Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: Waxwork (1988)

It’s been a long week, kids. One of those weeks where I couldn’t give a damn about watching anything or writing anything or doing anything. So picking a movie this week needed to be done carefully. Thankfully this week an angel has been sent to me.

While perusing Shudder’s website, the artwork for Waxwork immediately caught my eye. AND Lo and behold – it stars Zach Galligan! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Galligan on several occasions, and the man is a seriously nice guy. But just to make things a bit sweet, Bobby Briggs himself Dana Ashbrook also stars. Nothing like two attractive men in a horror comedy to make me feel like getting some work done.

But the cast is really something else on this (according to me). The Valley Girl herself, Deborah Foreman. Plus icons David Warner and John Rhys-Davies.

Mark (Galligan) is a member of a group of young snobby yuppies at this school. The kids are vain, vapid and disgustingly rich. Strangely really likeable, but mostly pretty dim.

Case in point: On their way to school one day, Mark’s friends Sarah (Foreman) and China come across a building with a new waxworks museum. A man (Warner) appears to them and invites them to a midnight party – but they can only be a group of six. The girls seem wary, but when they tell their friends, they all decide to go together.

When the gang arrive at the waxworks, the building does its best to be as intimidating as possible. Two of the friends, James and Gemma, piss off before they even get to the door. But with Fearless Leader Mark in the lead, the four remaining kids get to the door, which is opened by a dwarf.

The dwarf leads them into the house, where they’re then ushered into the waxworks. Inside the vast room they find various displays each containing a famous characters of horror: evil babies, man-eating trash cans and alien pods (a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

As soon as the group start to look around they head off in their own directions. Poor Tony (Ashbrook) steps over the barrier and into a display and suddenly finds himself in the middle of the woods wearing an awful wig and the leftovers of a high school production of Sound of Music. He enters a nearby cabin and speaks to the man inside, trying to figure out how he got to the woods to begin with.

At least Tony doesn’t have to wonder for too long. The man in the cabin turns into a werewolf and bites Tony just before a pair of men enter and shoot the werewolf with a silver bullet. Eh, but it’s too late for Tony – who they also shoot.

In the waxworks, a figure of Tony appears as he did in the ‘other world’.

But of course no one notices and it’s China’s turn to step over the velvet rope (has no one taught these children how to behave in a museum?). The display China enters is a rather vampire-filled affair. And while she does hold her own killing off quite a number of the fanged-beings, China herself succumbs to the evil and turns into a wax figure.

Meanwhile, Sarah and Mark think that their two friends went home together without them. They head home completely unscathed – though minus a couple friends.

In the morning, Mark realises that his friends have disappeared. He begins his own detective work and heads to the police. Inspector Roberts for help, and the inspector points out that 13 people have gone missing in less than two weeks – a rather alarming number for the quiet town. He reluctantly joins Mark to the waxworks where everything appears to be normal.

It’s not until the inspector returns to the station that he realises that all of the waxwork victims look like the missing people. He decides to return with his partner, but the idiot tells the partner to stay in the car. Roberts manages to get a sample of China’s cheek and finds black tissue underneath. While he tries to leave, he’s pushed into the mummy display and ends up trapped in the tomb – thus becoming a part of the display.

But Mark’s trip with Roberts isn’t a total waste. During their visit, he recognises the man who runs the waxworks. He invites Sarah over and the two dig through his grandfather’s things in the attic. Mark eventually finds a newspaper detailing his grandfather’s gruesome murder, which includes a picture of the only suspect – David Lincoln, who looks suspiciously like the man from the waxworks despite not ageing a day in decades.

Mark and Sarah then enlist the help of Sir Wilfred (Patrick Macnee), an old friend of Mark’s grandfather. Sir Wilfred explains to them that Lincoln was Mark’s grandfather’s assistant. He had stolen a part of a collection that Mark’s grandfather had made.

The collection is unusual. Each item is a trinket from 18 of the most evil people of all time. Wilfred believes that Lincoln has sold his soul to the devil in order to raise these 18 beings back to life and bring on the apocalypse. And in order to raise the dead, Lincoln needs eighteen victims for his figures.

The kids head to the wax museum to set the remaining victim-less exhibits on fire. Conveniently there are two left, which means both Sarah and Mark each get pushed into an exhibit.

