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.

Wicked Wednesday: Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

The saturation of the slash in the 80s market was great. With so many out there, how on earth do you set yourself apart?

You could make a quality movie with a lot of passion. You could maybe even create characters that will resonate with audiences for decades. OR you could create an absolutely bananas plot with a unique killer.

And when you read the synopsis of “A group of American models travel to Egypt for a photoshoot and awaken an ancient mummy’s curse” – you know it’s going to be the last option.

Dawn of the Mummy is a poorly lit, 80s slasher with forgettable characters and the pacing of a sail on roller skates. But it’s also clearly enthusiastic about its Egyptian setting (shot on location in Egypt) and manages to have a great final 15 minutes.

In Ancient Egypt, Pharaoh Sefirama dies and locals are kidnapped to be buried with him. A priestess places a curse on the tomb: whoever disturbs the tomb will be cursed to die.

Thousands of years later, a group of explorers discover the entrance to Sefirama’s tomb. Despite being warned away, they blow up the entrance and begin to look for gold.

They’re disappointed when they later only find “old junk”, which is mildly infuriating. The old junk is quite clearly going to be incredibly valuable? But gold, I guess. Some people clearly have no taste.

Meanwhile, a group of models arrive from New York. They begin a photoshoot in the desert. After being shot at by the explorers, they eagerly enter the tomb and decide to have the photoshoot there.

All sorts of things go wrong for everyone: the graverobbers, the models, the explorers. It gets even worse when they finally awaken Sefirama from his eternal slumber.

Sefirama wastes no time exacting his revenge on the people who have disturbed his tomb. He raises his army of undead to help him. Mayhem ensues in a delightfully gruesome fashion.

This movie is quite clearly meant to capitalize on the success of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was released only a few years prior. Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of zombies here to justify it. Though we do get zombie mummies and they are so fun to watch in the third act’s mayhem.

There are versions of this film without some of the key scenes of gore. Make sure you get a version with all the good bits: they make it worth watching Dawn of the Mummy through to the end.

You can’t help but wish that this movie was more. More 80s. More camp. More…more! But we only have what we got. Though it might be the darkest movie you’ll watch in a while (the lightning, that is, not the themes), there’s still plenty to deem watching for slasher enthusiasts.

Wicked Wednesday: Dead End Drive-In (1986)

“When life gets you down, watch Ozploitation.” – ancient Wisconsin proverb

What a week! A hectic schedule and crazy life meant that I really needed a movie that grabbed my dwindling attention this week. Seeing that the Australian film Dead End Drive-in had cars, punks and a miserable dystopian future, this seemed like the perfect fit.

Following a series of events, including the second crash of Wall Street, the world is in a dystopia. One of the side-effects is a decline in manufacturing thus cars are in short supply. Gangs of people fight over scrap parts.

Crabs is a young man who loves fitness, cars and girls. When he takes his girlfriend, Carmen, on a date to a drive-in movie theatre one night, their car tyres are stolen. Crabs realises, to his surprise, that they were stolen by the police. He’s unable to get them back, so the young couple are forced to spend the night at the drive-in.

When they wake up the following morning, they see that most of the cars are still there. It’s a community of people like them who have been forced to stay around, collected like toys.

Carmen quickly takes a liking to her new surroundings. The food is fun. The kids are their age. Crabs, however, is more suspicious of the place. Everyone is seemingly complacent and unwilling to try to escape.

Seemingly all is alright until one day a truck full of foreigners arrives at the camp, angering the white population at the drive-in. Carmen is pulled further into the racist ideology while Crabs continues to plot his escape.

I was pleasantly surprised by the film’s messaging, which is both very Australian yet resonates in many countries. I would have liked it to be taken even further. So bus of immigrants arrives, but we never see much interaction with the group. Not that I’d want to see racial abuse, but I wanted to know more about these people. Even making one an actual character with dialogue would be something at least. Would any of them try to escape or does everyone fall into the same trap of contentment?

This world is so interesting in Dead End Drive-in, I really think there could be sequels to it or even a remake after all these years. If anything, beyond its political message, this movie is just fun. There are plenty of car chases and shootouts. Plus it has the added bonus of the unique Aussie humour.

I don’t watch nearly enough Ozploitation, but I think I found my new favourite pick-me-up genre.

Wicked Wednesday: Devil Times Five (1974)

Devil Times Five, originally titled People Toys aka The Horrible House on the Hill aka Tantrums is a 1974 killer kids movie. The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, It’s Alive, The Village of the Damned – the 60s and 70s just loved creepy kids.

This isn’t one that’s going to stand out from that particularly strong bunch. If it does, it’s sort of for all the wrong reasons.

In the snowy mountains, a bus carrying a group of children crashes. The children manage to escape with a nun, who was also on the bus. They manage to make their way to a chalet, where a group of not-so-great adults are spending their time.

