“Shakma” (1990) REVIEW

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This review was originally written for and posted on Letterboxd.

A pretty fun, cool little flick that combines LARPing and a bloodthirsty lab baboon.

Some med students (and their professor) play an after-hours live action role playing game in the medical building where they practice/study (hey, why not?) This is also the facility that houses all the monkeys they do testing on, including Shakma, their most recent testee. Whatever they did to ol’ Shakma has made him (her?) super aggressive and looking to tear some faces off. Shaks gets loose and hunts our clueless students down one by one.

The film loses some points for not using Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” in any way. Shakma the Monkey, “Shock the Monkey”? C’mon people!

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“Child of God” (2013) REVIEW

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This review was originally written for and posted on Letterboxd.

Negatives:
– Differs from the source material just slightly, but enough to bother me
– Ultimately, due to a few editing/directing choices, I feel it misses the overall tone of the book
– Scott Haze’s performance bounces back and forth between “frightening; perfect” and “irritating; laughably bad”

Positives:
– Shows the lead shitting in the woods and wiping his ass with a stick. Gotta be a first for film.

Dr. Jose on “New Year’s Evil”

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I originally wrote and posted this article on the other site I contribute to, Nerd City. You can read the original article on Nerd City HERE.

Happy Holidays, gorehounds!

Welp, it’s the end of December – and the end of another year. As we wrap up this utter shitshow that was 2014, we should take a moment to reflect upon what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown over the last 365 days.

But since that sounds like a real snoozefest (not to mention, I’d prefer to forget everything that happened this past year), I’m going to take this time to reflect upon the New Year’s Eve-set gonzo slasher flick, “New Year’s Evil”. By my accounts, it’s the only horror film that explicitly uses New Year’s Eve as a plot device (rather than just ‘occuring’ during NYE). The most well-known horror flick to use New Year’s Eve as a backdrop is the fair-to-middlin’ “Terror Train”. But while that film had a pedigree like Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, David Copperfield, and Roger Spottiswoode to help sturdy its wobbly structure, “New Year’s Evil” had absolutely nothing to support its existence, unless you count Roz Kelly – known for playing Fonzie’s girlfriend “Pinky” Tusacdero – as ‘support’. And it probably didn’t do the movie any favors that it was written by a 64-year-old with no prior credits to his name – let alone any horror credits. Incidentally, both films came out in 1980, and neither were huge successes.

“New Year’s Evil” is slasher absurdity at its best; complete with overacting, a paper thin plot, and a twist you see coming within the first 5 minutes of the movie. To help illustrate just how goofy it, I took a bunch of screenshots – which I intend to walk you through now! So, without further ado.. New Year’s Evil!

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A Golan/Globus Production, so right off the bat you know this thing is gonna be all types of shitty. They were essentially ‘The Asylum’ of the ’80′s, churning out mid-to-low budget films that were cashing in on the genre trends at the time. Golan and Globus were behind most of the Chuck Norris movies of the 80′s, as well as “Hercules” (starring Lou Ferrigno), “The Barbarians” (starring the Barbarian Brothers!), and “Masters of the Universe”. Off to a great start.

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So the movie opens with a group of punk rockers driving down some Hollywood boulevard, as you do. And they’re screaming. You can tell by the caption. This goes on for literally 3 minutes. Also, I don’t know if you can see, but there’s 8 people, crammed into that droptop. And they’re drinking. And screaming; don’t forget the screaming. I guess the cops had the night off seeing as it was New Year’s Eve.

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After the long, screamy opening, we’re introduced to our protagonist, “Blaze”, who hosts a yearly New Year’s countdown show. She’s like an MTV VJ type, but far worse. We’ll get to that in a second.

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As Blaze is getting ready to host her countdown show, her fragile son shows up to announce he’s just landed a role in a new TV show! But mom doesn’t seem to care. So junior pouts and asks, “Where’s dad?”, to which Mama Blaze responds, “I don’t know – you know he’s not well…” And as the camera hangs ominously on her bleak expression, the director successfully gives away who our antagonist is going to be. Five minutes into the film! Congrats, must be some kinda record. Anyway, Blaze splits for her gig. And remember how I said she was an awful host? It’s because she says shit like this:

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What the shit is she talking about? No one talks like that. No one has ever said that grouping of words. Ever. I can assure you. “Spin out and boil your hair”? “Slam down and get even”? Oof.

