Wicked Wednesday: The Amusement Park (1973/2019)

God bless the people who work in film preservation. Gone to us for several decades was George A. Romero’s educational film The Amusement Park. The film was commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania. After seeing the disturbing film Romero produced, they shelved the project, seemingly lost and forgotten to the world forever.

It wasn’t until four decades later that a copy resurfaced. A print was used in a retrospective of Romero’s work in 2017. The film was restored, and released on Shudder this week. And wow… talk about a masterpiece – a work well deserving of seeing the sun again.

The film opens with an introduction from the film’s main actor, Lincoln Maazel (Martin), who explains the films purpose: to educate people about the abuse of elders and ageism. The people involved are volunteers, or the elderly themselves – all wanting to participate and spread the message.

A bloodied and abused gentleman (Maazel) finds himself in a white room when he is greeted by a pristine, white-suited version of himself. The gentleman tries to warn himself about the dangers of the outside, but the happier version of himself heads through a door and into the amusement park.

At the amusement park – it is sequence of horror and doom. Everywhere our gentleman looks, people are willing to either ignore or take advantage of the elderly. Their treasures are taken in exchange for pennies and tickets. They’re subjected to tighter rules by impatient carnies.

On one of the rides, a man dies and is (presumably) dropped into a wooden box without fanfare. An elderly woman is blamed for a bumper car crash that she didn’t cause. Our gentleman sees all of these injustices – but when he tires to help or speak up, nothing seems to help. He himself is seen as a “degenerate” and someone to avoid or not believe.

There’s an unsettling scene where a young couple visit a fortune teller to see their future. What appears in the crystal ball is an interview with a landlord who has elderly tenets kept in some abysmal conditions, blaming the tenets for the issues. The woman tries to call the doctor to see her husband, but he refuses. A future that the couple could only avoid by helping to improve situations for the elderly before they become old themselves.

Parades and chaos follows the gentleman’s visit to the fortune teller, but suddenly he finds himself in the abandoned park. He sees the grim reaper pass by, just before a gang of bikers appear to harass, beat and rob him. The gang drives away, but as the park fills again, the gentleman is left on the ground without help.

The gentleman continues to see the harassment of the elderly while being subjected to it himself. It finally comes to ahead when he is literally chased away from a show by a crowd. He ends up at a sanctuary, only to find it closed. Sanctuary, it seems, is nowhere to be found at an amusement park. A park only made for the young.

The Amusement Park is claustrophobic, heart breaking and disturbing. A movie that makes sure to remind you of its point by punching you in the gut at literally every turn. Relief? There is no relief to be found here.

I found this film to be a horrifying parallel to the pandemic. We’ve all seen situations where people heartlessly disregarded the elderly and at risk by living their lives carelessly and our governments disastrously mishandle the situation in care homes. This educational film might be nearly 50 years old, but it’s just as relevant – if not more – than when it was produced.

I’m not really sure why the Lutheran Society decided to hire Romero, who had already released Night of the Living Dead nearly five years earlier. It seems an odd fit. But a brilliant fit, to be sure. What set his work apart in the genre, was his ability to seamlessly add social commentary to his work. He wore his politics on his sleeve. It’s interesting to see him flex his muscles in a piece where the social commentary is meant to be so front and centre.

Romero was the first director I fell in love with. But growing up, most most of his non-zombie movies were difficult to find (particularly fifteen years ago in rural Wisconsin). Heather Wixton’s wonderful interview with his widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero (who launched the George A. Romero Foundation), in Daily Dead gives some insight into the creator’s later years – when he felt completely unwanted. A man whose work always meant so much to me, increasingly as his work becomes more accessible, is heartbreaking.

But it does remind you that everything in The Amusement Park, while done up in funfair fashion, rings true. We forget our elders, just wanting to push them aside. But they will always have something to offer. After all, “One day, YOU will be old.”

Wicked Wednesday: All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

“Somebody got fucked. Somebody got killed. I’m going to gym.”

Happy Pride Month! I wish all the queer horror lovers out there a wonderful month of celebrations!

