Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: The Blood on Satan’s Claws (1971)

Here I am again, continuing my quest to watch more British horror films. Now this one, I had pretty high expectations for. And if I’ve learned anything about expectations it’s this: if they’re high, you’re going to be let down.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw is one of the few “folk horror” films made in Britain. It’s a small subgenre of films that focus on stories of folklore (go figure). But when discussing folk horror, there’s one ‘trilogy’ of films that should come to mind: The Wicker ManWitchfinder General and this week’s film.

I quite love The Wicker Man. It’s very subtle, but 70’s horror was good at that.

Unfortunately, The Blood on Satan’s Claw didn’t work for me. At all. Which, you know, is pretty disappointing considering its growing cult status. But it lacks the intelligence of The Wicker Man and bothers with plot as much as the WM’s American remake does.

In a small village, the young Peter brings his betrothed, Rosalind, to meet his aunt. This is scandalous to the aunt as the young ones claim that they want to be married the following day. Even worse – Rosalind wants to stay the night!! 

Just to put the girl in her place, the aunt forces Rosalind to sleep in the attic that night. Unbeknownst to them, local farmer Ralph unearthed a skull while ploughing his fields. The skull (which disappears) clearly possesses evil, which awakens in the night.

Rosalind is attacked by an invisible being, and begins screaming in the night. The family board her up in the attic until she can be taken away to an asylum. The aunt is also attacked (presumably by Rosalind), but disappears in the morning without a trace.

Curious, eh? Intrigued by what will happens to Rosalind and the aunt? Don’t worry, you’ll never find out what happens. There’s a frustrating lack of explanation. Like look, I understand mystery, but ignoring everything is lazy – not suspenseful.

The rest of the film focuses on a group of children after they find a claw. It possesses them with evil. They kill and rape the other local children for kicks.

But Peter decides not to take it, and appeals to a local judge for assistance. He brings in the assistance of some dogs and a…cross, thing to defeat the Satanic group of children. I’m not actually sure what the judge does because a. the film is pretty damn dark, b. it’s filmed so tightly that you can’t see anyone’s arms move, and c. the film doesn’t want to explain anything it’s doing.

But the party is busted up at some ritual that one of the Demonic girls tells the judge about. And that’s pretty much where The Blood on Satan’s Claw leaves things.

I feel like The Blood on Satan’s Claw and I could have gotten along much more if I didn’t have any expectations for it. I love atmospheric films, and this has so much of it (it’s truly beautiful when the camera allows for the scene some space). If you have an incredible tolerance for looking past plot-holes, this will probably please.

But really, it takes a lot more than a wreath of branches and some furry eyebrows to make a movie good.

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Wicked Wednesday: Witchboard (1986)

Withcboard was recommended to me a couple weeks ago. I had vaguely heard of this movie (the third in a trilogy), but the excitement level immediately went up after I learned that it was directed by Kevin S Tenney.

Tenney is the director of the fantastic and crazy Night of the Demons – a personal favourite of mine. The two films hardly share much in common. While NOTD is very much a campy teen slasher, Witchboard is a bit (if only a bit) more sophisticated with a more complex story and older cast (if only in story).

There are no witches in Witchboard, but rather the story centres around a Ouija board. One night at a party, smarmy yuppie Brandon brings his board to play with his ex-girlfriend, Linda.

Linda and Brandon contact the spirit of David, a 10-year-old boy who died in an accident. Brandon assures everyone at the party that he’s contact David a number of times. But when Linda’s boyfriend, Jim, begins to taught the spirit and the board, the spirit becomes angry and slashed the tires on Brandon’s car.

The next day, at his building site, Jim’s co-worked and friend, Lloyd, is killed in a freak accident. He comes home to tell Linda, who has spent her entire day alone chatting with a spirit on the Ouija board, which she believes to be David.

At the funeral, the couple meet a Lieutenant Dewhurst, who suspects Jim had something to do with the death. Jim’s hammer/axe disappeared the day of the accident. And Dewhurst informs that the sheeting that killed Lloyd had been tampered with – probably with an axe.

The more time Linda spends with the Ouija board, the more erratic and foul-mouthed she becomes. Eventually she admits to Jim that she’s pregnant, which they both believe explains away her behaviour.

But Brandon, Ouija board extraordinaire, knows better. He tells his worries to Jim, who tries to ignore him. The two are former-friends turned enemies (mostly due to Linda, obv). Before you can say “your gal’s gonna get possessed,” Jim receives a phone call at the site from his landlord saying that Linda had freaked out while at home alone.

