Top five Wisconsin-based horror movies

I’ve been back in Wisconsin for an extended holiday this month. This is truly one of the best times to be in the state. Beautiful weather, lots of time at the lake, and lots of food and beer (though that last one isn’t seasonal).

To celebrate my time in the Dairyland, I’ve collated a list of my top five favourite horror movies set and filmed in Wisconsin. You can read my initial reviews of them from back in the day during my Wicked (Wisconsin) Wednesday project. Honestly, Wisconsin has a lot to offer for regional horror (usually a lot about farms and lakes), that they’re definitely worth checking out.

And going through my old lists, posts and other Letterboxd material – I’ve realised that I’ve got a lot of watching and catching up to do! Viva Wisconsin!

5. Blood Harvest (1987) dir. by Bill Rebane

I recently revisited this Rebane “classic” on the 88 Film release. And look, I’m not going to argue that this is a good movie. It’s got a lot of oddities about it. But it also has a great performance from Tiny Tim as a Vietnam War veteran who dresses up as a clown. He comes across as very unsettling, but also someone you pity. It might not be a cornerstone of the genre, but it’s a good example of regional horror.

4. Blood Hook (1986) dir. by Jim Mallon

Filmed in Hayward near the Fishing Hall of Fame muskie, this slasher is pretty darn Midwestern. I mean, the premise is a group of kids at a fishing festival get murdered. It’s whacky for sure and directed by the producer of MST3K to add a bit of prestige to it. There’s apparently an extended version available from Vinegar Syndrome and Troma. It’s what the world needs most.

3. Trapped Alive (1988) dir. by Leszek Burzynski

A fun, Christmas-time cannibal film! A group of kids and escaped convicts get lost in an abandoned mine during a snow storm. Unfortunately for them, the mine contains a cannibal and his boobytraps. Utterly weird. Completely Wisconsin.

2. Lake Michigan Monster (2018) dir. by Ryland Brickson Cole Tews

A truly trippy sea monster movie that’s zany enough to make my beloved Milwaukee proud. A sea captain goes to great lengths to capture and kill a sea monster that supposedly dwells in the depths of Lake Michicagn. It does lose pace at the end, but it’s so worth the watch if you’re a fan of b-monster movies like the type from Roger Corman.

1. Dead Weight (2012) dir. by Adam Bartlett and John Pata

A somber zombie movie that has more going for it than many. A man struggles through the zombie apocalypse to be reunited with his ex-girlfriend. It’s a look at obsession and the struggle some people have to just let things die.

Top five new-to-me movies of 2022 (so far)

How is it already nearly the end of July? This year has been an utter blur. Perhaps a fun sign of getting older?

I’ve watched so many good films this year. A big plus to going to the cinema more often. (Shout out to the Prince Charles Cinema for being my second home.) I’ve made an effort to watch more international films, and have been greatly rewarded for doing so.

So for the first six months of this year. Here are the five new-to-me movies that I’ve enjoyed the most.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) dir. by Daniels

When I saw this at the cinema, the woman behind me was sobbing like a baby. Not much more needs to be said.

Okay. Actually, I have a lot more to say about this movie, which is largely about the immigrant experience. It’s hilarious, truly moving and utterly unforgettable. Michelle Yeoh is a treasure. As is Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan (IN THAT STUIT!!!!), Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong… The cast is brilliant.

Black Dynamite (2009) dir. by Scott Sanders

“Your knowledge of scientific biological transmogrification is only outmatched by your zest for kung-fu treachery!”

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began watching Black Dynamite, a parody of the Blaxploitation movies of the 70s. But it’s so funny and very clever. A true love letter to the genre.

If you’re fond of the films of that era, it’s a must-watch. Even if you’re not, the comedy is excellent. It’s a fun ride that keeps the pace moving at all times.

Mother (2009) dir. by Bong Joon-Ho

First off, shout out to my coworker who took the time to give me an excellent list of Eastern Asian movies to watch. It’s been an endless source of great

When I saw Mother in cinemas, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But I left stunned and in tears.

