horror movie

Wicked Wednesday: The Clown at Midnight (1998)

Let it be known: I hate clowns. There are very few clown movies I can sit through. I don’t even like when there’s just a random clown in the shot. That creepy make-up and the stupid costumes send chills down my spine. The intro of Killer Klowns from Outer Space stresses me out massively.

So I’m living in a sort of mini-hell these days. It’s clown mania everywhere. People are flocking to see It: Chapter 2. The rest are obsessed with that Terrifier guy… you know the one.

NO. THANKS.

Which, of course explains why I watched a clown slasher movie this week, right?

But it’s a 90s Canadian slasher film, which is “safe” territory as far as clowns go. Thankfully “90s Canadian clown slasher movies” is a pretty niche subgenre, so here we are with The Clown at Midnight. This 1998 gem has a cast of “oh I know them from somewhere!”s and Christopher Plummer and Margot Kidder. And yes it’s as weird as it sounds.

Sometime in the past, a young opera singer is murdered by a man in a clown costume. Years later, her death is still a mystery. It’s presumed that a man named Osini is at fault after she resisted his advances. But the man apparently vanished to Europe after the murder.

Her daughter, Kate, learns that she was adopted. Her birth mother’s fate becomes known to her only after her adopted parents tell her the truth. She becomes plagued with nightmares of the theatre and her mother’s murder. She also sees a clown – presumably from her mother’s last opera, Pagliacci.

Which is why, of course, that she agrees to help clean up the theatre where ol’ Mom popped her clogs! She and a cast of colourful characters are brought together to help renovate the old theatre for their school’s theatre programme.

Each child is a walking stereotype on steroids. Their dialogue proves it as so:

“You’re such a psycho!” (In response to someone owning a snake…)
“I’d rather be a psycho than a prom queen!” (Take that!)

The kids soon meet the owner of the theatre, Mr Caruthers (Plummer). But don’t worry. He’s totally not suspicious! He’s definitely not the killer! Just look the other way. Ignore the heavily pointed dialogue about selling your soul to the devil… And it’s not weird that he wants to talk about the night Kate’s mother was murdered. In detail. Not at all!

Kate meanwhile is suffering. Go figure. She sees ghosts, has more nightmares, and gets generally freaked out. The other kids aren’t exactly helpful at making her more at ease. They go to the scene of the murder and find fresh blood under a carpet.

In the room, Kate discovers letters to her mother from Osini. It’s clear that he didn’t murder her mother, but was actually her mother’s lover…and Kate’s father. So gee – does that mean there’s a possibility that Osini wasn’t the murderer? If only the police had done a casual search of the room to find these letters!

And after enough plot, it’s time to kill everyone off. It’s a pretty hit-and-miss series of killings. Some are rather quick and forgettable. While others are actually really fun and inventive. Its when this movie uses its setting to its advantage that it really begins to shine.

After a few kids are killed off, including Kate’s best friend, the ultimate face-off happens against the killer. Really, you can guess where everything is headed from Caruthers’ first speech. But I don’t know, just pretend to be surprised.

The Clown at Midnight is truly, wonderfully cheesy. It’s a joy to watch. Maybe not for the reasons it intended, but I think that’s okay. It isn’t helped by the fact that it plays like a made-for-TV movie. Though that’s not really surprising considering it was partially produced by Hallmark.

The dialogue is truly diabolical. But that aspect is weirdly enjoyable. (Again…I think I’m enjoying this for the wrong reasons.) Throw some atrocious 90s fashions on top of it, and you’ve got a potential cult film in the making.

But this movie isn’t perfect. Even in its imperfections. It’s weird in the sense that it both expects too much of its audience and thinks its audience is a group of idiots. It assumes the audience knows what the hell Pagliacci is (maybe I’m the only one out of the loop here). Then the movie just reiterates the same information about the murders or Kate’s parentage nearly EVER. DAMN. SCENE.

It does become a bit tedious when the movie refuses to treat its audience like it has half-a-brain. But indulge anyway. It’s ridiculous and it made me laugh, which I guess is the whole point of clowns any way.

Wicked Wednesday: The Woods (2006)

Boy I’ve been lucky with films lately. First a fantastic weekend at FrightFest, and now another new favourite.

Sometimes when you see a synopsis on paper, it sounds right up your alley, but doesn’t follow through when you get to watching the movie itself.

