Wicked Wednesday: Paganini Horror (1989)

You probably can’t tell from the films I tend to write about, but I love Italian horror. They just get me. But I tend not to write about these things. First of all, I prefer watching them subtitled in Italian (which makes note-keeping a bit trickier), and sometimes – just sometimes – I like watching movies for my own enjoyment.

I made an excuse for Paganini Horror, as my copy from 88 Films had sat on my shelf unwatched a few weeks too many.

This was a complete blind buy. I had never seen this 1989 film before but it had all the right ingredients: Venice, Daria Nicolodi, fictional bands, Donald Pleasence and Luigi Cozi. Plus the slipcase promised this would be my new favourite bad movie. What isn’t inciting about that?

And for one, this actually lived up to all my expectations and more!

Singer Kate is a bit washed up, and her manager isn’t happy with it. Kate continues to churn out uninspired music. But her drummer, Daniel, gets an idea and makes a trade with the mysterious Mr Pickett.

In exchange for money, Daniel is given a sealed, unpublished work by the Italian composer Niccolò Paganini. It was apparently written for some sect after selling his soul to the Devil (very Faustian of him).

Kate immediately takes to the music and agrees to use it. She’s inspired to create a “Thriller”-style music video and call the song (surprise!) “Paganini Horror”. The score sounds exactly like ELO’s “Twlight”, but I guess we’ll keep quiet about that (sorry, Jeff). Paganini was clearly well ahead of his time.

The band go to an old house in Venice to create the music video. They’ve got a larger budget than Bonnie Tyler for white cloths and a whole lot of mannequins. While the video seems to be going well, it doesn’t take long for things to start going south.

There are strange going-ons in the Venetian home. The group find a room full of strange light and noise that terrorises them. Band members and crew start getting killed off by the ghost of Paganini, dressed in a skull mask.

Though, this isn’t some typical slasher affair. The deaths are creative (even if they are off screen): death by violin mould, being incinerated next to an hourglass, electrocuted by invisible barrier.

When we spiral into explanation-territory, the story begins to become a bit of a head-scratcher. Kate discovers true secret to defeating Paganini: playing his piece backward. Why? Well, something about music being the key to the universe (I think).

Paganini Horror is an ambitious horror movie, quite clearly hindered by time and budget. It certain gets convoluted, but it’s worth it for the excellent Italian cheese.

Cozi apparently wasn’t happy with the film’s outcome, and if you read about the original story, it’s quite clear why. Paganini Horror may well be a part of the “horror movies that never were”, joining the ranks of Book of Shadows and Deadly Friend. We’ll never know what the film would have been like if producers allowed his original vision, but I certainly think what we did get is memorable and entertaining.

For me, Paganini Horror will certainly go down in the books as a classic. Maybe not for the reasons it wanted to be, but that’s fine, right? If you can parallel the mastery of Pod People, I really think you’re doing something right.

Wicked Wednesday: Tales of Halloween (2015)

Halloween eve is finally here!

As always, the day snuck up on me faster than I could imagine. It’s been a heck of a month, so it was really nice to just sit down and watch something with some good Halloween spirit. Unfortunately for me, I chose Tales of Halloween.

Anthologies are, at the best of times, a mixed bag. There aren’t very many anthologies that I’d flat-out say I enjoy, let alone enjoy it from start to finish. Tales of Halloween is even more ambitious than the usual, as there are ten short stories! Not only are there ten films from ten different directors, but several are connect with a fairly-similar style throughout.

But when that style isn’t to your taste, it makes for a very bumpy hour and a half.

While made in 2015, this movie feels much more dated than that. Think “punks” in bad wigs listening to bad pop-punk and women in very short costumes (including one meant to be underage). And a very random cameo from Adrianne Curry. I mean, who even remembers her? These things are just…well, I’m bored by these things. It felt much more 2005 than 2015, and I had to double-check my dates again just to be certain.

There were a couple stand-outs in the pack, for me. First, I love the insanity that was “Friday the 31st”, written and directed by Mike Mendez and Dave Parker. The opening sequence is of a woman in a Dorothy costume running from a Jason Vooreehs-like killer. After the girl dies, an alien stops by planet Earth for trick-or-treating (because of course).

