Author: Krista Culbertson

Wicked Wednesday (yet another late one): Horror Hotel (1960)

So I missed…two Wednesdays. Oops?

I’ve been away visiting my family in the States for the last month and have since returned to London. Only now I’m stuck in a 10-day quarantine from hell. Every day has been remarkably like the last, which is my only excuse as to how I’ve forgotten that it was Wednesday. Twice.

But when I go home, my dad and I usually have time to watch older Universal horror movies or monster flicks by Roger Corman and the likes. This visit was a bit light on that, so I took it upon myself to squeeze in something with the legend Christopher Lee himself.

In 1692, the settlement of Whitewood burn the witch Elizabeth Selwyn. And if we’ve learned anything from the Fear Street movies, this is supposed to be the right way to rid yourself of witches. Only with her last living breath, Elizabeth announces the pact she’d made with the devil.

Three hundred years later, college student Nan develops an interest in Whitewood. With the encouragement of her professor, Alan Driscoll, she decides to travel to Whitewood on her own to do some research on primary resources. Her brother and boyfriend find it all a joke, insisting that she stay with them during her vacation, but the woman goes off to her doom alone.

Nan drives to the Raven Inn in Whitewood, an accommodation recommended to her by Driscoll, and learns that the inn was the site of Elizabeth’s burning.

While exploring Whitewood, Nan meets Pat – another young woman who lends her an old book about witchcraft. The two women hit it off immediately. You must in order to lend a rando your old ass books.

But that night – the night of Candlemass – while taking notes on the book, Nan is lured down into the tunnels below her room. She’s killed off by a cult in hoods.

The weeks go by, and both Nan’s fiancé and brother, Dick, become increasingly worried about her absence. Pat goes to see the me and explains she’s also concerned about Nan’s disappearance. She did, after all, lend her that book! The group each go out to Whitewood on their own to search for Nan themselves.

That night, the night of the Witches’ Sabbath, Pat goes to see her grandfather, the local priest. He tells Pat that Elizabeth Selwyn is still alive as the owner of the Raven Inn. She needs two sacrifices a year in order to live forever. After learning the story, Pat is attacked and kidnapped by the cult.

But thanks to Dick’s help (as well as that brother who didn’t die in a car crash), the cult are all set on fire and seemingly all’s well that ends well! Minus the charred corpse in the chair, of course.

Horror Hotel (called The City of the Dead in the UK) is delightful. It’s well made. Well acted. It just doesn’t age as well when it comes to the content. Perhaps I’m spoiled with the modern-day assessment of wronged women burned as witches. But if that is, then let it be so!

I liked Nan as a character a lot. As she initially pulls up to the Raven Inn, she declares that she loves how picturesque the place is. Complete with its own cemetery! A girl after my own heart. It was a shame she didn’t make it to be the final girl. RIP Nan!

There are some wonderfully 1960s bits in this: the town that’s contained to a studio lot, the endlessly-rolling fog and the entirely inappropriate music. It’s, yes, cheesy at times because it is 60+ years old. But it also pack a wallop of dark atmosphere. And Christopher Lee is, as ever, brooding perfection.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? “Part Three: Destroy All Tophats” (2019)

All good things must come to a end. And with Part Three of this Are You Afraid of the Dark? reboot, all things conclude in a very satisfying way.

Rachel gets the gang together to talk to the gang (minus the missing Gavin) to have an emergency meeting. She has them all realise that they can’t remember her story or the Carnival of Doom. But the remaining three all agree to follow Rachel as she tries to solve the mystery of the missing boys.

They track Akiko’s phone, which the creepy clowns had taken from her. They trace it back to Idaho, where Rachel was from before she moved with her mom…and where the Carnival of Doom had stopped before. Akiko’s brother, Officer Hideo, agrees to drive them to Idaho. And he’s especially convinced after watching the strange footage from the carnival.

On the journey, the group go to a rest stop, where Officer Hideo is attacked by Mr Tophat’s scorpions. When Akiko goes to get him, she realises that he’s seemingly vanished without a trace. She finds a single gold coin by the drain…and her brother trapped in the mirrors.

