December 22, 2017


The trailer for Ray Di Zazzo’s 1988 slasher shit sandwich HOLLOW GATE namechecks HALLOWEEN right out of the gate. It’s clear that this was Di Zazzo’s attempt at matching Carpenter’s classic for shocks and thrills, even going so far as to give us a young child wearing a clown costume who grows up to be a murderer. That young child is Mark. The boy is celebrating Halloween with a bunch of his friends at a nice party his parents have thrown for him. Unfortunately, Mark’s dad is a bit of a dick and the party comes crashing down when little Mark proves useless at bobbing for apples. Enraged at his son’s pitiful chompers, the dad holds Mark’s head underwater, nearly drowning him before storming off.

A decade later, the bitter sting of a lousy Halloween party has exploded into near universal hatred for Mark. It seems like everyone in town hates his guts. A horny sleazeball and his hot to trot squeeze stop off at Mark’s place of employment, a gas station in the middle of nowhere. After enduring some verbal abuse and humiliation, Mark rigs their car to explode, watching impassively as the jerk and his girlfriend are immolated in the middle of the street.

Two years later, Mark harasses and attacks a pretty grocery store clerk, leading to his arrest, psychological evaluation and eventual release (for some reason, the girl didn’t press charges and the state doesn’t want to spend money on his incarceration). His parents long dead, Mark is handed over to his grandmother, an elderly lady who lives alone in a large estate known as Hollow Gate. Granny turns out to be more than a little naive, letting Mark out of his room one night. For her troubles, Mark rams a pair of scissors into her eye.

We then meet four idiots. There’s Al, the Lewis Skolnick lookalike, and his frumpy girlfriend Kim. Along for the ride are Billy, an asshole, and Mandy, Billy’s arm candy. “How does it feel to be alcohol legal?”, Billy asks his friends as they make their way to a Halloween party. This is meant to inform us that our quartet of 30-somethings are all celebrating their 21st birthdays (I think…). Our hip kids stop off in the middle of the day for some “submarine sandwiches” and “alcohol legal suds”. After scarfing down their grub, Kim excitedly points out that there’s a costume store across the street. If I were Kim, I would be far more excited to learn that they’ve driven straight into some time distortion field as the insert shot of the costume store was taken in the middle of the night while just 10 minutes ago it was barely afternoon in the restaurant.

Kim finds a gaudy purple wig that she really wants but can’t afford. The 'hilariously' stereotypical gay store manager offers the quartet a trade. He will give Kim the wig if they agree to deliver a few boxes of Halloween costumes to Hollow Gate. They agree and off they go to the slaughter, unaware that Mark placed that order himself as a trap.

As you can tell, HOLLOW GATE is absolutely front loaded with narrative. It takes 40 minutes for the group to run into Mark, which is approximately halfway through the film. With such a small cast, the remaining 30+ minutes feels like an eternity as Mark clumsily stalks and kills our band of idiots one by one. Lifting it’s central gimmick from FADE TO BLACK, Mark dons a different costume for each killing, starting with a Vietnam soldier (which gives him plenty of opportunities to talk about “the gooks”) before moving on to a lawman, an aristocrat, and finally a doctor. Not exactly the most creative costumes they could have chosen.

Wait. What I meant to say is that these final 30+ minutes are filled with nail biting suspense. Just try not to sweat as our characters spend whole scenes huddled in the bushes. Try not to hyperventilate as our characters spend five whole minutes running across an empty field one by one. I dare you not to look away as our characters rush to start the engine of a golf cart, a vehicle which would do fuck all to bolster their chances of survival as they know full and damn well that the entire estate is surrounded by a seven foot high, electrified fence.

I am of course being completely sarcastic. There is nothing tense or suspenseful about this film. Pound for pound, HOLLOW GATE is one of the dullest slasher films around. I can’t quite tell if the film was meant to be a straight forward horror film or some bit of campy horror humor. Certainly the filmmakers were trying to be funny when Mark unleashes a pair of 'ravenous' golden retrievers on our heroes, right? There has to be a reason why Di Zazzo allowed his leading man to deliver his lines at such a fevered pitch that he appears far more unstable than the killer, right? The fact that all our characters, including a pair of coppers, talk about “submarine sandwiches” as if they’re the pinnacle of world class cuisine or that a character stands still as a maniac driving a thresher inches ever closer to her in an otherwise empty field… I mean, this is all a joke, right?


Well, if it is, it ain’t funny. It sure as shit isn’t scary either. What it is is a borderline homophobic, slightly racist, and catatonically dull mess of a movie with a half hour of worthwhile material stretched out to damn near 80 minutes. Hardcore lovers of unintentional camp might be able to squeeze some enjoyment out of HOLLOW GATE, but everyone else should just keep on driving.

Oh, and that purple wig that gets everyone killed? Kim never even wears it. Bitch.

December 14, 2017


A precocious, telekinetic boy gives birth to a bloodthirsty monster in CAMERON’S CLOSET, a woefully under seen 1988 gem from director Armand Mastroianni. Cameron lives alone with his father, a research scientist eager to test the limits of his son’s remarkable telekinetic (and psychic) powers. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the various tests and training have given birth to a new ability, image projection. Simply put, if Cameron focuses strong enough, he can cause thought to take form.

