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.

October 26, 2017


If I told you that NIGHT OF THE COMET was all about a couple of Valley Girls trying to survive in the zombie ridden, post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1980s Los Angeles, you’d probably imagine a riotous horror-comedy bash. Then you would watch the film and sigh. It wasn’t what you expected, was it? You were wrong right from your very first assumption. These Valley Girls were pre-CLUELESS Valley Girls, less vapid, less dumb, less prone to using the word “like” a billion times a second. And this wasn’t the Romero-style zombie apocalypse you’re used to. There were no herds of zombies or moments of grotesque flesh eating. Your assumptions were wrong on all counts. Hell, you probably even feel a little bit cheated.

NIGHT OF THE COMET is as low key as a post-apocalypse film can get. It starts quiet and stays quiet through damn near the entire film, with only a half dozen or so zombie encounters (two of which occur in a clever nightmare within a nightmare sequence). As this is a PG-13 movie, the bloodletting is practically non-existent and the gunfights are fairly tame. I know what you’re thinking. This movie sounds like a waste of time. Truth be told, it sort of is.

After most of Los Angeles is eradicated during a close encounter with a passing comet, Regina and her younger sister Sam roam the desolate city looking for survivors. Over the course of a few days, they meet a hunky dude named Hector, run afoul of gun toting infected thugs during an impromptu shopping spree, and eventually wind up in the clutches of a sinister group of scientists desperate to survive this whole unfortunate ordeal. That is pretty much all that happens in this film.

Thankfully, the film has two very large saving graces. Regina and Sam are instantly likable and practically overflowing with personality. The actresses portraying these characters, Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney, respectively, have great chemistry together. Their dialogue is acerbic and quotable, their looks are nothing to sneeze at, and overall their characters are portrayed as strong, independent women, far from the usual sniveling cowards and victims that populate most post-apocalyptic movies.

Usually when I hear people talk about NIGHT OF THE COMET, they mention how campy the film is, which is strange as the film is pretty anti-camp. People also talk about how hilarious the film is, which again is strange as the film takes itself rather seriously for most of its running time. Sure, you might have a character utter a quip or make a joke from time to time, but for the most part, the film isn’t played for laughs. It’s an oddly somber film with a somewhat flat tone throughout.

That can probably be attributed to the low budget of the film. At just around $700,000, I doubt writer/director Thom Eberhardt was able to do everything he wanted to do with the film. The single action set piece, the clothing store shoot out, is quite simplistic and the climax at the sinister science labs is just kinda blah thanks to poor sets and drab lighting. I mean, hats off to Mr. Eberhardt for even attempting to create a low budget post-apocalypse film set in Los Angeles. That takes major balls, especially when your meager budget is matched by a meager shooting schedule. But I can’t help but think that NIGHT OF THE COMET would have worked better with a few more characters in a far less open environment. As it stands, there just isn’t a lot of story here and with a running time over 90 minutes, it begins to drag around the 40 minute mark.

I know a lot of people really love this movie and please, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad film. I just think it’s kinda dull. I honestly loved the characters of Regina and Sam (and a certain event late in the film, even though it turns out to be a fake-out, genuinely breaks my heart every single time), but the film just doesn’t do much with them. This is one cult classic that has me standing on the sidelines. I know perfectly well why all those people over there love it. I just can’t bring myself to walk over there and ask them if I can hang out, too.

October 25, 2017


SLAUGHTERHOUSE, a 1987 slasher film from one shot director Rick Roessler, is a play it safe kind of film. It’s main inspiration is THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, a blackly comedic masterpiece of a horror movie that eschews classic slasher tropes for something a bit more unpredictable. For most of its running time, Tobe Hooper’s classic shocker is an inverted home invasion movie. The bad guys are not trying to get into someone’s home. No, the bad guys are the people constantly dealing with unwanted visitors. It isn’t like Leatherface and Co. go out looking for their victims. The sons of bitches just won’t stop walking through their front door. Given the strict trespassing laws in some parts of Texas, all those murders at the Sawyer house could be considered justifiable homicide.

Now, I don’t want to victim blame these imaginary individuals, but had Liz and her friends not been trespassing at the old slaughterhouse owned by the aptly named Lester Bacon and his mentally handicapped son Buddy, they’d still be alive today. The other victims... well, they were trying to take Lester’s land from him so they could expand their industrial, state of the art slaughterhouse, the same slaughterhouse that ran the Bacons out of business decades ago. What was Lester and Buddy to do about that? Just take it lying down?