It’s best to go blind into this one to avoid any expectations. But the story examines the lengths people (mothers) will go to protect their children, sometimes to the detriment of others.

The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (1968) dir. by Noriaki Yuasa

If there’s one thing I’m excited to explore more of, it’s classic Japanese horror. The monsters are unlike anything I’ve seen in Western cinema.

I have, of course, seen many of Yuasa’s Gamera movies, but this fantasy horror outing is special. The Snake Girl follows a young girl who is reunited with her family after spending time in an orphanage. Though her family is not quite everything she hopes they would be.

This movie reminded me vaguely of the excellent A Tale of Two Sisters, which is also a story about family betrayal and secrets. But this one has witches and crazy ladies with snake necks!

Switchblade Sisters (1975) dir. by Jack Hill

I’ve seen some of Jack Hill’s movies before, but was so surprised by how engaging Switchblade Sisters was.

Based loosely on Othello, this exploitation gang movie follows a group of school girls who fight for power and leadership of the Jezebels. There’s betrayal, excellent outfits and plenty of violence.

Wicked Wednesday: Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1966)

Godzilla versus Kong. Freddy versus Jason. Alien versus Predator. Billy the Kid versus…Dracula?

Well, it’s certainly no one’s dream match up but 1966’s Billy the Kid versus Dracula is what happens when 60s drive-in movies meets the once-dominate Western genre. It’s a wild concept on paper, but that zaniness doesn’t quite reach the screen.

Dracula is somehow in the Wild West frontier of the United States. While on a coach ride west, he sees a photograph of a young lady, Betty Bentley, and becomes smitten. So killed off a local indigenous woman, causing the tribe there to kill off everyone in Dracula’s party.

He later turns up at the town alone, claiming that he is Mr Underhill, Betty’s uncle. When news reaches the town that Betty’s mother has been killed, “Mr Underhill” moves in at her ranch.

But poor Dracula has one major thing in the way of his hands: Billy the Kid. Billy is Betty’s fiance and a bit of a suspicious man. When he hears a group of German immigrants panicking about vampires, he listens to their worries. He enlists the help of the local doctor to learn more about the lore (and it’s very weird lore).

Billy has to wise up and save ol’ Betty before she becomes Dracula’s bride.

It’s bad. It’s definitely bad. Poor John Carradine walks around just looking like a vampire: top hat, red cravat and a black cape? Oh don’t mind that fella that makes all the Germans scream. Nothing to see here! But little oddities like that are one of the few bits of fun in this. Everything else is just very boring and long.

Director William Beaudine was incredibly prolific, directing nearly 200 films according to Letterboxd. And this one Beaudine points to as his worst (which I think is probably saying something). This came at the tail end of his career, being one of the last two movies he ever made. The other being Jesse James Meet’s Frankenstein’s Daughter, which was the film BvD was shown with as a double feature.

Not that I have seen any of Beaudine’s other films, but I can get why he’d be disappointed in it. It moves at a slug’s pace up until the end. When you’ve got cowboys and vampires, you expect a bit more action and adventure. Not long scenes with German housekeepers arguing with their mistresses about wolfsbane.

There are a lot of the usual suspects that bring down the vibe here. Flat characters, racist caricatures, a general dislike for women. And none of the fun parts (Dracula getting hit in the face with a pistol) make up for it enough to get into the “so bad it’s good” zone.

It’s always a shame when b-movie concepts don’t reach the height of what they could have been. I’d even argue that today, even with minuscule budgets, independent filmmakers are allowed to go more “balls-to-the-wall” with concepts like Llamageddon and Sharknado… I mean, I didn’t say they were good. Just crazier.

Wicked Wednesday: Slumber Party Massacre (2021)

Remakes. The horror genre loves them. Sometimes they really work and transcend the original (The Thing). Sometimes they’re nearly universally hated (The Fog). And other times, they’ll surprise you (House of Wax – my go-to example now).