Cameron’s latest creation, as it were, turns out to be a manifestation of some Mayan demon, a particularly nasty ghoulie that hides inside Cameron’s bedroom closet. The demonic rampage kicks off early with the demon decapitating Cameron’s father in a FINAL DESTINATION-esque, “easily written off by the cops as an accident” kind of way. The boy is shuttled off to live with his estranged mother and her asshole live-in boyfriend. Things don’t end well for this particular asshole. He’s flung through Cameron’s bedroom window one night. When the cops find him, they discover that his eyes have been burned out.

LAPD detective Sam and attractive psychologist Dr. Haley are both assigned to the case. Cameron bonds with both for easily understandable reasons. Dr. Haley is more motherly than his own biological mother and Sam actually treats the boy like a child, not a burden or a science experiment. But as the film goes along, more and more people turn up dead, and Sam has to face a particularly horrible truth, that the only solution to the blood bath is the 10 year old boy that accidentally started it, a child that is barely able to comprehend his own abilities. There is however an alternative solution, one that involves the unfortunate death of a child...

Watching CAMERON’S CLOSET today, I was struck by how familiar the film felt. In a lot of ways, it feels like a Greatest Hits package. There are more than a few similarities between this film and CHILD’S PLAY. The interplay between Cameron and his father reminded me a bit of Tina’s interactions with Dr. Crews, although far less antagonistic. The epic finale takes place in an alternate dimension that reminded me quite a bit of the Labyrinth from HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II. All of these films, by the way, were released in 1988. So while it’s tempting to think that maybe Mastroianni and his writer, Gary Brandner, were just lifting scenes from other films, I find that somewhat difficult to believe. I guess there was just something in the water back in 1988.

The film also contains a few nods to POLTERGEIST and one major nod to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. At one point, Cameron comes under attack by “the Deceptor”, the evil psychic embodiment of Mayan maliciousness. The demon drags the child up his bedroom wall and across the ceiling, a feat I assume was accomplished using the same tricks Craven and Co. used for the death of Tina. Hell, the film even has it’s victim threatened by blades. In Tina’s case, it was the claws of Freddy Kruger. Here, Cameron is inches away from the spinning blades of his ceiling fan.

Aside from a cheap rubber masked monster, all of the effects in the film are really well done. Carlo Rambaldi’s imaginative moments help give the film a good bit of visual oomph. It’s a shame that the rest of the film looks incredibly cheap and flat, like it was a made for TV movie rather than a theatrical release. The climactic battle between Sam and a psychically projected zombie takes place in a foam rubber cave that is one fog machine away from being a Bert I. Gordon set. Most of the budget must have went to pulling off the spectacular death scenes and all the psychic shenanigans. 
But cheap looks aside, CAMERON’S CLOSET really is a lot of fun. It takes itself pretty damn seriously, eschewing campy horror for a more grounded, personal approach. The characters are well drawn and likable, the drama has both stakes and a satisfying conclusion, and the scares are executed perfectly (although I doubt this movie is going to give anyone over the age of 10 nightmares). Were it not for the Harry Manfredini score, I would have no major complaints at all. I mean, let’s be honest. Manfredini has really only written one score in his entire life and that’s the score to FRIDAY THE 13TH. He’s been reprising that shit ever since.

December 9, 2017


You’re probably not going to believe this, but SLASH DANCE is a terrible movie. It opens like a direct-to-video BLOOD AND BLACK LACE knock-off, all mannequins, ornate bric-a-brac and gelled lighting. We’re inside some rundown arts theater. Our only companion is a ditzy, big haired blonde here to audition for some kind of dance performance. As no one seems to be around, the blonde puts on her headphones, dancing alone on stage. Then suddenly, GASP! SHOCK!, a dark figure emerges from the shadows. A short POV stalking sequence ends with the blonde lying dead on the floor, her throat slashed with a hand saw.

We cut to a pretty redhead sunbathing on the beach. Her lounging is interrupted by a very gay man flashing his penis. After insulting the flasher enough to chase him off, the redhead packs up her things and leaves. We see her again later, this time approaching two beefy women about scoring some illegal steroids. They’re willing to sell if she’s willing to buy. Unfortunately for our would-be drug dealers, this redhead isn’t just a pretty face. She’s a cop. A cartoonish brawl ensues.

Later, our red haired copper, Tori, has a meeting with her politically ambitious asshole of a boss, Edison (played by B-movie regular John Henry Richardson). This is where we learn that the world at large only thinks of Tori as a life support system for a pair of tits. Never mind the fact that Tori once went undercover, busting a psychopathic, homicidal nudie photographer before he could kill even more women. A few of her nudes leaked out to the world, causing Edison some undue stress, killing her reputation in the process. “Her tits are too nice to be a cop”, Edison says after Tori storms out of his office.

Thankfully, Tori has a chance to prove herself once again. Another aspiring dancer has gone missing. Tori and her partner devise a covert operation that involves our intrepid ginger posing as a would-be performer. But will she be able to stop the mad slasher before he kills yet another girl?

The better question would be, did writer/director James Shyman have any interest whatsoever in making a slasher film? Because SLASH DANCE isn’t much of a slasher movie at all. It has the requisite elements, the pretty women, the masked killer, and a handful of red herrings that include a desperate-for-cash owner, his mentally challenged (and possibly insane) little brother, a flirtatious and demanding director, and the penis flashing pervert who just so happens to work at the theater. It’s all there. But Shyman decides that instead of diving down the slasher hole, he’s going to make an attempt at a character drama.