Mark finds himself in a black-and-white graveyard surrounded by a hoard of zombies. Though he eventually is able to escape the other world when he tells himself that the zombies and the world he’s in isn’t real.

He then jumps into the remaining exhibit where Sarah is being tortured by Marquis de Sade (and really seems to be enjoying it). He shows Sarah that what she’s experiencing is also fake, and she eventually decides to leave the faux French world with him.

But despite their best efforts, their idiot friends Gemma and James choose that moment to get their courage and enter the waxworks. They both immediately jump into the exhibits and die – meaning all 13 victims have been acquired.

Suddenly the exhibits come to life: both the victims and the evil beings. No fears, though, as Sir Wilfred arrives with a motley group of old men to help Mark and Sarah out.

As the group finishes off the evil beings, a fire starts in the waxworks. Seemingly only Mark and Sarah get out of the burning building alive… or are they?

And really, what a pleasurable, silly way to end this film.

They didn’t quite nail the pacing of the story, I think. Waxwork is quick to the kills, but it makes the mistake of getting rid of the two most memorable characters (China and Tony) straight away. While Galligan and Foreman are sweet, they don’t exactly have the bite that allows them to carry the movie by themselves, and that’s down to the screenwriting more than anything.

If anything Waxwork offers a unique premise in the slasher genre. There certain aren’t a lot of “let’s go to a wax museum and get murdered” films out there, so there’s that. Granted House of Wax exists, but I’m discounting that because it was released 35 years prior and is a different kettle of fish entirely.

But god did I love Waxwork. It was just the right amount of silliness and self-awareness that I love. You couldn’t have arrived any sooner, Zach.

Wicked Wednesday: Ginger Snaps (2000)

It’s pretty rare that I write about cult films as big as Ginger Snaps, but I have to admit that this is one film that has always passed me by. It’s mostly down to the fact that I usually hate this era of film. The 90’s and early 2000’s were a gross time.

But there’s also something really intimidating about going into a cult film after it has been so hyped up. Maybe people are really bad at building up films, but it’s pretty rare that a film does what it says on the label (or rather, what everyone else says about it). Could it possibly live up to the reputation? (Spoiler alert: it does)

Sisters Ginger and Brigitte are a pair of social outcasts in their suburban, cookie-cutter town. They brood around school and enjoy pastimes like taking photos of each other in which they appear mutilated and dead. But they’re each other’s best friend. They even make a pact with each other to die together.

Their lives aren’t exactly great outside of their sisterhood. The school bully, Trina, makes a constant effort to attack them personally. But this is the type of bitch who brings her Rottweiler to school (is this a Canadian thing?). During gym class one day, Trina overhears the sisters making fun of her and her crush on the local drug-dealer, Sam. When they start their field hockey match, Trina checks the smaller Brigitte, who lands on the corpse of a dog.

To top off a stellar day, Ginger starts to complain that her back hurts her. The girls’ mother notices her daughter’s discomfort at dinner and tells Ginger that she has cramps. Despite the fact that Ginger is 16, this is her first period – Brigette is also a late bloomer when it comes to surfin’ the crimson wave.

Ginger takes getting her first period pretty hard. She even tells Brigitte that she’s received “the curse.” All of this could be sorted with some painkillers and a bath. But instead she decides that going ahead with a plan to kidnap Trina’s dog is somehow a better way to spend her time.

While the girls go to look for the dog, they discover a dog’s corpse in the park. Before they can leave, Ginger is attacked by a beast. She’s dragged off into the nearby woods leaving Brigitte screaming and alone. Brigitte is eventually able to rescue Ginger, but Ginger is already badly scratched on her shoulder. The two run away from the woods, but are still chased by the beast-dog. The animal is hit in the road by Sam the drug dealer’s van and the girls quickly make their escape.

Brigitte quickly realises that her sister isn’t quite the girl from the day before. When the girls reach their bedroom, they notice that Ginger’s severe wounds are already healing. Even worse – the next day Brigitte catches Ginger smoking a join with local douche-bag Jason and his pals, an activity so unlike Ginger.

Drug Dealer Sam hunts down Brigitte and tells her he believes that the thing he hit with his van was a lycanthrope. For Brigitte, all of her sister’s symptoms point directly to werewolf. Back up evidence includes hairy scars, a snarky attitude and a tail.