After seeing how upset Linda is, Jim agrees to have a medium over. In pops “Zarabeth” – easily one of the strangest and more memorable characters in a 80’s horror film. The eccentric medium holds a seance with the couple and Brandon to contact David’s spirit, but the boy doesn’t hold up any resistance and leaves when asked. Brandon takes back his Ouija board, which had been left behind from the party.

Zarabeth is suspicious of the spirit, sensing that there wasn’t something quite right. She tells Brandon that she’s going to do more research that night, but she too is killed by an axe before she can tell Brandon of her discoveries.

When Brandon hears of Zarabeth’s death, he realises that he doesn’t actually have the Ouija board, but just an empty box. He meets with Jim, and insists that Linda is probably experiencing “progressive entrapment” which means she’s slowly becomes the target of a spirit.

While using the board alone, Linda hurts herself and becomes concussed. At the hospital, Jim learns that Linda is not actually pregnant at all. So the behaviour and morning sickness can no longer be easily explained away. He then fully accepts Brandon’s ideas on progressive entrapment.

The two men head out together to do more research on David. They are able to confirm his death, and that he did die at the age and way that he had claimed. Brandon and Jim then go to the place where David died. They try to contact him, thinking that they are safe because Linda is in a coma of sorts, but something goes awry. The spirit there attacked the two men, killing Brandon with the axe.

After the death of his friend, Jim continues the research. He goes to a local witchcraft shop and speaks to the woman there. Together they realise that this apartment is in fact haunted by the ghost of Carlos Malfeitor, a serial killer who murdered people with an axe.

Jim returns to his home, and realises that Linda is out of the hospital, and not in fact asleep. He sees Linda in full dress like Malfeitor – complete with a fantastic hat! Good fashion happens when you’re possessed!

But the argument and tussle gets the attention of Lt Dewhurst, who tries to stop them. But the man is knocked out, leaving Jim alone with Malfeitor. He manages to get a gun and shoots the Ouija board, exorcising the spirit from Linda.

And all seems fine. Linda and Jim get married. Jim (seemingly) doesn’t get arrested for any of the murders. But while their landlord cleans up their apartment, the Ouija board is discovered – still full of life.

Witchboard was much more enjoyable than I initially thought it might be. There was a sad lack of witches, sure, but it’s a zany little piece with pretty good characters.

One of the more interesting aspects of the movie was the focus on Jim and Brandon’s friendship. Many horror films rely on the Final Girl trope, but the exploration of a platonic relationship between these guys was pretty refreshing. It reminded me a bit of Keith Jennings and Robert Thorn in The Omen. But all the while, Linda never feels like a true victim, but a pretty strong character in her own right.

Just two dudes, solving crimes!

I’d gladly rewatch Witchboard. And I found a true kindred spirit with Zarabeth.

“Hang loose, stay cool, and don’t forget your psychic humor.”

Wicked Wednesday: The Grey Matter (2014)

It’s been a long, long time since I watched a zombie film. The zombie fad had been (still is?) violent and big. The genre certainly feels tired. But the 2014 short film The Grey Matter offers up a funny sort of parasitic worms and office romance what-ifs (like is The Office decided to go full on Shaun of the Dead).

Simon is known to be a bit of a loser at his office. But one night changes all of that. He wakes up in the street, covered in blood. And since he opted-out of medical coverage, he has no choice but to deal with the ‘gash’ in the back of his head by himself.

But the ‘gash’ (really a massive hole) proves to do wonders. He becomes more confident and all of his co-workers begin to take notice. One co-worker in particular, actually. Emily.

Despite the fact that Simon repeatedly introduced himself to Emily, she constantly forgets his existence. But the change in him catches the girl’s eye. She gives him her phone number, hoping he’ll call her.

That night, Simon begins to hear a voice talking to him. A voice in his head promising to help him with Emily. He reaches into the hole in his head and pulls out a sarcastic worm-looking parasite. Simon panics and blacks out. When he wakes up in the morning, his irritating co-worker Mitch is wandering around Simon’s apartment.

Mitch tells Simon that the two of them have had a wild night out together, a part of Simon’s new personality. Mitch also reminds him that Emily agreed to go on a date with Simon. On the news, a breaking news report claims that a man had been a victim of a “cannibalistic attack”. A sketch of the attacker looks rather like Simon, including the ridiculous hat he wears to cover his bandaged head.