Alone without an adult, the kids realise they’re on their own. Thanks to Graham’s (very slow) driving skills, TMS make it to the carnival. They bump into Bartholomew, a man also from Rachel’s dreams, who tells them the story of Mr Tophat…a man who was also alive in 1944 as Mr Cochran. He was so desperate to make money, that he opened his carnival before it was ready or properly tested. When a bunch of guests die in an accident on the ride, Mr Cochran is approached by the Devil.

Cochran accepts an offer that he will live forever with his successful carnival. No one will remember his deeds…until one day a child will come along and end his reign. That child is, of course, Rachel.

Bartholomew then explains how to defeat Mr Tophat: destroy his hat. They are given a golden coin to enter the secret room. With the knowledge at their disposal, the group make a plan to distractions at the carnival while Rachel takes the coin to the secret room.

As Rachel gets into the secret room, the others are attacked by Adam and a clown-ified Officer Hideo. Without her friends to come to her help, Rachel enters the room and finds herself on the stage of the big tent, having been tricked by Bartholomew.

Rachel is tied up to be sawn in half for the show (really giving me Leprechaun 3 flashbacks). But our Rachel manages to cut free of her bonds and wake the friends up from their trances, as well as taking Mr Tophat’s cane – the true source of his power not the hat.

United again (with Gavin!), TMS set off to destroy his top hat. All while walking through a rather creepy-looking and smoky ride – with plenty of flashing lights! One by one, the kids are grabbed and pulled into the water. All on her own, Rachel is threatened by Mr Tophat. He tries to barter with her, but the girl doesn’t fall for it.

With her prophecy-given powers, Rachel destroys that and ends the Carnival of Doom.

And all’s well that ends well. Rachel goes to her next Midnight Society meeting and everyone votes for her to stay on. But there’s always time for a few more little twists. And Gavin begins his tale – “The Return of the Ghastly Grinner”

And yes, this literally made me gasp.

It’s almost sad that this was a miniseries, with the next series being with a different cast of characters. These kids are cute, and a group to really love. I find that many of these series don’t spend the time to make the characters well-rounded, but you certainly get that for most of them.

There are some brilliant sets in this episode (as with the previous one) as well as some cool effects for a children’s TV show. But the story telling is a bit thin in places. Things get a bit convenient, especially towards the end. I suppose that’s why these stories were often better in their 30-minute format, there was only enough time to give a quick tale so plot holes were forgiven.

I’m pleased as punch that this series was so quality. I’m really looking forward to starting the second, which also has an impressive young cast. And no, I won’t wait until two years like I did this time. Though I do hope there is a bit more of the traditional storytelling in the future. It is, after all, everything that matters about the Midnight Society.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? “Part Two: Opening Night” (2019)

Following on Part One of the 2019 Are You Afraid of the Dark reboot, Part Two immediately jumps back into the drama.

Having learned that both their classmate Adam is missing and that a seemingly-evil carnival has come to town, the Midnight Society have an emergency meeting. Our girl Rachel tries to convince the others to go to the carnival with her to look for Adam, but no one takes the bait.

It’s following the meeting that Rachel overhears that Akiko wants Rachel out of the group. Which is a pretty quick change of heart, if you ask me. Gary would never!

Realising that she’s on her own, Rachel begins to make missing posters for Adam. The rest of TMS feel sorry for her, and then agree to go with her to the Midnight Carnival.

On arriving at the carnival, the kids realise that everything looks exactly how they imagined it as Rachel was telling her story around the fire.

They go to the Big Tent where they see Mr Tophat himself. He tells the audience that whoever finds the golden coin that night gains access to a secret part of the carnival. During the show, Rachel suddenly spots Adam, who is looking a bit like a creep. When Louise also sees him, the girls realise they both see him going in different directions. The gang decide to split up and look for him.

Akiko and her friend watch back the footage they filmed of Mr Tophat’s performance, only to learn that the man doesn’t appear on the camera. A group of clowns and circus performers begin to chase them, wanting the phone and the footage.

Meanwhile, the other four TMS members go on rides to look for Adam. But while they’re searching, things begin to go incredibly wrong. Rachel fends off some Zombies in the Tunnel of Love while trying to get the golden coin. As soon as she gets it, everything seemingly goes back to harmless fun. It is all part of the show, right?

The following morning, Rachel is no closer to finding Adam. When she waits to be picked up by Gavin, his dad comes to the door looking for him. She soon discovers that her worst nightmare has come true (maybe for a second time) and no one remembers the Carnival of Doom.

