Author: Krista Culbertson

Wicked Wednesday: Blood Sisters (1987)

Not every sorority slasher is created equal. Some are the greats of the genre: the Black Christmases of the bunch. Some are middle-of-the road and forgettable like…um, that one about the sorority sisters that get killed because of a prank? (Or was it on initiation night?) Then there are some real turds like Blood Sisters.

I don’t like to tear down a movie, but this lockdown has made my brain thirsty for entertainment. I did not find it in 90 minutes of this movie. The scores for the film probably should have warned me off. But I’m a sucker for an 80s slasher. And let’s face it, I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to films. When I saw the movie poster, I knew I had to watch Blood Sisters.

Just look at it! It’s incredibly and dynamic, bringing forth images of early 80s Lucio Fulci. I was expecting some House by the Cemetery-level madness. I did not receive it, but please: send my regards to the illustrator who made this incredible piece of art:

As far as the plot goes, we’ve all been here before.

A young boy kills his mother who is a whore at the nicest brothel you’ll ever see. Thirteen years later, a group of sorority pledges are forced to go to a house (surprise – it’s the brothel) to spend the night and complete their initiation.

When the girls arrive, they discover that the house has been booby trapped by some frat boys. As they try to complete some sort of scavenger hunt, they’re terrorised by the pranks. They also see visions of the whores who used to work at the house.

Soon the girls get killed off one-by-one, but because of the pranks, it takes them a while to realise what’s happening. Once they do understand there’s a killer on the loose, it takes them a while to get together and figure out what to do. They sit in the van for a while. They get cold. They go into the house to warm up. They get tired of waiting for their friends. They look and get killed.

The mystery isn’t particularly built up. We know someone was murdered from the opening scene of the film and a diary a couple of the girls find. Why there are ghosts of all the whores isn’t entirely clear. Only one of them and her trick was murdered. The rest were told to pack up by the police. When we finally get the killer’s reveal my immediate reaction was ,”Who’s this dude?”

I wanted to be more inspired by Blood Sisters, but it just felt too much like a lot of other movies I’ve seen (Mil gritos tiene la noche and The House on Sorority Row are the main two that spring to mind first). There’s something distinctly dated about this movie – well behind its time. I had to keep reminding myself that this came out in 87 and not 81. You can tell this is reaching peak slasher fatigue: the stories are all incredibly recycled by this point.

Part of me expected something slightly different, considering it was helmed by Roberta Findlay (wife of Michael). But if anything, this felt more misogynistic than the usual slasher fare. Sure, some of the dialogue is slightly more on-point (the girls are constantly complaining about the cold), but none of them have any stories or any distinct personality traits. There girl-in-glasses and girl-who-runs. The rest of them are basically all the same thing, but perhaps that’s the mistake of having too large of a cast.

I would have loved at least a few more minutes set in the past before jumping into the future. Learn more about the sex workers, but alas. Maybe I’m expecting too much out of my slashers.

This movie could have even been more interesting if it really leaned in to the supernatural elements. Make the girls possessed! Not just temporarily to get a sex scene in, but flesh it out – make these girls become women of the past! Imagine the mayhem that would ensue! But ultimately, the ghosts really don’t serve a purpose other than to remind us of what happened at the beginning of the film.

Despite this being my least-favourite sorority slasher I’ve ever seen, I’m definitely going to seek more of Findlay’s work out. I hear this wasn’t her crowning achievement, and I’m always willing to give second chances.

Wicked Wednesday: April Fool’s Day (1986)

Some holiday-themed movies are really good at capturing the essence of the day they’re set around. Many of them are not. There’s no bigger proof of this than the slew of Christmas horror movies that have virtually nothing to do with Christmas or even feels like it’s set in December. Many of these movies just slap a holiday in the title just to sell to a larger audience (I’m looking at you, The Day After Halloween).

A few years back I watched Slaughter High and was less-than-pleased with it. Fabulous setting with plenty of fun moments, but really didn’t stick the landing at the end. That alone is enough to leave a bad taste in the memory. Incidentally, Slaughter High was released in 1986, the same year as April Fool’s Day, which is, in my humble opinion, a significantly superior and more fun April Fool’s movie.

Why? Well, many reasons. But the first being it actually captures the fun and devilishness of the holiday. And April Fool’s is a pretty lame holiday, so I think it’s saying something that the film actually made me like pranks.

Straight off the bat, the film introduces us to the cast of playful characters. A group of college students are preparing for a weekend away on an island courtesy of Muffy, a cousin Skip, one of the boys.

On the ferry to the island, the kids create a ruckus. And by (seemingly) total accident, one of the ferry boat workers is injured when the boat’s motor crashes into him as he’s helping the ferry dock.