Anyway, it should be noted that this live countdown show is also a call-in show, where callers can…y’know…call in. For what reason? I have no idea. There is a band playing, but they’re not taking requests. In fact, the first person who does call in randomly says “I really like that song ‘Don’t Need No Education’!”, (I’m assuming she was referring to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall pt. II”), but why did this girl call in to the show to announce that? Even Blaze is baffled and says, “Oh, just some hot gossip, huh?”, and HANGS UP. Great, a call-in show with no reason to call in. Anyway, surprise surprise, the next caller is our killer. He uses some sort of voice distortion, ala “Scream”. But it’s so laughably bad and not scary. It sounds like someone who had a laryngectomy. Like from those TRUTH commercials.

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See, even Blaze ain’t buying it. Eventually, our killer makes his grand announcement:

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Now, since this is a call-in show, I assume the calls are being fed through a loud speaker for the audience to hear. I know the calls are being aired on TV, because we see junior hear this call unfold while watching the tube from his apartment – so people at home definitely heard this call. Yet the crowd – the audience at the live taping – do not react to this announcement AT ALL. There are no gasps, no laughs, no cheering. NOTHING. The crowd just sort of mills about waiting for the band to play. Speaking of the band, please welcome to the stage…Shadow!:

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So this show is touted as a “new wave show” and Shadow is supposedly a new wave band. Yet the first song they play is 80′s metal, akin to Grim Reaper or Judas Priest. And then they play this sorta sexy bluesy song. Go figure. New wave was still finding its footing in 1980. Well then we cut to a loony bin, where the patients are watching the countdown show and dancing. And the nurses are laughing at the patients.

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So the killer – disguised as a doctor – breaks into this hospital. And he immediately starts hitting on a nurse. And within seconds, they’re making out:

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Told you. But then he kills her right as the East Coast countdown reaches zero:

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So with his promise fulfilled, he makes his way to a payphone to call up Blaze and announce the deed hath been done. And again, I just wanna point out what a goofy sonofbitch this guy is:

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Like, besides being only one of two people to have called in, you’re the only dude who’s called the show and address himself as “Evil” using some weird voice distorter. Why would you say, “Remember me?” How could they forget?

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So that’s junior, being a total nut. I promise I have not altered and shifted any of these screenshots to try and change the tone of the film or what actually happens. All of this insane silly bullshit happens.

So, our killer makes his next move. He plans to kill three women total (one for each timezone – clever!) He slaps on a fake mustache, goes to a disco, and uses this line to pick up his next victim:

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On what planet, in what dimension, would that pick-up line ever work? Anyway, shockingly, it DOES work. But the girl insists they bring her friend along. Mr. Suave hesitantly agrees. They stop at a convenience store and our killer sends the friend in to buy a bottle of champagne so that he can have some alone time with this poor, gullible gal.

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Why! Why would say that about your friend who you dragged along, especially while she’s in the store not able to defend herself? Also, it’s not like the friend asked, “Can we stop so I can go to the bathroom?”, so why in the world would you just randomly say that about her? I take it all back, this girl deserves to get whacked.

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See that giant, green nug in that bag? Yes, he actually suffocates her with a bag of pot. No joke. This movie is groundbreaking. (Note: more screaming.)

So after killing this chick – and her poor diarrhetic friend – he changes costumes once more. This time, he suits up as a priest. As he’s driving around, he crashes into some bikers.

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This plot point serves absolutely no purpose. He escapes to a drive-in theater (where the films playing on screen are better than this actual film), and hijacks a new car, and gets away. That’s it. No idea why the producers felt the need to include this utterly random scene. Also note the caption above says “fighting” despite the fact that it’s just some bikers biking through an alley. This shit is too heavy for me.

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Oh great. Hey, look everyone. It’s junior. Being a total crazy fuck, again. What the fuck is going on. He looks like he should be in Madness.

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I guess the killer is a cop now. He finally makes his way back to the studio where the live show is taking place (which also happens to be the same building where Blaze’s apartment is – convenient!)

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This Stan Laurel mask is by far the creepiest our killer has looked the entire film. He should’ve worn this the whole goddamn time. We should have never seen his face! Anyway, while in this garb, he abducts Blaze, who happens to be HIS WIFE! You had this figured out already, right? Like immediately? Good. So, our creeptastic killer takes her to an elevator and gets philosophical for a second:

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Great. You realize you’re a guy and you’ve been killing people, right? Killing innocent women, mind you. This movie is deep! This dude is one tortured cat!