When the alien doesn’t get a treat from the killer, it becomes angry and possesses “Dorothy”. The killer gets his own when he must face a Deadite-style Dorothy in combat. It’s completely nuts, but it’s also hilarious and works quite well.

But my absolute favourite was Axelle Carolyn’s segment, “Grim Grinning Ghost”. One, this stars both Alex Essoe and Lin Shaye. But it’s also a great little ghost story that’s pretty effective. Oh and there’s a cute dog.

🙂

Otherwise, there were a lot of lows. Again, I don’t think it’s necessarily because they’re bad. They just aren’t my thing. 100% not my thing. There were some segments that irritated me so much, I would have loved to fast-forward them. But I didn’t because I’m a champ (also it might not far to judge things otherwise).

A lot of the themes overlapped, and I get it. There’s a great gag about creepy children and children getting scared or killed. But it was slightly overkill that six of the ten went this direction. So it’s not really surprising that the ones that didn’t go this route were the more interesting ones (though not necessarily for the better).

There’s a lot of cameos here, which is fun to see. Landis, Barbeau as the DJ, Dante, and everyone’s favourite camper Felissa Rose. But my favourite part was the inventive animated title sequence. Whoever did those did a fantastic job. Some of my favourite credits I’ve seen in a long while!

On a different note, one of the biggest disappointments was that there were only two women writing or directing in this project. Two. Perhaps if there was more of a diversity in directors, the stories would have felt a little more unique.

That being said – Halloween is nigh! May it be full of ghouls, goblins and trick-or-treats.

Wicked Wednesday: Sabrina the Teenage Witch s2e7 “A River of Candy Corn Runs Through It”

Halloween-themed TV episodes are some of my favourites. Classics like “Halloween” from season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and “The Tale of the Twisted Claw” from Are You Afraid of the Dark? are solid highlights. We love watching beloved characters navigate parties and awkward experiences like ours – just in better costumes. It’s even more entertaining when things go desperately wrong for them.

So to give myself a mental break after a whirlwind of a few weeks, I decided to indulge in the delight that is Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Thankfully there are plenty of Halloween episodes in this series. And I would have watched all of them, but it’s £2 an episode, and we’re still a week away from payday, folks.

Sabrina and the aunts are looking forward to a quiet Halloween away from the relatives. After lying to the their family, they plan on a night of movies and candy corn. That, of course, is definitely not how things are going to go.

After Libby begins bragging about her freak-free Halloween party, Valerie has the knee-jerk reaction to throw a party at Sabrina’s. The witch is not very happy, but asks her aunts anyway. To Sabrina’s surprise, Zelda and Hilda actually agree to let her have the party.

On the day of the party, things begin to go awry. First Harvey cancels. Then the furniture begins to talk. Then the talking furniture get magical termites. All in time for the guests to arrive.

The rest of the party, Sabrina and her aunts spend dashing around, pretending that everything is normal. That, not unusually, makes for a rather boring party. But as several “cool guys” arrive at the party, things really turn into a disaster: the furniture all begin to react at the same time, candy corn pours from the wall, Salem talks, Valeria falls through the floor, and a group of Halloween carollers crash the party.

Unsurprisingly, this actually amazes the teenagers instead of horrifies them. Knowing that she’s made a good mistake, Sabrina begins to enjoy herself as well. She summons 10,000 Maniacs to perform just in time for Libby’s arrival to rub it in her face.

Episodes like this are silly and harmless, but they are also some of the best bits about Halloween. I’d be really happy with a candy corn river and talking cats – and I even hate candy corn. I’m not one to push for “wholesome” television, but there really is something enjoyable about watching 20 minutes of nice.

It’s certainly a good way to put yourself in the Halloween mood. We’re only a little over a week away now, kids!

Wicked Wednesday: Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel (2018)

My parents were visiting Britain these past couple weeks. The last of which they stayed with me in my tiny London flat. I love my parents, but it can be difficult to find things that all of us can enjoy. Throw my husband into the mix, and it’s even more complicated.