Tori has had a shit childhood. Her sister overdosed at a party. Her mother committed suicide shortly after. Tori became a cop to right the wrongs of the world and hopefully one day find the man responsible for supplying her sister with the drugs that took her life. At various points in the film, we hear voice over narration relaying all these troubling events. The film has us believe that the killings will somehow be connected to Tori’s past trauma and that by solving the mystery, she will achieve some kind of closure.
But nope. The killings have absolutely nothing to do with Tori. They don’t even have much to do with anyone else in the film. The killer has their own past trauma, one that we only learn about when the murderer suddenly makes his appearance with about six minutes left to go in the film. That's right, Tori doesn’t even solve the mystery. The killer just shows up, takes off their mask and vomits exposition for two solid minutes.

And that’s probably the single biggest issue I have with the movie. Tori does literally fuck all in terms of solid investigation. Shyman decides to play a little game of wish fulfillment with his leading lady. She’s looked down upon at work, treated like a slut or a sex object by virtually every man she has contact with. But with the exception of the nut job little brother, the men at the dance company treat her rather well. She even gets along with her fellow dancers. A romance brews between Tori and Rupert, the schlubby director. He thinks she’s lovely and talented. He wants to take her to New York. I imagine for someone as put upon as Tori, the positive attention must feel wonderful.

But this is a goddamn slasher film, not a corny romance about people finding love in a shoddy dance company. So why do we spend more time watching five women practice the same five dance steps over and over, and so little time watching people die in horrible ways? What’s the point of having an undercover cop if they’re not going to do any real police work? Shyman could have just written a movie about an aspiring dancer who just so happens to stumble into a dangerous situation. There wouldn’t have been so much wasted time.

SLASH DANCE is a film with a major identity crisis. It has several violent moments, including a suicide. It contains a whiff of the revenge flick. It has a premise that all but guarantees sexploitation thrills. And yet the violence is infrequent and tame, the revenge aspects are just left hanging without resolution, and the bevy of dancing beauties never once disrobe or show more than an ankle or an exposed shoulder. But they sure do talk a lot about boyfriends and love affairs and money woes and unfulfilled dreams and issues at work. And that’s a big, big problem.

The title SLASH DANCE promises cheese and giggles. A slasher film promises scares and flesh wounds. This film sorely lacks all of those things. It’s like sitting on the couch with your mom as she watches some Lifetime drivel, eagerly flipping over to the horror flick playing on another channel every time she leaves the room. You only get a few moments before you have to click back to the lame, uninteresting melodrama. It’s a frustrating, tiring experience.

December 6, 2017


Six substitute teachers college students head off into the woods for a weekend of fun at a rickety, unfurnished shack cozy, romantic getaway spot. As they sit around a campfire, one of the group tells the others all about the “berserkers”, Viking barbarians decked out in masks made from bear snouts. They were the meanest of the mean, barely sane if at all, giant beasts of men who would spill gallons of blood on the battlefields. This turns out to be a remarkably apt tale to tell because there just so happens to be a berserker roaming the woods. He’s already claimed two victims, a kind, elderly couple celebrating their anniversary. Or maybe it was just a large bear that tore poor old Homer and Edna to pieces. After all, why would a Viking warrior be wandering through a modern day forest?

If you’re at all interested in the answer to that question, by all means, give the film a watch. Just be prepared for disappointment. Jef Richard’s 1987 disaster BERSERKER is a slasher film with only four victims, two of whom are killed within the first five minutes. Instead of typical slasher fun, we’re given an odd bit of quasi-supernatural mystery thriller. Are the killings the result of a temperamental brown bear or is there really a berserker lurking in the woods? The resulting film feels like a GRIZZLY rip-off that was retconned into a slasher film just to make the project marketable. The answer to that question is “both”. We get an unhappy bear AND a man possessed by the spirit of a Viking warrior. One or the other would have sufficed.

We do get the requisite nudity and the juicy (albeit poorly executed) murder set pieces, but any slasher appeal the film might have had is lost amid all the bad pacing, horrible characters and overall sloppy filmmaking. The film contains a few pop rock songs, all of which are played in their entirety over montages of vaguely homoerotic tomfoolery (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Our lead character is an insufferable brat, a 30-something man-child who bitches and moans about every little thing. He pitches a fit when the cabin he wanted turns out to be unavailable. He blasts his boombox while his friends are trying to sleep simply because he happens to be bored. It’s amazing he has any friends to begin with. The fact that he survives the film is a major slap in the face.

You know it’s bad when the only real positive I can think of is that the film actually takes place at night. Sure, the production couldn’t afford furniture to place inside the supposed awesome cabin these folks are headed to. Sure, the production couldn’t properly stage the climatic bear vs berserker fight, opting to intercut real bear footage with a man in a loose fitting, utterly unconvincing bear mascot costume. But they didn’t use a single day-for-night shot in the entire film. Kudos for that.

The only two non-college aged (read: in their 30s) characters are a local police officer, played by an actor who looks a bit like Hal Holbrook and moves at 1/4th the speed of a normal human being, and Pappy, the woodsman and caretaker of the retreat. Pappy is played by George ‘Buck’ Flower, a veteran character actor who usually turns in a solid, memorable performance. Here, playing a Norwegian, Flower can barely muster a convincing accent, often sounding more like the Swedish Chef than a Norwegian immigrant. All of this should have accumulated in a minor camp classic. So why is this film not fun at all?