So I was both very excited and rather nervous about the remake of Slumber Party Massacre. The original film is by no means perfect. The sequel, however, is. Despite any flaws, the original trilogy remains a very important cult trilogy. It was the first series of horror films to be entirely written and directed by women. And to my knowledge, remains the only one.

I was fairly disappointed with the results of Black Christmas (2019), but overall was just bewildered by the backlash. Was it because it offended the men too much? Lord knows. But 2021’s Slumber Part Massacre wasn’t met with nearly any of the vitriol that the other was. And it’s kind of obvious why.

In 1993, a group of friends are targeted by a drill-wielding killer, Russ Thorn. There was only one survivor of that slumber party – Trish. She manages to knock the killer into the lake, but years later remains unconvinced that the man is dead.

Present-day Trish is paranoid. After Russ’s assault and the murder of her friends, she keeps a close eye on her daughter, Dana. She’s been reduced to being a nameless joke while Russ’s name continues on in infamy thanks to trashy true crime podasts. When Dana and her friends go off on a trip together, Trish can’t help but fret more than ever.

The girls casually lie to Trish, but quickly make their way to a cabin at the lake. Not the cabin, but one nevertheless. They begin their night of fun. When Maeve’s little sister discovers a body nearby with its eyes missing, the girls admit this: they were trying to lure out Russ all along, finally catching and killing the son of a gun.

And surprise! Nothing goes quite to plan. With their “no murders” goal already shattered, the girls must work together to stop Russ once and for all and save themselves. They’re not the average nameless characters in a slasher movie: they’re smart, funny and flawed. The perfect heroines!

The girls eventually stumble upon a cabin full of men. The boys are there to have a party! They have pillow fights, dance around in their undies and just let loose! The cliches are over-the-top for a reason: to make a point. And some of these points are very on the nose.

“This is part of your big feminist plot to get rid of all the men!”
“That was a really sexist thing to say.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry.”

But some are more subtle, like the way Trish is able to fight back and claim victory over her own trauma (there are plenty of references to podcasts and the lack of respect for victims throughout).

The movie doesn’t make fun of men, so much as it pokes fun at the stereotypes genders are often forced into for slashers. They’re flawed in a horror-movie way, but they also seem really nice? The Guy 1/Guy 2 gag cracked me up, even after the joke was repeated for the fifth time. Chuckling even now writing this! Director Danishka Esterhazy and writer Suzanne Keilly did a great job of embracing the genre while also picking it apart.

I loved the little nods to the original movies: the little sister getting in the way, the red guitar, the telephone repair van, the cooler gag. It made me want to rewatch the originals all over again, while still managing to make me love it on its own. And that, I think, is the sign of a good remake.

Slumber Party Massacre (2021) was much more of a comedy than I was expecting, but I’ve actually grown fond of that idea after the initial shock. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but it’s still passionate about the ladies at the centre of the story. There are definitely some loose threads at the end, making me very hopeful for a sequel. I can only hope it has the freedom and budget to truly let loose.

I’m looking forward to marathoning all four movies. This remains top-tier horror fun.

Wicked Wednesday: Night Owl (1993)

Vampires are one of the most enduring monsters of horror. Even from their earliest iterations, they always symbolised our fears. With each generation, we see a new take that reflects its society.

So a 1990s vampire film set in 1984 (?) is most certainly a take on the dangerous city New York was at the time, as well as the AIDS epidemic.

Jake is a vampire on the hunt for victims, most often found in nightclubs. But he chooses the wrong victim when he kills Zohra, the sister of a young man named Angel. With his sister missing, Angel begins his search for her. But it isn’t a search that will have a happy ending.

Despite his best attempts, Jake cannot stop himself from feeding. Even when he meets and falls for a young poet, he soon feeds on her as well.

When Angel eventually catches up with Jake, the fight ends very quickly. But Jake needs to run before he can finish the job – continuing the circle of death and infection.