I was a bit surprised that I had never done a post dedicated to queer horror on this blog. It probably comes down to the fact that June is usually the most hectic month of the year for me. But as my June is much more relaxed this year, I finally could get my head out of my ass! I found and read through Jordan Crucchiola’s excellent Essential Queer Horror Films list. But I was genuinely surprised at how few of the contemporary ones I had seen (or even heard of!).

One stood out to me immediately: All Cheerleaders Die. For years I had seen the movie’s poster in rental shops and online and wrote it off. At the best of times, cheerleader horror is really hit and miss. This looked like it had run-of-the-mill misogyny written all over it.

So I pleasantly surprised to learn that this movie was an excellent comedic romp. What sold me even more is the fact that was directed by Lucky McKee, whose film The Woods I really enjoyed.

All Cheerleaders Die has a pace that never gives up, throwing out a twist straight off the bat.

Maddy is making a film about her friend Alexis, the head cheerleader at her school, at the end of the school year. But when a stunt goes badly wrong, Alexis’s life is cut suddenly short.

Three months later, Maddy is vying for the spot on the team. It’s surprising to the other cheerleaders, who had her pegged as an outsider whose ex-girlfriend, Leena, is a goth witch. But she surprises them again by showing off her skills.

After making the squad, Maddy begins to befriend Tracy, who had begun to date Terry. The boy just happens to be who Alexis was dating at the time of her death. At a party, Maddy begins to put a secret plan into action when she tells Tracy that Terry had cheated on her.

Terry later spies the two girls kissing while they comfort each other. He tries to intimidate Maddy later, but she seems pretty hell-bent on completing her mission.

At a party the night before Senior year, the cheerleaders and football players have a party in the woods by the cemetery. There’s drinking. There’s canoodling. There’s even a bit of witchcraft. But when Terry shows up angry, things get bad fast.

Tracy tells him off, both drunk and angry. After belittling him in front of the crowd, he punches her and a fight breaks out. The cheerleaders all pile in a car to make their getaway, but the football players aren’t too far behind.

The girls crash off the side of the road and drown, not to be saved by the football players. Thankfully, Leena is nearby and manages to fish all four bodies out of the water. The agony at seeing her ex-girlfriend dead brings out Leena’s powers. Using her stones, she manages to resurrect all four cheerleaders.

Only, this is a horror movie. So not everything goes to plan. The girls all wake up with a hunger than can only be fed with blood. Oh and sisters Martha and Hanna managed to get stuck in the wrong bodies.

The girls all feel well after sucking Leena’s neighbour dry of his blood. But they’re still out for revenge – especially Maddy.

This has to be one of the more palatable revenge stories I’ve ever seen. It’s fun and it doesn’t ever feel exploitative. As films like Jennifer’s Body begin to be reassessed for their value, I think All Cheerleaders Die will also find it’s niche in the future. For one, it’s one of the most overtly gay movies of its time. No subtle hints or teases, these girls are in love.

There are definitely flaws. For one, the cast is mega white, casting the only Black actor as the baddie. Probably just a sign of the time it was made (amazing how long ago 2013 was), but still didn’t sit right with me. I also don’t think the tropes are subverted quite as much as the script wanted it things to go. Maybe next time have a woman writer?

I also wish there was enough time to further explore the sisterhood and friendships of the other girls. We mostly learn things about characters like Martha and Hanna through dialogue instead of actions. As the film’s pace really clips along, it might have been good to take a slow, five minutes and just learn more about these girls as the demons they are.

That all said, this was a great bit of fun. It’s camp. It’s full of fun female characters. And it’s quotable as hell!

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? S3E7 “The Tale of the Carved Stone”

It’s difficult to believe by the dreary, rainy weather we’ve been having in Britain, but summer is inching closer and closer.

As always in the summer, I can’t get enough of spooky nostalgia. Sign me up for all the 90s horror and 80s slasher paperbacks – even if things have felt as far from summer as possible recently. And after a particularly hectic week, it was once again time to settle down with an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

“The Tale of the Carved Stone” is campy fun, probably because it’s one of King Gary’s tales. He has his usual trick set up, this time tricking the other Midnight Society members into thinking that there’s a figure in a hat waiting for them by the fire.

It’s, of course, just a costume. But one that adds flair to his tale, as well as provides imagery for the tale’s main villain: a monk.

