Wicked Wendesday

Wicked Wednesday: Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wicked Wednesday: Dead End Drive-In (1986)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Games (1982)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wicked Wednesday: The Seed (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wicked Wednesday: This House Possessed (1981)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wicked Wednesday: Fantasies (1982)

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

The voice inside my head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wicked Wednesday: Fall into Darkness (1996)

The 90s were so good at teen drama. From 90210 to Clueless – there was some really iconic stuff in the decade.

But drama that leads to death, fake deaths and plots to frame your friend for murder? Truly iconic, and that’s what you get in this made-for-TV adaption of Christopher Pike’s novel Fall into Darkness.

Sharon is a rising star in the piano world, and a Julliard hopeful. Her playing catches the eye of the wealthy Jerry Price, who invites her to a party at his house one night.

At the party, Sharon learns that Jerry and his sister, Ann, are incredibly wealthy orphans. She meets Ann, a haughty and rude girl. Despite being absolutely catty towards Sharon, the girls become friends.

As Ann and Sharon grow closer, Jerry’s affections for Sharon grow. When he tries to come on to her, though, she rejects him.

Burnt by the interaction, Jerry goes to his friend Chad’s place and gets drunk. It’s that night that the girls learn that Jerry has supposedly taken his own life by jumping in front of an oncoming train.

Ann is distraught. Even more so when Chad tells her why – that Jerry couldn’t take the rejection from Sharon, mixed with his depression. Ann becomes angry and begins plotting Sharon’s demise with the help of her boyfriend, Paul.

For the first part of their plan, Ann invites the gaggle of friends to go camping. During the bonfire, Ann makes Sharon angry by belittling her playing. Sharon storms off and Ann later follows – claiming to want to apologise.

When the girls are in the woods, Ann begins screaming Sharon’s name, setting it up to look like she’s being attacked by her friend. Ann throws herself from a cliff, seemingly to her own death.

From there the boys all tell the police that they believe Sharon has killed Ann. But no one can find the body.

Sharon must prove her own innocence and uncover the truth before the real killer comes for her next. It’s a pretty fun maze of twists and turns. Though eventually (and probably a little too soon) the truth becomes obvious. The story still manages to keep the pace up, though, even when its audience knows where things are going next. I think that’s partly due to how compelling both Tatyana M. Ali and Jonathan Brandis’s work.

Fall into Darkness takes a lot from its predecessors in many ways: a bad boy with Jason Dean vibes, a lack of humour and camp to show that it’s taking itself seriously. It’s not really breaking any new ground. That being said, it’s still a good time, and it’s pretty nice to return to basics here. I have read that this is a not-so-great adaption of Pike’s work, so maybe this is even due a reboot?

Pike is one of the pillars of YA and children’s horror fiction in the 80s and 90s. But somehow, there aren’t very many adaptions of his work. At the time of writing, Fall into Darkness remains the only one. An adaption of superb Midnight Club for Netflix, created by the always-dependable Mike Flanagan, finished production in 2021. If there’s a success there, hopefully more adaptions will follow. I personally am ready to find more of his books and give them a read!

Also, can we get a boutique label to start releasing nice blu-ray editions of these made-for-TV movies. Honestly, the quality of some of these films is so bad! I’d kill to watch these and be able to see what the actors’ faces look like.

Wicked Wednesday: Night Terror (1977)

I love made-for-TV movies. I love Made-for-TV March. A whole four weeks of dramatic pauses for commercials, effective uses of lightning and familiar faces from shows your ma watches. Truly, a most wonderful time of the year.

This week, I treated myself to Night Terror, a suspenseful chase film starring the TV movie legend Valerie Harper.

Harper plays Carol Turner, a frazzled and forgetful housewife. Her family is preparing to move across the country to Colorado for her husband’s job. Now just saying this upfront: Carol’s husband, Walter, is a loser and does not deserve her!