Usually any decision making is left to me. I’m very bad at making decisions. But it must be the Halloween spirit in the air because everyone actually encouraged me to pick out horror movies.

Both of my parents are a bit…prudish (conservative?), so it’s always a tricky affair. But when I saw Hell House LLC calling to me, I thought it was time for a rewatch. It scared me enough the first time around, surely it would creep everyone else out a tiny bit.

And it was interesting seeing this movie again with sets of fresh eyes in the room. I picked up on many of the same thing as the first time: it’s a subtle build up with a slightly-confusing pay-off in the end. My family, on the other hand, got to enjoy it for the first time. My mom had to physically leave the room and didn’t come back until the ending.

So inspired by the rewatch, I decided it was time to tackle the sequel: Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel. This 2018 movie has been on my to-watch list for a long time, but had purposefully avoided it due to the mostly-negative reviews of it.

The Abaddon Hotel picks up a few years after the original events of the film. Since the release of the documentary, the interest in the Abaddon Hotel grew. But of course, with all the idiots heading into the house for dares – none came back out alive.

Enter straight-laced “investigative journalist” Jessica Fox. For some reason, despite the number of people who have disappeared, she’s determined to get into the hotel and explore things for herself.

The others dragged into her horrible plan are her fellow staff members Molly and David, and original Hell House documentary maker Mitchell (not actually in the first movie). Mitchell was a part of Diane’s team. Diane had disappeared after her interview with “Sara”, and Mitchell is rather determined to solve the mystery. Also along with them is a medium and his camera man. But don’t even bother with them, they die right away.

Much of the movie switches between several different medias: the shaky footage of Jessica’s pals inside the hotel, an TV interview of three guests included Mitchell and an idiotic politician, and the different footage of all the missing boys.

It’s rather distracting, actually. As it’s difficult to understand why we care about any of these people. The initial scenes are about a man named Jackson who went missing after breaking into the hotel. We get to see an interview with his mother that’s actually very compelling. But…it just ends there. It doesn’t matter. And that sort of sucks.

The movie’s decision not to focus on one singular story makes for a very incoherent plot. It’s as shaky as most of the camera work. Glancing back at my notes, I stopped writing after the first 15 minutes or so after realising nothing I was watching actually mattered.

Unlike the original Hell House, much of its sequel has us watching people running around scared. Do you want people running around a haunted house? Great. Then you get it for at least 50% of this movie. The climax of Hell House LLC was great because it spend most of its time building up, and the pay off was (mostly) great because of it. Say what you will about the ending.

In The Abaddon Hotel, we’re immediately shown not-so-subtle images of the cloaked figures. It’s the same scared as the first movie, but they happen straight off the bat. I can see where the idea was to terrify right away, but mostly comes across as lazy and…boring.

Hell House LLC II fails to comply with the idea that less is more. We learn too much about Hell House, which makes it less scary in many ways. If there was a need to fill in the gaps, I think a prequel would have been more interesting. The creation of “the story” is better than over-explaining something in retrospect. Seeing the answers to the first movie was, well, rather disappointing (namely: the walls).

We also learn too much about Alex, the founder of Hell House. Where his story line went was just stupid. It actually takes away from what made the first movie good. Alex apparently signed some deal with Andrew Tully, the hotel owner and cult leader who had hung himself decades earlier. I liked Alex as a character in the first movie because he was just a no-nonsense asshole. Giving him a paranormal element took away from the realism of the first movie.

There’s something that many found-footage sequels have in common: they forget to make likeable characters the second time around. We like certain found footage movies because of the believable cast. Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield. You remember the people and they look like us, thus making the world feel rounder as a whole. Alex was totally ruined for me. The new batch of characters were not interesting. So when they died, it felt more like a shrug.

In this sequel, the acting is…bad. Pretty damn bad. Straight off the bat, the first scene with Molly and Jessica is wooden and cringe-y. It immediately takes you out of a “this is real” mindset and immediately reminds you that this is all fake. And in the world of found footage, that’s a pretty big crime to commit.

As they say, “lightning never strikes the same place twice.” And that, unfortunately, is very true for Hell House. There are many familiar scares here, but they just don’t work the second time around.