Alison is new in town. She’s desperate to make friends. So when she spots that a group of kids her age drop a pair of goofy glasses, she rushes to return them. But she quickly realises that the glasses are broken.

Wanting to find a new pair to replace the broken ones and impress the other kids, she goes to Sardo’s to shop. Once there, though, Sardo convinces her not to buy glasses, but to purchase a carved stone. He claims it’s an Egyptian friendship stone. He’s clearly making up nonsense, but Alison buys it anyway.

After returning home with the stone, Alison tests out the stone. When the other kids arrive at the door, they become angry that all she had was some broken glasses to return. So clearly, the stone has a much different power than promised.

Alison discovers the stone’s powers when she throws it at a mirror. She learns that the stone allows her to travel in time through mirrors. When in the past, she meets Thomas Jefferson Bradshaw, whose initials are carved on the bench in her bedroom.

The two become quick friends and agree to explore Alison’s present (TJB’s future) and go to the movies. But before you can say “It’s Sar-DOUGH!” the kids come face-to-face with a menacing monk, Brother Septimus, who demands the stone be returned to him. He’s a time traveller, and is really missing that time travel.

A chase back and forth through time ensues. But when the monk catches up to the two children, he reveals that he needs to take a life so he can travel again (I think). He pulls off his glove to show off his nasty long nail. Before he can even attack, Alison rushes at him, breaking the mirror and getting the monk stuck somewhere in time for good.

Back in her present, Alison sees her name now carved with TJB. Apparently those ten minutes together really made them besties. And somehow, for a young teenage girl this seems…swell? Glad she made a friend, but you probably want to focus on meeting someone born within at least the same decade as you.

This is one episode where I could find a few ways of improving things. For one, why couldn’t TJB be a teenager like Alison? It’s a bit weird that he’s so much younger than her. And why is Brother Septimus a monk? What sort of weird group of monks does this guy roll with? By making him an evil wizard or something, that back story is easily explained. Time travelling monks? Well, that I don’t quite get. And do kids find monks terrifying?

But this is a cool episode overall. When Are You Afraid of the Dark? captures the imagination (like with time-travel mirrors), is when it works best.

Also, Richard Dumont who plays Sardo? I hope wherever he is, he’s living his best and happiest life. That man is pure gold.

Wicked Wednesday: Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

If there’s one thing I’m really good at, it’s being late to the party.

For much of the last two decades, I had sworn off early 2000s horror movies. That means I’ve missed out on a lot of modern classics in the genre. But it’s not just the superficial things (most of these movies are really ugly), I find a lot of movies from this era really homophobic and sexist. Probably not more than any other decade before, but it’s just more glaring as these movies came out during my lifetime.

But I’ve been forcing myself to break my own rule. Hell, I watch loads of 90s horror now after avoiding that like the plague. Maybe the 2000s will be my next passion.

(Spoiler alert: probably not going to happen. Or at least it doesn’t start with this movie.)

Thir13en Ghosts (which I will be referring to from here on out as Thirteen Ghosts to save my eyes) is a remake of the 1960 William Castle movie, which I had apparently watched back in 2016. And while my write-up seems really positive, I don’t remember anything about it.

Like the original, the 2001 remake is about a man who inherits a mansion from his uncle. But that’s about where the similarities end (other than the glasses and titular ghosts, obviously).

Arthur is newly widowed after his wife died in a fire that destroyed his house. One morning, he, his two children and the nanny get news that he’s inherited a house from his estranged uncle Cyrus. The older man supposedly died while catching a ghost.

The fam pack up and go to the house. It’s a glass monstrosity that must be awful for privacy. Outside, they meet an ‘electrician’ who is really Cyrus’s psychic sidekick, Dennis, in disguise. He’s allowed into the house with the family and lawyer so he can pretend to do electrician things.

Dennis goes into the basement of the house with a pair of special glasses on. While there, he sees twelve angry ghosts ghosts in boxes. Ghosts he helped Cyrus trap. They’re all in little boxes, waiting to be unleashed.

Realising that Cyrus has dastardly things planned, he goes to warn Arthur’s family. The lawyer and Arthur bush off Dennis’s warnings. But when the lawyer sets off a trap that opens all the ghosts’ boxes. And that’s when all hell breaks loose.