Simon has a chat with the parasite before going out. The worm actually gives Simon some helpful tips for the date, and Simon eventually gets the confidence to go on the date with Emily.

When Emily and Simon return to his place that night, they begin to get cozy. Simon panics when he begins to get the urge to bite Emily. So he brings out the wine instead. But the wine causes him to relax a little too much.

Simon goes to work the following day with a pep in his step sans hat and bandage. His head seemingly healed. Emily arrives to talk to him, saying she didn’t remember anything that happened the other night. She’s wearing a bandage around her head, and explains that she must have hit her head.

As she walks away, it’s revealed that Simon is holding a chunk of bloody hair with one of Emily’s hair clips in it.

I was slightly confused by the world of the movie. It’s hard to build a story in under 20 minutes, but I still felt slightly lost. At the end of the viewing, I thought ‘Ah. It’s like It Follows where we pass the disease on like an STD!’ Only it’s not, right? Because if it was, surely it would have been passed on to Simon’s first victim (assuming he was the actual attacker on the news report).

Or maybe I really missed something.

Or maybe the worm is a skeeze-ball who just wanted to inhabit a head with great blonde hair?

The Grey Matter is certainly entertaining and is a great way to spend 20 minutes. It’s certainly not my favourite short, but it definitely didn’t feel like I was meant to be the intended audience anyway. Bonus points for the sarcastic worm.

Wicked Wednesday: Death Spa (1989)

Why do I do this to myself?

Each week, I spend hours researching movies that sound interesting and good. Things I want to watch and write about. And yet…and yet I find myself here. Watching Death Spa.

Death Spa is about as weird as you’d expect. It’s full-powered 80’s with an incredibly bizarre plotline that doesn’t bother to explain itself. But, with a weirdly high quality of dancing.

Michael is the owner of Starbody Health Spa. The health spa isn’t like just any ordinary spa: it’s run by a computer. The computer system helps each member with a custom work outs.

Oh, and it malfunctions in ways that causes strange and dangerous accidents.

The first is Laura, Michael’s girlfriend. She gets burns while spending time sweating it out in the sauna. The following day, a pair of police investigators arrive at the spa to interview Michael and David, Michael’s former brother-in-law who runs the spa’s computer system.

David’s sister, Catherine, died by suicide the year before by setting herself on fire in a wheelchair. The two men hardly get along, as David suspects that Michael cheated on Catherine while she was still alive.

Michael’s lawyer insists that the computer system stays running as is, or the club will lose its appeal. Michael somehow agrees to this despite the fact that several women are attacked in the showers by hot water and shooting wall tiles.

Laura eventually heals from her injuries (completely unscathed for a woman in a chemical attack). Michael invites her to move in, and she agrees. They go to get Laura’s stuff from the health club, where Michael finds a strange message for him on the computer screen.

Suspecting that the going-ons at the club might have something to do with his dead wife, Michael goes to see a parapsychologist. Dr Lido suggests that he go to the club himself to get a better understanding of what is going on. Somehow (again) Michael agrees to the (very stupid) idea.

Dr Lido is killed by a woman in white. And it shocks no one…besides maybe Michael.

Meanwhile, while Laura is away, David stops by. The poor woman can’t see, but she allows David in anyway. He claims to have done something to Michael’s computer, but when Michael arrives home that night, he can’t figure out what. But don’t worry, this is pretty inconsequential anyway.

Upon investigating Dr Lido’s death, Michael finds his lawyer’s watch in the basement. He confronts his lawyer, but it’s the lawyer’s girlfriend who admits to tampering with the club. They wanted to buy it from Michael at a low price.

But no matter. There’s an ex-brother-in-law to track now! For some reason! Despite the fact that someone

Michael takes the police officers to David’s apartment where they find it overflowing with shit. Somehow they come to the conclusion that David is involved (he does have the wheelchair that Catherine burned herself alive in – which is really just a nice memorial).

They all agree to keep an eye out for David at the spa’s Mardi Gras party. But Catherine/David kills the look out and begins to wreck havoc before you can say “but why is the club still open???”

Catherine/David attacks Laura and ties her to a tanning bed. Using the poor girl as leverage, Michael appears and tries to talk sense into the siblings. He distracts the David half enough that Michael can run away and save Laura.

