where once there were only slopes. We just really enjoy the familiar inclines and drops, loop the loops and rickety tracks. There’s a comfortable quality to slasher films, rooted in familiar formula and convention. Sameness, to many slasher fans, is a virtue.

I saw Michael O’Rourke’s 1989 slasher film MOONSTALKER a long time ago, way back in the days of video rental stores. Back then, I used to keep track of every movie I watched, even giving it an ‘X out of 10’ score. MOONSTALKER, to my 11 year old mind was a solid five stars out of 10. Clearly, 11 year old me was far less picky.

Had MOONSTALKER been released in, say, 1983, chances are the film would have fared much better. This inane tale of a recently escaped mental patient laying waste to a group of camp counselors-in-training has a kind of self aware quality to it, a trait that might have amounted to something back when slasher films were starting to really over saturate the market. But this film came out in 1989. As a result, all its attempts at self deprecation are for naught. Imagine someone tells a joke at a party, the room exploding in laughter. Then an hour later, someone else comes along and tells the exact same joke, only this time they stumble over the words and fumble with the punchline. That’s what MOONSTALKER feels like, a joke told an hour too late.

The fact that the film is a farce is apparent right from the start. A weekend warrior father, Harry, has dragged his family out of their cozy home for a weekend retreat in the middle of nowhere. It’s the dead of winter, all the trees surrounding their RV are barren and lifeless. It’s the anti-FRIDAY THE 13TH set-up. There will be no bikinis in this film. A car arrives towing a camper. The man driving the car is named Pop, an old timer with an ax in the trunk. After night falls, the family sits down with Pop by the fire, trading stories and whatnot. The old man is fascinated by the microwave inside Harry’s luxury RV.

But that microwave is nowhere near as interesting as what Pop is hiding away inside his camper. Turns out, Pop isn’t some harmless old coot. No, he’s currently hiding his son, a recently escaped nut bag, in his camper. He unleashes Bernie, the least threatening name ever for a would-be franchise slasher movie villain, on the family and watches with glee as his son makes short work of them. Just one problem… Pop has a massive heart attack from the strain of lifting that glorious microwave. Now there’s nothing stopping Bernie from killing his way across the county.

Bernie’s first victim is a Stetson wearing pretty boy on his way to a training seminar for camp counselors. The maniac ditches his hilarious gimp/straight jacket get up (see above) for his victim’s fashionable ensemble. Decked out in sunglasses and flannel, and sporting a wicked mullet, Bernie sets his sights on the seminar, chopping through the attendees – including a fatigue-clad hard ass and his dominatrix girlfriend, a slightly rapey nerd named Bob, and Final Girl Debbie – with… well, I wouldn't say ‘with ease’ or ‘with ruthless efficiency’ because, uhh...

MOONSTALKER is terrible. A lot of what makes the movie so intolerable is the cheapness of the production. The Wilderness Counselor’s Training Program our characters are attending? It’s just four tents in a small clearing in the woods. There isn’t a single daytime shot in the entire film, an observation which leads me to believe that either the filmmakers shot this nonsense in someone’s back yard or that they couldn’t afford a shooting permit. Because they couldn’t afford a more lavish, open setting, some of the events in the film make no sense. I mean, I might be able to overlook the fact that no one hears a scream coming from five feet away (in a murder scene lifted straight from FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART V: A NEW BEGINNING), but I really, truly cannot overlook the fact that no one hears a GUNSHOT coming from five feet away.

With no money to actually stage proper scenes, O’Rourke spends most of his time following Bernie around the camp, watching as he peers into tents, walks into a nearby cabin, stumbles around in the dark (because he’s wearing goddamn sunglasses), and does nothing much of interest. Characters sit in their tents or engage in nudity-free showers and/or fully clothed sex scenes. There’s a bit of a budding romance between glamour boy Ron and Final Girl Debbie, and though the film handles that stuff surprisingly well, it amounts to absolutely nothing as Ron is unceremoniously bumped off like your bog standard red shirted ensign.

The ending is really the only interesting part of the film. It takes 83 minutes before a single memorable murder scene takes place (just so you’re aware of the pacing issues, the oddly specific camp fire story that acts as both foreshadowing and exposition takes place at the goddamn 54 minute mark), but from that point on, MOONSTALKER becomes good fun, if only because Debbie accidentally murders every police officer she comes across. But really, Dear Reader, we’re talking about nine good minutes of a 92 minute film. The preceding 83 minutes are a long, difficult slog.

MOONSTALKER contains all the essentials. A psychopath with an ax? CHECK! A gaggle of camp counselors to stalk and murder? CHECK! A few limbs being forcibly sliced off with a variety of sharp instruments? CHECK! A piano soundtrack that clearly rips off HALLOWEEN? CHECK! Musical stingers pulled straight from THE SHINING, another movie about a psycho with an ax threatening the lives of people in a snowy place located in the middle of nowhere? CHECK!