So he ties her up to the elevator cables in the shaft, hoping that she’ll fall to her death or get crushed. But as she’s banging around in the shaft, the greatest line of the whole film is delivered by a completely random character:

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Just as I was about to give up on this film, some dude who looks like he got kicked out of Pure Hell pulls me back in. Okay, let’s wrap this baby up.

The cops bust into the building and save Blaze. They also track our killer to the roof. He stands perilously on the edge, and decides now is as good a time as any to quote some Hamlet:

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Okay, sure, why not. Then he jumps!

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Wheee!

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Oh, great. Look who it is. So, Junior, distraught over his father’s death (seriously, I hope you pieced that all together long, long ago), decides maybe he’ll drop the acting and get into dad’s line of work. So as Mama Blaze gets loaded into an ambulance, we see the driver…

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Hey! Wait a minute!

Notice all the people in the background, obviously witnessing that some deranged kid has put on a freaky mask, subdued the driver, and is now driving the ambulance himself. But are they gonna do anything to stop him? Hell no. Why should they! Now that I think about, it might be that same braindead, emotionless zombie crowd from earlier in the film! Hey, I think it is!

Well, that’s it friends. I hope you’re able to glean some important life lesson from my walk through of “New Year’s Evil”. Even if that lesson is as a simple as “wearing sunglasses over pink pantyhose is a bad look”.

Here’s to a (hopefully) diarrhea-free 2015!

Dr. Jose on “Terror Train”

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I originally wrote this review/article for Shit Movie Fest‘s “25 Days of Shitmas”. You can check out the original article on their site, here.

I think I was near 20 years old at the time. This is about a decade ago. I was taking the Amtrak from Chicago to go see my parents in Southern Illinois. The train was empty enough, and I was thankful for that. I sat alone; had both seats to myself. In the pair of seats in front me sat a young girl – probably 16 – and a guy maybe about my age. I couldn’t see their faces at the time, but I could hear them quietly bickering pretty much from the get go. You know, young love.

Night fell and I spent my time completely zoned out, headphones on, staring out into the absolute darkness that sped by. I don’t know how it caught my attention, but as I faced the window my focus shifted. Reflected by the glass, I could see the girl who sat in front of me. She was facing the window, staring directly back at my reflection, and she was mouthing the words, “Help me.”

I sat there dumbfounded for a few seconds before I fully processed what was really happening. It takes awhile when there’s no tense string score to punctuate how you should be reacting. When it hit me that this girl could actually be in real trouble, and that the guy she was with was possibly bad news, I went cold. I hate to use such a trite phrase, but it’s true: I felt an actual rush of icy numbness.

Seemingly by luck, the guy who was sitting with her got up right then and either went to the bathroom or to go get food. Regardless, it was just enough time for this girl to look over the back of her seat at me and start frantically spilling her story: she didn’t know who this guy was; he had snuggled up to her as soon as she got on the train; he was being too forward, too touchy, too aggressive; he was drunk; she was afraid. She didn’t know what to do.

Now, thinking on my toes has never necessarily been my greatest strong-point. I do best with a few hours, a couple beers, and a notepad. I could have said a million things to this girl, the easiest and most logical being, “Get a conductor”, or even just, “Move seats right now, sit next to me!” But under pressure for an immediate response — and yes, this whole story has been 100% true, including the next few lines — the first thing that came to my lips was: “Set him on fire?”

I’ll let the insanity of that bizarre suggestion set in for a second, but I won’t wait too long because this story somehow gets crazier, and quick. As if I’d just handed her a Christmas gift she had been begging 364 days for, this girl’s face lit up. Her eyes got big and her smile broadened. “Great idea!”, she enthused, without a single drop of sarcasm. Again, this all really did happen.

She plopped back down in her seat just as the mysterious aggressor returned, resuming his place saddled up next to her. I sat there, motionless, slack-jawed. Just as quickly as it had started, it was over – seemingly back to normal. And there was no one around who witnessed it, so I couldn’t actually be sure it really even happened. A part of me thought, “Is this it? Is this how these types of situations are handled in real life? Is everything okay now?” I must have accepted whatever conclusion came from my internal dialogue as an acceptable resolution, because I soon recommenced submerging myself in the vast darkness on the other side of my window.