I had been meaning to watch The Woods for a few months now. It was originally on my schedule for May…but you know, better late than never? (This must be my new motto.) This Lucky McKee-directed film has many things I love: witches, boarding schools, a period setting, and Bruce Campbell. Little did I know this had all the Down a Dark Hall vibes I was hoping for.

In 1965, teenage delinquent Heather is sent to Falburn Academy by her parents. She’s offered financial aid after passing one of the “tests” that the headmistress, Ms Traverse, sets her. She’s allowed in, but under the condition that she must take extra lessons with Ms Traverse.

Heather immediately butt heads with resident mean girl Samantha. The girl constantly knocks over Heather’s milk or throws the milk at other students to taunt her. But Heather has a thick skin (clearly a contemporary attitude), and often fights back to her bully.

Despite being intimidating, Heather makes friends with the quiet and talents Marcy. She begins to settle in, though is wary of the school. She begins to dream of bloody girls running through the woods and a girl with an ax. She also sees ghostly visions in the woods while trying to run away one night. Though when she hears the legend of witches and murder at Falburn Academy, her dreams begin to seem more real.

Things begin to get stranger as she has her one-on-one meetings with Ms Traverse. It becomes clear that Heather has powers of some sort, a magic. Then a student, who had supposedly tried to kill herself, returns to the school. Ann is meek, and barely speaks to any of the other students.

But one night, Ann disappears from her bed, only to be replaced by a pile of Ann-shaped leaves. It becomes apparent that Marcy is the next target, followed by Heather herself.

After Marcy also disappears in a fashion similar to Ann, Samantha confronts Heather again. Only this time, she reveals she’s been protecting Heather all along. Protecting her from The Milk (capitalisation necessary). She also tells Heather she she called Heather’s parents to pick her up. Samantha’s body is found shortly after.

When Heather’s parents retrieve her, she’s seemingly safe. Only the family are in a strange car accident on their way home. Heather and her father are the only two to survive.

Heather is returned to Falburn Academy after a short recovery. And it’s only then that the dark magic begin to come to a head.

And… It’s a slightly disappointing ending, and it’s a bit unclear what or why things are happening. But it’s often difficult to stick a landing when a movie is this good at building its suspense.

The writing for Heather’s character is a bit distracting, if only because it is so clearly written with a modern girl in mind. Also, and I hate to say it, the addition of Campbell was also distracting. We didn’t really need his character, especially when Heather was written to be such a resourceful girl.

That being said, I adored The Woods. It’s loose on its mythology, sure, but that (for me) adds all the more mystery. It’s a terribly atmospheric movie, full of autumn leaves and beautiful shots (my fave). There are subtleties in the set design and costuming that I was rather fond of as well. Deliveries from the likes of Rachel Nichols and the great Patricia Clarkson help also sell the movie.

I always find it more difficult to discuss exactly why I like something. I really, really like The Woods, even for its faults. I’m surprised there aren’t more of us gushing about it. Perhaps it isn’t for everyone, but this was sure as hell a good one for me.

Wicked Wednesday: My Mom’s a Werewolf (1989)

The 80s must have been a weird time. And I mean that in the most affectionate of ways. Sure the music and fashions were eccentric (and amazing), but it’s never more plainly clear how distinct the 80s were than through its movies.

Movies like My Mom’s a Werewolf.

This 1989 comedy horror is pretty much a check list of 80s cliche must-haves:

  • Eccentric best friend
  • Beautiful mother with lazy father
  • Party scene with bizarre happenings montage
  • Monkey suit werewolf costumes
  • Cheap pop songs with bizarre, yet catchy lyrics
  • Needless cover of classic song (though this will always be Hollywood’s eternal vice)
  • A cute, hairy dog

My Mom’s a Werewolf is essnetially a film that has everything written right on the tin. Leslie Shaber is an underappreciated woman. Her daughter doesn’t bother, and her husband prefers football games with the boys over spending time with her.

One day, while shopping for a flea collar, Leslie meets a mysterious shop owner. He helps her get her stolen bag back and immediately catches her attention. He follows her to the restaurant where she goes for dinner, wooing her despite her generally sensible behaviour.

But while Leslie is falling for a man named “Harry Thropen” (to be fair, played by the ever-gorgeous John Saxon), she’s spotted by her daughter, Jennifer.