All the usual suspects are present and accounted for, but virtually everything in MOONSTALKER is mishandled and tired. It’s too cheap, too derivative, too stale, too little and too late. A bad movie isn’t made better by including many direct references to other, better movies. It just makes you wonder why you’re spending time slurping down shit when you could be sipping champagne.

February 23, 2018


The warning bells began ringing right from the start. The first sound I heard was an upbeat, jazzy brass arrangement. Over an empty black screen, a 36 second long bit of old-timey voice-over narration told me all about glorious Hollywood and the promise of stardom. When the credits finally arrived, they were presented in the style of silent film intertitles and contained names like Alan Hale, Cameron Mitchell, Aldo Ray and Dan Haggerty. “Oh no”, I thought to myself, “this isn’t going to be a low budget attempt at a period piece, is it?”. Thankfully, the answer was no.

A montage of silent film footage and 1920s movie ephemera gives way to the modern day. Alan Hale shares a few words with a real estate agent. They are at the home of Lance Hayward, a 1920s matinee idol whose career was sunk by the arrival of the talkies. Hayward went missing shortly after that, abandoning fame and film for parts unknown. Many believed him to be dead, but as we’ll soon find out, Hayward is still very much alive and kicking. Hale wanders off camera, his paycheck earned for the day, leaving our real estate agent all alone. He winds up being drawn and quartered with his own car. When his partner, played by good old Grizzly Adams, arrives late, he’s quickly dispatched with a spear to the gut.

We then move on to our requisite gaggle of college aged nincompoops, including Final Girl Kathy and awkward film nerd Chip. Seeing as the old Hayward Estate is scheduled for destruction, our group decides to give it a proper send off. They sneak into the property, eventually running afoul of a muscle-bound biker and his floozy girlfriend. Arguments erupt and fists are thrown. But they all have something much more important to worry about. Hayward is bumping them off one by one, the manner of execution changing with each vintage costume he puts on.

Nick Marino’s BLOODY MOVIE (a title so generic that I’m shocked it had not been used a dozen times by 1987) sounds like a comedy, doesn’t it? Like some giggle worthy rip off Vernon Zimmerman’s 1980 slasher FADE TO BLACK, another film about a serial murderer whose methods change depending on which Golden Age of Hollywood character he’s currently dressed up as. I mean, a movie featuring a killer in his 90s would be played for laughs, right? Well, no, BLOODY MOVIE isn’t a comedic film, at least not intentionally.

I think we’re supposed to take all of this seriously. I think we’re supposed to be frightened by a nonagenarian maniac. I think we’re supposed to be on the edge of our seats as the killer inches ever closer to victims who, for some reason, never try to run away. I think we’re really meant to buy into all of this, as if there ever existed in 1987 a group of college kids who actually enjoyed watching silent movies and knew all about the dangers of aged nitrate film reels (and I really do have to wonder if this movie didn’t play some small part in Tarantino’s writing process for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS).

Or maybe we’re just not meant to think at all as the film goes along. It’s certainly easy not to as Marino and Co. keep the deaths coming at a steady pace. While cheap, some of the effects work is rather good, especially the aforementioned bisection via car and a gnarly, mid-film decapitation. The presence of ex-porn actresses Michelle Bauer and Jamie Summers ensures the requisite nudity, and overall, the cast performs as well as you could expect with Z-grade material. If you just switch your brain off, you might actually be able to get through BLOODY MOVIE without punching yourself in the face.

Unfortunately for yours truly, I simply couldn’t get into the groove with this film, largely because of some horrible directing and editing choices. Each murder is preceded by a clip show from various silent movies (used here in such a manner that I’m surprised Marino and Co. weren’t sued into oblivion) and ridiculous montages of movie posters and stills. I get it. It’s a gag, not much different from the Gore Gong and Hooter Honk gags in CEMETERY HIGH, but dude… It seriously kills the pacing here. Not only do we get these montages before the start of the set piece, we return to them during the set piece. It kills the momentum and it strangles every ounce of possible tension out of these scenes. Why not just show the characters wandering through the Hayward Estate, stopping to look at a series of movie posters? Look, here Hayward played a pirate. Here he played an archer. Here he played a warrior. Audiences would connect those dots. But no, time and time again, Marino kills the pacing of his own film for the sake of boring montage.

But it's the final 20 minutes that really sink the ship. Instead of playing it straight with their audience, Marino and his writing team decide to go full-on supernatural, ditching the already weak motive for the killings (which boiled down to “they didn’t like my voice”) for an even more ridiculous motive. Turns out, Hayward is a Satanist striving for immortality, lashing out at the world because… well… they didn’t let him play Othello or some shit. I’m not really sure. All I know is watching a slasher movie villain (in light black face, no less!) manhandle the Final Girl while poorly performing Shakespeare is really not a satisfying or thematically appropriate conclusion.

In summary, BLOODY MOVIE is definitely a bloody movie. Michelle Bauer takes her clothes off, we learn a valuable lesson or two about film stock and the advent of sound, get to spend three whole minutes with the great Cameron Mitchell, and the entire shebang ends with someone being aggressively kissed to death. Viva la Cinema.