Unsettled by the mangling of the ferry worker, the kids try to salvage the most of their night. Thankfully Muffy is a wonderful hostess. She plays harmless pranks on them throughout the night and entertains them at dinner, including table settings complete with dolls that look like each of them.

But it’s April Fool’s weekend, and there’s bound to be trouble. The morning after the first night, the friends realise that Skip is missing. Even more, peppy Muffy has become noticeably more skittish and dowdy.

The friends try and settle in for the weekend as best as they can. It’s when couple Kit and Rob go to the boathouse together that they spot their friend’s corpse in the water.

After the discovery, the students soon realise that someone is playing a very serious trick on them. They quickly go down in number one-by-one. And it’s soon up to Rob and Kit to piece together the pieces of Muffy’s history.

Half of the fun of April Fool’s Day is the playfulness of the script and cast. Much of the dialogue actually attempts to round out each of the kids, making them weirdly likable despite being utter idiots for the most part.

There’s plenty of tricks and pranks here to round out the film. The constant sun-shiney-ness of the movie is also unusual but welcome. The night scenes are noticeably dark (both in light and tone), but scenes don’t shy away from the use of spring sunshine in moments of gore.

I know this is a bit of a classic, but this one has passed me by for ages, mostly because I thought I had already seen it. Blame it on getting it confused with both Slaughter High and Happy Birthday To Me. But I really enjoyed it. There were brilliant moments of gore and laugh-out-loud moments. Not really something you have with slashers (that are meant to be intentional, anyway).

April Fool’s Day reminded me of a funnier Harper’s Island but with more yuppies. It’s a unique slasher that I think will stay with me for a long time. No April Fool’s here.

Wicked Wednesday: The House That Would Not Die (1970)

You know how that old saying goes: nothing brings lovers and family closer together better than an old-fashioned possession.

No? Not a saying? Well it should be.

The House That Would Not Die has all the hallmarks of horror TV movies from this era. The dramatic pauses, the use of storms for even more drama and kind-of-clunky writing. So basically everything I love. The fact that this story throws in ghosts, séances and possessions means that it was completely up my alley.

The excellent atmosphere reminded me on of my favourite made-for-TV movies: Home for the Holidays. Just with a touch less lightning. So it wasn’t totally surprising to learn that they were both directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (who also directed The City of the Dead).

At the heart of both of Moxey’s films are the women. Here glamorous Ruth and her niece Sara move into an old house after one of their elderly relatives die. They both immediately take to the home and all of its old-timey quirks. Sara instantly feels at home, knowing the house almost instantly.

The two women soon meet their dashing next-door neighbour, the professor Pat McDougal. At a party at his house, they meet his young student Stan. When the other guests meet the town’s new arrivals, they soon all agree to have a séance in the new home.

In the days before the party, Sara and Stan begin to spend more time together. They find an old painting of a man and bring it to the house. When they hang it up, Pat has a rather negative reaction, feeling suddenly ill.

Despite the growing instances of strange behaviour and dreams from nearly everyone, the group continue on with the seance. Only things don’t go very well. The painting falls from the wall and crashes into the fire.

Sara’s behaviour takes increasingly strange turns. She finds herself out of bed at night, crying for help. She begins to forget things when she behaves madly (including attacking our dear Ruth).

But it’s Stan who is the first to realise that Ruth is possessed. Not only is she possessed, so is Pat, who randomly becomes violent and aggressive. Stan drags in Ruth to help research the home, which is clearly linked to the possessions. The gang all band together to discover the truth.

They soon find out that the house was once home to a Revolutionary War General named Campbell. He supposedly went mad after his daughter left. The daughter, Amanda, is clearly the spirit inhabiting Sara.

With their little information, the group decide to have another séance. This time they’re given a clue when the cellar door is blown open by the winds. While Ruth and Stan do their digging in the cellar, they discover a walled-off room.

But before they can even get upstairs, creepy Pat stops them to tell them about the new information he and Sara learned: Amanda had eloped and run away from her father.

With this new information, all the pieces begin to fall into place. The four friends all must face the truth in the room on the other side of the wall.

*DRAMATIC PAUSE*

I loved this little horror-mystery. Certainly a positive note to end another Made-for-TV March on. Sure, it’s a little hokey. But it’s also sufficiently fun with a good story.

It doesn’t hold a candle to Home for the Holidays. It doesn’t have the same punch or thrill to really make it memorable in a year’s time. But with good performances and a fun plot, it’s difficult to argue against spending 70 minutes watching this.

Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Messages (1985)

Coming into the third week of made-for-TV March, things are beginning to feel a bit more…stressful than they were seven days ago. And certainly several degrees closer to a pandemic than we were in week one.

Hell, I’ll back on this in a year’s time and think, “Oh! The Corona months!”

Anyway. It’s been a tough/weird/strange/horrible time. With my trip home to America cancelled, I’m not house-bound like everyone else until this all blows over. Thankfully, it gives me plenty of nights in to watch more movies and maybe even create more content (never going to happen).

Sometimes sitting down to watch a movie for this blog can be a big of a drag. Sometimes I get stuck with a real dud. Usually this is when I force myself to watch anything for a very specific reason. Then I can’t stop, won’t stop watching it.

But since this was an especially stressful week, I decided to allow myself to sample many options until I wound something vaguely interesting. And I found a real winner this week with 1985’s Deadly Messages.

This supernatural-ish thriller aired on ABC, but honestly it’s pretty high quality. It could be that it was directed by the deft hands of Jack Bender, whose long filmography is impressive but most importantly Killing Mr Griffin.

Much of Deadly Messages‘ fun is in reveals and secrets. Laura is a young working woman with a good boy friend and a seemingly normal life. Until one night she returns home from a date to see her roommate, Cindy, get strangled through a window.

Laura becomes instant that her roommate’s death has something to do with the Ouija board they’d found in the closet. She finds her roommate’s notes and learns that Cindy ‘spoke’ to a man named David who was killed in their very apartment in 1978.

But as Laura begins to investigate Cindy’s death, secrets about her own life begin to come to light. After using the Ouija board and fainting, her boyfried, Michael, takes her to see a neurologist. The doctor later confirms that Laura had electroshock therapy in the past. A treatment that was seemingly undoing itself.

Michael begins to look into Laura’s past and begins to learn himself that things don’t add up. Only, according to Laura, she couldn’t possibly be lying.

Deadly Messages was a very pleasant surprise. It’s twisty, turny and suitably dramatic. Half the journey is learning the (slightly) ridiculous reveals. But sometimes you just have to have a bit of cheese on your toast, right? This is a very well-acted film and despite the grainy YouTube quality, was pretty well shot.

There is a lot of exposition dialogue at the end, which makes things fizzle out instead of going out with a bang. Much of the real fun comes when Laura’s life begins to unravel. You know, as horrible as that sounds.

I’m hoping next week’s film is as much as a delight as this one. We all need a bit of cheer in these very cramped, isolated days.

Wicked Wednesday: The Haunted (1991)

We’ve been here before: family move into new house, all goes well minus a few ‘quirks’, something big happens and all the demons in the world are entering the world through a dimension door in suburban America.

The Haunted is one of the most run-of-the-mill haunted house fils I’ve ever seen. It’s based on the ‘true’ story of the Smurl family who lived in Pennsylvania in the 1980s.

Initially, I thought this was going to be great because of one key factor: Ed and Lorraine Warren were investigators in this case. The Warrens are a fascinating pair, being linked to some of the most key hauntings in the throughout their lives (proof: watch and of the Conjuring Universe films or some little film called Amityville Horror). But those cases have something that The Haunted doesn’t: distinction.

Janet and Jack are a sweet little couple sharing a house with Jack’s elderly parents. Their children are all girls, just an all-around fun bunch. And soon things begin to go awry. Electricity bills become expensive (WATCH OUT!), the older women of the house hear whispering, Janet begins to forget things.

But beyond that, there’s not really anything particularly interesting about the hauntings themselves. And to be fair, there really is only so much that a ghost (or demon) can do.

The family get their local priest involved, who is unable to do any exorcism for them. So they head to the Warrens, who apparently can’t do much either. The hauntings get worse and increasingly physical. Janet is eventually so distraught that she is driven to taking her story to the media.

It’s a shame that the Warrens and the media attention seem so much like an after thought in this film. Much of the TV movie spends time showing us the paranomal activity. And nearly thirty years on, it just doesn’t scare or even make you feel uneasy…minus that one scene where Jack is seemingly sexually assulted. Yikes.

I think it’s interesting to see the local reactions to the Smurl family. It certainly wasn’t very nice. And the family’s desperation is equally as watchable, but for some reason – it’s all overlooked.

Sally Kirkland is good in the role of Janet. This part got her nominated for a Golden Globe. But the material is so boring that her performance can hardly save it.

A good haunting film need one thing: suspense. And The Haunted really lacks any of it. Blame it on being made-for-TV, but watch any of the classic horror network movie and you’ll know it’s possible to thrill. It’s a shame that this wasn’t done better, but part of me things this: if the original material isn’t that differneciating to begin with, maybe it wasn’t worth the energy and budget to begin with.

Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Lessons (1983)

It’s the third month of the year, which means it’s finally Made-for-TV March again!

This is my third year doing this, and honestly – it’s something I really look forward to. TV Movies are excellent for many reasons. I particularly like the over-exaggerated drama that you don’t always get in regular cinema releases. And I don’t mean it necessarily in a “so-bad-it’s-good” way. Just sometimes things have to be bigger and louder.

Like all the best made-for-TV movies, Dead Lessons knows how to amp up the drama. There is forbidden love, kidnappings, mistaken identities. All the ingredients for a fun 90 minutes. Plus this is one of the more star-studded casts I’ve seen in a TV movie.

Young Stephanie (Diane Franklin) is a new student at a posh boarding school for girls. She’s the odd one out, being poor and from a farm. But she’s bright, other than the fact that she needs to brush up on her French.

She quickly learns that the other girls at her new school are less-than-friendly. They play pranks on her, act snobbishly and Despite this, she still manages to bond with two girls Marita (Ally Sheedy), Calli (Renée Jones) and her Saudi princess roommate, Shama.

On one of the first nights of the summer term, a girl is found drowned in the nearby lake. And thus begins a quick procession of deaths. Detective Kemper is brought in to investigate, but at the insistence of headmistress Miss Wade (Donna Reed) the deaths are kept out of the media.

The students are unhappy with the results of Kemper’s investigation and begin to take things into their own hands, inspired by Steph’s Clue-inspired board game.

Steph’s love interest, Eddie (Bill Paxton), soon becomes a suspect. Many of the murders and investigation centre around the barn and stables where he works. But others, such as the teacher Ferrar also make Kemper’s suspect list. Though the girls are less convinced.

One night, Marita is kidnapped by the school janitor. Then man believes that Martia is his granddaughter. This isn’t true, but he looks mighty guilty from his actions. Martia manages to save herself by creating a signal. The janitor is arrested and seemingly all is well.

Only Steph soon discovers that the danger isn’t over. She comes face-to-face with Detective Kemper, the killer himself. He reveals that he wanted to exact revenge on his mother: Miss Wade. He tells Steph that he was abandoned by his mother soon after his father killed himself. His master plan was to destroy his mother and her school. But the idiot gives his speech out loud and is overheard by police and is arrested.

For me, while enjoyable, Deadly Lessons could have amped everything up another level. The girls were not actually that horrible to Stephanie to make her feel like a believable outsider. The pranks were too few. The girl’s misdeeds are rarely seen on screen. There needed to be less scenes of police discussing things and more of the girls’ lives.

Not enough lightning and thunder, for one. What’s a good TV movie without a scene set during a storm?

I would say this edges much more on the side of drama than a slasher or horror. Though I think those two genres blend more than we ever really acknowledge. It’s definitely a fun movie. Plenty of familiar faces to keep you entertained…even if it took me 50 minutes to realise that Eddie was in fact played by Bill Paxton.

Wicked Wednesday: Suicide by Sunlight (2019)

Diversity is a beautiful thing. It’s an essential thing if we are to create better art. And I’m so grateful there is a growing space for women in the horror industry. Without those spaces, we wouldn’t have interesting and new stories like Nikyatu Jusu’s Suicide By Sunlight.

Suicide By  Sunlight plays with similar tropes, but brings new light (ha ha) to these traditional tales. The film was made in collaboration with THROUGH HER LENS: The Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program, which provides funding and support up-and-coming women directors in the US. The film was made with an entirely woman camera department, and quite honestly, it benefits the short.

Valentina (Natalie Paul) is a nurse – she’s also a vampire. But being a black woman, her melanin protects her from the sunlight. But her condition keeps her separated from her daughters, whom she’s estranged from. She’s desperate to see, but it kept at a distance by the girls’ father.

She tries to suppress her bloodlust, but at a club one night, she ends up picking more than one target to feast on. But not all of her instincts are primal. She decides to ‘help’ one of young, sick patients who is nearly the end of his life.

Afterwards, she visits her daughters while their father is out. She surprises them and their new mother figure. Valentina is a monster (in a traditional sense), but Paul plays her with such sensitivity and vulnerability. Even within 15 minutes, you begin to care deeply about her character.

Jusu has said that her influences are Octavia Butler and West African mythology. These rich influences seep through her story. It’s a story about a vampire, but it’s also a story about marginalisation. Suicide By Sunlight is a prime example of a short film that will leave you wanting more: wanting more story, more background, more of the world, more of the characters. Not knowing what happens next is almost painful, but in a way only a good short film can satisfy.