The house locks itself with everyone inside. Dennis tries to get the family together, but the adults soon realise that young Bobby is missing. And from there… there’s lots of running, flashing lights, ghosties and prepping for a fun ghost machine!

I won’t spoil any of the twists here, even if it is an ‘old’ film by this point. I don’t think the twists are very well done, but they do add some fun.

Much of my dislike of early 2000s films is that they’re awful to look at. This is a prime example of that. The flashing lights physically hurt to watch. Many people say that the house is the best part of this film. It’s certainly interesting, but…sorry. Really sorry. I HATE IT SO MUCH. WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO LOOK AT?

I love Tony Shaloub. I’m not just saying that because he’s a fellow north eastern Wisconsinite. He’s an incredible actor who is really charismatic on screen. But here I found him to be flat. I think in large part it’s because his character is as interesting as puddle water. Other than some voice over, we really don’t know (or care, frankly) about his dead wife. Fire? What fire? If you came late to the cinema because of the line for popcorn, you’d be screwed!

Other than Matthew Lillard, Rah Digga and F. Murray Abraham, who are allowed to be camp, the cast is awful. The children are horribly miscast here. How old is Shannon Elizabeth meant to be? She’s clearly nearly 30 in this, but I think we’re meant to think she’s 16 or something? It really doesn’t work. And boy oh boy is that child actor who plays Bobby obnoxious. He’s cut out of much of the second half, which helps things. If anything, he carries on the legacy of boys in horror movies with weird haircuts.

There’s lots of nostalgia for this movie. But for someone who’s joined the party two decades late, it’s difficult to see why. Points for Lillard because he’s always fun to watch, but I really found little to love it in this one. Do you love this movie? Tell me why! I’d love to know what I missed and if I should give it another chance.

Wicked Wednesday: Willow Creek (2013)

Ever since watching Grave Encounters, I’ve been on a massive found-footage kick. But depending on who you ask, the genre has more titles listed as “to avoid” than supposed “must sees”. So it can be tricky figuring out what to and what not to watch.

Ever since I finished reading Max Brook’s Devolution last month, I’ve been dying to watch a good Bigfoot movie. When I spotted Willow Creek, a lesser-known movie with a fairly good reputation, I thought I had struck gold. But I think I ended up with more confusion than anything.

Willow Creek follows the found footage formula to a T: couple were making a movie (documentary…? YouTube video…?) together at Six Rivers National Forest, where the iconic Patterson–Gimlin film was made. They’re missing and seemingly all that was found was their footage.

Jim and Kelly are a likeable couple, but clearly out of their element when they arrive at the small town of Willow Creek, which is dedicated to all things Bigfoot. They interview locals. Laugh at local things like Bigfoot statues, paintings and musicians. It’s all a good time.

When they meet a local author, they’re given the directions to the location where the Patterson–Gimlin film was supposedly show. The couple head down together, but are warned away by a local. Do they listen to him? No. Did he provide any good reasoning other than being a threatening hillbilly? No.

So it’s no surprise when the couple soon find they’re being fucked with. After they go for a swim, they return to their campsite to find that their stuff has been trashed. Only not really trashed as their tent is still fine and everything.

That night, the couple begin to hear whooping and calling in the night. Kelly knows it could be anything. Jim knows it is the Bigfoot calling out to each other. Their soon ‘attacked’ in their tent, but the attacks amount to something poking at their tent.

The following day, the couple decide to pack up and get the hell out of Dodge. Though, of course, they get lost in the woods. And it’s not too long before they meet their unsurprising demise.

Willow Creek is directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait. Considering this isn’t his first time at the directing rodeo, you’d expect a bit more…well, just more. I’d find it more believable if you told me this was made by a 20-something who begged his friends to be in his movie and paid them in pad thai.

The plot is very run-of-the mill and surprisingly dominated by their attempts to interview locals. The movie is over halfway done when they reach the campsite. Because of this, there are very little scares to be had. I’m not sure why the movie went with the decisions it did. For one, you never see a Bigfoot (though a clump of their hair makes an appearance) and you did get a shot of a naked woman standing in the woods. Because…? Well, I’m not really sure.