Ginger picks up a new, “sluttier” reputation with her new look. It is 2000, after all, which means gorgeous girls aren’t noticed until you take off their glasses or put them in a crop top. Jason is the most eager to impress and Ginger gladly accepts his advances. She ‘attacks’ him in his car one night and has unprotected sex with him.

That night, Ginger returns home crying and covered in blood. Brigitte immediately things that Jason has attacked Ginger. Then thinks Ginger hurt Jason, but Ginger admits that she actually killed the neighbour’s dog. Desperate, Ginger asks her sister for help.

The first thing Brigitte tries is piercing Ginger’s stomach with a piece of silver she received from Sam. Brigitte continues going to Sam for his advice, but under the guise that she is the one that is turning into a she-wolf. But all of the attention Brigitte gets from Sam doesn’t go unnoticed, especially by Trina.

Trina confronts Brigitte that night, thinking that Brigitte had stolen her dog. Before Trina can hurt Brigitte, Ginger attacks her. The girls continue to fight in the house. Trina vomits into the sink, then slips and cracks her head on the kitchen counter – killing herself. Panicked, the sisters agree to store the bully in the freezer before moving the corpse out to the shed to be buried.

But the girls lose Trina’s broken-off, frozen fingers when they’re dropped in their backyard. A small clue, but when their father finds the fingers, their mom plays it off as one of the girl’s jokes, but she knows her daughters too well and knows to dig up Trina’s corpse in the shed.

In the meantime, Jason is seriously becoming a werewolf. Instead of an increased blood flow from his vagina, he pisses blood. And unlike Ginger, Jason becomes more grotesque than attractive. But both are becoming powerful and dangerous.

Sam’s next plan for a cure is monkshood, a sort of watered-down version of wolfsbane. Since it’s a perennial and October, neither Sam nor Brigitte think they can find the flower. But thankfully Brigitte’s mom is big on the craft store and has a dried version just hanging around the house.

On Halloween morning, Brigitte locks Ginger in the bathroom and tells her its for her own good. Brigitte goes to Sam gain for help, to advises her that the monkshood would be at its most effective if injected. The two make up their heroine-like concoction, but Sam warns that they have no idea what its going to do Ginger.

Luckily for Brigitte, she stumbles upon Jason terrorising a child in the park. She manages to inject him with the cure as he attacks her, and the boy gets up, seemingly cured.

Though it certainly would just be too easy for everything to go so well. Brigitte realises that her sister has escaped the bathroom and heads to the school. She finds Ginger in the guidance counselor with a corpse.  The werewolf in Ginger continues to escalate as she begins to enjoy drinking blood and taking more victims.

The two sisters become separated and Brigitte is caught by her mother, who tells her she knows about Trina. They go together to pick up Ginger from the local Halloween party at the greenhouse. But before Brigitte leaves, her mother suggests that the three women go off together and make a new start. She even suggests blowing up the house, and says she knows that her husband (and everyone else) would just blame her if she did follow through with her plan.

And, you know, I would say “amen” to that, but you should probably get blamed for blowing up a house if you actually DO blow up your house.

Brigitte goes into the party alone to go after Ginger. She eventually finds her trying to make advances on Sam, who rejects her. Ginger is increasingly wolf-like, so Brigitte cuts herself to contaminate her own blood. Ginger then agrees to go with Brigitte to be cured, but is knocked out by Drug Dealer Sam.

Realising his mistake, Sam drives Brigitte to her house with Ginger in the back of the van. But before they can reach home, Ginger awakes in full werewolf form. When they open the back doors, she escapes into the house.

The two try to make another batch of the cure while trying to avoid Ginger’s wrath. When they finally succeed, Sam offers to go out and give Ginger the injections, but is mauled before he can succeed.

Brigitte finds Sam in the hall, slowly dying next to werewolf-Ginger. She tries to drink his blood to appease Ginger, but ends up vomiting. Angered by her sister’s weakness, Ginger kills Sam and chases Brigitte into the basement.

To protect herself, Brigitte grabs her sister’s knife from their basement bedroom as a form of protection. But when Ginger gives one final lunge, she lands on the knife – not the needle with the cure. Brigitte watches, stunned as her sister dies in front of her.

Sure, it’s a sad, inevitable ending. But it’s all the more unnerving knowing that Brigitte never once gave herself the cure. It could be down to sisterly devotion, or maybe the innate desire to always be more powerful.