The adults include Julie and her boyfriend, Rick, her father and his wife, and another couple to help bump up the body count. They fight. They have petty jealousies. It’s all meant to give character development, but it doesn’t add much texture.

When they find the children (and nun) in the house one morning, they decide to take them in and help them. Unbeknownst to them, the kiddos and their nun killed off their physician. Surprise! They’re all super dangerous.

The kids, with no moral conscience, begin to kill off the adults one-by-one. But of course, they’re a bit subtle about it at first, making only some of the adults suspicious. It’s too late by the time they realise that the adults are the prey and the children the predators. The children remain cool and collected throughout, making it even more unnerving watching them do these heinous crimes.

This movie definitely doesn’t have a happy ending. But it’s gleefully bad-mannered. And it’s fun.

According to an article cited on the film’s Wiki, the team had a great time filming this. And for that, I’ve very glad for them! In the end, you created a whole damn movie! That’s an amazing achievement.

However, this movie didn’t work for me. The editing, for one, is super odd. There’s so much slow-motion used. I wonder if that was just to make the running time hit 88 minutes. Disguise it as art and no one will know! But it does kill the suspense.

There is very little gore here despite good setups for each of the kills. I’m not sure if it was a budget thing or what, but there are a lot of cutaways here.

If you like killer kid movies, give this one a watch. It’s unlikely to be in anyone’s top five – but it’s an oddity worth seeking out for fans of the subgenre.

Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Games (1982)

I love stories centred around games. Not necessarily talking about Monopoly here, but the games with twists, turns, and manipulation. They can be so much fun. Unfortunately, good ones seem to be far and few between.

One of my favourite book series is by YA author L. J. Smith. Her Forbidden Game trilogy is so fun. A group of teens get sucked into a supernatural game where their nightmares are brought to life. I’ve said it a million times, but I’ll say it once more: this series deserves an adaptation.

I think because these types of stories (particularly in books) attract me so much, I often feel the disappointment more in the unsuccessful attempts. Unfortunately, Deadly Games is one of those disappointments.

After her sister’s death, young journalist Keegan returns to her hometown. There she’s confronted with her past: her mother, her strained relationship with her sister, long-lost friends. But when she learns that her sister’s death might not have been an accident, Keegan becomes concerned.

This movie plays out more like a soap opera than a traditional slasher. We learn plenty about relationships and infidelities, but very little about the characters themselves beyond who they’re sleeping with. I’m surprised this is a movie from 1982 and not something produced in the late 60s. It feels incredibly old and dated.

Like in Blood Harvest directed by Bill Rebane, we have a red herring in a slightly-odd Vietnam War veteran. Billy is the man in this instance. He’s a bit odd and people generally don’t like him. None of his behaviours shows why this is the case. They just don’t like him. We’re supposed to suspect him, but it’s just so obvious that it’s not.

When the killer’s identity is finally confirmed it’s…really anticlimactic. I was hoping for a twist, and I just never did get it.

There’s not much else to say about Deadly Games, really. It’s just so boring for the most part. However, one thing really stood out to me, and that was the performances. There are several pretty memorable characters here: Keegan, Billy, the couple from the diner (the husband played by a very charismatic Dick Butkus!!!), and the ditzy friend. I loved them all.

I think they especially stood out because they had charisma, or their characters were at least written with a bit of something. The rest of the cast blurred together so much. I was constantly rewinding, trying to figure out who was who. It’s a shame that the more fun members of the friend group were dropped. Sometimes large casts don’t pay off in slashers. Considering this one didn’t even have a high body count, I can’t imagine why the script wasn’t distilled down a bit more.

The name of the movie is so good and enticing, that its story is a letdown. I was expecting some manipulation or maybe someone so obsessed and corrupted by a board game that they’ve decided to bring it to life.

Clearly, this is my own fault. Never set expectations for something just based on reading a title. It will never lead to anything good!

Wicked Wednesday: The Seed (2021)

In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death, and taxes, and tequila making everything messy. Throw in a weird alien baby thing into the tequila mix and you’re really in for a rough time.

The Seed is a modern-day body horror movie with a dash of social commentary, cool alien practical effects and about 200 instances of the word “photoshoot”.

A group of childhood friends get together at a house in the desert for a weekend of partying. On their first night, they watch a once-in-a-lifetime meteor shower. During the show, something crashes into the book.

The girls fish the thing out. They aren’t sure what it is, but Charlotte (she hates social media!) sees that it has a face and assumes it is a dead animal.

The next morning, the girls’ phones continue to not work. They also realise that their ‘dead’ animal has crawled away. They follow its slime trail and see that it shed its shell.

The next hour is spent deciding what to do about the ‘animal’. Social media influencer Deirdre wants it dead. Charlotte wants to keep it alive. Heather is there to be a wet blanket with nice hair.

