Wicked Wendesday

Wicked Wednesday: Without Warning (1980)

The Warning is one of those movies that goes by a seemingly endless list of names: The Warning, It Came Without Warning, Without Warning. All changed for what I’m sure are very good reasons.

Either way there’s one thing clear from all the titles: there’s something about a warning that may or may not have happened.

This is a fairly standard slasher from the era. A man and his son are out in the woods when they’re attacked by these flying-saucer-esq frisbee aliens. Later, a scout leader is also attacked by the toothed pancakes when out with his boy scout troops.

Meanwhile, a pair of young couples pack up for a trip to the late. On the way they stop for gas where they meet the Harbinger of Doom. He warns them away from the lake, telling them that there had been accidents there lately.

The kids are kids, though, and mostly ignore him. Sandy, though, becomes unsettled by the man. She doesn’t particularly like his hunting trophies to boot. And she certainly tells him that: she’d never kill a living thing.

But despite Sandy’s hesitation, the gang head to the lake for fun and sun. Sandy and Greg head off when their friends begin to get a bit too cozy. When their friends go missing, Sandy and Greg begin looking for them.

They stumble across a shack owned by the water department. When they look inside, they discover the corpses of the men and their friends.

Sandy and Greg flee from the shack and get to the van. They’re attacked by the pancake aliens, but manage to escape using windshield wipers (brilliant).

They seek help at a bar where they meet a cast of colourful characters. Among them in Sarge, a war veteran who has seen the aliens as well.

Sandy and Greg tell the bar patrons that they’ve seen the aliens. No one really seems bothered until they learn about the bodies in the shack. The bar woman calls the sheriff, but when he arrives Sarge shoots him, believing him to be an alien.

The gas station owner, Joe, decides to take the kids away and back to the shack to see the bodies. Joe is attacked by a blood-drinking frisbee but manages not to survive the attack by cutting it off.

The couple are separated from Joe and are seemingly ‘saved’ when they see a squad car. But when they get into the car, they realise it’s driven by crazy Sarge. They learn that Sarge believes them to be the aliens in a human skin outfit.

Greg plays up to the idea and pretends to be an alien. When Sarge is wound up, Greg takes the older man out and he’s able to escape with Sandy.

Later, Sandy and Greg find an empty house in the woods. They clean up and rest there for part of the night. Strange occurrences happen that unsettle Sandy more, so Greg agrees to watch over things while she sleeps.

When she wakes up, though, finds finds a frisbee sucking on Greg’s face! (I do love horror movies…) She flees the house and stumbles upon Joe again, who convinces her to go back to the shack with him. As a hunter, he believes he can lure the alien to where the food is.

Shortly after arriving at the shack, Sarge appears again to come to blows with Joe. During their scuffle, the group see a tall alien approaching the shack. Sarge is killed off, leaving just Joe and Sandy left.

Joe sacrifices himself by luring the alien to the shack where he’s left dynamite. And despite her declarations to never kill anything, Sandy blows up the shack, Joe and alien to save the planet.

This is a strange little movie. It’s delightfully low budget. All the usual tropes are here: the final girl, the harbinger of doom, the first couple to have sex die. It’s all pretty by-the-book. But appearances by Jack Palance and Martin Landau help elevate it to a more memorable status. That and the excellently of-its-time alien work.

While not covering the same baddies, The Warning reminded me of the Bill Rebane film Blood Harvest. Both try to have a commentary of the PTSD of soldiers back from Vietnam. I’m not quite sure if either was successful, but it’s a unique perspective from the era.

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Wicked Wednesday: Cry_Wolf (2005)

I have an admission to make: I enjoy reading the last page of books. If a story is too suspenseful or there’s a character I really like, I need to know if they survive or who the killer is.

Considering the amount of mysteries and thrillers I read, this probably makes me a bad person. But that being said, I also think I’m pretty good at guessing a killer before I look at the last page of a book.

That being said, it takes no super sleuth to untangle the ‘mystery’ of Cry Wolf.

Last week, I went on a (minor) rant to my co-workers about how I don’t really care for the aesthetic of 00’s films. I hate the eyebrows, the low-rise jeans, the editing… But I decided I wanted to eat my words and watch an entertaining teen horror romp. When I read the words “boarding school” and “secrets” in the synopsis, I was immediately convinced I needed to watch Cry Wolf.