The similarities between this film and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE don’t end with the basic premise, either. Main villain Buddy is a fat, gibbering idiot with an oversized weapon, in this case, a massive meat cleaver. While the Bacons are not cannibals, they are butchers with a family home riddled with animal bones and rotting carcasses. A sliding metal door features prominently in one character’s death scene and in another, a character (or two) are hung from meat hooks. The debt this film pays to Tobe Hooper is quite large.

But Roessler’s film is far more overtly comedic than Hooper’s, a fact which helps blunt the impact of its many violent deaths. For the first half of its running time, SLAUGHTERHOUSE is a joke machine of sorts with more than a few groaners and sight gags that fall flat. The second half of the film goes down the typical FRIDAY THE 13TH road. Our lovely ladies head out to the slaughterhouse with their dip shit boyfriends and fall prey to the hulking Buddy. Cue the splatter and the screaming.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE doesn’t really do anything new or attempt anything clever. Outside of the fact that the film does not contain an actual ending, it’s a routine, paint by numbers slasher movie. It isn’t a bad film, per se, just not a particularly memorable one. While it’s playing out on screen, it’s a perfectly serviceable distraction. When it ends, however, it fades quickly from memory. The film’s most unique feature is its VHS box art, a classic design that I imagine most horror fans my age would recognize. It was a major selling point for me back in the late 80s. I vaguely remember renting the film with a few of my friends. I probably got more out of it back then.

But now, watching the film on a sparkling new Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome, SLAUGHTERHOUSE doesn’t exactly set my heart racing. Like I said, the film is a perfectly watchable distraction. It has a few juicy kills, more than a few moments of sheer idiocy (like when the mentally challenged Buddy, a man who can only communicate via pig grunts, figures out how to drive a car in only a few minutes), and an easygoing, low budget charm that I found appealing. I just don’t know why I would choose to watch this film over dozens and dozens of other slasher films. That’s basically my biggest complaint about SLAUGHTERHOUSE. In a sea of like minded films, it never once thought to do something unique, something that would help it stand out. It was content with just being mediocre.

October 24, 2017


Wikipedia defines dad joke as “a pejorative term used to describe a corny, unfunny, or predictable joke, typically a pun”. I mention this because MICROWAVE MASSACRE, the broad as a barn door 1983 cannibal comedy from director Wayne Berwick, is the cinematic equivalent of the dad joke. There is no subtlety here, no sophistication. As a vehicle for comedy, all its passengers are puns. As a horror film, it barely registers above a dead man’s pulse.

First, a synopsis: All Donald wants is a goddamn baloney and cheese sandwich. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so, as his cantankerous wife, May, refuses to indulge Donald’s easy to please appetite. A lower middle class faux-sophisticate, May is currently obsessed with avant-garde cuisine (or as she calls it, ‘kwee-zeen’), cooking her daily indulgences in an oversized microwave oven. 

As a result, after spending a few hours toiling away at a construction site, Donald has to open his lunch box and discover a large, almost cartoonish sandwich filled with out-of-the-ordinary veggies and a whole crab.

One night, Donald reaches his breaking point. After drinking himself into a stupor, he returns home to find yet another plate of weird food staring up at him from the kitchen table. Donald and May have a fight and Donald ends up beating her to death with an extra large salt shaker. He wakes up the next morning with no recollection of May’s murder. So imagine his surprise when he finds her body stuffed inside the microwave.

He cuts up his dead wife’s body and wraps the pieces in foil, cramming it all into a large meat freezer in the garage. Later that night, Donald is a bit peckish. He grabs what he thinks is an ordinary bit of food from the freezer, but GASP! SHOCK! it turns out to be his dead wife’s hand. To his surprise, the meat tastes really good. He microwaves one of May’s arms and takes it to work. Intrigued by the strange sight of Donald chewing on a three foot long slab of cooked meat, two of his co-workers, Roosevelt and Philip, ask for a nibble. They like it, too. But the meat tastes a little old. Maybe something leaner would work better. Maybe Donald should get his hands on some younger meat…

MICROWAVE MASSACRE begins with a shot of May's severed head before moving on to a pair of large bouncy breasts. Donald’s co-workers, Roosevelt and Philip are, respectively, white and black, though the film flips their expected stereotypical racial personalities. That's why white Roosevelt has to teach black Philip how to snap his fingers to the rhythm of a song. A buff and ruggedly handsome construction worker turns out to be a prissy gay man who revolts in disgusted horror after being touched by a buxom blonde sex goddess. Donald decides to rebel against his neat freak wife by emptying the vacuum bag on the couch before pissing into the fireplace. This, Dear Reader, is the level of humor on display here.