But when Charlotte and Heather go off to find help at a neighbour’s cabin, something happens to Deirdre to change her mind. If you know the title of the film, it’s certainly going to give the last third of the film away. If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know the entire film.

Horror-comedy must be one of the most difficult genres to pull off. I don’t think it’s entirely successful here, as it definitely loses steam about 30 minutes in. (I may have shouted “THERE’S MORE” when I saw I was only a third of the way through…) The ending does pick up, but it feels tonally very different. That’s fine, of course, but neither is really leaned into enough. Give me very gross humour!

There were a lot of jokes set up, and was pretty disappointed in the punchline. Also – huge missed opportunity not to have something being livestreamed at the end!

The character development wasn’t very strong, unfortunately. Deirdre as the strong-willed, vapid influencer was probably the best, if heavily based on stereotypes. Lucy Martin reminded me of a young Elaine Hendrix. I never fully got why Charlotte was so off-the-grid (she just…is?). And Heather is apparently a spiritual guru, but that is thrown away after a couple of lines.

Just imagine if this movie would have been written or directed by a woman instead?

I learned that the cast and director were all British and Irish, which I think explains a lot of really awkward things about the script and acting. Perhaps that’s something I’m particularly attuned to, but I don’t think the Brits are half as good as they think they are at understanding Americans. (Also, set the film in Britain? We need more good British horror films being made, please!)

There are plenty of reasons to watch this. The main reason being some of the practical effects, which are very much in the same vein as Brian Yuzan’s superb Society. Though if that one grossed you out, The Seed is very tame in comparison! But really, we love body horror. There’s always room for more!

Wicked Wednesday: Are You in the House Alone? (1978)

I love TV movies for many reasons: the dramatic music, the dramatic thunder and lightning, the weirdly PG violence. But often what they are most known for is their content on “lessons” and handling of controversial or taboo topics like sexual assault, eating disorders and runaways.

Many of these more controversial movies were often the most popular. Born Innocent starring Linda Blair was the highest-rated television movie of that year. I still hear women in my life reference For the Love of Nancy (for better or for worse).

One of these tough-topic films is Are You in the House Alone?, a film about a girl who is stalked before being assaulted in her own home.

Gail is a young and talented student. She’s at the cusp of womanhood and is curious about love and desire. Having moved from her home in San Francisco to a new town, Gail has adjusted well. She’s dating boys and making friends.

But after she begins to start dating Steve, she begins to find threatening letters in her locker (with some not-so-great grammar should I add – “I’m watching, you —“). No one seems to take these threats very seriously. This makes it a pretty tough film to watch. She keeps reaching out for help, but there seemingly isn’t any available. Not from family, friends or people in power like her teachers.

She also gets phone calls from a rather creepy voice. Her stalker is clearly a man. It’s her principal who suggests that Gail is looking for someone she knows.

Eventually, the inevitable assault occurs. Despite the synopsis I read, promising a movie about a girl seeking revenge, most of the story is the lead up to the assault. You learn from the opening scene what will happen to Gail. It is an issue that we know what is going to happen so early, but the event doesn’t come until the third act. There isn’t much suspense in that regard.

That being said, I’m not entirely sure if this movie wanted to be a thriller. It feels very much like an after school special in that respect. The last act of the film follows Gail and Steve as they work together to catch the person responsible for her assault. It’s not entirely a happy ending, but it is realistic. Not all victims will see justice in the ways they hope.

You can absolutely tell that this was written by a woman (Judith Parker is credited with the teleplay). It’s handled fairly well for a movie that came out in the late 70s. There’s plenty of misogyny that I personally didn’t like, but I think by the end of the film it’s addressed well.

But Gail’s character is very fleshed out and complex. She has hobbies, friends, flaws, everything that makes her an endearing main character. She’s so easy to root for, that it makes every threat, harm and success have all that much more weight to it. Kathleen Beller is truly great in this.

Some of this might seem heavy-handed. Even Gail’s photography teacher is a creep. And yet, all of this is very relatable on so many levels. Forty years on, and we’re still tackling things like predatory behaviour and white male privilege. As far as TV movies go, Are You in the House Alone? remains one that has aged the best.

***Major spoilers for Scream (2022)***

I can completely see why Jack Quaid was cast as Ghostface. He’s so evil. His dad is equally horrible in this! An uncanny family resemblance!

Wicked Wednesday: This House Possessed (1981)

One of my favourite things about TV movies is seeing familiar small-screen faces. Just this year alone I’ve seen Valerie Harper, a slew of soap opera stars, and now this week – teen heartthrob Frank Hardy himself, Parker Stevenson.