Unfortunately, most of the club is getting killed off in the meantime. Laura uses the computer to lock the doors of the club and set it on fire. But Michael decides to blow up the entire computer system using the wires and his shoes(?). While many corpses lay behind, Michael and Laura manage to escape along with, more importantly, Rosalind Cash and Ken Foree.

There’s a lot I don’t get here. Death Spa literally tries to do everything: the dual personalities, the suicide, the woman scorned, the evil computer, the scheming employees, twins, and dead babies. But nothing is fully explained here!

How did David come to be possessed by Catherine? Why wasn’t Michael sad to see his dead wife? Was Michael really cheating on his dead wife? Michael spends most of this movie being the hero and being a skeeze ball.

The movie had some inventive deaths, as is unsurprising for an 80s slasher. But it sort of has to be in order to be memorable. This isn’t the only health club-themed horror movie, and it certainly isn’t the best. But it is bizarre enough to warrant a watch for a laugh.

Wicked Wednesday: The Witches of Salem: The Horror and the Hope (1972)

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of rewatching John Carpenter’s Christine, a movie I haven’t seen in some years. One of the most pleasant surprises I had while watching the movie was seeing the incredible Roberts Blossom on screen again. The man always has a way of getting under my skin, no matter his role.

So went I spotted The Witches of Salem: The Horror and the Hope on his IMDB page, I knew I had to give it a watch.

This 35-minute short film was meant to be shown in school as a sort of supplement to the study of the Salem Witch Trials. It’s by no means meant to be a horror movie, but the odd camera angles and eerie hymns certainly make it feel that way.

The Witches of Salem is based primarily on the court records and testimonies from the trials. In the village of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, the Puritans rule. The United States of America won’t exist for nearly another 100 years. Meaning that the king still rules over the colonies.

The Puritans had their document of self-rule removed, potentially putting their religious freedom at risk. In the village, people begin to become afraid. They’re a hypocritical lot anyway: wanting freedom to live their lives the way they want while demanding that other people in the village adhere the same way.

One day, a gaggle of young girls speak to a slave, Tituba (Madge Sinclair), who tells them stories about the Devil in Barbados. The story shocks the girls, but makes one girl in particular distressed. The girl, Betty, becomes hysterical. She sits in bed for days afterwards without speaking.

Her father is, of course, the local minister and believes that his daughter and the other girls have become bewitched. They begin to behave strangely: laughing hysterically, choking during prayers, spinning (that last one being particularly terrifying).

Eventually, a couple ministers try to discover who has been tormenting the girls. They begin to shout names of the locals including Tituba, the local tavern woman Bridget, a minister and a poor woman.

A court is gathered to try the witches, and the ministers agree that the witches can only be convicted with “scientific tests” only. None of that water test nonsense!

And thus each of the accused are found guilty. It’s difficult to tell of the young girls are hysterical or a part of a big joke to get half their village killed. Either way, they behave like a group of mean girls that make the Heathers look like the Baby-Sitters Club. They’re quite eerie to watch (or at least I got a kick out of it).

Unfortunately, Blossom only makes an appearance right at the end as Governor Phips, the man who eventually disbanded the court involved with the trials. A voice over tells the viewers the aftermath of the trials, about how all the “witches” were released (that is, if they hadn’t already been killed) and a literal translation of the Bible could no longer be considered civil law.

As someone who never studied the Salem Witch Trials in school, I thought it was an interesting little short. The age of the short helps enhance the mood. It’s a bit silly, yes, but I certainly wouldn’t have complained if I was forced to watch this in a class.

Wicked Wednesday: Dead Body (2017)

Last month I read all three of L.J. Smith’s Forbidden Game novels. A group of friends get trapped in a game and must outsmart a Norse entity to save their own lives.

I loved it. And how the books haven’t been turned into movies is beyond me. But I have been addicted to find anything and everything that fits into a similar trope. If anything, I’ll accept Clue.

When I read the synopsis of Dead Body, I really thought “This is it!” A group of friends at a cabin in the woods start playing a night game, and someone kills them off. It sounded perfect.

But unfortunately, Dead Body isn’t perfect. At all.

Future Ivy Leaguer Dominic prepares to entertain his former high school friend Ilsa for the weekend. His plan is it for just to be the two of them, and the two Japanese exchange students. Though plans go awry when Ilsa arrives with her friend and much older boyfriend. Followed by three more boys.