MICROWAVE MASSACRE feels like a spoof or a satire, like some weird diatribe against your average television sitcom. It feels like it was designed to have a laugh track, like it’s obvious and groan worthy puns were designed to point out just how unfunny a lot of these sitcoms were. So unfunny in fact that television studios had to design a bit of manipulative psychological bumfuckery, canned laughter designed to make something seem funnier than it actually is. Or maybe Berwick was just trying to make something kitsch and dumb. I don’t know. I don’t know why this movie exists.

I’m just glad that it does.

Count me among the fans of MICROWAVE MASSACRE. I’m not even sure why I enjoy the movie as much as I do. I don’t find myself laughing at it anymore and truth be told, I never laughed at it much back in the day. There are a few really great sight gags, like the African jungle savage driving a catering truck that reads “let us cater your next pagan ritual”, and more than a few gorgeous women to ogle. The man playing Donald in the film is Jackie Vernon, the voice actor for Frosty the Snowman. I have to admit that it’s wonderfully strange to listen to him delivering lines like “I’m so hungry I could eat a whore”. I just close my eyes and imagine a cartoon Snowman strangling and dismembering women.

I am well aware that I’m in the minority when it comes to MICROWAVE MASSACRE. This is not a well regarded or well reviewed masterpiece of comedic horror. I just can’t bring myself to give much of a shit about that as I have a blast every time I watch it. I normally have a hard time enjoying comedy-horror films, especially when they’re this hyperbolic and obvious, but there’s something about MICROWAVE MASSACRE that fits me like an old glove.

October 23, 2017


The setting is a small village in 18th century England. While out plowing, a young man named Ralph discovers what appears to be a malformed human skull. Frightened, he seeks counsel with a local judge. When the two investigate, the pile of bones is missing. The judge puts it down to Ralph’s wild, superstitious imagination, but the young man persists. It was a skull, not quite human, lined with fur.

A short while later, Peter arrives to spend the evening with his overbearing aunt. He introduces her to his betrothed, a plain woman named Rosalind. As it would be inappropriate for an unwed man and woman to spend the night together in the same room, Peter’s aunt demands Rosalind sleep in the attic. Late in the night, something unseen attacks Rosalind, robbing her of her sanity.

Something evil is clearly afoot. That malformed skull wasn’t the only discovery made in the field. Angel Blake, a lovely young schoolgirl, discovered a claw, and now, tainted by the influence of Lucifer, she is amassing a small cult of local children, all of whom are very excited for the black mass they will soon be performing deep in the woods. After they've scrounged up a few sacrifices, that is...

And thus begins THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, Piers Haggard’s brilliant, though unpleasant, 1971 mixture of Satanic Panic and Killer Kids tropes. Like the best demonic chillers, it takes itself completely seriously, delivering even its most absurd moments with a stone-faced sincerity. It feels like a film written by someone who actually believed all this gobbledygook about children growing patches of goat’s fur as a result of demonic infestation. The resolute earnestness of the screenwriter, Robert Wynne-Simmons, helps mask the more ridiculous moments, like how Angel grows absurdly thick eyebrows as the film goes on or how Peter hacks his own hand off during a particular vivid nightmare.

Based ever so slightly on the Manson Family murders, the film is at its strongest when it focuses more on the children (many of whom look to be in the their late 20s) and less on man-goats and people throwing women into ponds to see if they float. The film treats the demonic infestation as a kind of sexually transmitted disease. A young boy named Mark begins suffering physical ailments after playing around with Angel in private. A sign of inner perversion is the growing of body hair below the waist. Angel, played by a very lovely (and very 17 years old) Linda Hayden, strips completely nude in an attempt to seduce not just the town Reverend but the audience as well. The film contains a very disturbing rape. To restore the purity of a young woman, a doctor goes about shaving off the layer of devil’s hair lurking just above her thigh.

The film drips with a kind of body horror mentality, that sex is perverse, that sexuality is inseparable from sin. But these more serious (and far more interesting) bits of subtext co-exist with campy, escapist horror. As a result, this incredibly straight-faced horror film has a slow motion filled ending featuring a man dressed in a monster suit. It isn’t entirely a happy marriage thanks to some shoddy effects work, but overall, the cornball horror moments don’t come close to derailing the film.

Tied with WITCHFINDER GENERAL as the strongest Tigon British Film Productions release of the early 1970s, THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW has grown a substantial cult following over the years, thanks in no small part to its barely legal nudity and copious amounts of confrontational violence. For me, what keeps the film lingering in memory is just how convincingly it tells its absurd story and how well Haggard and Co. were able to pull it all off with a meager budget and little production time.