Recommended reads for Halloween season

Autumn is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book. Mostly because it’s raining outside and it’s miserable stuff out there.

But it’s also a high-point in the publishing calendar year. We’re getting all sorts of spooky books this year as everything occult is becoming popular again. I say bring on the trend! All the more witches and demons for us. Weird thing is, I tend not to read very much horror in the autumn. I save all those up for the summer where I can stay up late and scare the shit out of myself. I love supernatural romance and mystery at this time of the year. Characters > plot.

I gathered a list of my favourite books to read at the Halloween season. Incidentally, not many of these are new releases. But that does mean you can find these at a good used price.

Who said being spooky had to be expensive?

Whether you enjoy listening to a book or having pictures, there’s plenty to enjoy. So let me know what you’re reading this year (send some recommendations!). I’ve got plenty of books on funeral homes and murderous mischief awaiting me. Let the season begin!

The Novels:

If you like a bit of gore with a side of sweetness, there are loads of supernatural-themed cozy mysteries to choose from. I’m pretty new to the genre, so I may be one of the worst people to get a recommendation from. But I can say Caught Dead Handed: A Witch City Mystery is a pretty fun place to start.

Lee Barrett has returned to Salem, Massachusettes to interview for a TV reporter job. Only she ends up landing a gig as a psychic on a late-night horror movie show. Thing is – the job is only vacant because of the murder of the previous host. When Lee begins to see visions, she reluctantly begins to solve the murder.

And speaking of psychics… Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan is a supernatural thriller about Sarah, a young girl who begins to have visions upon moving to a new town. After posing as a fortune-teller for a fair, Sarah realises she’s set off a frightening chain of events linked to the Salem Witch trials hundreds of years earlier.

The book was turned into a pretty good made-for-TV movie called I’ve Been Waiting For You. (Terrible title change.) So if you want to skip the book and head straight for the adaption, I’d definitely recommend it. Try finding it on YouTube before dishing out £100 for the dated DVD.

You can’t talk about good adaptions of witch books without mentioning Practical Magic. Alice Hoffman’s classic is a wonderful tale about sisterhood, horrible ex-boyfriends and magic. You probably already know the story from the iconic 1995 film of the same name. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up and welcome to the world.

I personally think the prequel, The Rules of Magic, has more autumnal ambience, but it’s not worth reading without reading Practical Magic first. It will make you laugh and it will certainly make you cry. But most of all: it will fill your room with spells and a certain magic of its own.

The last novel recommendation is the Night World series by L.J. Smith. This is a classic YA series from the 90s. And personally, I think it’s one of Smith’s bests (only bested by the Forbidden Game trilogy). Set in a world similar to our own, human children keep falling in love with supernatural creatures. Sad news for them, this is a major no-no.

You’ll probably be able to draw similarities between the summaries of Night World and Twilight. Only, bless Twilight, L.J. Smith is actually a good writer. She has a great knack for making memorable characters. Even though each novel in the series follows a different set of children, I could easily describe the main character in each book. They have flaws, they have strengths. Sometimes they’re weirdly into techno music in a big way. But none of us are perfect, are we?

You might have noticed I’ve recommended a lot of supernatural romance and YA here. I’m very (not) sorry. This was unintentional. Have you ever heard of Stephen King? Yeah. Give that guy a try or something…

The Graphic Novels:

With the release of Shudder’s Creepshow reboot, it’s time to celebrate by revisiting the original (as well as enjoying the new show, obviously). If you haven’t yet, try the comic book version of the film. There isn’t much new here if you’ve already seen the 1982 movie, but there is something very satisfying about seeing the movie on page in a EC Comics-style.

A short read full of ghoulish fun.

Now the next pick is particularly special to me (as evident by the fact that I recommend this series to literally everyone). I first heard about Locke & Key at a Q&A at an IDW comic con panel. Most of the men on the panel agreed that this Joe Hill-penned story was one of their favourites. After following their recommendations, it’s one of mine too.

Locke & Key follows the story of the Locke children after the brutal murder of their father. They along with their mother return to their father’s ancestral home, Keyhouse. While healing from their trauma, they children discover a series of keys that each holds a magical power. As they gain more knowledge of they keys, an evil entity looms around them, growing stronger.