But that’s when I heard it. The distinct “chk, chk” of a sparkwheel striking flint, from a lighter low on fluid. “Chk, chk”, again, only this time followed by a “Yeow! What the hell are you doing, you crazy bitch?” The creeper shot up from the seat in front of me, rubbing the side of his head. He continued mumbling to himself as he made his way down the row of seats, far away from the one he’d just been sitting in. I couldn’t believe the girl had taken my advice, but moreover I couldn’t believe it worked. But then again, if someone sitting next to me tried to set my head alight, I’d hightail it out of there, too.

Like a gopher, the girl popped back up, still grinning: “That was so awesome!” I asked if she was okay, she said she was, that it was just some unwarranted attention from a tipsy stranger. Before I could ask anything else, she spoke again, but in a weirder, more hushed voice: “You know, I think I’ve seen you before…” That icy, uneasy feeling I spoke of earlier? It returned in waves. I had no idea who this girl was, I had never seen her in my life. I smiled and shrugged. I asked where she lived.

“Oh, I live at Brookside. Have you heard of it?” I had heard of it. As I was aware of it, it was a boarding school where troubled kids were sent. And it was just a couple blocks away from my parents house. On the same street. I suddenly realized that there was a real chance this girl had seen me before, and that creeped me out even more. She was still smiling, her eyes wide and fixed. She asked how long I was going to be in town for. “Maybe we could hang out…” Her voice was soft and terrifying. I still hadn’t said anything in a few minutes, mostly because I was still reeling from how this whole thing had unfolded. I felt broadsided. I was sucked into a situation and thought I had helped, but now I just felt like the second fly on a spider’s web.

“I…I…”, was all I could manage. I probably sounded like a pirate.

“What’s your phone number?”, she pressed. Still smiling, eyes black and burning.

I blurted out ten random numbers. It was the first smart move I had made this whole time. She wrote them down on a piece of paper, which she tore a chunk from and handed to me. Her number was written down.

“Call me.”

I looked behind me down the long row of seats for the unaccounted shady dude from earlier. I wondered if he had unwittingly been made the pawn in a game of loony lust, and if I had been the intended target the whole time. I felt weird, tense, confused. I turned back to the blackness outside and I looked out as far as I possibly could.

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Terror Train is actually a lot like this anecdote, and not just because of its locomotive setting. It’s long – much longer than it needs to be – but the big reveal at the end is just satisfying enough to make it all worth it. Would you want to hear it again? No, of course not. But the first ride’s pretty fun.

The first time I saw Terror Train, I was honestly pretty blown away. Even if it was just to cash in on the burgeoning slasher craze at the time, it has a clever enough concept and a reveal at the end that’ll leave you braided as a pretzel. I don’t want to give too much away, especially if you’ve never seen it, because the less you know the better.

A graduating class of med students board a train on New Year’s Eve to celebrate their success, and wouldn’t you know it? It’s a costume party! As a mysterious killer makes their way through the iron horse, they take the costume of each successive victim, making the killer harder to track. It’s a fun flick – and the only film magician David Copperfield has had a starring role in – but repeated viewings will definitely make the holes in the plot more apparent. Still, I consider it to be a top contender to all of its early-80’s slasher ilk, and I’m surprised it doesn’t get more recognition – because it should.

Well, that’s all my prattling for now. Go watch Terror Train.

This has been Dr. Jose, saying: Happy Holidays, Hail Satan, and Cowabunga.

“Body Parts” (1991) REVIEW

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This movie is incredibly under-appreciated and too oft forgotten! It stars (the under-appreciated and oft forgotten) Jeff Fahey and was directed by Eric Red (who did The Hitcher and Near Dark). The premise is a great one: three people receive donor limbs from a recently ‘executed’ serial killer. But the killer isn’t really dead…and he wants his parts back. Super bloody, spooky score, and a great non-Chucky performance from Brad Dourif during his Child’s Play heyday. A must-see for any horror fan.

“The Funhouse” (1981) REVIEW

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Tobe Hooper’s career has been spotty at best, but this was one of his early gems that got lost in the shuffle. Essentially, four teens hide on a carnival ride until the fair closes down for the night. At one point, they witness a carnie murder another, and soon they find themselves being hunted by the deformed, blood-thirsty monster and his barker father. The film has great atmosphere — what’s spookier than a carnival and it’s weird caravan of workers? Lastly, Rob Zombie couldn’t have made House of 1000 Corpses if it weren’t for Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse.

Horrorstuffs & humor / don't tell yer granny

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