Anyway, the kids go ahead with their aunt and father while Carol follows behind with the station wagon. She intends to meet up with Walter for their second honeymoon before going to Colorado. Only Walter needs to cancel their plans because of work-something-or-another.

Carol’s night only gets worse when she discovers that her son has been sent to the hospital and needs surgery. Panic-stricken, she gets into her car in the middle of the night and heads off to Colorado on her own.

Along the way, Carol realises her car’s gas tank is nearly empty. She sees a cop on the side of the road with another car pulled over, she stops to ask for help. Only when she does, the man in the pulled-over car shoots and kills the police officer.

Panicked, Carol drives off into the night, but her pursuer is not going to let her go. What follows is a pretty lengthy, but intense chase scene.

Carol has to use her wits to get help and avoid the killer. She commits a few faux pas along the way, but she’s ultimately responsible for all her successes. But the killer is pretty relentless and clever, there are a number of times I shouted, “NO CAROL!!!!” at my TV screen, which is surely a sign of good pace!

When Carol is finally victorious and at her child’s bedside, her husband arrives. When he tells her, “You poor baby. You of all people.” without knowing what she’s been through… well, it’s enough to make your blood boil! Please tell me there’s a part two where she kills him and lives her best Thelma and Louise life.

Night Terror is a gem. It’s got a great pace, which I think is greatly benefited by its 70-minute run time. Not only does it clip along nicely, but it looks great too. The rainy night and dry, desert day look fabulous on screen. The killer (played by the super hot Richard Romanus) is excellent. You don’t know much about him at all. He’s really just there to be menacing – and he is!

There are several things that date this one in a not-so-fun way, but if you want a fun thriller version of The Hitcher or Duel. But this one has Valerie Harper, so it has to have an edge in that respect! Harper manages to seem both frantic and compelling while not overdoing it completely. This is why she will always be an icon.

Wicked Wednesday: The House of the Dead (1978)

I love horror anthology movies. Some of the best scary stories are quick, brutal and to the point. It’s often why the short film format is often one of the most effective forms of horror. Link them together with an excellent framing story, and you’ve got yourself gold.

And who better to listen to scary stories from than a mortician on a stormy night? Though if you’re a cheating man named Talmudge, it’s probably not going to be an ideal situation for you.

After fooling around with another man’s wife one night, Talmudge tries to head back to his hotel. Only his cab drops him off on the wrong street during a storm. He’s taken in by a mortician, who seemingly pities the man’s situation.

Inside the mortician’s place, Talmudge sees five caskets out. The mortician explains that he only takes in “interesting” corpses that have had unique deaths. He then explains each death in detail to Talmudge.

The first story is about a grumpy teacher who hates children. She’s a monster to them, but what happens when they become monsters themselves?

A second corpse is that of a man who was executed after being found killing women. The crimes he filmed himself doing.

The third coffin contains the body of a detective. One who was competitive with a fellow detective and was willing to put him to the test of wits. But which detective is in the coffin and whose remains were too little to be buried?

The fourth, but not final, story is about an office worker who cares for no one but himself. After harassing a homeless man, the office worker finds himself in a closed shop that he can’t escape. No matter what he does, he finds himself further and further into the shop – and into another form of torture.

As the mortician finishes his story, the only question left is – who is the fifth, and empty, casket for?

It’s a fun and morbidly gleeful ending to the anthology in the vein of anthology TV shows like Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt.

I really loved a lot about The House of the Dead. Director Sharon Miller manages to keep a consistent tone throughout. And yet each of the stories is very distinct and memorable – something I have to say is often rare for anthology movies. There are usually one or two segments that are weaker than the rest.

But here we are lucky enough to get four solid stories with a framing story that isn’t obnoxious to return to. Nothing is worse than just wanting to skip the framing story and get on to something else, only to have to return to it again.

This was a surprisingly little hidden gem. If you’re a fan of anthologies and have yet to see it, I highly recommend seeking it out.