No one, but her.

Part Two is another solid part to the story. Again, the carnival setting is really incredible at setting an eerie setting. I’m genuinely excited for Part Three, just to see how Rachel pulls this off. The kids are pretty good actors as well, and really make the magic happen on screen.

What I’ve really appreciated about both parts one and two is that they feel like standalone stories. You could walk in just watching the second episode, and it could be a story within itself. It’s certainly a good way of making the show feel more modern. Not sure how well the 30-minute anthology format would work these days. Though, hell, I’d love to see how that would go, too!

The twists at the end of both first parts are gleefully classic Are You Afraid of the Dark? Something fun of the gentle suffering of these children, mostly because it’s playful and we all know it’s going to end well for everyone bar the baddies. That said, there are still some genuinely creepy moments in this. It feels me with so much love that children get to enjoy this.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? “Part One: Submitted for Approval” (2019)

I have been dying to watch the 2019 miniseries reboot of Are You Afraid of the Dark? for ages. Though apparently, time has flown since then. I didn’t realise the second season was already released! But we know at this point that being late to the party is my MO.

What can I say? It was well worth the wait. The first episode of this reboot did everything exactly as it should. From the subtly updated theme to the bright characters and fun storyline – it’s all true to the spirit of the original while very much being its own, relevant thing.

Rachel is the new girl at school. She’s decided that making friends is out of the question before she even arrives through the school doors. But there’s more to her than being meek and quiet; she’s being haunted in her dreams by a figure that she calls Mr Tophat.

At school, she’s distracted by her dreams and her fascination with scary stories. She soon catches the attention of several students around school. One boy, Graham spots her H.P. Lovecraft book and later fishes one of her sketches of Mr Tophat out of the bin.

Soon after, Rachel finds an envelope in her locker. On the note, a group called “TMS” ask Rachel a question: vampires or werewolves? After hiding her response for them in the school, she receives a series of these notes asking similar questions until she’s finally invited to a spot in the woods.

While visiting the woods, a group of masked children request she tell them a story for their next meeting. Rachel has a few days to come up with a tale, but she gets true inspiration from her nightmares of Mr Tophat.

Her tale, “Mr Tophat and the Carnival of Doom” tells the story of a little girl who goes to a carnival with her parents. While there, the girl sees horrific things like a man with no eyes and scorpions crawling out of his clothes. But her parents don’t believe her. Neither do the two girls that she tries to warn away from Mr Tophat.

The following day, the little girl sees on that news that the two older girls had disappeared. Only, her parents don’t remember the carnival. And soon, neither does the little girl.

Rachel’s story earns her a place with The Midnight Society. It’s a cute group of kids. I would have loved to have had these kids as friends when I was a child (or hell – even now!). But while everything seems to be all fun and games, the Mightnight Society soon learn that something sinister has come their way when their classmate disappears and a carnival comes to town.

Part One had everything I wanted. It’s very much in the spirit of the original show but forges its own path by creating lives for these characters outside of their stories. It kind of reminded me of “The Tale of the Silver Sight” (2000), which shows the members of the Midnight Society trying to find the original members of the society.

The writers did the right thing by choosing the carnival setting. It’s not only a classic scary setting, but it looks great on film. I can’t wait to watch the kids explore the reality of the carnival.

There are plenty of horror references that are probably meant for adults, but I think it’s done in a way that will intrigue children. Certainly 13-year-old me would have been lapping this up and taking notes. Hand down, I would have aspired to be Akiko, the aspiring zombie filmmaker.

It might have taken three years to get here, but I loved the first episode of this reboot. The carnival setting is fantastic and the baddie is really fun. Obviously a lot of love and care went into this. Can’t wait for episode two.

Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Manor (1990)

Ah, summer. Days full of sunshine, camping, road trips and murderers in masks.

Is there anything more certain than death to all teenagers who dare take a road trip in a horror movie? We all know it never bodes well.

In 1990’s Deadly Manor, we get a group of kids who are on their way to a lake. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker, who tells them that they are still hours away from their destination despite already having driven all day.

They eventually decide to go off the path and stop for the night. Lucky (or rather unlucky) for them, they come across an old mansion in the woods. Outside the mansion is a totaled car on a plinth with what appears to be a shrine to a beautiful woman inside it.