There’s an adaption coming to Netflix in 2020. And the cast really looks like the cast we deserve. So now is the time to read the comics before the show is released.

And if you’re like me and occasionally like revisiting the realm of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there are loads of comics to choose from. Most of them are terrible. Some are more interesting than others. I personally enjoyed Tales of the Slayers, which is a selection of stories about various vampire slayers throughout history and the future (featuring Karl Moline’s gorgeous Fray).

If you’re not ready to commit to the long story-arches of the comic series aren’t sure where to start with Buffy comic material, this isn’t a bad place to start. It’s by no means earth-shattering content. But for a quick, fun vampire read – this is it.

The Audiobooks:

If you know anything about my reading habits, I’m obsessed with audiobooks. It’s the number one way that I consume books these days.

Horror and fantasy are great genres to listen to. Horror especially, as the right narrator really adds an ambience that only enhances a book. Not that being said…I haven’t read many horror books on audio. I typically read mystery and thrillers. That way I can’t look at the end of the book and spoil things for myself.

I’m the literal worst.

One such example of a great narrator bringing a story to life is Peter Bishop’s go at Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The Willows“. It’s only two hours, but there’s a lot of well-built suspense that has a great payoff. Plus it’s not a huge commitment. No summary here. Best to go into this one completely blind.

If you love haunted houses, look no further than anything by Darcy Coates. I listened to The Haunting of Blackwood House a couple of years back, but I still recall some great, thrilling scenes. It isn’t going to be the most original tale you ever read, but if you want some spooky doors with your blood and screams, I do recommend Coates.

At the point of writing this, I’ve not yet finished with Serpent & Dove, but I’m still going to throw it in these here recommendations. I’m an unabashed lover of YA fiction. I don’t care that I’m an adult. I haven’t been this obsessed with a story in ages.

Lou is a witch. Reid is a witch hunter. So it’s fairly inconvenient when they are forced into marriage to save their lives and reputations. As Lou continues her work to save her kind, she becomes more entangled in Reid’s world. It’s incredibly addictive. So it’s probably best to hold off until you have 15 hours to sit and listen to this baby.

Wicked Wednesday: Trick or Treats (1982)

Eegah! It’s already October! And here I was, all ready to suck in the loveliness of September. Turns out I just slept through the entire month because I can’t believe that it’s already time for Halloween!

Now, usually in October I just like to revel in everything Halloween-y, but that doesn’t mean I set out to watch anything specific during the month, bar the last week. (And that one time I watched The Day After Halloween which was…a choice.) But this year, I thought subtly be damned – let’s go all out!

And it’s not very surprising how many Halloween themed horror movies there are. Though I’d be curious to see which holiday has more movies from the genre dedicated to it, Halloween or Christmas.

Choosing the first movie for October was pretty easy. Upon opening Prime a couple weeks ago, Trick or Treats was the first recommended movie for me. And the lure of Halloween, pranks and Peter Jason was great.

Shame the movie didn’t live up to expectations…

Trick or Treats is one of the million copycats that arrived in the wake of John Carpenter’s original Halloween film and its sequel. But this one doesn’t even try to be subtle about where it gets its inspiration from:

A young actress, Linda, is called on Halloween night to babysit a child. But the family she’ll be working for have a secret. Years earlier, the husband, Malcolm, was thrown into a asylum because of his wife, Joan. And it just so happens that on Halloween night, Malcolm has made his escape.

Linda spends most of her night being harassed by the young boy, Christopher. He’s an aspiring magician who loves to play pranks. Does that sound like a fun movie to you? If so, you’re in luck! Large swathes of these 90 minutes are dedicated to stupid pranks.

Meanwhile, Malcolm is finally making his escape. Why was he put into the asylum to begin with? Well, there’s no reason other than a throw away line about him being “mad as a hatter”. So.

Malcolm assaults a nurse and takes her uniform and wig. With that, he makes his way out onto the city streets. He eventually sheds his nurse garb after being harassed by strange men. He steals the clothing from a homeless man. Oh and on the way he keeps making calls to his old home, wanting to threaten his ex-wife Joan. But silly boy somehow doesn’t realise that Joan and Linda don’t have similar voices.