Screenwriter Karen Walton (who also wrote for the excellent Orphan Black) taps into something very female in her script. From Ginger’s speech about losing her virginity (“He’s a hero and I’m a lay.”) to their mother’s devotion to her children, Ginger Snaps is an unusual tale in the horror genre. Few horror films explore the theme of family, let alone the love sisters have for each other.

The performances by Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle make the film special. Sure their characters are a bit silly in the beginning, but the girls have fantastic chemistry together. She love and fight like real sisters, which is touching in many ways, but also terrifying to watch because tails.

Ginger Snaps does rely heavily on some tired cliches (slow-mo hot girl walks down the halls, douche sex-obsessed boys, zero female friendships), but since it was released in 2000, I’m willing to give it a break. The solid script gives Ginger Snaps solid legs to stand on, and builds successfully on the werewolf myth. I’m glad to say I’ve actually finally watch this thing.

Wicked Wednesday: The Banishing (2013)

It has been a great long while since I’ve watched a short film that made me feel so full of glee. The Banishing from Icelandic director Erlingur Thoroddsen tells a simple, yet powerful story in it’s 11 minute run. When the film was recommended to me on Shudder, I was initially hesitant despite all the fantastic reviews. I’ve been misled before. But this little gem is so worthy of its praise.

Two sisters, Kara and Jessa, live with their mother in a large home on the edge of a woods. After the burial of their dog Norman, Kara pulls her little sister aside and tells her she knows that Jessa killed their dog. Immediately the film plunges into dark waters when Jessa admits to the killing, saying “the Bad Lady” made her do it and reveals the bruises on her arm.

Concerned about her little sister, Kara begins to do online research on possessions and imaginary friends. Kara obviously is hesitant to believe Jessa. Jess is after a much young girl. But when their mom goes out for the night, Kara decides to finally do something about the Bad Lady.

Using dolls from the house, the girls try a banishing spell. The summon the spirit that has tied itself to Jessa and it appears as a woman with white eyes in physical form. Kara smashes the head of the Bad Lady-doll and seemingly removes the spirit from their house.

When their mother returns home, all seems well. Jessa falls asleep under Kara’s watchful eye and their mom calls it a night. But when Kara wakes from her sleep, nothing is right at all.

To tell the ending would really spoil it all (and when it’s less than 15 minutes long – I’m not going to spoil this for you), but the ending is so satisfying and gross and twisting. Mixed with some delicious-looking cinematography, The Banishing is a short film that packs a memorable punch.

The casting of real-life sisters Danielle and Haley Kotch as Jessa and Kara (respectively) was a great decision. The girls are fantastic on the screen together. And much of The Banishing‘s terror is subtle, but I like a slow build – even in a movie as short as this. Many applause to Thoroddsen, this is one worth remembering.

Wicked Wednesday: The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)

One of the best television shows right now has to be GLOW on Netflix. The combination of humour, lady power and big 80’s hair is a solid win. The original 1980’s version (Glorious Ladies of Wrestling) was a weird, wonderful thing and the Netflix show does a great job in creating its mostly-fictional backstory.

But the best thing about either show is the characters.

Marc Maron’s character Sam Sylvia is a b-movie, exploitation director looking to work on something that will bring him glory like his previous films. Sam is one of the stand-outs in a great cast, and was based on the show’s real director. In reality, the 80’s G.L.O.W. was directed by Matt Cimber who, if you can see where this is going, directed this week’s movie – The Witch Who Came from the Sea.

Molly (Millie Perkins) is just like any other girl. She loves her two nephews, taking walks by the seashore, a nice drink.  She also enjoys taking pills, envisioning gruesome deaths and maiming the men she dates! So, well, like some girls, I guess.

One day, Molly takes her nephews to the sea. As she plays with them, she’s distracted by the men working out nearby (and, well, with packages like that – it’s really, really for anyone not to stare). But her fantasies are not strictly sexual, instead she envisions them hung, squashes and generally just super-dead.

But her nephews don’t seem to notice their aunt’s distant look. They continue to ask questions about their grandfather, who had passed away years before. Molly tells them wonderful things about him: he was a brave sailor who was lost at sea all too soon. But her sister, the boys’ mother, really disagrees. She’s vocal about her animosity towards her late father.