This is a rough around the edges film, nowhere near as polished as even the most low budgeted Hammer production, but the low budget feel lends to the proceedings an air of reality. THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW is largely free of distracting artificiality. Most of the film is shot outdoors in dirty environments full of leaves and mud and decay. The world of the film feels lived in. It feels natural, like it still exists somewhere off the beaten path out there in rural England. And that sense of the real does wonders here. I don't think this film would have worked nearly as well had it been given the luxuries of your typical Hammer production. 

THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW is a tough film to watch and an even tougher film to digest, but as a piece of strong, effective horror, it's damn near a mini-masterpiece. Easily one of my favorite British horror films.

October 22, 2017


Fred Dekker’s 1986 thrilling directorial debut, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, is a classic example of 80s cult cinema. It’s a glorious pastiche, a quilt of campy goodness, a Frankenstein’s Monster built from the scraps of the wonderful midnight movies that came before it… I could fill this screen with superlatives. I could shower it with praise from dawn till dusk. I could make sweet love to it like it were a farm animal.

We enter the world of NIGHT OF THE CREEPS as two well worn story lines from classic B-films play out in the halcyon days of the late 1950s. In the first story line, an alien canister comes crashing down to Earth, landing just outside lover’s lane. In the second, an escaped maniac with an ax roams the lonely streets at night. These two bits of narrative collide, resulting in a pair of catastrophes. After driving to a lonely stretch of road to investigate the crash site with his girlfriend, straight-laced Johnny has an alien slug jump down his throat. On the opposite end of the unlucky spectrum, Johnny’s girlfriend meets her fate at the end of the maniac’s ax.

So far, so goddamn glorious. We move forward to 1986. It’s Pledge Week at good ol’ Corman University. We meet our heroes, Chris Romero and J.C. (and yes, most of the characters and locations in this film are named after horror film icons), two dweebs with zero prospects. Chris is in love with the beautiful Cynthia, a sorority girl sweetheart currently dating the loathsome Brad, a fraternity boy douche bag. In an attempt to impress Cynthia, Chris and J.C. approach the Bradster about joining his fraternity. Brad gives them a little job to do, a prank that involves stealing a dead body and leaving it on a rival fraternity’s doorstep. Our heroes reluctantly accept the challenge.

Unfortunately, they choose the wrong cadaver from the hospital. They pick the cryogenically frozen body of Johnny. When Johnny turns out to be not quite dead, the boys freak out and run away, unaware that they’ve just kickstarted a nasty alien invasion. Johnny’s walking corpse is currently playing host to a small swarm of alien slugs. Nasty little buggers, these slugs crawl into the mouths of their hosts before migrating to the brain. That’s where they lay their eggs, turning the walking dead into traveling incubators.

And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot of NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is built on the back of 50 years of horror and science fiction films. As such it is chock full of references and homages, both subtle and glaringly obvious. It is definitely inspired by ALIEN. The slug creatures are clearly pulled from Cronenberg’s nightmare STD shocker SHIVERS. A bus driver’s eyes bug out of his skull a split second before a car crash, a la MAD MAX. A faceless zombie looks suspiciously like he crawled out of POLTERGEIST. The film not only uses the Roger Corman “every 10 minutes” structure, but Dick Miller shows up as a character named Walter. You could watch this film a dozen or more times and still not get all the little in-jokes and shout outs.

But despite being a love letter to both popular and cult genre cinema, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS never once feels derivative or unoriginal. The tone of the film remains celebratory, not masturbatory (if you don’t understand the difference, watch the opening scene of this film on YouTube. Then watch KILL BILL, VOL. 1. After that. you’ll know exactly what I mean), and Dekker keeps everything cruising along with a steady influx of sharp direction and witty dialogue. In fact, the thing that lifts NIGHT OF THE CREEPS into the realm of genuine classic are the characters, lovable and memorable, played by the likes of Tom Atkins, Jason Lively and Jill Whitlow.

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is pure brain candy, one of the best sci-fi/horror flicks ever made. I know full well that my opinion here is completely biased. After all, I love this movie more than I love my family. That’s why everyone reading this should know that when I say that the only real flaw I can find in this movie is that it’s not 16 hours long, well… that’s probably not an opinion shared by the majority. As a low budget flick, the movie is short on action but heavy on set up. As a result, I know a lot of people feel the ending is a bit anticlimactic. I can understand that absolute horseshit bit of criticism from the goddamn mouth breathers who fail to recognize brilliance when it’s staring them in their slack jawed, mongoloid faces, but hey, that’s just like their opinion, man, and I think they can fuck off.