It’s because BERSERKER is poorly made and woefully underwritten. Leaving aside the opening murder of the elderly couple, there isn’t a single drop of blood spilled until the 40 minute mark. After two of the women are messily dispatched, our remaining characters spend 15 whole minutes wandering through the woods. It’s like the writers didn’t have enough material to work with or just couldn’t think of anything for these people to do. The first half is spent sitting around, bickering, making out, and shooting the shit. It’s excusable. After all, it’s all set up. But that set up has to pay off and here, it simply doesn’t. Just when the film feels like it’s about to take flight, it peters out completely and never recovers.

There’s no large scale chase, no fight with the killer berserker, no chasing off the bear with sticks and stone. Just walking, tripping, bitching, walking, yelling, tripping, walking… The final five minutes of the film involves the grand reveal, the big moment when we finally find out who is possessed by the spirit of a Viking madman. Even this feels half thought out and lazy, raising far more questions about the underlying mythology of the film than it can even begin to answer. It’s an unsatisfying conclusion to an unsatisfying film, something I never thought I would say about a slasher movie in which a half naked, killer Viking takes on a gigantic brown bear in claw-to-claw combat.

Also, the poster for the film looks an awful lot like the poster for PINK FLOYD: THE WALL, doesn’t it? Kinda makes me wish they would have thrown in some musical numbers while they were at it.

November 28, 2017


David Nelson’s 1982 slasher flick, DEATH SCREAMS (aka HOUSE OF DEATH), is a head scratcher of a movie. It begins in typical slasher style with an off-screen killer garroting a horny couple before dumping their bodies into a river. From there, the film moves into character development territory, drowning us in a sea of faces. Though there’s close to a dozen “teenagers” up for slaughter, we only really care about a handful of them, in particular the newly minted couple, Bob and Kathy, the elementary school baseball coach Neil, the large breasted tramp Ramona, and good girl Lily.

The teens spend the day at the town fair, playing games, eating snacks and smoking pot. Bob and Kathy share their first kiss. Neil finally asks Lily out on a date. They run into the angry teen-hating Sheriff Avery and his weirdo, mentally stunted son, Casey. After growing bored, the teens go their separate ways with plans to meet up later for a bonfire party and maybe a séance in the local graveyard. 

But their night quickly goes to shit when the murderer arrives, machete in hand, to bump them off one by one.

DEATH SCREAMS contains about a half dozen victims, but the real killer on display here is the editing. It’s difficult to tell if DEATH SCREAMS was a victim of MPAA mandated cuts or if the person in charge of editing the film just really hated their job. There isn’t a single cut in the movie that feels clean and the violence, when it finally happens, is handled so sloppily that I couldn’t ever tell what the hell was going on at any given time. The opening garroting of the two teens (and yes, it’s a double strangulation carried out with a single piece of wire) is the best example. We cut from their making out faces to their “oh no, we’re being strangled” faces without a single insert shot of a piece of wire coming down over their heads. One moment, they’re in ecstasy. The next, they’re being inexplicably strangled by a piece of wire that magically manifested around their necks.

All of the murder scenes are shot like this. We’re very rarely given any indication that the killer is even present before getting a short, barely comprehensible shot of something shiny whizzing through the air. A character then screams and falls over, or the camera simply cuts to a new scene altogether. There were two separate occasions where I had to rewind the film (and yes, I watched this on VHS) in an attempt to piece together just what the hell happened to a character.

The lousy editing is really only a detriment to the murder set pieces though, as nearly two-thirds of the film is spent simply following these characters around as they go about their days. There is no real lead here, no real Final Girl. It’s very much an ensemble film with a dozen or so characters all given their own bit of screen time. We get to see Lily interact with her stubborn, overly protective grandmother. Bob and Kathy’s courtship plays out over multiple scenes stretching a good half of the film. We see Neil rebuffing the advances of other women, in particular Ramona, in his pursuit of Lily. We spend so much time observing the ins and outs of the social lives of the "teenagers" that we barely get to spend more than two scenes with our red herrings, the bitter Sheriff and his model train loving son. That’s a damn shame because what is hinted at during the film, that Casey was brain damaged in a car crash that involved some of our teenagers, would have definitely heightened the intrigue.

But instead of a believable killer with a proper motive, we’re given a killer with the most generic backstory imaginable, a bit of “woe is me” bullshit that might have been interesting had it been referenced at least once during the first 80 minutes of the film. It just comes out of nowhere. The revelation of the killer’s identity is especially annoying here as it turns out to be a character we thought had died earlier in the film. It’s one thing to have a killer fake their death to throw off the other characters (ie. MY BLOODY VALENTINE). It’s another to have a killer who fakes their death for absolutely no reason other than to throw off the audience. There were no other characters present when this person faked their murder. They didn’t show up later pretending to be dead. They just did it because the filmmakers couldn’t figure out a better way of hiding the killer’s identity from the audience. That is a major pet peeve of mine.

I could probably go on for another eight or nine paragraphs, but that would just be time spent kicking a lame horse to death. DEATH SCREAMS is not a good film, but it also isn’t what I would call horrible. The first half is a scare-free slice of teenage life, just light comedy peppered with a little melodrama. The acting isn’t great, but it’s passable enough that the characters all stood out as unique personalities. They’re not insufferable or aggravating. I actually liked some of the characters. It was when the film decided to go full blown horror that the problems really cropped up.