Immediately, Helen begins to feel unsettled. Her friends all encourage her to calm down, but eventually the girl decides to head back through the woods alone.

And yes – this is the last of Helen.

In the meantime, the rest of the gang break into the old house. They discover fun things like coffins in the basement, walls full of photographs of that random lady, and a big crack in the wall. But most unsettling, despite the fact that the house looks certainly abandoned, the group find a copy of the newspaper from the day before.

Tony begins to have visions of the woman in the photographs. Unable to sleep after his dreams of her, he begins to explore the house again. He comes face-to-face with the hitchhiker, Jack. Though ol’ Tony has Jack sussed out – he’s an escaped con! Only this doesn’t matter much because soon both of these boys are dead.

Each of the kids are being picked off one-by-one by a lady in a white mask. Could this figure with the excellently permed hair possibly be the same woman as the one in the photographs who also has permed hair?

This is a late 80s/early 90s slasher. There isn’t much original happening here, and I could have probably dictated you the entire plot from the 10 minute mark. But the ‘twist’ is so utterly stupid, it’s almost impressive (and yes I enjoyed it).

Towards the end of the film, I was feeling rather annoyed that so many plot points seemed pointless. It wasn’t until about the list five minutes or so that we’re given explanations to anything. And I’m not necessarily talking about big reveals or plot twists here.

Deadly Manor makes the mistake of having too many characters. Sure, I guess you need someone to kill off. But we doesn’t spend enough time with any one person bar Tony who just goes and dies anyway. If no one is really likeable or even memorable; you don’t really feel anything when they do inevitably to get offed.

The actress who place Anne is good. But I was convinced the entire movie that she’d be the first to go. We barely know a thing about her. So it’s difficult to root for her at the end. It’s the actor’s likability that works more than the writing does.

So this pretty much boils down to an rather run-of-the mill slasher. Nothing truly bad about it at all, but probably one I’ll forget about in a week’s time.

Wicked Wednesday: WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

So it’s apparently 130 days until Halloween. But when you’re a horror fan, every day is Halloween, right?


I had been dying to watch WNUF Halloween Special since last Halloween, when I couldn’t get my hands on it anywhere. When I spotted it was on Shudder, I told myself to wait to watch it until Halloween season…and well, that didn’t last very long.

WNUF Halloween Special is an absolute delight, I’m happy to say. This movie is like a found footage film, only it’s done in the style of a taped recording of the news on Halloween night in 1987. There are commercials (which get increasingly saucy as the evening gets on), news segments, and promos for upcoming shows and TV movies.

But most important and hyped is channel 28’s Halloween Special, where reporter Frank Stewart plans to go into a local haunted building. The Webber House is where the “Spirit Board Murders” took place nearly 20 years earlier. In “The Devil Made Me Do It Style”, the parents are murdered by their son, who insists he was possessed.

Frank is a bit of a showman, determined to make rating on Halloween night. Invited to his life show are the paranormal experts, Louis and Claire Berger (who are here as Warren stand-ins) as well as a Catholic priest, wo is there to perform an exorcism.

Before Frank and his crew even enter the Webber House, it’s clear that not all is well. He sees a figure pass the window of the closed-up building, but the idea of catching great footage is just too much for Frank. Once inside the house, things only get worse. There is the usual ghost-y nonsense, but when the Bergers’ equipment is trashed, they become increasingly unsettled.

During the live phone-in séance (the first ever!), the group only get harassed by prank calls. The séance gets interrupted by the sound of the Bergers’ cat, which the group find mutilated. The Bergers then claim to be leaving the building.

But no matter how many times Frank cuts to commercial, the situation only increasingly gets out of control. It’s when the remainders of the group go to the basement that things really begin to take a dark turn…

WNUF Halloween Special has an oddly dark and gross ending despite it’s pleasant and fun vibe for the first 75 minutes. It’s a horrible (and successful) way of putting the audience in their place. There was a smile on my face for the entire movie up until the end, which I think is great work.

This movie was everything I wanted it to be. It completely encapsulates the feeling of late 80s/early 90s television news. It was a bit campy, but that made it all the more enjoyable to watch.