Seriously though, I am well aware that the film is in fact flawed, but I still think NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is simply wonderful. We all have those movies that we’ve seen dozens and dozens of times over the years. We all have those movies that we will stop and watch whenever we find them playing on TV. We all have those movies that seem to be finely tuned to our individual pleasure centers. This is one of those movies for me. To be honest, I should not have even written this as it is completely useless as a review. This is just a fanboy rant right now, just me telling you that I have a serious long term crush on this film. If you have yet to watch NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, please do so soon. Who knows? You might just fall in love with it, too.

October 21, 2017


By 1972, the formula had truly gone stale. THE GORE GORE GIRLS (or BLOOD ORGY, depending on the print of the film) was Herschell Gordon Lewis’ swan song, his last foray into splatter until 2002’s belated BLOOD FEAST sequel. All the trademark Lewis elements are here. The black humor, the self-aware gags, the tomato paste gore, the hammy actors playing cornball roles… Inch for bloody inch, this is a Lewis film. And it is boring.

And it wasn’t just me who was bored by THE GORE GORE GIRLS, Lewis was too. You can see it all over the film, in every frame, in every ill-timed edit. Lewis was running out of patience and energy. This long winded tale of a black gloved psycho mutilating strippers feels more like a eulogy than a serious effort. Times had changed and so had the exploitation movie. The kind of cheap gore flicks that once filled drive-ins were now antiquated laughing stocks and Lewis, the man who turned splatter into gold, was all but a dinosaur.

THE GORE GORE GIRLS is filled with scenes of bored strippers shaking their tits while looking directly into the camera. The gore is still plastic bodies filled with hamburger and mannequin limbs with one end dipped in stage blood. The big cameo in the film is given to Henny Youngman, a man whose humor had aged as well as his body. 1972 had given us films like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, TOWER OF EVIL, DEATHDREAM, RAW MEAT, THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW, DEMONS OF THE MIND, THE ASPHYX… The exploitation film had left Lewis behind years ago. His style of film simply could not compete with the more socially conscious (and therefore all the more immediate) horror films of the time.

THE GORE GORE GIRLS begins with a stripper having her face rammed repeatedly into a mirror. In order to solve the mystery of who has been leaving dead dancers all over the city, Nancy Weston, a reporter for the Globe newspaper, hires Abraham Gentry, a world famous private investigator. As our two leads do the bare minimum required to solve the case, the killer continues to mutilate women in various uncomfortable ways. Throats are slashed, eyes are ripped out, heads are mashed into a pulp. One woman has her nipples sliced off, the left one producing a stream of milk, the other a stream of chocolate milk. Her roommate has her head shoved into a bowl of hot cooling oil. In another scene, the killer smacks a woman on her bare ass with a meat tenderizer over and over, eventually killing her.

On top of the nasty, sexualized murders, Lewis has virtually every female character humiliate themselves for the pleasure of men. He has his female characters abuse each other. He turns them into money hungry opportunists and verbal abuse sponges. Knowing his depiction of women wasn’t going to go down well with the current women’s liberation movement, Lewis decided to double down. Never one to bow to political correctness, THE GORE GORE GIRLS features a bevy of feminist protesters, all of whom are clearly costumed to look more like men than women. After Nancy goes undercover with the feminists, she has a brief scene with Abraham in which she spouts feminist talking points like a brainwashed radical. Clearly, Lewis was trying to go out with an offensive bang.

Unfortunately, THE GORE GORE GIRLS fades like a fart in the wind. Much of the problem lies with the lead character, our Private Investigator, Abraham Gentry. Given his meticulously styled hair and his walking cane, I think we were supposed to find this character suave and charming. Every woman he comes across certainly falls for him. But truth be told, the guy is just a dick. A massive, obnoxious, borderline intolerable dick. I hated this character. I hated everything about him. I especially hated how the character would sometimes stop and turn to the camera to deliver some horrible pun. Stop it, goddammit. Just stop.

But virtually every character in the film is written to be an intolerable oaf. Nancy is shrill and demanding, and her constant attempts to seduce Abraham just made me hate her more. The various strippers we meet throughout the film are empty headed bimbos who exist only to fill the nudity quotient. The police lieutenant is a screaming jackass. The major red herring of the film was the only character in the film that I liked, an angry ex-Marine who used to bash in the skulls of corpses in Vietnam. Now all he does is sit at the end of a strip club bar smashing cabbages. I liked that guy, largely because he barely spoke throughout the entire film.

The murder mystery angle gets dropped two thirds of the way into the running time just so Lewis can film a short parade of strippers dancing topless. It was at this point that I zoned out and never really came back. I was done, done with this film and done with this week of Herschell Gordon Lewis movies. Truth be told, I enjoy the works of Lewis quite a bit. Like the director himself, I was just ready for a nice, long break.