I wish the movie would have made a decision: build the Bigfoot lore up to really scare us or make these big bitches really terrifying to see. If there’s a random lady in the woods, who is she? Is it meant to be implied that she’s one of the people from the missing posters? If so, why is she alive while the beasts quite clearly tore apart the couple?

Maybe I’m over-thinking a movie about cryptids. But is it really asking too much to have something that is both fun and has lore? That’s what ultimately made The Blair Witch Project so exciting. It’s nothing but shaky cameras and panicked breathing without its lore.

I wouldn’t say Willow Creek is bad. There are definitely more disappointing movies in this world. But it’s certainly something I’m going to forget I watched in about a week or two.

Wicked Wednesday: The McPherson Tape (1989)

As an adult, the horror movies that scare me the most are home invasion films. Black Christmas (my steadfast favourite) gets to me every time. The leering, the creeping – it all makes my skin crawl. Anything where someone is there that shouldn’t be. But as a child, there was one thing that scared me the most: aliens. And in The McPherson Tape, both my fears meet in the middle to shake hands.

The McPherson Tape is one of the earliest examples of the found footage style. Written, directed, produced and filmed by Dean Alioto, this movie is done a shoestring budget and is remarkably convincing for its age. The recording claims to show the last footage of the Van Heeses family before their disappearance years earlier.

In 1983, the Van Hesses gather to celebrate Michelle’s 5th birthday. The camera operator, Mike, irritates his family right off the bat. He refuses to put down the camera, insisting he capture every moment on the night. Now, as this is the 80s, this is absolutely believable. My dad had one of those VHS cameras, and it went everywhere with us. And what do we have to show for it? Hours of footage my family looking grumpy and having mundane conversations.

As the night carries on, Mike continues to film the family as they celebrate. After Michelle blows out her candles, the family discover the lights won’t turn back on. Mike and his brothers, Eric and Jason, go to examine the breaker. But even still, the lights in the house remain off.

When they see something in the woods, they go off together to find the source of the strange light. And while they expect to see the neighbours, they instead spot a group of extra terrestrials and their spaceship.

The boys all run home when they realise they’ve been spotted by the aliens. The women back at the house are utterly confused, and the family soon begins to argue, especially as to whether or not they should stay in the house or flee.

But the aliens have their own ideas. They begin to attack the house. When one of the brothers kills an alien, its corpse is brought back into the house. Why does it need to be inside? It’s not really explained. Though I guess it does make for a fun trophy…?

Eventually, the Van Heeses calm down. They decide to all head home for the night, believing the excitement to be over. But of course it’s not! These aliens aren’t going to go home quietly.

As the family begins to try to fight their for their escape, they soon discover that the aliens are both smarter and more powerful than any human could be. After all, the family are never to be seen again.

By today’s standards, the budget means there are some very basic effects (think alien masks and black leotards). But I know that if I would have seen this as a child in the 90s, I would have 100% been convinced. The technology’s lack of finesse adds to the ambience. You’re not always certain of what you’re looking at.

Movies like this are always remarkable because of what they achieve with so little. The cast are really convincing in this. While no one is related, they all bicker like they’ve spent too many days together. Though it should be noted, that for those of us who are sensitive to noise, it can be really difficult to hear what’s going on.

This movie ticked all the boxes for me: it’s convincing as hell (minus those little alien dudes), it’s pace keeps moving, and it has an ending that makes you shout “COME ON! NO!” If you’re able to look beyond dated technology and are able to appreciate achievements like this (a la Bad Ben) this is a classic found footage movie that does the trick.

Wicked Wednesday: Grave Encounters (2011)

People love ghost hunting shows. I, for one, have never seen a single episode of Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures, but I really love the idea of them. My memory tells me that there used to even be tours of these shows, as I recall seeing promotions at venues in Milwaukee. But I honestly think that was just a really weak fever dream.

Found footage movie Grave Encounters shows us what happens when one of these ghost hunting squads finally find what they’re looking for.

Grave Encounters opens as many in the genre do, with an introduction explaining that everyone is already dead. The crew of a fictional ghost hunting show, Grave Encounters, went missing while investigating ghosts in the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. The footage shown is supposedly unaltered and raw (though that’s definitely not true as in the beginning we definitely have edits and inserts of footage).