Molly is obsessed with television. She spends a lot of her time watching it and drinking. She’s particularly keen on a man in a shaving commercial and two American football players. While watching highlights from a game, she begins (apparently) fantasize about being alone in a hotel room with the two football players. Again, a seemingly sexual scene ends up with her taking a razor blade to one of the men’s legs.

It’s later revealed that both men were found dead together in a hotel room, which begs the question whether Molly is actually having a fantasy – or has actually killed these two men. It’s definitely the latter. Some of Molly’s clothes are found in the hotel room, and they are brought to Molly’s sister, who mends clothes. The police begin to suspect the sister plays a part, but can’t pin much more on her.

Other than imagining the gruesome deaths of men, Molly’s other pastime is working in a local bar. Her boss, Long John, is sleazy, but cares for Molly. He also sleeps with her, which probably helps.

At the bar one night, Molly meets b-movie actor who starred in cowboy films. She’s invited to a party at his. When the start to get intimate, Molly tries to bite off his balls. Shocked, the actor tries to throw her off, but his attempts at self-defense come off as abusive, and when the other party guests overhear the argument, they assume that Molly is the innocent one.

Later on, Molly gets the tattoo of a large mermaid across her stomach, despite telling her nephews earlier that they are dirty. But she tells more stories about her father, and the picture begins to emerge that she was raped by her father as a child. But she has deep love, and complex feelings for him still.

But Molly’s dreams come true when she finally gets a chance with the razor ad man. I told you, this girl loves television. She does her best to get rid of his girlfriend, who isn’t so happy when she discovers she’s been replaced by Molly. When the girlfriend shoots at her ex’s car, both he and her are arrested and kept under the suspicion of the football players’ deaths.

Molly becomes upset when she can’t get a hold of her razor ad man. She begins to imagine him slitting his own throat with the razor. Apparently really into the idea, Molly doesn’t think of anything else. When she finally catches up with her boy, she insists that she helps him shave…then kills him, of course, but slitting him from top to bottom (and lord knows what she does down there).

When Molly wakes up, she’s in Long John’s bed, covered in blood. Despite trying to play it off, LJ knows she’s not innocent. And her sister also knows something is wrong. And soon Molly’s world beings its demise.

In a flashback scene, it’s revealed that Molly’s father died while he raped her, and he had a mermaid tattoo on his stomach – just like the one Molly received. She eventually shares the (vague) truth with Long John and one of her trusted fellow barmaids, and when she wants to OD on pills, they let her.

It’s quite a sad demise. Despite the fact that she murdered those men, you can’t help but feel for the woman. The Witch Who Came from the Sea was a original a video nasty in the UK, but was unsuccessfully prosecuted. And while some parts made me a bit ill, there really isn’t anything super graphic here (though the images conjured up by the imagination is bad enough).

Everything about the film screams 70s, including the smart commentary. Molly’s victims treat her like an object in the bedroom, just like her father did. Despite her efforts to take control sexually, the men are more frightened and disgusted by her power instead of turned on.

The Witch Who Came from the Sea, to me, felt like the poems you had to read a school. You know there’s supposed to be something more hidden in the words, but the metaphors don’t quite make sense. But when the last shot shows Molly alone on a raft on the ocean, it’s clear that she finally received the peace and freedom she couldn’t find in life.

Wicked Wednesday: Madman (1982)

It’s finally that point in the summer where we start to ask ourselves, “where the hell did it go?” Summer, that is. It’s so much more important as a kid, summer. Growing up I didn’t do too much other than hang out outside (I did grow up with no neighbours). But for one blissful week of every summer was camp in the Northern woods of Wisconsin.

And summer camps and horror movies go hand-in-hand like Bruce and his chin. Well, this week’s movie takes place at a camp…but just not at summer. I think. But since there’s a camp, that’s close enough for me!

The 1982 film Madman was originally inspired by the Cropsey legend, but another film based on the legend, The Burning, was in production around the same time. So the script was re-written to include a different story. It’s pretty much the DeFeo story. Though Madman is, unfortunately, no Burning nor is it The Amityville Horror. But it does have a summer camp. Have I mentioned that?

“It all started during a campfire at North Sea Cottages, a special retreat for gifted children…”

Madman opens with a group of counsellors and children telling stories around the campfire. One of the consellors, TP, gives his hand at song-story, which is new. But it’s the story from the head counsellor Max that truly terrifies the kiddies.