Night Owl is very light on the plot. The vampire at the centre of the story feels almost secondary to the world around him. The House music of the era is something to behold! Nightlife icons of the era (Holly Woodlawn, Screamin’ Rachael) bring the ambience to life. Though this makes things even more confusing when we hear of Indira Gandhi on the radio – placing the story in 1984, not the 90s as we had assumed.

While actors John Leguizamo and James Raftery do a good job with what material they are given, there isn’t any character development (or many character traits to begin with). So it is very difficult to care about what is happening in the story. Rather, it’s the city itself in all its filth, tragedy and vibrancy that steals all the attention.

This is a gorgeous film, and I think it’s worth watching for that alone. It was shot on grainy 16 mm film, bringing feelings of the earliest vampire films like Nosferatu and Vampyr. It even predates other 90s vampire black-and-white films like The Addiction and Nadja (which, incidentally, I think are also set in NYC).

Clearly the epidemic occurring at the time was a catalyst for these stories. Making the vampire film all that more harrowing and bleak.

*By the way, I had no idea that Beyonce would be bringing House music back this week with her new single. Maybe she was inspired by me watching this movie? I can only assume.

Wicked Wednesday: The Last Thing Mary Saw (2021)

I have the attention span of a fruit fly. The only way I can give full attention to a film is by going to the cinema. But at least I know and can fully admit I have a problem!

Watching “slow” horror is a struggle at home. But a film like The Last Thing Mary Saw demands full attention. It’s a quiet (literally) and soft film that’s equally filled with torture, pain and suffering.

Mary and her family’s maid, Eleanor, are in love. But it’s 1843 and a Puritan household, which makes for a dangerous life for the pair of young women.

When the rest of the family discovers their romance, the girls are both subject to a series of “corrections” to change their ways. Despite this, Mary and Eleanor cannot be separated. Especially since no other family will take Eleanor in.

As the girls become more desperate to be together, the film flicks forward in time to when Mary is being interrogated by several men. As the two timelines get closer to each other, it becomes very clear what sort of darkness the girls felt they needed to partake in.

The Last Thing Mary Saw is definitely more slow-paced than anything I’ve watched recently. But while it doesn’t necessarily have the action of an 80s slasher, it definitely knows how to build tension. There is a moment when it becomes very clear what is about to happen. The audience knows it, the girls know it, but watching it unfold is very tragic… And yet, it’s the circumstances that led the girls to their desperation.

If you’re looking for a queer film to watch for Pride that has a happy ending, don’t seek this one out. The Last Thing Mary Saw is a tragic horror story that won’t leave anyone feeling vindicated.

Wicked Wednesday: The Boogeyman (1982)

One of my deepest, darkest secrets is that I’m not really much of a Stephen King fan. Now I have nothing against him as a human or a writer, but I’ve just never connected with his stories like so many others have. Does that make me a bad horror fan? Oops!

So when it came to watching a short film adaption of his short story “The Boogeyman” I was in the dark when it came to what to expect.

I had to read the short story’s synopsis on Wiki just so I could better understand what’s happening in the film. The film itself is a bit…lacking in the writing department.

Lester Billings is the father of several children who have been killed in his home. The police suspect he has something to do with it, but Lester knows that the truth is: they’ve been killed by the Boogeyman.

He goes to a psychiatrist to talk about what has happened. With each child’s death, he heard them call out “BOOGEYMAN” (I think – though I couldn’t really tell with the quality of the video I was watching). And each time he found a dead child in bed, the closet door would be ajar.

So is Lester insane? Or is there really a mythic creature hunting him and his family?

The end of the film sort of gives you that answer. But then again, I’m happy I read the synopsis as I watched this.

This was apparently a student film made in 1982. For a student film, I like the mood and lighting in some of the scenes, which seem to be Italian inspired with the blue, purple and red tones. But it isn’t spectacular by any means.