Because as a horror film, DEATH SCREAMS really drops the ball. With the exception of the opening murder and a mid-film asphyxiation, all the horror bits are crammed into one 15 minute segment at the end of the film. Deaths come fast and furious (including one hilariously awful bifurcation), and as a result, all the suspense and tension is sucked right out of it. Had the murders been more spread out, had the cast been smaller and better defined, had the editor actually done their job properly… DEATH SCREAMS could have been a serviceable slasher. As it stands, it’s just a curio piece, a heavily flawed oddity only cared about by completionists and slasher obsessives.

October 31, 2017


The 1972 directorial debut from Charles B. Pierce, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, feels like a film meant for a small audience. The subject of the film is the Fouke Monster, a Bigfoot-like cryptid that allegedly dwells in the swamps and countrysides of Fouke, Arkansas, a small town with less than 1,000 inhabitants. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone outside The Natural State had ever heard of the Fouke Monster before 1972. It was a small town legend, confined by city limits. Pierce brought it to the national stage.

THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK was a major financial success, raking in an estimated 25 million on a meager $100,000 budget. It created the template for the docu-horror and the television series In Search Of…. It’s impossible to imagine films like THE LAST BROADCAST and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT existing without it. It might not get name dropped a lot in conversations about influential genre films, but make no mistake, the influence of THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK lives on today, strong as ever.

But influence aside, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK is not some little seen masterpiece. I wrestle with even calling it a good film. It’s a curio piece, for sure, a film that should be seen by every genre fan simply for what it represents, for the impact it had, and for the sake of historical perspective. However, the film itself is fairly tame and has been rendered all but obsolete by time. For a first effort in the docu-horror sub-genre, it works quite well. As a straight forward horror film, time has robbed it of its charms.

The film begins with some lovely nature photography. Woods, fields, swamps, rivers, etc. We see a young boy running through a field. A narrator chimes in to explain what we’re seeing. This is him as a boy, scared shitless, running to get some help. His mother spotted the creature again, a hulking, hairy beast that lurks around their property. The boy’s story is disregarded by some townsfolk. THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, we surmise, is a film made by that young boy, now returned to the area as an adult to tell others about the legend that has haunted him since childhood.

This is of course a total ruse. The narrator is a work of fiction. All the on-screen encounters with the beast are fake, nothing more than reenactments. THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK is just a ghost story we are being told, but instead of a bonfire, we’re gathered around a cinema screen. I imagine these were the tales adults told to children in Fouke, Arkansas. “Better get to bed or the Fouke Monster will get ya”. For people whose homes looked out upon the woods and fields at night, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK must have scared them to death.

But for someone like myself, viewing the film in 2017 from the confines of a concrete jungle, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK is just a repetitive experience with a few good moments to break up the overall monotony. And it is a repetitive experience. The majority of the film is nothing more than dramatizations. Here we see a man chasing off something in the dark with his rifle. Next we see the monster terrorizing some girls in a small home in the woods. Now we see a young boy coming face to face with the beast while tracking a deer. The film is a long list of monster encounters, some of them good, some of them bad. The final third of the film is its strongest. It settles down for a lengthy tale of an encounter with the beast, one that quickly becomes a mini-home invasion thriller, albeit one in which the trespasser has giant fake claws.

Because this is a docu-horror and not a full blown mockumentary, there is no grand narrative to all of this, no connective tissue holding the film together. It is simply a collection of mini-horror flicks, a series of encounters that builds ever so slightly in intensity as it goes on. THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK made a killing at the drive-ins and it’s easy to see why. The episodic nature of the film works well in that environment. People coming in late wouldn’t miss anything. You could dive in and out of the film while diving in and out in the backseat. Trips to the concession stand wouldn’t ruin the experience. Sitting down on the couch and watching the film in one uninterrupted go seems like the wrong way to watch it. Undivided attention is a negative here.

Turns out, telling the tale of Boggy Creek as an honest to goodness narrative film would be a negative too. Tom Moore’s RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK, a 1977 follow up, ditches the docu-horror formula for a family friendly nature adventure narrative, killing any chills (and box office appeal) along the way. The proper sequel to the film would come when Pierce returned in 1985 with BOGGY CREEK II: AND THE LEGEND CONTINUES.

Like RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK, Pierce’s sequel tries to play it straight, with a traditional narrative in lieu of the docu-horror style of the original film. Taking a page out of his own THE EVICTORS formula, Pierce does include a few reenactments of encounters with the beast, the best (and most hilarious) involving a man in an outhouse. As the film plods along, it pays homage to several horror films, most notably CUJO, JAWS and ALIEN. The beast looks better here than it did in the original. In the 1972 film, it was just a large man covered in shag carpeting wearing monster gloves. Here, the beast actually looks like a proper Sasquatch.

Unfortunately, that’s the only positive about the film. BOGGY CREEK II: AND THE LEGEND CONTINUES is simply awful, a tiring, dull and uninteresting mess of a movie whose best scenes are those it shamelessly rips from other films. There’s a reason it found its way onto Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s laughable and inept, certainly a career low for Pierce.