Dominic begins to panic, but the kids settle in and begin to party for the night. Eventually, they all begin to talk about their future plans as they’ve all just graduated high school (though all clearly much older). Dominic is upset because he’s forth on the waiting list. But Ilsa’s boyfriend Dwayne doesn’t care. And neither do I.

Dwayne mentions that all of his friends from high school are “dead” or, as he vaguely acknowledges “dead to him”. This is quite a clever bit of the script, but don’t worry – this is never brought up again.

When they become bored of the dead people talk, ‘nerdy’ Rumor (played by a poor man’s Tom Lenk) suggests playing Dead Bodies. The game is played like this: one of the group is chosen to be the killer when slips of paper are picked. Everyone must then hide. The killer must then go around and pinch people, “killing them”. Then if someone finds a dead body, they must shout “DEAD BODY” and everyone then convenes to discuss who they think the killer is.

So the group begin to play, but is interrupted when Ilsa’s friend Sarah sees one of the exchange students ‘dead’ with ketchup on his throat. They reset and Sarah is dragged into the basement by exchange student Mariko. Then, unsurprisingly, the real bodies begin to pile up.

When Ilsa breaks into a locked bed room, she finds Mariko, Kenji and Dominic’s dead bodies on a bed. As no one has cell reception (yet can still text each other), they have no choice but to wait until they can drive to the police. But Rumor comes to the conclusion that since there are no signs of forced entry, the killer has to be one of them.

The kids then proceed to blame each other for various reasons, playing up to their stereotypes. Sarah is found and everyone jumps to the conclusion that she’s the killer. They handcuff her to the bed where the corpses lay, but she manages to escape. One of of their group, the druggie whose name I can’t be bothered to look up, runs into the woods, he gets his head hacked off. Then Rumor gets a hook up his face.

By now, only Isla, her boyfriend Dwayne and Ilsa’s sweetheart Marcus are left. They find their van, but realise it has been vandalised. They also find Sarah, who is about to reveal something to them, but Dwaye shoots her with a nail gun.

After that little event, Marcus and Ilsa suddenly think the killer is Dwayne and kill him. But they’re clearly wrong and Marcus is attacked. And finally it’s to the end. But it’s clear from the very beginning of the film who the killer is, so it’s hardly surprising when they have their big reveal.

And that, I think, is the biggest shame about the film. Who-dun-its are some of my favourite books and movies to read, but they have to have more than one convincing killer. It’s so clearly one person that it’s not every interesting. Plus the motivation of the killer is so ridiculous and impossible, it’s hard to watch.

That ending, man. It really drags itself out. But perhaps it will catch someone else by surprise, so I won’t spoil it here.

Though it’s a fun concept, Dead Body is basically every horror film you’ve ever seen. And on one hand, it makes it clear that it knows this. These sort of self-aware horror films can be incredible. But what’s the point if you don’t do anything clever or new with it? It just comes off as lazy writing.

To the movie’s credit, there are some genuinely disgusting moments that are horrific to watch in a hide-behind-your-hands sort of way. So if  you’re in to that, you might just like this enough.

As for me? I’ll just be sitting here, waiting for my Forbidden Game adaptation to come along.

Wicked Wednesday: Venefica (2016)

Nearly every post I write about short films begins the same way: what makes a good short film? For me, they have to strike that oh-so-difficult balance between being intriguing and satisfactory. All too rarely writers only nail one and not the other.

Venefica is one of most successful at managing to do both…in under 8 minutes.

A young witch in the mountains of New York spends her day chopping wood and keeping an eye on a boy tied up in the nearby cabin. The day is particularly important to her, as the Fates will decide whether her magic will be used for light or darkness. It’s her witch’s coming-of-age, and she must do it on her own (with insistence from mom).

It’s certainly a simple premise, but loaded with fantastic stuff. Writer, director and star Mara Wilson has got a good touch. Within just these short few minutes, she conveys magic and realism at the same time. Little touches like her argument with her mother on the phone are just perfect.

Venefica manages to be so beautiful, interesting and intriguing in less than 8 minutes. It’s some seriously good work. I might have liked a little more context and world-building, I was intruged by her references to Roman and Greek witches. But on the other hand, I’m glad the story is shrouded in its mystery.

I’ll be sure to keep an eye and ear our for Wilson’s future work. She’s got my full attention.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/177479424″>Venefica Trailer</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/mariawilson”>Maria Wilson</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>