According to legend, Collingwood had a doctor,¬†Arthur Friedkin, who performed lobotomies and unethical experiments on his patients. It wasn’t until he was called by those very patients that his work stopped. But the hospital has been supposedly haunted since.

The hospital caretaker agrees to lock the TV show crew into the hospital. Not sure why this was necessary to actually do. But TV. Whatever. They also have steady cams set up throughout the hospital to get footage from around the hospital.

At first, the group experience nothing in particular. They hear ‘noises’ that are really there and speak to ghosts that aren’t real. It isn’t until they begin to pack up in the morning that they realise something is wrong.

When cameraman Matt goes to pickup the steady cams, he doesn’t come back. The group go together to look for him, but he’s seemingly vanished without a trace.

Once the group admit that they can’t find Matt alone, they go to the front entrance as the caretaker should have already unlocked them. Only…it’s still locked. And while it’s well past sunrise, it’s still pitch black outside.

The cast and crew of Grave Encounters soon find themselves in a living nightmare. The building changes itself. There’s guest appearances from not-so-ex-patients. And in true found-footage fashion, they’re all picked off in various supernatural fashions.

Unlike many found footage movies, you get to see everyone’s demise in detail. Everyone gets their moment of screentime unlike the Blair Witch Projects and Last Broadcasts. But that, unfortunately, really slowed down the pace for me. I love a bit of unseen terror in horror. We also get waaaay too many glitch effects. We get it. Ghosts are there. We get it. We get it.

That being said, I fairly enjoyed Grave Encounters. The set up in particular.

In many ways, the successes of Grave Encounters reminded me of Hell House LLC. Both are fun, modern takes on the found footage film. Most importantly, they both have good explanations for why they’re filming. That’s always a key element for me in this genre.

But Hell House works for me in ways that Grace Encounters doesn’t. For one, while a spooky abandoned asylum is cool setting – it did feel a bit…wrong. I didn’t think the patients should be a part of the haunting. Why not make it a full-on sadistic set of doctors. Many of them were the real villains of the era, at least more than the patients were were.

The footage at the beginning of the film reminded me of Geraldo Rivera’s now-iconic expose on Willowbrook State School. None of those poor souls should be doomed to “haunt” anyone. It feeds back into the idea that people with mental illnesses or disabilities are something to be scared of. And if that wasn’t what the film was trying to get across, it was doing a piss poor job of showing me otherwise.

Wicked Wednesday: The Innkeepers (2011)

Ti West’s House of the Devil is one of my favourite modern horror movies. I love the subtle spookiness and utterly bonkers ending. It’s really my jam.

Which is, of course, why I have never watched any other movie by him. The Innkeepers has been on my radar for a long while. But when you build up expectations, it almost seems inevitable that no work will compare to the favourite.

The Innkeepers is stylistically different to House of the Devil. But there are still touches of nostalgia that make you question what era this is meant to be in.

Claire and Pat are the last two employees at the Yankee Pedlar Inn (filmed on location at the real hotel, which closed in 2015) on its final weekend. They’re both big paranormal fans, with Pat running a website to promote the hotel’s supposed paranormal activity.

The hotel’s most famous ghost is Madeline O’Malley. The tale is that on her wedding day, she was jilted at the alter. After hanging herself, her body was hidden in the basement before burial.

As well as ghosts, the Yankee Pedlar manages to have a few guests on its last weekend. Among them, Claire realises, is actress Leanne Rease-Jones, who leaves Claire star struck. While the woman is initially unfriendly towards the young woman, an event brings them together.

While recording with Pat’s EVP equipment, Clair hears the sound of a piano playing. She goes to the room where the piano is, only to see that no one is playing it. It’s seemingly playing itself.

After relaying the story to Leanne, the actress reveals that she’s at the hotel for a healer convention. She’s a bit of a medium, trying to hone her powers. She uses her crystal pendulum to contact Madeline for Claire, but it’s abundantly clear that they shouldn’t be talking to the ghosts. They have one message: DON’T go in the basement. Loud and clear, ghosts.

Later on, an older man arrives at the hotel, wanting to stay in a room that has already been stripped for the closure. But the man is insistent. So Claire takes pity on him and lets him stay in the room. As she leaves, he locks the door behind him.