So the whole night makes Linda frustrated. It gets significantly worse for her once Malcolm makes his way into the house.

And well, that’s it really. It’s really just is the plot of Halloween but with pranks to pad out those 90 minutes. I was surprised to see that the running time was so sort, especially since it felt like I was watching one of the longest movies of my life. There’s just some really strange choices when it comes to storyline.

Trick or Treats feels like a parody of a Halloween film. It’s incredibly farcical. The characters make completely silly choices and have the weirdest dialogue. So maybe that was the point? But I’m not convinced either way.

There’s a lot not to like about this movie. At least Peter Jason as Malcolm is a treat? Though it isn’t nearly enough to make this movie watchable. If you like kids playing stupid pranks for a couple hours, I guess this one was made for you.

Wicked Wednesday: Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

I have been in a BIG vampire mood as of late. Perhaps it’s because we can’t stop talking about Twilight at work for some reason. So when picking this week’s movie to watch, choosing one with a vampire theme was a no-brainer.

After reading through several lists, I landed on Vampire’s Kiss. It sounded great. 80s-era Nicolas Cage in a black comedy? Yes please!

Only I’ve been gravely misled.

Vampire’s Kiss is one of the most unsettling movies I’ve watched in a long time. Black comedy? Not really. Unless I’ve missed the punchline.

Cage plays Peter Loew. He’s a womaniser, an asshole, and a bit unwell. Peter spends his nights in bars and clubs, picking up women. One night he brings home a girl where they’re attacked by a bat.

At a therapy session, Peter describes that he felt somehow turned on by the experience. Not necessarily in a sexual way, but more of an awakening. Soon after, he takes another woman, Rachel, home. She seemingly bites his neck, turning him into a vampire.

As Peter believes Rachel continues visiting him for feeding, strange things begin to happen. He loses his memory and becomes increasingly more volatile. On the receiving end of this violence is Alva, a secretary at the literary agency he works at.

He continually hounds poor Alva for a old, missing contract. She’s tortured by his increasing obsession. But it’s clear that the obsession is not with the document, but torturing her.

One day Alva calls in sick. Peter stalks her by showing up at her address. He convinces her to go back into work by claiming he no longer cares about the contract. But when they return to the office, he forces her to continue the search until she finds it.

And Alva does find it. Peter, though, is less than pleased. He begins to chase her and later assaults her (and presumably rapes her).

Peter’s behaviour becomes even more erratic. He buys a pair of plastic fangs, which he uses to kill a girl at a club by “sucking her blood”. After killing the girl, he comes face-to-face with Rachel. Only Rachel isn’t a vampire. She’s very much a regular woman who has only met Peter once.

At this point, he begins to spiral even more. He begins seeing more hallucinations. He meets his dream girl, thanks to his therapist’s help (in his mind). But that soon disintegrates.

Meanwhile, Alva opens up to her brother about the assault. Rightly furious, Alva’s brother takes her into the city to take on Peter. The man, though, is very much gone. So when his death happens, it almost acts like it’s a blessing to him.

Vampire’s Kiss is incredibly heavy. In many ways, it reminds me of American Psycho. We can’t really be sure what is real and what isn’t. But we are certain by the end of the film that we cannot believe anything from Peter’s point of view.

I’m very confused by this movie. I wouldn’t recommend it. But I certainly want someone else to watch it just so I can vent.

Cage is very good here. Some people have complained that the character of Peter isn’t very sympathetic, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t want to sympathise with him. While he clearly has mental health issues, we don’t need to feel sorry for him. Peter comes off as fundamentally a terrible person, with or without any conditions. Also he’s a rapist. I’ll pass on wanting to sympathise.

If you’re interested in this one, I’d go into this one with an open mind. Certainly don’t go into it expecting a comedy. But who knows, maybe it is very funny. Though it’s much more likely it will make you feel very uncomfortable and uneasy. If that’s what you like in horror, you’ll definitely find that here.

On a different note… Can I please get the vampire movie I deserve?