He tells them the story of Mad Marz, who lived in the home near the campgrounds. Marz was a farm and a bit of an asshole. He beat his wife and children, drank too much at the bar, and was just a general all-around dick. Then one night he suddenly went mad. He took an axe to his wife and children then went to the bar afterwards. When the locals realised what happened, several of the men grabbed Marz and hung him from a tree. But when they went to retrieve the body later, it was missing – and so were the bodies of the Marz family.

According to Max, if you say Marz’s name above a whisper, he will be able to hear you and will come for you… to kill you. One camper, Richie, begins to shout Marz’s name, thinking it all a great joke (it’s at this point that you can begin to blame Richie for everything). But Max warns him off and apologises into the night. But that doesn’t stop him from joining in chanting Mad Marz’s name loudly before extinguishing the campfire.

As the counselors and campers head back to camp, Richie spots someone in the trees and decides to double back to the Marz home alone. Shortly after everyone at the camp starts winding down for the night, the cook is killed by the same person Richie saw in the tree.

But it’s the last night at the camp, so the counselors are allowed a bit of fun while Max heads into town. In the style of every camp movie since Friday the 13th, the counselors get up to a bit of trouble. This includes one of the most awesomely bad scenes of the movie where TP and his girlfriend Betsy (Gaylen Ross) walk around in a hot tub to an awful pop song.

And if there’s one thing I love in a horror movie, it’s a bad song.

The rest of the counselors decide to get up to their own shenanigans. One plays a flute in a boat. Some others talk about the meaning of life, but eventually they notice that Richie is missing.

One by one they all go out to the woods to find the lost camper. It’s obvious that no one at this stupid camp watches horror movies, otherwise they would know not to go in the woods… alone! Eventually it’s TP’s turn to die. He’s hung from a tree with a noose, and the murderer eventually kills him by grabbing onto his legs and snapping TP’s neck. So… that’s nice?

THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, RICHIE!

And Richie is still alive and wandering the woods, in case you cared.

But everyone in this film suffers massively from slasher-movie brain. They do all the silly things that no sane human would do. One girl is chase by Madman Marz back to the camp. She hides in the fridge (which somehow works) and then leaves only to get killed!

Betsy, who has been left alone to watch the kids, eventually sees the corpse of her friend and realises that everyone is dead and/or going to die. She finally has the sensible decision to call Max and tell him something is going on and gets the kids on a bus to get them out.

Though her sane decisions are immediately all of nothing when she tells the kids she needs to find the other counselors. I’m sorry, sweetheart, but getting the 10-year-old kids the fuck away from a literal axe-murderer should probably be your top priority.

Betsy goes to the Marz home where she tries to take Madman Marz on herself. She’s eventually impaled on a hook and killed, but not before she can take the Madman down with her.

Somehow the idiot Richie ends up surviving. He jumps in front of Max’s car, and tells him that the campfire story was true – Madman Marz is real.

Madman is by no means a standout film in the genre, that’s pretty clear. I can see why this is a bit of a cult film, though. There is quite a lot here that makes it worth watching. For one, that hot tub scene, and secondly, it’s really a prime example of watching stupid people do stupid things. It’s great for shouting your frustrations to and having a good chuckle at.

 

On a more serious note, I did contemplate writing about a film by the late George Romero this week. It didn’t seem right to. Romero was a director that I both loved and worshiped. My admiration for him goes beyond anything my words can articulate. His films really sparked something in me. He helped me realise that horror as a genre has so much to offer beyond a one-dimensional scare. He might be gone, but he’ll certainly never ever be forgotten.

Rest in peace, Romero.

Wicked Wednesday: “The Midnight Sun” (1961)

I’ll gladly admit it: I’m a Wisconsinite through and through. I can handle all shades of pretty-fucking-cold, but as soon as it’s over 70 degrees/21 C – I’m over it. And living in Britain doesn’t help things. For one: they don’t use screens on their windows, and despite the fact that it gets hot here EVERY summer – not a single place has air con (minus some stores and restaurants).

And the heat is getting to me.*

To celebrate my good mood, I tried searching for horror movies about heat/heatwaves/hot weather. And nothing. Granted, I wasn’t exactly searching very hard. There was too many crap half-assed articles about ‘summer horror movies’ that I nearly fell asleep at my laptop.