Cry Wolf is set at the fancy Westlake Preparatory Academy, home to the children of the elite. Joining their ranks is the English Owen. Upon his arrival, he bumps into Dodger, a girl he immediately takes a liking to. She explains to Owen that there is an assembly on about a townie who has gone missing after “screwing the wrong guy”.

Later that night, Owen’s new roommate, Tom, invites him to sneak out and meet his friends at a chapel, including Dodger. She tells Own the rules of a game called Cry Wolf. She, the shepherd, chooses someone to be a wolf and the rest of the “sheep” must discover who the wolf in the group is until one by one they’re picked off.

After playing their game, Dodger later suggests that the group play a bigger version of the game. One that involves the entire school. Together, the kids invent a serial killer. He’s The Wolf. He carries a hunting knife, wears an orange ski mask and camo jacket, and travels from campus to campus killing people. Dodger also suggests that the kids pretend that the missing girl (who was earlier discovered in the woods, killed by a gunshot wound) was the first victim.

Owen sends off the first email and the story takes off like wildfire.

Later, Owen gets an instant message from The Wolf. The messages are threatening, and he begins to suspect the Dodger, Tom and the rest of their friends.

The ‘pranks’ begin to get more bizarre. Tom and Owen find a bloody body piercing. Their room is ransacked. Randal goes missing.

Then one day, Tom goes to his journalism class and a hunting knife falls out of his bag. His teacher, Mr Walker (played by the very studious Jon Bon Jovi), takes Tom away to get expelled or whatever. But Tom manages to stop Mr Walker with one thing: the knowledge that Mr Walker is having an affair with Dodger. The boy had previously seen the two making out in Mr Walker’s office.

But his ‘friends’ begin to distrust him. He skips the Halloween dance, and is later pranked into believing that The Wolf is after him. He and Mercedes (who chases Owen dressed like The Wolf) get into trouble, as do the rest of the group.

The friends are all forced to stay at school over the weekend. But considering it’s a boarding school, I’m not sure why this is such a drag.

Owen gathers the gang together at the chapel, where they begin to admit to their deeds. But this somehow, according to Dodger, makes Owen seem guilty. The others turn on him.

While at the chapel, Mercedes’ boyfriend calls her and they hear her being attacked over the phone. And the one-by-one the kids are seemingly killed off.

Owen gets a call from Dodger who tells him about the gun in Mr Walker’s office. He goes to get it, but is caught by Mr Walker. The two begin to scuffle, and Owen ends up shooting Mr Walker in the chest.

And it’s seemingly all over.

It’s revealed that none of the kids had actually died. They were all (mostly) in on a prank to get back at Owen and Mercedes. Again, this seems pretty steep but whatever. Owen ends up not getting murder charges when his father reveals that Mr Walker was in a relationship with the townie that was killed.

It’s also revealed that Mr Walker had other damning evidence against him. And while it’s seemingly “that’s that”, the film throws in a final twist.

But…it’s not really much of a twist.

Unfortunately, the film is very heavy-handed on the foreshadowing. It makes guessing who the real mastermind easy to spot by a mile away. I almost had hoped that the the obvious suspect wasn’t guilty. But instead we get the very obvious ending. And for me, it made the movie really difficult to enjoy.

I loved the aspects of the children playing horrible pranks on each other. Something about a bunch of rich kids being jerks and getting their comeuppance makes me feel weirdly satisfied.

And while this isn’t typically a type of film I enjoy, I do think that Cry Wolf had its moments. It’s laughably outdated thanks to its technology, but if you can see beyond that (and it’s terribly predictable plot), it’s an alright way to spend 90 minutes of your night.

Wicked Wednesday: Monster (2005)

The Babadook has to be one of the best horror movies released this millennium. Let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a modern classic. Director and writer Jennifer Kent handles the themes of fear, trauma and grief all with an intelligence.

So when I first read about her short film Monster, I knew it was another one to watch.

Monster explores many of the same themes that Babadook does. In fact, it’s very much in the same spirit. A mother lives with her young son in their rather unclean home.