Stevenson, like Harper, is also a bit of a TV movie regular. (We bow to royalty!) Though this is my first time seeing him in one, he’s as delightful and charismatic in This House Possessed as he is in The Hardy Boys.

Gary (Stevenson) is a popular pop musician. During a performance, he collapses due to exhaustion. He’s taken to a hospital for treatment where he meets a young nurse, Shiela.

The youngin’s take a liking to each other. When Gary is on the mend, it’s decided that he will go somewhere to rest and write, and Shiela will go with him as his live-in nurse. The two head out to find a place, but a place soon finds them: a giant modern mansion. This building is so stunning, I really hope the location scout got the biggest bonus.

Though with almost all things, there’s always a catch. On their first night at the home, Shiela begins to hear voices. She tries finding the source but is caught wandering before she can get too far.

The next day, she goes into town where a lady calls her “Margaret”. This confuses Sheila for very obvious reasons. When the disembodied voice also calls her Margaret, it becomes more than just a coincidence.

Meanwhile, Gary’s off-and-on again girlfriend Tanya stops by to stir up trouble in paradise. But the house seems to have other ideas, and soon scares her away with the help of some blood.

The increasingly strange incidents prompt Sheila to come clean to Gary: she knows little about the early years of her life. She was found wandering on the road, and everything before that is just a mystery to her. After being called Margaret just one more time, Sheila knows she needs to do some digging into both her history and the house’s.

The mystery is eventually revealed to be one with plenty of holes in it. Some of the lines connecting the dots are tenuous at best. But we’re not here for the story, really, but for some spooky ambience and imagery.

The scenes from the house’s POV are all done through some security cameras. Though it’s not entirely clear (again) why none of the humans knows this? Does an incredibly famous popstar not hire anyone to do the security? Does he or his nurse not even consider checking it themselves when things beings to go haywire?

As standard for most TV movies of this era, it’s not very heavy on the horror elements. The romances and love triangle are given much more screen time for that. But for an early 80s TV movie, some of the scenes are surprisingly visceral. There’s a bloody shower scene that’s plenty gross and another death scene that made me let out a “CHRIST!”, then one giant “HA!”

This vaguely reminded me of Paganini Horror, which is significantly more fun. That story also features musicians in a creepy yet beautiful home that’s a bit possessed. It’s obviously bolder due to it not having any of the restrictions of network television. But I’m here for anything with spooky houses and cheesy music!

So for that – I give This House Possessed some credit. It’s silly, but often not silly enough, well-acted and has some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve seen in a movie.

Wicked Wednesday: Fantasies (1982)

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

The voice inside my head

As long as I can remember, my mom has watched Days of Our Lives. And for just as long, my mom has complained about it. My grandmother watched Touched By an Angel. My childhood friend All My Children. Though I never watched soaps myself, their power and influence still reached me through many women in my life. (The number of tragic car crashes and affairs my poor Barbies suffered!)

I’m endlessly fascinated by soap operas. When I learned that Fantasies was a TV movie slasher set around a soup, I knew this was for me.

Middleton, USA is a popular soap opera, created by Carla Webber (Suzanne Pleshette). Carla is smart and successful – and witty to boot. It’s all going her way until she receives news that the main baddy on her show has been murdered.

The owner of the network puts Carla and her writers under pressure to rewrite the show and rework the show without their villain. They do, but he’s soon killed off, too.

To get away from the drama and get thinking about the show’s new direction, Carla takes her daughter, Sandy, to their beach house. There Carla bumps into her ex-husband at a party. He’s there with his new, younger beau. Seemingly unbothered, Carla turns her attention to the detective on the case of the murders, Flynn.

Things get plenty soapy as Carla battles her two men. And sure, more actors get killed. But life carries on, right?

Until one night, Carla herself is attacked while in bed. She makes a narrow escape when a delivery man scares away the masked man.

With Carla the next target, she and Flynn are forced to figure out who the killer is – fast. There’s a whole slew of fun and campy suspects: a former star, a crazed fan, maybe even the husband! The movie gives you plenty of red herrings along the way, but this is a soap opera: clues hardly matter!

Fantasies has all the makings of being an awesome movie. However, I think its TV restrictions hinder it from being truly excellent. Any violence is toned down and the focus is mostly on relationships and romance. The soap opera aspects win out over any mystery or horror. It could be truly lush and bloody if remade for the cinema or streaming. However, any remake wouldn’t have Pleschette, which would be a shame. She’s wonderful and charismatic in this. She carries the entire movie on her back!

I also enjoyed a main character who was a bit older. TV movies are usually good at this, as they often focus on motherhood as one of the central themes. Carla was successful and strong and had plenty of her own agency. She might have admitted to writing pious female characters, but she was a little more complex than that.

This might not have been everything I wanted it to be, but I think it’s well worth the watch even if just to see Pleshette look utterly glamorous on screen.