It’s yet another case of “you can’t beat the original”. While THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK is pretty damn far from perfect, I still think it’s a film worth watching. Personally, I don’t believe in monsters, gods or ghosts. I don’t believe in the Sasquatch or the lake monsters or spectral entities. But I certainly love the docu-horror. I grew up with re-runs of In Search Of…. I could spend hours watching wholly ridiculous, obviously fake shit like MonsterQuest or Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. I find the idea of monsters fascinating. Part of me wishes they were real, that there were beasties and creatures of legend lurking in the forests, waiting to terrify hikers and trespassers.

Unfortunately, the only monsters that exist are human. But when I sit and watch a film like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, I get to be a kid again, curious of what may lurk outside the comfy confines of city living. It might not be the best example, but it deserves respect for being a true trendsetter. Without it, the landscape of horror would look quite different.

October 30, 2017


It’s been less than nine months since the end of World War II. The year is 1946 and the setting is Texarkana, a two county region encompassing the twin cities of Texarkana, Texas and Texarkana, Arkansas. The town is experiencing an economic upturn. Home sales are up and demand for automobiles is exceeding supply. Local business is roaring back to life. Patriotism is high. Morale is high. For the citizens of Texarkana, life is good.

Then, on the otherwise quiet evening of March 3rd, a young couple parked on a lover’s lane is attacked in the night by a large man with a sack over his head. Though badly beaten, the couple survive. No evidence of sexual assault is found, but the back and breasts of the young woman were bitten severely, almost like they had been chewed on. This seemingly isolated incident would be the start of a series of mysterious murders all carried out by a single man, a Phantom Killer whose reign of terror would hang like a shadow over Texarkana for the three whole months.

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN is unarguably the most well known film by Charles B. Pierce. It is certainly the most influential. The film is a proto-slasher, released in 1976, two years after BLACK CHRISTMAS and two years before HALLOWEEN. I’ve argued before that while HALLOWEEN was the popular progenitor of the slasher film formula, it was the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise that truly began the slasher craze. And make no mistake, the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise owes quite a bit to this film, especially the character of Jason Voorhees.

The first time we see the Phantom Killer, all we see are legs and boots walking down a wet city street at night. The opening scene of FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART II introduces Jason the same way. The look of Jason Voorhees is clearly taken from Pierce’s film, with both killers donning cloth sacks over their heads. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that these nearly identical looking killers both wield a pick ax near the end of their respective films, could it? Of course, the folks that made FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART II have never owned up to their shameless theft from this film, nor have they ever admitted to stealing some of their kills from Mario Bava’s A BAY OF BLOOD. But no matter. The influence is obvious and well… it isn’t like the slasher film wasn’t a self cannibalizing machine anyway.

But for as influential as the film was, it still remains to this day an overlooked cult classic. I can kind of understand why. If you simply walked into this film without knowing a little bit about the docu-horror style of Charles B. Pierce, the film might come off as laughably weird. For starters, the film is narrated, a standard Pierce trick that probably caught a few cinema goers off guard back in the day. Because of its episodic narrative, the narration is useful in keeping us up to date with the when and the where of all this stuff. Our omnipresent narrator also introduces new characters with a short biography and even explains away events that may test audience credulity, like why a police officer doesn’t bother to even take a shot at the Phantom Killer’s car as it drives away.

The addition of a comic copper (the comic relief patrolman, Benson, is played by Pierce) and a few chase scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in a low budget 70s cops and robbers flick might feel at odds with the more serious nightmare material, but they work rather well in the context of the docu-horror. And as for the slasher elements, well… There’s a reason this film has generated a cult following over the years. When night falls and the film slips into horror movie mode, it is seriously chilling stuff. The violence is neither graphic nor exploitative. It is presented matter of factly, coldly and brutally. Pierce never lingers on gaping wounds or flowing blood, choosing instead to focus on terrified faces, all wide eyes and trembling lips. The killer is menacing, the sparse soundtrack fits the mood, and the moon drenched environments are dripping with atmosphere. The horror elements here are among the strongest stuff the 1970s genre machine ever produced.

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN takes many, many liberties with the truth (but of course it does; it’s a docu-horror, after all) in favor of an exaggerated, almost mythic take on history. As a result, the two lead cops on the case, a world famous Texas Ranger and a stalwart Deputy Sheriff, have a climactic chase with the Phantom Killer in broad daylight. The Phantom Killer captures two teenagers and murders one of them by tying a knife to the slide mechanism of her trombone, stabbing her to death while simultaneously mocking her. In the film, the Phantom Killer’s final target, a housewife played by the lovely Dawn Wells of Gilligan’s Island fame, engages in a bit of cat and mouse with her attacker.

In reality, no one except the victims ever laid an eye on the Phantom Killer and those who survived all gave conflicting accounts of his appearance. No chase between cops and killer ever occurred. In reality, the woman murdered on the night of April 13th played an alto saxophone and that instrument was not used in her murder. She had been shot to death, not stabbed. And in reality, that housewife, after being wounded, ran away into the night, looking for help. The Phantom Killer did not give chase.

This is a melding of fact and fantasy, packaged as a piece of sensationalized media. Plenty of folks took umbrage at it even existing, especially city officials in Texarkana, many of whom were not at all happy with the advertising claim that the unknown assailant might still be walking the streets of the city 30 years later. That’s the kind of thing that can put a dent in tourism. The film ends on a meta note, with a line of people standing outside a Texarkana theater waiting to buy tickets to see Pierce’s film. The camera glides along at ankle level before coming across a pair of shoes, not so subtly suggesting that these shoes belong to the Phantom Killer. It’s a cheap scare tactic, sure. The killer is still out there. He could even be standing right behind you. Boo.