The son spends his day fighting off a rather creepy doll. The mother seems to know this doll and doesn’t like it. After she finds the doll ‘trapped’ under some of the boy’s things, she throws the doll into a cupboard.

The boy later tells his mother that he has been trying to kill the monster for her. He also claims that the doll has been threatening to kill him…again.

The mother later returns to the cupboard and sees a face in there in place of the doll. It frightens her, and she then offers to allow the boy to sleep in her bed that night.

While cozying up together, the figure from the cupboard appears to the mother and son. But before the monster can hurt the boy, the mother does what any mother does best: scolding.

The monster is eventually shamed and sent back to her cupboard. The boy and mother are allowed to have some peace together at last. But after the boy goes to sleep, his mother gets up and pours a glass of milk, which she leaves outside the cupboard for the monster.

Like Babadook, this short film carries many of the same messages. We see a parent trying to protect their child’s innocence. In Monster, it’s almost as though the mother welcomes the monster. She wants the monster to stay in her place, but it does mean her child stays by her side as his sole protector.

This little black-and-white piece is only 9 minutes long, and definitely manages to tell its story in that short amount of time. All while creating an eerie, effective ambiance.

Kent has a great eye. It’s excellent to see her growth is a filmmaker between the two stories, which are very comparable. Certainly a must-watch for anyone that loved the terrifying Babadook. But it’s also a great mini-introduction to Kent’s style and themes for those yet to dip in their toes.

Wicked Wednesday: The Baby-Sitters Club “Dawn and the Haunted House”

This week’s Wicked Wednesday is a bit different than usual. Instead of the usual blood fest and gore, we have…The Baby-Sitters Club.

As a very young girl, I loved The Baby-Sitters Club TV show. The show, while originally a HBO/Nickelodeon venture, the reruns were shown on the Disney Channel from 1994 to 1997, which meant I couldn’t have been older than 6-years-old when I watched. It’s was shortly before the time that I was forced to watch Mars Attacks! and Scream 2 and my life was ruined forevermore.

But at that age, much more simple things can be scary: something on the other side of a locked door, a basement, a mysterious person. It’s what made The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley work so well for me. That made a BEE KEEPER terrifying. Bee. Keeper.

It’s just a part of being an ignorant child, and that’s exactly that the girls in the Baby-Sitters Club are.

The episode’s title is rather misleading. For one, there is no haunted houses here, but instead an old, “witch” woman than the children of Stoneybrook love spreading rumours about.

Dawn loves a bit of a ghost story. During a biking trip, Dawn stops the other baby-sitters and tell them about Mrs Slade, the woman who lives there. She tells them that she believes that Mrs Slade kills animals for her experiments. And somehow, the girls seem pretty convinced.

Later, Dawn and Claudia baby-sit a trio of young children who leave near Mrs Slade. While they’re at the home, the little boy tells his baby-sitters that he’s found bones that the “witch” has buried.

This somehow prompts the girls to take the children on a walk through the woods. They study the pet cemetery that the boy has seen and begin to freak themselves out. When they hear a calling in the woods, they feel (mostly) certain that it’s either the wind…or the witch! 

Meanwhile, Claudia is struggling with school. Her mother asks her to give up some of her extracurricular in order to focus on studying. Claudia is immediately on the defensive and begins to argue. She even drops in some quotes from the show’s theme song which makes for a pretty compelling argument, if you ask me.

But regardless, Claudia is still a child and this is The Baby-Sitters Club, so Claudia begins her tutoring. She also keeps it a secret from the other baby-sitters.

At a slumber party, the baby-sitters indulge in scary movies and stories. Dawn, of course, tells stories about Mrs Slade. But later Claudia gets defensive when she believes Dawn is calling her dumb.

Later, while baby-sitting the young trio of kids again, Stacey sees Claudia in the window of Mrs Slade’s house. She (somehow) becomes convinced that Claudia is under a witch’s spell. She calls the other baby-sitters to have them rescue Claudia. Stacey, meanwhile, stays with the kids but prank calls Mrs Slade about an injured dog in the woods.

Mrs Slade rushes to the woods in order to save the dog, allowing the baby-sitters a chance to sneak into the house. When the girls find Claudia, she explains that she’s not under a spell but rather having tutoring. From Mrs Slade…a former vet.