Jennifer leaves the restaurant with her friend Stacey. The two follow Leslie as she returns to Harry’s store. They catch them in the bedroom together, but her forced to leave by a policeman.

As Harry and Leslie become aquainted, Harry bites Leslie’s toe. She immediately comes to her senses and leaves. But Jennifer is already suspicious of her mother’s infidenlity. Though she will have a lot more to be concerned about.

After being bitten, Leslie’s sex drive returns, she begins to grow long canines, and she has continuous dreams about Harry.

At Jennifer’s Halloween party, she finally realises that there’s something not quite right with Mom. While she asks Stacey (who’s obsessed with everything monsters) for help, her friend doesn’t offer any. So Jennifer goes to see a local fortune teller.

The fortune teller warns that Leslie can return to her werewolf form at any time. So Stacey and Jennifer begin following Leslie everywhere. Leslie, who know knows she’s destined to be Harry’s hairy wife, becomes a werewolf again and hides out in her house.

Harry arrives to take his bride, but thankfully the girls are there to help Leslie. Stacey manages to take down Harry by poking him with a silver fork. The policemen, who had arrived during the scuffle, see Leslie’s transformation as she turns from a werewolf back into a woman.

The Shabers become famous in their town. And Jennifer’s fortune teller friend begins to rake it in after her talents are revealed.

And that’s seemingly it. That is until Stacey learns more about how a curse can pass on after a werewolf is killed…

My Mom’s a Werewolf is pretty daft. It’s bizzare. It’s also pretty amusing.

This is one of the many films to follow in the wake of the success of Teen Wolf. But it doesn’t really become as iconic. It’s pretty one note, to be honest. Once the mother-is-a-werewolf gag is played, it’s pretty much the only thing that happens throughout.

If anything, this is a nice (if forgettable) piece of 80s schlock. Might be fun for some of the younger ones in the family.

Wicked Wednesday: Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes (2012)

As the world is seemingly getting smaller, the mysteries of the world seem a bit sillier. And yet, so many of us love the unknown.

This lingering obsession is seen in shows like Ancient Aliens. But increasingly, people are turning to true crime, the unknown more about what we know: ourselves.

In the found-footage movie Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes, a group of contemporary filmmakers head to Northern California where they plan on speaking to a man who claims to have found the body of a Sasquatch. Their leader, the unlikable Sean, believes that their new documentary will be network gold.

When the group arrive, they struggle to find the home of the man they seek. They find a path, but their van gets stuck in the mud. They eventually come face-to-face with Mr Drybeck (played by Frank Ashmore, who absolutely steals the show). The eccentric man takes the group to his cabin in the woods, which is only powered by a generator.

Some of the filmmakers are more excited than others. On one end of the spectrum is sound buy Kevin, who is as meek as a mouse and believes everything Drybeck tells them. Robin, the producer, is a bit more relaxed. She ‘greets the forest people’ with her shaman skills (or something).

That first night, things immediately go south. Something attacks the group from outside the cabin – much to Sea’s delight. And in the morning, Drybeck drives off in his jeep without the filmmakers. In a panic, Kevin goes off on his own to retrieve the van while wearing a body cam.

The remaining group look at the damage done to the cabin and find large scratch marks and urine on the walls. They later find footprints and a nest. Robin is attacked by an unseen something, but is saved by Drybeck, who has returned.

The attack injures Robin pretty severely, hindering her ability to walk. Sean and cameraman Darryl insist on getting her to a hospital, but when they try to leave, they find every road block by large trees.

Sean agrees to stay at the cabin. Drybeck promises to take the remaining men with him to a sea cave to look at the Sasquatch body he’d found. That leaves Robin all alone.

It’s unsurprising when everything goes south from there. But is it the Sasquatch that are really to blame? Or are they really trying to protect people from the spirit world? Since this is found-footage, you don’t really get a lick of an answer.

So…The Lost Coast Tapes isn’t…great. Though I guess it’s as much as you can hope for from a bigfoot movie. Awkwardly acted, but stronger at other points. Confusing camera use (as per usual with the lesser of this genre). Sometimes entertaining. And surprisingly, very few of those scenes where it’s just the shake-y cam pointed at the ground.

But is there really room in our modern world for this type of found-footage film anymore? I suppose there’s a small slice of the audience who care. We make found-footage movies to be convinced by what’s on (or not on) screen. Going into movies like this is strange because we’re already certain that these creatures don’t exist.