But the final moments of the film illustrate the entire point of the docu-horror. They’re films about how we contextualize history in cinema. About how we sensationalize, place emphasis on perhaps the wrong events, draw conclusions based on after-the-fact conjecture rather than evidence. This is tabloid history. THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN was certainly about the Phantom Killer and his (or her) reign of terror, but it’s also about how a very real murder spree has become a glamorized, mythic urban legend. It’s about how we revel in and ultimately romanticize the idea of “the guy who got away with it”.

October 29, 2017


With only three days left until Halloween, I thought it would be nice to take a trip through the very small collection of big screen horror films from cult director Charles B. Pierce. Pierce’s horror filmography consists of four films, all of which are tied together by a central conceit. They are all, to one degree or another (or not really at all), based on true stories. THE EVICTORS was the third of the four horror films Pierce directed, followed only by a belated sequel to his 1972 directorial debut, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. For that debut picture, Pierce created a style that could best be described as docu-horror, a mix of urban legend, fact and fantasy all told in the style of a large scale reenactment.

Unlike faux-documentaries or found footage films, both of which are designed to make you believe that the film you are watching is a real life document of events, the docu-horror asks you to believe only in the truth behind the events being depicted. Everything else is self-aware artifice. They are presented with on-screen narration that provides exposition, sometimes break the fourth wall, and contain scenes which depict events for which there were no eyewitnesses (ie. the murders committed in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN).

Pierce’s docu-horror style went on to influence everything from In Search Of… to all those terrible programs about “real life” ghost hauntings that air during the afternoons. The self aware nature is where the difference lies between the docu-horror and true crime films like ZODIAC.

THE EVICTORS, the second to last horror film Pierce would direct, is more true crime than docu-horror, even though there simply isn’t any evidence that this “based on a true story” story is based in truth at all. This is the odd man out in Pierce’s horror filmography (hence, we're looking at it first), with the director completely dumping his docu-horror style for the film. In fact, one of the only stylistic carryovers here is the period setting. Like THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, THE EVICTORS is set in the 1940s, seemingly for no other reason than Pierce wanted to make yet another period film.

THE EVICTORS follows a newly married couple, Ben and Ruth, as they settle into their new home in a small Louisiana town. At first, everything goes quite well, even if the townsfolk are a bit standoffish. But then one day Ruth finds a letter in their mailbox. It reads “I want you to move”. A traveling salesman tells Ruth all about the dark history of her home. Ever since the late 1920s, people living there have met sticky ends. Whether by accident or foul play, no one living in the home stays living for very long. 

This revelation leaves Ruth a bit shaken, but Ben… well, Ben is preoccupied with his work. For a brief time, things return to normal. But then Ruth begins seeing a strange, tall man in a hat lurking around the house. Slowly but surely, she begins to suspect that someone wants her and her husband gone. Or worse.

This is a lovely and effective film. Overflowing with atmosphere, Pierce moves along several different sub-genre lines, from proto-slasher to home invasion to psychological horror to giallo-esque crime thriller. Unable to resist his docu-horror urges, a couple past events are dramatized here. Drenched in sepia, these two murder set pieces are great, creepy stuff. When we’re not indulging in side stories, the main action in THE EVICTORS moves at a swift, relentless pace. Lacking the melodrama and humor of Pierce’s past efforts, this is a lean machine, moving briskly from plot point to plot point with very little in the way of downtime.

There are moments here that recall THE UNINVITED, THE SHINING (which was released a year later), HALLOWEEN and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. It feels like a traditional bit of classic horror cinema, a change of pace from Pierce’s more loosely constructed docu-horrors. If the film has any glaring problems, they all have to do with the mystery thriller elements that creep into the narrative around the halfway mark. Anyone paying attention will figure out just why the lovely Jessica Harper and her on-screen husband Michael Parks (both of whom are fantastic here) are being targeted. The resolution of the mystery thriller side of the proceedings is a bit repetitive (two characters basically meet the same fate) and the final scene of the film feels downright ridiculous. But overall, THE EVICTORS is a great little thriller and a true high point in the career of Charles B. Pierce.

October 28, 2017


THE NAIL GUN MASSACRE made my head hurt. It was pounding all evening. It wasn’t because this shit heap opens with a rape scene. It wasn’t because the acting is on the level of an amateur porno. It wasn’t because this movie is so intellectually crippled that I think it should have been stuffed into a burlap sack and drowned in a river. No, it was because this movie, this wholly awful abomination, this utter sack of puke, this abysmal 1985 crime against humanity from directors Bill Leslie and Terry Lofton is so incredibly fucking LOUD.

There is a cacophony of environmental noise during every single scene of this film. It was like trying to watch a movie in a speeding car while the windows were down. None of the dialogue is properly balanced in the sound mix and that’s a huge problem. At one point, two characters share an important exchange as they drive away. Or at least, I think it was an important exchange. I couldn’t hear a goddamn word of it over the revving of the engine. To make matters worse, Leslie and Lofton have their killer, the guy (or gal) carrying nail gun hooked up to an air canister, use a voice modulator to hide their identity. The result is a bass heavy voice, almost completely digital, that blends into the discordant noise going on in the background.