Realising their mistake, the girls go into the woods to look for Mrs Slade. To their credit, the girls do apologise. Claudia even strikes up a friendship with the old woman after she paces her science test.

So there’s no haunting here. But it definitely is an episode of television that highlights the fears of silly children. And let’s face it, many children (if not all) can be silly. Most of the fear is created in their minds, making even the smallest of things bigger and more terrifying.

Yeah, the episode is a bit daft. It’s cheesy and silly and heavy-handed on the wholesomeness. But the shows sweetness reminds me of brighter days. The things here certainly won’t spook anyone over the age of 8 or 9, but it’s got all the bare bones of what it means to be both safe and scared at the same time: scary stories at slumber party, urban legends about honest neighbours.

It was certainly nice to watch something different. Though I’m not quite sure if I’d ever write about another for WW. For one, I think I’ve used up all episodes with spook names. Not sure if “Dawn Saves the Trees” or “The Baby-Sitters Remember” will really have the right vibe. But I guess you never know.

Wicked Wednesday: Witchcraft (1988)

When I saw that many of the films from the Witchcraft series had been added to Amazon Prime, I thought, “Finally. This is my moment.”

I had been wanting to watch this series for ages. Or, at least I thought I did. It took me until about only 10 minutes into this movie to realise that I was confusing Witchcraft with Witchboard. You know, I movie I already watched.

But despite being a complete idiot, I rather enjoyed Witchboard for what it was. Which is simply a mash up of Rosemary’s Baby and Tommy Wiseau’s acting skill. Throw in a dash of witchcraft Satanism and you’re all set to go!

Grace Churchill (a Polish immigrant, which is obvious from her name) gives birth to a baby boy, seemingly entering him into a world of bliss. Grace and her husband, John, move in with John’s mother in order for Grace to get help with the baby.

When Grace arrives at her mother-in-law Elizabeth’s house, she increasingly has visions like she had during her labor. She often sees images of a couple being burned at the stake for being witches. She also begins to feel unwell, and is given tea made by Elizabeth.

But Grace is a plucky Pole, and continues on with her normal life. At her post-baby-having baby shower, she shows her friend Linda around the house. They go to an area of the house that’s off limits to Grace, and they’re stopped by Elizabeth’s butler, Ellsworth.

The two women go back downstairs where they greet Grace’s priest. He turns to the baby, William, and sees visions of flames around the baby’s cot. He flees to the toilet where he’s sick. He then sees the vision again in a mirror before fleeing the home.

One day after the party, Grace manages to sneak into the “off limits” part of the home. She finds a series of unfinished rooms, including one with a large mirror hanging on the wall. When she looks into the mirror, she sees a vision of the priest hanging himself.

Later, the event happens in reality. The priest hangs himself outside of Grace’s house, his face disfigured.

Grace takes Linda to the off-limits room and shows her the room. But Linda isn’t convinced of her friend’s claims, believing that Grace is only upset about the lost of her priest.

Grace begins to become more unsettled living in her mother-in-law’s home. She pleads with John to let her leave, and he eventually admits that their home burnt down nearly a week ago. Upset with her husband, Grace tries to leave the home with baby William to see the ruined home. But Elizabeth convinces Grace to leave William behind.

When Grace reaches her house, she see that it has been ruined by a fire. But when she speaks to an older woman outside the home, she learns that the house had only burnt down the day before.

Grace returns to Elizabeth’s home and finds that it’s empty. When she goes into the off-limits room, she has more visions of the witches. She faints from her visions and wakes again with bandages around her wrists.

Linda visits Grace, and tries to sooth her friend, whom she believes has tried to take her own life. Linda agrees to stay the night and keep Grace company. In the night, Grace dreams that Linda is missing and she instead finds a chest of items in a room.

In the morning, Grace discovers that she’s holding onto the cross she grabbed in her dream. The same cross the priest gave her, and the same cross supposedly sitting at Linda’s home.

The two women explore more of the off-limits part of the home. When they split up, Linda’s life is swiftly ended, leaving Grace all alone. She’s swiftly knocked out and wakes up to find herself tied up.

Grace soon discovers that her husband and mother-in-law are the ones responsible. They tell her that they are reincarnated witches, waiting for their son to be born into the world again. With the help of the butler, the witches are killed off.