….right?

Scares are very difficult to come by here. And I think that’s more the subject’s fault than anything.

Though, if there is a good big foot movie. Please send it my way.

Wicked Wednesday: The Umbrella Factory (2013)

Horror stories have been around for thousands of years. The original Grimms’ Fairy Tales can be shocking and horrifying. The Bible has stories of ghosts and floating hands.

We love to be scared and always have been. Which is why The Umbrella Factory‘s simple storytelling is so effective.

One rainy night, three brothers are visited by a traveller. The cold, wet man has no money to offer the brothers in exchange for their hospitality. But he does have a talisman from India that grants wishes.

The eldest brother, the most unkind, asks for a large sum of money. The next day, the brothers go to the umbrella factory they work. Tragedy strikes when the youngest of them dies. The factory manager offers them money on behalf of the youngest brother.

That night, the second brother wishes that the youngest brother was still alive. The wish is granted, and the mutilated brother returns home. Horrified, the eldest brother wishes that none of the events had ever happened.

So again. One rainy night, three brothers are visited by a traveller.

This is a simple story, inspired by “The Monkey’s Paw” by WW Jacobs. It’s a story that many people are familiar with. And even if they’re not, it’s the ages-old moral: be careful what you wish for.

But the most effective part about The Umbrella Factory is the interesting Victorian-inspired animation. It’s use of black and white with splashes of red give this potentially child-ish story a gruesome twist. For less than four minutes, this short horror film gives you plenty of eye candy to look at.

Wicked Wednesday: Summer horror movie recommendations

In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky

Ah. The hot and dusty days of summer. When smelly people are everywhere, and we all feel ashamed for not losing a bit more weight before squeezing back into those old shorts.

I’m not a fan of summer. I think that’s what I get extra-excited about Halloween early every year (August the 1st, thank you very much). That being said, I love summer horror movies. Give me summer camps, dying shrubbery and sweaty people running from things. It’s a very satisying asthetic.

So I’ve gathered up a few of my favourites. There’s certainly a lot missing here…and there’s a lot of “stretches” involved. But my blog, my rules.

1. The Funhouse (1981)

This little Tobe Hooper number exists in god knows what time of the year. Sometimes it feels like autumn, sometimes summer. I think we can narrow it down to Indian summer at best.

The Funhouse follows a group of teenagers who go to a seedy carnival in town. When they decide to spend the night in the funhouse, they soon find themselves being stalked and killed by the carnival workers.

I always recommend this movie to people delving deeper into slashers, as it’s a rare gem in the genre: something you can watch all the way through without getting bored. But I love the visuals as well. It reminds me of staying at the state fair late into the night, bewildered by all the strangess around me.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

This is, for me, the ultimate summer classic. Another one of Hooper’s films, Texas Chainsaw Massacre really needs no introduction. It’s truly a masterpiece.

The heat. The sweatiness… It imagery just reeks of summer. It also has a lot of rotting flesh, so I imagine it reeked of that too. We may all have seen it half-a-million times, but who’s to say we can watch it half-a-million more?

3. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Right. So this is not my favourite Lois Duncan adaptation by a long shot. This movie actually upset Duncan when she saw it, as the violence reminded her of her own daughter’s tragic murder. It was stripped of its story and turned into a straight-forward slasher film (no hook-handed fisherman in the original).

But we couldn’t talk about summer horror without the one where it’s literally in the title. While I’m being a bit harsh on it, this is actually entertaining pop-corn fair. Sarah Michelle Gellar is an absolute gem in this one, so really just watch for her performance.

“I don’t think we’re that powerful, Julie. You’re giving us way too much credit.”

4. Spider Baby (1967)

This Jack Hill probably isn’t the film that immediately comes to most people’s minds when it comes to summer horror. But hear me out. Spider Baby is one of the brightest, sunniest horror movies I’ve ever seen.

When a couple go to see a family mansion, they find a group of mentally-regressing children in the home. The house is always being watched by people shading their eyes. That’s probably due to the fact that it was mostly shot in August and September in sunny California.

But there’s something very brave about a bright horror movie. It doesn’t need to always hide behind shadows in order to be unnerving. Yes eventually we spiral into the darkness of both the night and the family, but I think that makes the contrast all the more powerful.

5. Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro aka Eyeball (1975)

Some movies feel more like a season due to their settings. Is it in Salem? It’s perfect to watch in autumn. Is it Norwegian? Put it on in winter! So when this Italian horror gem puts ‘Americans’ on a tour bus in sunny Spain? It’s a summer movie to me, kids.

Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball is one of my favourite gialli. It’s really bizarre (I mean really). It has a banging theme tune. And there’s that one grinning guy with the bag of oranges. Watching Eyeball for the first time was an absolute blast, and it’s been a pleasure to keep re-watching it ever since.

If this doesn’t get you in the travelling-for-summer mood, then I really don’t know what will.

6. Slumber Party Massacer II (1987)

What’s that? Another chance to plug my favourite horror movie sequel? Well, I’ll take that opportunity. Again.

This (literally) dreamy movie mostly takes place during the school year, but it still has some definite end-of-the-school-year vibes. The girls walk around in shades, sing Paisley Underground songs and hang out in unfinished houses. They also get killed by a drill/guitar-wielding maniac. Really just usual plans that we all pencil into our summer schedules.

I think because I associate this movie with the word “fun” so much, I immediately relate it to summer. Because that’s ultimately why most of these movies are here: what’s really the point of summer but to enjoy yourself?

7. The Summer of 84 (2018)

There are many coming-of-age classics: Stand by MeGoonies, and new-comers like Stranger Things. They’re all rich with nostalgia. We’re a nostalgic type of species.

Which is why Summer of 84 is great. It reminds you why you loved the classics of the 80s. It has a plot line that’s well-worn, but well-loved: the person next door isn’t who you think they are. Think of The People Under the Stairs and The Burbs.

Only this book has an added punch to the gut with it’s jaw-dropping ending. It’s the end of both summer, and of naive innocence.


So what is your favourite horror movie to watch in the summer? I bet it’s Friday the 13th. It is, isn’t it?

Wicked Wednesday: Within (2016)

I rarely read reviews before I watch movies for this blog. I didn’t make an exception for Within, but I really wish I had. This was truly one of the more confounding films I’ve watched in a long, long time.

At the surface, this is very the set-up for typical haunted house trope fest. A family move into a new home in suburbia. There’s the oblivious dad, the hot new mom, and the irrtated “bad girl” daughter. They immediately begin noticing strange things in the house, particularly the daughter Hannah. And of course they eventually discover that a family died there by murder-suicide. They very much are like the new family: two parents and a daughter.

Hannah is sentenced by her father, John, to cleaning out the pervious family’s things out of their garage. She begins to unpack their lives and learn more things about them. She learns from a neighbour that the previous family had simply disappeared.

Meanwhile, she’s also battling creep ‘neighbour’ Ray, a locksmith. He offers to change the locks on the family’s house, but instantly creeps out mother Melanie too much.

Ray is eventually outseted as a squater in the next-door house. As revenge, he perves on Hannah (who is VERY much underage). But before he can do anything, Ray is killed off by a ghoul-ish like boy. Imagine the cavemen from those old Geico commercials.

While Hannah’s boyfriend visits, he studies the photos of murdered family. In one of the family outside the house, he notices unusual: a boy in one of the windows. As he’s being killed off, Hannah goes back to the family’s things to do more research. She eventually learns that the first family had a son.

This son had agoraphobia. So obviously, he’s crazy and LIVES IN THE CRAWL SPACE OF THE WALLS. The family attempt to take on the man, and the police eventually shoot someone. Of course it isn’t the agoraphobic caveman, but one of his prisoners.

He then gleefully picks off all the family members. Even Hannah, who is also creeped on repeatedly.

I mean, makes sense to me. Agoraphobia = crazy people who live in walls. Crazy people who look like drowned, drooling ghouls!

Horror movies aren’t always the most…represntitve of mental illness. But this is not a 1970s shocker. This was made in 2016. But it’s not its idiotic grip on mental health that’s the most eye-roll inducing about htis movie.

This is a story you’ve seen a million times. And it hasn’t been done well here. There’s no suspense. It’s by-the-numbers, pervy and just…boring. What’s the point of creating something when you refuse to bring anything new to the table?

But I would have known all of this if I would have just checked IMDB first. Not sure if that’s a lesson to really take away. Though I’m not really sure I can stomach another one of these.