The Boogeyman was a part of Stephen King’s Dollar Baby programme. According to its website, “These stories are not under contract for movies, which means they are available for film students who want to try their hands at a Stephen King story. If you want to be one of my dollar babies, send us your info.”

It’s a fun idea, and I’d be curious to see more! Interestingly, “The Boogeyman” is no longer listed. It’s apparently do a feature-length adaptation by Rob Savage (Host) and Mark Heyman (co-writer of Black Swan). Having read the synopsis and watched this, I’m not entirely sure what can be done to make this an interesting 90+ minute film. However, I do love to be proved wrong.

What’s your favourite King adaptation? Or what sort of his am I sorely missing out on?

Wicked Wednesday: Blood Theatre aka Movie House Massacre (1984)

I was about 35 minutes into watching Girls Nite Out for this week’s post before I realised I had already seen this movie. Everyone movie is special and unique in its own way…I just forget that. Apparently.

Having to reset and start over again, I wanted something quick. When I spied Blood Theatre‘s 75-minute running time, I knew I had struck gold. Mary Woronov starring and Hobgoblin director Rick Sloane behind the camera were only the cherries on top.

Blood Theatre is like a bloodless version of many cinema-set slashers such as Popcorn, The Last Matinee and Demons. There are kids at the theatre, they get killed at the theatre. Only Sloane manages to make this so unwatchable that it comes back around on itself and becomes watchable again.

Years after a massacre at a theatre, the owner of the Spotlite multiplexes, Dean Murdock, buys it. Get it to successfully open, and he gets a $75,000 reward. He bribes three of his young co-workers to open it for him. A $1,000 bonus is their dangling carrot.

But when the three kids get to the theatre, things generally go a bit wrong. As they remain aware, their classmates arrive at the theatre, only to get killed off by a lurking man. Some get stabbed, and others get blown up (?) in a magical popcorn machine. Some just get…blown at by some wind?

There’s not too much more to this basic plot. Nor is there much character development. However, the bonkers editing, hammy performances and ridiculous outfits save this. I mean, the outfits look like what people wear when they buy 1980s costumes from the Halloween store. The posters on the wall for featured films are clearly just hand-drawn. Most of all: at no point is the killer really explained. (Is he a ghost? Is he just really old? Does this old guy have powers??)

Make no mistake: this is a really bad movie. But somehow, I was pretty charmed by it. I can’t help but admire indie filmmakers, even if things turn out…less-than-successful. If you enjoyed Hobgoblins, you need to see Blood Theatre. Any member of the “so bad it’s good” club will get a kick out of this movie.

Also, if you love Mary Woronove: run, don’t walk. She plays a harassed, tough-as-nails, chain-smoking secretary and is a star. As always.

Wicked Wednesday: True Crime (1995)

Many people think that the current wave of true crime obsession is something new. But there was the crime novel boom of the 80s and let’s face it, people loved this stuff in Victorian times.

We’re fascinated by the dark side of the human psyche. And certainly, in recent years (as well as the work of Ann Rule), we’ve also spent time getting to know the victims of these tragedies.

So it was plenty of fun to learn there was a movie about a true crime-obsessed teen in 1995. Surely with a girl as our heroine, we’ll get some of that insight into our victims? Oh no? It will just be a really weird romantic thriller? Well…

True Crime follows high school senior Mary. She loves mysteries and wants to be a police officer one day, just like her dad. She pesters the local police detective for leads and listens to the police scanner for fun.

Following the murder of one of her classmate’s sisters, Kathleen, Mary begins to look more closely at the series of murders, understanding that they are likely all done by the same person.

While trying to learn more about Kathleen, Mary ends up at the local swimming pool where she catches a man creeping on some of the younger girls. She follows him home, and eventually, he begins to follow her. After she attacks him at a supermarket, they both are dragged to the precinct where Mary learns the man is a young police cadet.