But while that’s the ending, I feel like I’m left with more questions than I have answers for. Why did the butler work for Elizabeth if he planned on killing her anyway? Is Grace a witch? How can she do all of these magical things? Or is it just Elizabeth and John being massive witchy jerks? Also, can I dress like Linda and get away with it in 2019?

Linda is my kindred spirit. Shame she wasn’t the Final Girl.

The acting and dialogue in Witchcraft is at least at a level of enjoyably bad. If you can get through the long, meandering scenes, it’s worth a watch. Though I’m not quite sure if I can stomach 15 sequels. It’s kind of difficult to wrap my mind around how this movie spawned so many sequels. But I suppose there could be worse things in this world.

So it was a mistake to watch Witchcraft, but it was certainly a happy mistake.

Wicked Wednesday: The Monster Club (1981)

If I had to sum up The Monster Club in one word, it’d be “goofy”. It’s simultaneously serious and silly, creating a real mix of emotions and feel throughout the entire movie.

And when it’s an anthology, that’s to be expected to a certain extent.

This 1981 British film was based on the work of author Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes. He’s injected into his own story by becoming one of the main characters in the framing story. Chetwynd-Hayes (played by John Carradine) bumps into a stranger one night, and becomes a midnight snack for a vampire.

But the vampire (Vincent Price) doesn’t finish the author off, but rather invites him to the Monster Club: a swingin’ club that, well, has monsters in it. The author is slightly alarmed, but is met with constant hospitality. The two hunker down at a table and the vampire, Eramus, begins to tell three stories – each about a different monster.

The first, “The Shadmock” follows a poor and greedy couple as they seek ways to make money. The woman, Angela, answers an ad in the newspaper from a man looking for someone to catalogue his antiques. When Angela first visits, she’s frightened away by the man’s face, but her boyfriend insists she return.

Angela reluctantly returns and takes the job working for Raven. She slowly learns about all his wealth, and the pair become closer. Raven eventually proposes to Angela. Her boyfriend again encourages her to follow through with it for the sake of money. Angela tells Raven that she accepts his proposal, and he suggests that they have a masquerade to celebrate.

At the ball, Angela is discovered trying to rob Raven. The man, now revealed to be a “Shadmock”, releases a high-pitched whistle. The smouldering corpse of Angela returns home, much to the terror of her boyfriend.

In “The Vampires”, the second tale of the night, a young boy struggles through life being bullied and slightly neglected. His father sleeps all day, and he rarely spends any time with the boy. But one day, when the boy is downtrodden, his mother tells him that his father is a count.

The boy goes to school and brags to his bullies. While he’s pushed down again, he’s rescued by a black-clad man (Donald Pleasence). He talk to the man, who begins to ask more questions about the boy’s father.

Eventually, the boy discovers that his father is a vampire. But before he can do anything about it, the black-clad man arrives with his crew. He reveals that they are vampire hunters, and then promptly stakes the father in the heart. But before the vampire can die, he bites the vampire hunter, turning him as well.

The other vampire hunters kill their leader and flee the house. It’s then revealed that the father vampire had been wearing a stake-proof vest all along.

The third story follows more strange monsters, “The Ghouls”. While just as deadly, the Ghouls appear more human than the Shadmock and keep more regular hours than a Vampire.

A film director heads to a small village while scouting for movie locations. When he arrives, he finds that the locals are both creepy and unhelpful. He tries to leave the the village, but discovers that his car has been tampered with. The locals then force him into a room in the inn on an upper level.

The director then meets a young girl, who explains that she is only half-human, unlike the others in the village. Everyone else there is a ghoul and likes to feast on human flesh. The girl also explains that the ghouls cannot go on holy ground. She then helps the director escape the inn and head into the village church.

There, the director learns the truth about the village’s history. It was overrun with ghouls who mated with humans (presumably dead ones). The girl arrives at the church, and they both try to escape to the outside world together.

The girl eventually dies, but the director flees to the motorway and waves down police officer. The officer offers to give him a ride, but the director soon finds himself back in the village. There to be a snack for the ghouls’ leaders.

After Eramus’s stories, he invites the author to become an honorary member of the Monster Club. While the author is resistant, Eramus explains that the most terrifying monster of all is the human.

