March 22, 2018


A trio of adults – lecherous asshole Marty, his girlfriend Jenny, and their floozy, blonde friend Chrissy - seek shelter in a seemingly abandoned hotel during a major snowstorm. It doesn’t take long for the trio to realize they’re not alone. They soon meet the hotel caretaker, an unnamed, disheveled older woman who lives in the hotel with her two sons, one of whom is far less welcoming to guests than his slightly sinister mother. The other remains unseen, locked inside a walk-in freezer deep within the bowels of the building.

That’s the general set-up for Jim Makichuk’s GHOSTKEEPER, an exceedingly quiet Canadian thriller from 1981. It’s most obvious inspiration is THE SHINING, even going so far as to borrow several major narrative cues from the Kubrick adaptation. The heroes find their only manner of transportation destroyed by the antagonist, trapping them inside the hotel. A secondary character meets a sticky end just as they arrive to help. A man freezes to death after becoming lost in the wilderness. The streak of fatalism concerning the role of caretaker is carried over. All these bits and pieces are lifted whole-hog from Kubrick’s film, but the way they’re used is very much different. 

GHOSTKEEPER was a victim of its own dwindling budget, a tragic circumstance of low budget filmmaking that left the film feeling very much unfinished. GHOSTKEEPER begins with text defining the ‘Wendigo’ (or ‘Windigo’ as this film spells it), a cannibalistic, Native American monster capable of inhabiting the body of humans. This is the fate that befell the caretaker’s other son, the one locked inside the freezer in the basement of the building. The original ending would have seen the Wendigo escape it’s confines, chasing our Final Girl through the hotel in a possibly exciting climax. Starved of budget, this idea was scrapped. In fact, it feels like many third act events were either scrapped or dialed back to the point of being nigh inexplicable.

Very little of the third act makes much sense. Madness envelopes one character for no apparent reason. Another is revealed to have deep ties to the hotel, a narrative development that comes literally out of nowhere. A climactic chase scene, complete with a revving chainsaw, seems to have been tossed in for no other reason than last minute thrills. For the first two thirds of the film, GHOSTKEEPER seems to be building to something far more profound than mere insanity, but as the dollars grew thinner, the sense of narrative cohesion wasted away.

And that’s a damn shame as GHOSTKEEPER could have been something very, very special. The first 45 minutes of the film had me completely enthralled. It’s a strange film with a genuinely foreboding atmosphere. Good performances abound, the hotel setting is creepy and claustrophobic, and the Paul Zaza score (riddled with cues lifted from Zaza’s PROM NIGHT score) sent shivers down my spine. It didn’t bother me at all that the film contained very little dialogue, just endless scenes of confused and worried characters walking through an environment riddled with potential threat. It’s a good looking film too, one with a consistently cold and dangerous air about it.

The inclusion of the Wendigo, my personal favorite mythological beastie, had me excited, but my excitement soon faded once I realized that it would remain forever trapped in the freezer downstairs. The potential for drama between our three characters, one of whom has a family history of mental illness, had me wondering how and when it would all go tragically south, only to have one of those characters removed from the narrative suddenly and brutally only a half hour in. GHOSTKEEPER kept promising me a certain kind of film, only to deliver something completely different at every turn.

In some ways, that worked to its advantage. I simply couldn’t predict where the film would go next. In other ways, it dampened my excitement completely. What good is a Wendigo if you’re never going to unleash it? And that is perhaps the best way to describe GHOSTKEEPER. It’s a wonderful concept full of potentially fascinating horror moments let down by a lack of time and money. It’s a glass half empty/glass half full kind of film. Looking at what it could have been, I’m incredibly disappointed. Looking at what it actually is, I’m glad that Makichuk didn’t just shelve it and move on. It’s a beautiful puzzle, to be sure, but it’s also a little difficult to fully admire that beauty when there are so many pieces missing.

March 15, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 9, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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