The cadet is introduced as Tony. We’re meant to think he’s trustworthy and just as eager to solve the case as Mary, but actor Kevin Dillon plays him in such an unconvincing way. Tony immediately becomes #1 on my suspect list! But he certainly isn’t on Mary’s as she begins to fall in love with him (ick).

The two try to solve the murders together. They chase after a guy working at a carnival. They look for a blue car. They continue to make huge leaps in logic.

Mary eventually breaks into Tony’s house. She finds bleach and other cleaning supplies. She knows that the killer cleaned his victims after their murders. He has the right kind of car as the killer. But surely he’s not the killer! Any sort of true crime fan would be able to accept Tony’s very weak defences!

And then we’re only two-thirds of the way into the movie! It keeps going! We know Tony is the killer, but the film pretends that there’s absolutely NO WAY he is. This is absolute disrespect to the audience’s intelligence. At least wrap it up quickly if we want to make it that obvious!

Unfortunately, True Crime seems to only get worse at that point. It’s really not a fun time for anyone.

I think I was maybe too optimistic for a movie made in 1995. By the end of the 90s minutes, I still know nothing about the victims (well, Katheleen liked to swim!) and even the motivation for the killings is just…vague? So there’s nothing satisfying about the story or the mystery.

We’ve come a long way in the world of crime storytelling. Not to say that there weren’t always good stories, but I don’t know – I’m trying anything and everything to explain away this film! It’s baffling!

Mary was played by the always-adorable Alicia Silverstone. She’s hardly convincing as a mousy loser, but I’ll suspend my disbelief on that one. She’s easily the best thing about this movie, as well as Bill Nunn’s detective character (he, unfortunately, also plays a very dumb character).

This movie wasn’t released theatrically, and I can see why. Give this one a miss and find yourself a good mystery to sink your teeth into.

Wicked Wednesday: Teenage Exorcist (1991)

There are just some genres that can only exist in certain eras. You just don’t get wild trash (and I mean that in a good way) like you did in the 80s (er…I guess I mean 90s?).

Teenage Exorcist has nothing to do with teenagers or exorcists. But it does deliver a good horror comedy nevertheless!

Diane is a young grad student and a bit of an uppity one at that. She’s not big into having fun or letting loose. Wanting to get out of campus housing, she finds a mansion for sale at a price that’s a steal. And we know: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. And if it’s being sold to you by a man who looks like Michael Berryman*, you might want to ask a few neighbours if they’ve ever seen anything odd.

While in her new abode, Diane begins to feel reinvigorated and inspired. But it might not be only because she’s moved out on her own. She’s got a demon living in her cellar who wants to make her his lackey.

One night, Diane finds a spirit board on her table. She speaks to a spirit through it and is somehow lured into her cellar. It’s then that she becomes a possessed succubus.

After Diane calls for their help, Diane’s sister, Sally, and brother-in-law, Mike, arrive at the house. They’re both surprised to see Diane in all her glory – no longer the quiet, mousey type. They know immediately something is amiss. And when Diane tries to kill Sally with a chainsaw, they knock her out and tie her to a bed.

It’s when Diane’s boyfriend arrives that things get zanier. Once he believes Sally and MIke’s story of possession, they call a priest. When that priest can’t remember how to exercise a demon they accidentally order several pizzas from a local pizza joint.

Does everything make sense from this point on? Absolutely not. Did they make sense before this? Not really. Does any of that matter? Hell no!

Teenage Exorcist was made in 1991, but it did not receive a video release until three years later in 1994. And by that point, it probably felt like opening a time capsule. Horror movies were about to change in a big way come 1996, so I can see why this movie would have been overlooked. It definitely fits the vibe of late 80s sleazy horror comedies like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

There’s surprisingly no gore here. There are no deaths (sorry, spoiler for a 30-year-old movie). But that doesn’t really detract from the film. It remains funny and stupid in the best of ways.

And as an added bonus. This movie includes my favourite thing: an original song.

*MB seems like a sound guy IRL. But I would never buy a house from him in a horror movie. Just saying.