The Monster Party is certainly an odd one. I couldn’t get through the first twenty minutes last week without turning it off. It’s tone is inconsistent, and it’s distracting.

There are some scenes in the club with bands playing. But even that doesn’t quite hit either the “this is excellent” or “this is so bad it’s good” marks.

If the film had committed to which tone it wanted, it might have been more successful. But overall, it’s just right in the middle.

Wicked Wednesday: Mr Jones (2013)

Found footage films are pretty “Marmite”. Some people love them, others hate them. For me, I think the bigger question while watching found footage movies is why? Very few stories are enhanced this way. Do certain stories need to be found footage? Can the story be better told in a more traditional way?

In most cases, the found footage style is a waste. A ploy to get asses in seats.

Mr Jones is one of the more tough ones to figure out. For one, it falls into the category of “these people are way too attractive to be actual humans”. Think of all the reasons why Blair Witch failed and Blair Witch Project succeeded: are your actors believable? One of the best examples of this is Bad Ben (you’ve watched it already, haven’t you?). But I always find it difficult to enjoy a found footage movie when everyone in the movie looks way too good too be all together in the same setting.

The premise is on the lofty side too. A young couple decide to go out into the wilderness to stay in a cabin for a few months. It’s their sort of “reconnecting” opportunity as their relationship has been going through a rough patch.

Husband Scott is a documentary maker, trying to get work done out in the wild. But he quickly realises that he has no point in mind for his new film, and it doesn’t help matters when he quits taking his medication.

When his wife, Penny, finds out about his self-treatment, she becomes upset. The couple continue to be on the rocks until one night. A group of birds attack the house. And the following day, Scott’s backpack (containing the car keys) is stolen by a hooded figure.

He and Penny eventually track down the figure and find a home filled with strange scarecrow-type figures straight out of the Blair Witch’s house. But while Scott becomes paranoid, Penny becomes absolutely jubilant. When they return to their cabin, she informs Scott that the man they followed is “Mr. Jones” – a Banksy-esque artist whose work is worth millions as the artists himself stays anonymous.

The couple quickly decide to make money off their find and focus Scott’s documentary on Mr. Jones. Scott goes to New York where he begins collecting interviews with various art collectors, experts and the people who have received pieces from Mr. Jones unsolicited. The collectors love Mr. Jones. The experts love exploring the artist’s use of protective charms as his motifs. And the people who’ve received the art? Well, they’re haunted by a nightmare.

Penny, meanwhile, stays in the country where she bumps into Mr. Jones. She notices that the ‘artist’ wears a creepy burlap sack mask. But the man seems harmless.

When Scott returns, the couple decide to step up their game and break into Mr. Jones’s house again. Scott leaves Penny outside to keep watch as he goes through a hatch. He finds an endless maze-like tunnel. He eventually comes across a room, set up in a shrine-style manner filled with the scarecrows.

Scott sees one of the figures, a baby, and steals it from its spot. Meanwhile, Penny comes across Mr. Jones again. When Scott finds her, she doesn’t seem to remember what happened to them.

What follows is a seemingly endless second half of the movie. A little like that tunnel system ol’ Jones has. The couple see doplegangers, dream-like nightmares and other pointless stuff!

It’s a movie that started off with a fairly great idea and plummeted into the world of We Didn’t Finish the Script.

In many way Mr Jones struggled. And it wasn’t just the ending (and the ending was loooooong).

While the use of the high-end cameras was neatly explained away, it just felt silly. The viewer isn’t stupid and can see right through the flimsy premise. There really was no need for the dual perspective cameras, which much of the ‘footage’ relies on. And there was really no need to be filming themselves. Scott wanted to make a nature documentary, why was he filming arguments with his wife? I mean, who edited this footage anyway? Penny?

I also found it distracting that the characters didn’t really stay in character. Scott goes off his medication, but it’s quickly forgotten after the first few minutes. If it was alluded to again, it was way too subtle. And if you were to ask me to characterise Penny, I couldn’t. One minute she’s adventurous, the next she’s boo-hooing because she’s walking in the dark.

Mr Jones will probably hit the right chord with a certain type of person. But unfortunately, I was not one of them. It’s really a found-footage movie that needed to do a lot more soul searching.