I’m half grateful for that fact though, as the villain speaks almost entirely in puns (a full 12 years before BATMAN AND ROBIN, no less) throughout the film. So on the rare occasions when you can hear the killer, every word he (or she) speaks is like a punch to the brain. The killer attacks a man holding a chainsaw, shooting him dead with the nail gun. As the dead man falls over, he accidentally cuts his own hand off. The killer’s response? “You shouldn’t fall to pieces over me”.

Kill me.

- The killer interrupts some guy pissing in the woods, startling him enough that he spins around, pissing on the killer’s boot in the process. The killer’s response? “Well, you just pissed ME off”.

- The killer then shoots him in the groin and quips, “I bet this will stop that leak”.

- The killer nails a man to the wall through his hand. “You should hang around”.

Seriously. Kill me now.

- The killer shoots two random girls full of nails. “It must be two for one day”.

- The killer shoots a hitch hiker a couple of times. “You hitch hikers are all alike, stuck out on the road”.


It should go without saying that the killer is out to avenge the opening rape of a woman we don’t ever see again until the final three minutes of the movie. With the exception of the town doctor (who wears jeans and a white t-shirt because the production probably couldn’t afford to buy nicer clothes) and the useless Sheriff, the only characters we follow through the film are the rapists and their weepy girlfriends. Not a single character is given enough emphasis to be considered the lead so all we get are brief scenes of characters we barely know doing shit we don’t care about before they're killed in unconvincing fashion by an obnoxious killer. We do get the requisite nudity from women who must have reallllllllllllllllly needed the money and a decent amount of spilled blood, but the price we have to pay for those things is too damn steep.

This movie is awful. Period. End of story. Absolute garbage.

October 27, 2017


Juan Piquer Simon’s 1988 eco-horror flick SLUGS is a yuckfest in both senses of the word. Equal parts gross and hilarious, this slimy shocker posits a town under threat from man-eating slugs. Born from toxic waste and riddled with parasitic flatworms that can incubate inside human beings, these slugs are no ordinary garden menace. No, these fuckers bite and can apparently move at 500x the speed of your average slug. Just watch the film and witness how quickly hundreds, if not thousands, of slugs can crawl up through a toilet. How does mankind stand a chance against something that can move as fast a reverse shot edit?

Our hero is Mike Brady, a city health inspector. In typical JAWS fashion, Mike will soon become aware of the eco-terror lurking in the waters (the sewer waters, that is), yet no one will believe his story. Not the police. Not the mayor. The only people on Mike’s side are Don, a Department of Sanitation worker, and John, an inexplicably British biologist at the local school. Can our trio of intrepid mollusk hunters really succeed against man-eating slugs so strong they can pull a full grown man over the side of a ship?

No beating around the bush here, SLUGS is dumb. Very, very dumb. But of course it is. It’s called SLUGS, for fuck’s sake. On more than one occasion, a character is found dead on the ground covered in the little buggers. “How did that happen?”, you might ask. I don’t know. Slugs can’t jump, nor can they group up to stretch a rope across a doorway entrance to trip a man. They simply don’t possess the brain power to plan out elaborate ambushes. I guess they just waited for their victim to slip and fall. That happens a lot in this movie. For example, an attractive (and very nude) couple both slip in slug juice while trying to escape a bedroom that inexplicably became goddamn slug central in a blink of an eye. Once they tumble to the floor, they’re chewed apart in a matter of moments. That’s how most of the deaths occur in this movie. People just slip and fall over. There is one awesome exception, though. In the film’s most grotesque batch of scenes, a man accidentally eats a piece of fluke-infested slug then messily explodes in a shower of worms the next day at a business meeting.

The most satisfying moment in the entire film involves the slow, absurd death of some old man who just wants to work in his garden. He slips on his gardening glove (see what I did there?) only to find out the hard way that it contains a hungry slug. As it goes about chomping on his hand, the man thrashes around, eventually knocking over a couple bottles of chemicals. His attempt at cutting the glove off his hand with a pair of garden shears ends up with the man accidentally knocking a shelf down on top of him. As his wife conveniently cleans the living room with the loudest vacuum cleaner known to man, her screaming husband starts to asphyxiate on the fumes from the chemicals. Eventually the wife hears her husband hollering outside and arrives just in time for the chemicals to cause a bit of a fire which zips on over to a normal sized can of gasoline. And just like that, half of the fucking house explodes.

It’s brilliant. Real Naked Gun type of stuff. It would easy for me to continue to trash this film left, right and center, only it’s kinda pointless to do that. After all, SLUGS is NOT A HORROR MOVIE. This is comedy, through and through. Even if it were purely an unintentional comedy, it is a comedy. You cannot take this shit seriously.

The big plan Mike comes up with is to dump a shit load of lithium based arsenic into the sewers, despite John clearly demonstrating that the chemical mixture explodes when it makes contact with water. In other words, they could blow the whole damn town up. This plan is concocted a few hours after Mike’s wife asks him “hey, about those slugs that are all over the backyard… have you tried using salt?”.

In any real world scenario, that’s exactly what would happen. People would use salt, aka Slug Kryptonite. But this Juan Piquer Simon’s SLUGS we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a hilariously stupid, utterly repulsive bit of eco-horror exploitation. Ain’t no real world shit in here. In fact, had this movie not ended with fireballs exploding out of manholes, I would have been thoroughly disappointed.