Feeling the boredom, Claire and Pat decide to get drunk together. Despite the warnings, they go into the basement to try and contact Madeline again. Claire sees the ghost, which prompts Pat to flee the basement. He admits to Claire that all of his supposed paranormal encounters have been lies, then he leaves the hotel.

Claire goes to Leanne again for help. But when the pendulum smashes, the women both know they need to get out. But the spirits are already pissed off and things begin to quickly spiral into mayhem at the hotel.

The Innkeepers was old-fashioned ghosty fun. It’s just a shame that it didn’t stick the landing. But like The House of the Devil, I think there are plenty of people who will love it. For me, it was almost there. I think even giving some more explanation to better-build the world we were in (ie: what the hell was the story with half the characters here?). It kept feel like I was supposed to “get” more of what was going on.

It reminded me a lot of Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House. And maybe I was expecting too much for the story to go that way. But still, I wanted more ghosts. More haunting! More horror!

The story is certainly slow. And not in a tension-building way. Shearing ten minutes off of this would have helped build the suspense. There were many scenes that never seemed to amount to anything. It got in the way of the storytelling. That being said, when it gets going – it hits the ground running.

Lead actors Sara Paxton, Pat Healy and Kelly McGillis are all fantastic. I really loved Paxton’s subtleties. And she works really well with the rest of the cast. Thankfully the cast, paired with the more humorous script, you end up with a rather charming (if mostly scare-free) ghost story.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? S3E6 “The Tale of the Bookish Baby-Sitter”

Are You Afraid of the Dark is like balm for the soul. It’s always pure pleasure, even if it isn’t one of the more iconic episodes.

I sat infront of the TV this week and let episode after episode play. Season 3 really has some classics. But “The Tale of the Bookish Baby-Sitter” was one I had never seen before.

This episode features one of Betty Ann’s stories. As always, it’s full of fantasy and healthy doses of the supernatural. Her story this week is a story about stories.

Ricky is a 12-year-old pain-in-the-ass. He’s a brat that’s addicted to the television. When his mom prepares to go out one night, she tells him that he’s going to have a baby-sitter. He argues that he’s too told for one (I agree), but nevertheless, his baby sitter Belinda arrives.

Belinda comes off as a ~free spirit~, mystifying Ricky’s mother when she answers the door. Belinda is a new age sort of girl who wears a cloak unironically and forces children to read books. But as she’s highly recommended, Ricky’s mom leaves with a shrug.

It isn’t long before Ricky and Belinda clash. After she turns off the TV, she tells him he can do whatever he wants…so long as he reads 5 minutes of her book. Aloud.

But even five minutes is too long for Ricky. He immediately puts down the book, only to open it again and start reading another one. After that, he tosses the book aside to play video games in his room.

While minding his own business, Ricky is attacked by a knight in armour. Then a ghost. He soon finds ‘Belinda’ who encourages him to burn pages of the book. He does so eagerly, only to discover that ‘Belinda’ is really a witch, and the real Belinda is trying to save him.

The two kids manage to get away to the kitchen. There Belinda explains to him what’s going on. Ase he never finished any of his stories, they’ve all become mixed together. Burning the pages didn’t exactly help either. So to end the nightmare, he must finish the stories with his own imagination.

But a kid like Ricky has no imagination. Or so he thinks. He makes weak attempts at story telling while he and the baby-sitter are chased around the house. Eventually, Belinda hands him a red book. When he opens it, he finds himself in a dungeon…inside the story.

It’s up to Ricky to find it within himself to make up a story and save himself.

There are some Midnight Society tales that are more whimiscal than scary. This almost sounds like a story I’d want to be in. Maybe not being attacked by knights with axes, but I think I could have a fun time getting sucked into books. I actually enjoyed Betty Ann’s cute little joke with her book prop at the end. Imagine having the actual patience to make a prop just to mess with someone for two seconds?

Anyway. As always, I still think this show mostly holds up. Episodes like this might not be scary by today’s standards, but they still manage to capture the imagination. And perhaps it’s even a good cautionary tale for the recluctant reader in your life…

Wicked Wednesday: Black Sabbath (I tre volti della paura) (1963)

I…am a doofus. Though, I have never proclaimed to be anything but. For many (too many) years, I thought Black Sunday and Black Sabbath were the same movie. Could I tell that they had different titles? Probably. Did that matter in my brain? Absolutely not.