But then I recalled The Twilight Zone episode “The Midnight Sun”.

My father raised me on ZZ Top, Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone. We’d sit and watch the marathons each New Years and Fourth of July, even if we had seen each episode more than half a dozen times.

“The Midnight Sun” is perhaps not one of the most mind-bending episodes, but its one that always stuck in my mind. In the beginning of the episode, Rod Serling introduces us to a situation where the Earth has changed its elliptical orbit and has begun heading closer to the sun every single day.

In New York, two women are the only ones left in their apartment block. Mrs Bronson and the young painter Norma only have each other’s company. They try their best to stay sane in a world of water shortages and people with increasingly-short tempers.

One day, the women hear a radio announcement telling them to keep their doors locked. Looters have taken to breaking in, and all the police have been called away to deal with the traffic heading north.

But one day, the heat causes Mrs Bronson to forget those locks. A man breaks in and takes a jar of Norma’s precious water. He threatens them with a gun before he shows his remorse. He tells them that he’s simply an innocent man in search of water, mostly driven mad by the death of his wife and his baby – neither of whom could handle the heat.

The man eventually leaves, and Mrs Bronson notices Norma’s painting of a waterfall. The older woman is thrilled to see the cool-looking painting. She sings her praises, and reminices about swimming by a waterfall before she collapses. Norma tries to help her, but she then notices the painting is melting from the heat. Then she herself collapses.

When Norma wakes up, she is in her reality: the Earth has moved off its elliptical orbit and has begun to move away from the sun. The days are nearly complete darkness. Norma tells Mrs Bronson of her horrible dream – unaware of her own reality.

It hardly feels so different from our own reality of extreme weather. Though I doubt we would be quite so pleasant as those characters in the episode. You only need to get on the Northern Line at rush hour on a hot day to realise that.

*So it rained on Tuesday and it was cool in the morning. That’s what you get for complaining: exactly what you want.

Wicked Wednesday: Killing Mr Griffin (1997)


One of my favourite things about being on holiday is being able to get through loads of books I want to read. Also, being in Wisconsin means cheap, used books (which might just be my second favourite thing about being on holiday).

Lois Duncan has been an author I’ve been meaning to read for ages now. Her books are the source material for films like I Know What You Did Last Summer and the made-for-TV movie Summer of Fear, which I wrote about last June. But something about the synopses of her books led me to believe that there was more going on with her stories than these movies made me believe.

So at Half-Price Books I managed to grab Killing Mr. Griffin for $2.95. And I devoured it.

And of course, when I learned that there was a made-for-TV adaption staring my childhood idol Amy Jo Johnson, I was completely on board.

Killing Mr. Griffin was released the same year as I Know What You Did Last Summer. The cynic in me assumed that Killing was released in the wake of the latter’s success. But I was proven wrong. Killing Mr. Griffin was actually released nearly six months earlier. Something about Duncan’s 70’s novels adapted well into the 90’s aesthetic, I guess.

What was surprising to me was how faithful this adaption was. Yes details were changed for added drama, and the setting was relocated from New Mexico to the more-accessible California, but it was the 90’s.

Speaking of changes, the film opens up at the Juniors Pyjama Dance. Because of course. Our star, Susan (Johnson) is one of the outsiders serving punch. She has two good friends, but clearly lives life on the outside looking in. As a joke (this seems really distasteful, but since it’s pre-Columbine it’s…ok?), several Senior boys break up the dance by running in wearing masks and threatening to shoot everyone.

The guns are, hilariously, paintball guns. Ladies and gents, the ringleader is mega-asshole Mark. Learn to dislike Mark. Mark in the worst.

Mark’s enemy in the hard-ass English teacher Mr Griffin. He won’t allow Mark into class when Mark doesn’t enter the classroom before the bell. The teacher actually makes his student beg and apologise before being allowed in.

Though the film tries to make you feel sorry for Mark, it’s pretty hard. For one, his parents are super nice and successful. In the 90’s, everyone was rich in teen movies. Apparently the idea of kids living in ranch-style houses was completely disgusting. But I think that does take away from Mark’s character, making him more of the tired “poor little rich boy” character that anything more complex.

But, you know, Mr Griff is a total jerk!

While Mark’s parents are out for a business trip, he throws a party. It’s then that he tells his friends his idea to kidnap Mr G. The other kids seem less than convinced about the idea knowing that their English teacher has absolutely no sense of humor.