The story is fine, but it doesn’t really start until about an hour in. It’s all something we’ve seen before, but repackaged in a wholly original way. My favourite part of WNUF was definitely the little details: the repeated commercials, the unseen viewer fast-forwarding through the boring political segments, the crap SATIN graffiti.

And while Halloween might still be months away, this is already a movie I can envision myself revisiting when that time arrives.

Wicked Wednesday: House of Wax (2005)

The 2000s horror remakes have really bad reputations for many. Following the 90s slasher boom, which saw the creation of franchises like Scream and genre cornerstones like I Know What You Did Last Summer, it was almost like the creativity dried up. And suddenly, if it wasn’t Saw or Hostel it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Sorority Row (2009) – and really, the list does go on.

So to be honest, I have kept myself away from these – even though they were released at a time I was just beginning to explore the genre for myself. The way the most people talk about these remakes led me to believe that these were just dumper fires. But when I spotted the House of Wax rental on sale for £1.99, I thought it was time to dive in.

Carly and her friends are going on a road trip to a football game with her brother, who was recently released on bail. Though, as this is a horror movie, the group decide to take a shortcut. Of course a detour takes them the long way around, and they soon decide to stop in a field for the night.

They group start to party into the late hours. But their festivities are interrupted by a pick-up truck, which arrives just to sit there. Carly’s brother, Nick, throws a bottle at the headlight, and the truck leaves.

The next morning, Carly’s boyfriend, Wade, discovers that the belt on his car is spent. Meanwhile, his girlfriend and her friend Paige explore the bad smell in the woods. Carly tumbles down a steep hill and lands in roadkill carcasses. As she’s rescued, a man arrives in a pick-up truck – one that has both working headlights.

Carly and Wade agree to go with the strange man to the nearby town of Ambrose to get a new belt. The rest of the gang decide to go ahead with their plans of going to the football game.

The young couple are soon too creeped out by the man in the truck that they decide to go ahead on foot. When they arrive in Ambrose, they discover what is essentially a ghost town. When they go to a church to ask for help, the realise they’ve interrupted a funeral.

They’re met outside by a man Bo, who just happens to own the car garage. He tells them to wait until the service is done before he can help them. In the meantime, the couple explore the nearby Trudy’s House of Wax. And it’s literally a house made out of wax. Why someone thought a house made of wax was a good idea in the American south is beyond me. But hey – it looks good.

After visiting the museum, Bo invites the couple to his house so Wade can use the toilet. Carly becomes inpatient after waiting for a long time. It’s not until she spots that Bo’s truck has only one headlight that she realises something isn’t right. And it certainly isn’t.

Carly and Wade’s friends decide to give up on the game and return to pick them up in Ambrose. Only things aren’t going to turn out too well for them when they reach their destination.

Now – as this movie is nearly 20 years old, I feel like it’s not spoiling anything by saying that Wade isn’t missing because he was taking a very long dump. Instead of a final girl with her man, she ends up fighting side-by-side with her brother as they take on a pair of weird siblings obsessed with their mama.

The climax of House of Wax takes place as the building is slowly melting from a fire. This bit ox SFX is absolutely brilliant. I loved this SO much. It’s both gross and incredible to look at. You might just need to ignore the outdated CGI mixed in.

House of Wax is often called out for being unoriginal. It’s a loose remake of a remake; so there’s plenty of well-trodden path here. It depends what you like, I think. I quite enjoyed the twists; they’re soapy and a little bit silly. But what were you expecting from a movie that cast Paris Hilton at the height of her The Simple Life fame?

It’s good to have originality in storytelling, but I do think there’s something to be said about new technologies adding things to a story. Sure – this movie could have been about 20 minutes shorter to keep up the pace. But I’m someone who gets grumpy as soon as I realise a movie is over 90 minutes.

I appreciated the themes of siblinghood. It’s ultimately a movie about the bonds of siblings written by siblings (Chad and Carey Hayes). I do wish it was explored a bit more. It would be really fun to see this redone again with a pair of sisters.

And yes. I do think there could be another remake of this. While there are three movies around this story, there are also others in the genre like Waxworks, which partly inspired the great Waxwork and countless Goosebumps-esque stories involving wax museums. I want to see this done as a found footage movie a la Hell House. This movie was halfway there by including the use of cam footage. Let’s do this again!

Wax museums will never not be weird.

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.