So for years, I had convinced myself that I had already seen Black Sabbath because of how many times I had seen Black Sunday. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realised the error I had made.

…at least they’re both directed by Mario Bava?

Anyway. In many respects, this was a happy mistake. Because this week, I got to watch the masterpiece that is Black Sabbath for the very first time ever.

Black Sabbath is a anthology film, very reminiscent of Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror that was released a year prior in 1963. But Bava’s film has both better pace, acting and style.

The three sections in this anthology are introduced by genre legened Boris Karloff. He weaves us in and out of worlds with vampires, ghosts and devious humans.

In tale one, “The Drop of Water”, nurse Helen is called to prepare the body of a medium. There she is warned not to touch anything belonging to the descased, as it may be cursed. Ignoring the warnings, Helen takes the sapphire ring she spots on the corpse’s finger. But when she gets home, Helen soon finds that she should never cross a woman who can make a good curse.

The medium’s corpse is absolutely inconic. She is terrifying to behold. And it’s easy to believe that Helen is being drawn into madness. This segment alone should be all it takes to deem the movie as excellent.

The second tale, “The Telephone”, is truly nightmare-inducing. One of my greatest fear is leering men (see my favourite horror film ever, Black Christmas). When Rosy gets a call from a strange man, she becomes unnerved. Especially since the man appears to be able to see her every move.

Rosy calls a friend for help. The friend, Mary, arrives soon after to assist her friend. Rosy reveals that the calls are coming from Frank, a man who was sent to prison on Rosy’s testimony. Mary does her best to ease her friend’s tension, but can they stand a chance against the supernatural?

This story was the most greatly changed from the Italian release (more on that later). So it’s difficult to be overly enthusastic. Much of this segment doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We don’t know why Frank was sent away or why Rosy would be the cause of that. That being said, it is still enjoyable all the same.

The final segment sees Boris Karloff in an acting role. “The Wurdurlak” follows a family in the Russian countryside. Their father (Karloff) is off in the countryside slaying vampires. Before he departs, he tells them that there is one rule to follow: they must not let him in if he arrives after midnight of the third day.

When young Vladimir finds a beheaded body, he takes the knife from the corpse’s chest. When he stumbles upon a cottage, the family there recognise the knife as their father’s. Vladimir is invited to stay with them for the night as they nervously await their father’s return.

“The Wurdurlak” is a great lesson in: always listen to your dad always. Also – behead verything with a weird hole in its neck. This is the longest segment of the movie, and it feels like it too. The pacing is off and we never really get to attach ourselves to any of the characters too much beyond Karloff’s Gorca. That being said, it’s still a wonder to behold.

I love Bava’s earlier gialli. La ragazza che sapeva troppo and 6 donne per l’assassino are two of my favourites; they’re classics of the genre. While the former is in black and white, it’s clear that stylisticly, much of what is explored in Black Sabbath is used in Blood and Black Lace to great effect.

This has to be one of the most gorgeous movies I have ever seen. The three segments are all set in different times, helping to differenciate them. Easily the most lucious story visually is “The Drop of Water”, which is well worth returning to again and again. It’s a treat for the eyes, and there’s a wickedly good story there.

After I finished watching the movie, I realised I had seen the American released (the English dub should have been my first clue, but see first paragraph to remind you that I am not smart). This movie is one of the many examples where the American production company greatly interfered with the work to make it “appeal to American audiences”. Much was cut out, a new soundtrack made and processing the colours differently. Incidentally, the company, American International Pictures, was behind Corman’s Poe Cycle, so it’s clear to see why they feel so similar in many ways.

I’ve put Bava’s Italian release onto my to-watch list. The things I thought strage (the clear skips in violence, the plot holes, and almost garish soundtrack) are apparently not present in the Italian version. Now, just to hunt down the release…somewhere…at a reasonable price.

In general, I want to make this statement: for the love of all that is unholy – streaming services, please include all versions of a film to make them everything accessable to all. Keep dubbed versions. Give us the original languages. We just want it all.

Please and thank you.