Meanwhile, poor Susan is wandering around, constantly drooling over Mark’s friend Dave (Mario Lopez). When Dave forgets his book for class, Susan tries to help him, but they’re caught and Mr Griffin gives Dave a zero for that day’s work.

While watching the interaction, the cogs in Mark’s head begin to turn. He tells Dave to ask Susan out so that she can be a part of his plan to kidnap Mr Griffin. Dave Reluctantly agrees and invites the girl out for rock climbing.

Mark asks Susan to join them in the kidnapping, and the girl is everything but enthusiastic. But after a lesson in which Mr Griffin is particularly harsh on her, she agrees.

But it turns out that Mr Griffin deeply cares about his students. He’s purpose is to push them to their limits. His wife, a sixth grade teacher, is mostly concerned that his techniques come off as harsh even though he’s good intentions.

The day of the kidnapping arrives and the students take their places. Susan asks Mr Griffin to have a word with her about her performance in his class. He takes a chance and divulges that he thinks she has a lot of potential. They walk out together to his car when Mr Griffin is grabbed by the boys in ski masks. But before Mr Griffin is shoved into his car, he tells Susan to run – still concerned for his safety.

Mark, Dave and their friend Jeff, along with Mark and Jeff’s girlfriends go to a cabin up by a lake. They throw a blindfolded Mr Griffin onto the floor and taunt him with a voice changer. Mark also records the entire thing on his camcorder. They try to get him to agree to being nicer, but he refuses. But Mr Griffin does beg for them to give him his pills back. But none of the kids can find them.

The kids split, leaving Mark alone with him. He continues to taunt Mr Griffin when the voice changer dies. The teacher realises who is behind his kidnapping and becomes angry. Mark then spots his teacher’s pills, but pockets them instead.

He leaves Mr Griffin behind and the friends all agree to tie up their teacher and leave him to “sit and think” for a few hours.

Feeling guilty, Dave goes to visit Susan and tells her what happened. The two go out to the lake to get Mr Griffin but instead find his corpse. The pair panic and retrieve the rest of the guilty party. Ringleader Mark immediately says that they need to bury the body, then take the car to the airport.

The first part of the plan goes without a hitch. But the next day, Mrs Griffin reports her missing husband. Susan is called to the principal’s office where she’s questioned by the police. She says that she saw Mr Griffin get into a car with another woman. When Mrs Griffin shows up, the detective asks Susan if Mrs Griffin was the woman she saw, Susan lies and says it isn’t. But the girl is immediately called out as a liar by Mrs Griffin.

The lie further unravels when Mr Griffin’s body is unearthed by some builders. After the autopsy, it’s revealed that Mr Griffin died because he didn’t take his pills for his arrhythmia. Susan increasingly becomes suspicious about Mark’s part in their teacher’s death. She confronts him about it, and he agrees to meet her at his house to ‘strategise’.

Susan goes to Mark’s house and they begin to talk. But Mark is distracted by the arrival of his girlfriend. Susan hides in the kitchen, but hears a noise coming from Mark’s room. She goes upstairs and sees the footage from the kidnapping playing on Mark’s television. She sees the part where he pockets the pills, and finally realises that the Mr Griffin’s death is Mark’s fault.

She grabs the camcorder and runs, but Mark is quickly onto her. She jumps into Mr Griffin’s car to go to the police when Mark jumps out in front of her, demanding that she stop. After threatening her with a gun, he gets in with her and tells her to go to the cabin.

At the lake, Susan crashes the car. The other friends arrive shortly after, and she shows them the footage. Mark shots Dave. Dave threatens Mark. And finally, Mark admits his part in Mr Griffin’s death.

I do have to emphasis, while this was a pretty good adaption, this film is not nearly as good as the book. I found it hard to read the book at times because of how fond I felt for Mr Griffin. And Susan is a much more sympathetic character than she is written in the movie.

Mark is a fantastic villain. He’s a sociopath and the film unravels him well (despite the minor issues I have noted above). Unfortunately there’s a lot of throw away material in here. But Killing Mr Griffin is still an enjoyable adaption well worth watching – a cut above most made-for-TV movies.

And one last thing, the kids are obsessed with getting Mr Griffin to recite Shakespeare in Pig Latin. No idea why, but it’s pretty damn amusing.