Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: The Nightmare Room ep. 1.4 “Tangled Web”

Whoo-ee. It’s been already been one heck of a week, and we’re only half-way there.

I always set out with the best of intentions with this blog. I want to watch a movie, write about my thoughts, enjoy the feeling of being slightly productive. But increasingly, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find the energy. And in a week like this week, I needed a break.

Many a weeks have I Googled random key words like “scary TV shows” or “spooky stuff for kids”. And weirdly, the second one yielded a television show I never heard of: The Nightmare Room.

This little early-millenium show was rather short lived. Only making 13 episodes, which probably explains why it passed me by (despite the fact that I was probably the target demographic at the time of its original airing). It’s a bit surprising it didn’t last longer, considering it’s based on the series of books by R.L. Stine.

Like many of Stine’s Goosebumps works, The Nightmare Room is filled with lessons for obnoxious children. In the fourth episode, “Tangled Web”, we meet Josh. He’s a serial liar and a complete tool (sorry, kid).

One day, a subsitute teacher (David Carradine) arrives at Josh’s class. He collects the children’s homework, and only Josh doesn’t have anything to turn in. Josh tells the sub that it was accidentally stolen during a robbery at his house the night before. The sub believes the boy saying, “I’m sure if he says something is true, then it must be true.”

Things begin to get strange after that for poor Josh. His lies become realities. He finds himself with a bully of an older brother, is actually robbed by clown-mask-wearing thieves, and eventually has to face a tag team of ninjas.

Josh eventually realises that his persistant lying is causing his problems. He eventually wishes everyone away, but it quite literally gets rid of everyone. Then the fool sets the school on fire. But eventually, the kid reaches his sub, Mr Barber, and finds the solution.

This was a fun little episode. Watching Josh’s lies get increasingly silly was entertaining. The children’s acting was pretty shocking, and it stood out more from the well-delivered roles by the adults. That being said, that is almost always the case with these sorts of shows.

I’m really sure why The Nightmare Room exists. If you told me this was a late-era Goosebumps episode, I’d probably believe you. It’s pretty similar in style and tone to the 90s episodes. Just with a bit more wrestler cameos.

This type of horror-for-children shows really hit their prime in the 90s. “Tangled Web” very much felt like the aftermath of that success. But it was definitely what I needed for a smile and a bit of well-needed brain break.

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Wicked Wednesday: Dolly Dearest (1991)

I have to admit straight out: doll horror films don’t scare me*. Don’t get me wrong, I hate scary dolls. One of my sisters used to have a clown doll. Hated it. Chucky? Hate ’em. But there’s something so…silly about them. For one: why the hell can’t anyone kill them?

Well, demons for one.

Dolly Dearest was one of the many scary doll movies to come out after the success of Child’s Play. And in many ways, it rips off many of themes there. But it also rips off a number of other themes from popular horror films.

And yet, it’s strangely very watchable. That’s due to a pretty solid cast, which definitely makes this more than a mere knock-off.

Husband and wife Marilyn and Wade (Denise Crosby and Sam Bottoms) move their young family to Mexico, where Wade believes he can make a fortune manufacurting dolls. But when he arrives at his newly-bought factory, he finds only an archeological dig and a run-down shack that’s his ‘factory’. The seller tells him that it hasn’t been touched since the old doll make who owned it before died.

The family begin to explore the factory when Wade’s young daughter, Jessica, spots one of the woman’s old dolls. She asks for one, and her wish is immediately granted.

Back at their new home, the family’s maid Camilla (Lupa Ontiveros aka THAT BITCH YOLANDA!) asks the house to be blessed. This upsets Jessica, and she becomes upset. Well, less upset and more Damien at church.

Both Camilla and Marilyn become concerned as Jessica increasingly spends time in the dollhouse in th family’s backyard. Jessica acts like a brat, not her usual way. She pushes the maid. She talks back to her mom. She speaks to Camilla in an ancient language. A some-what unusual moodswing.

One night, Jessica sneaks out to do to the doll house. Only Camilla catches her first. As punishment, Jessica’s dolly lures Camilla into the cellar where she meets her death.

Unaware that anything is unusual abou the death, the family try to continue as normal. But Jessica continues to become a pint-sized Regan MacNeil. Jessica’s brother, Jimmy, spends his time scoping out the dig site near the factory. While he originally believes it to be Mayan, he later learns from a university professor (Rip Thorn) that it’s Sanzian.

Through his reading, Jimmy learns that the Sanzians were pretty Satanic people. They tried to make a devil child, and had to destroy their handywork when things spiralled out of control.

By the time Jimmy and Marilyn realise something is seriously wrong with Jessica, the little girl has gone full-on possessed. And “Dolly” has become a twisted, demonic entity.

Now. Dolls are small. Kick them. Dismantle them. Set them on fire. You do NOT need to run away from a doll. Unless it’s going to pushing you in a well and electrocute you. RIP Camilla.

That’s what makes the last act more of a comedy than a horror film. While the dolls look creepy as all hell, it’s sort of difficult to take them seriously. In the end, despite being an ancient spirit or whatever, the dolls are destroy by being blown up. That’s it. It seems simple enough. Jessica gets off scot free and all.

I won’t pretend that Dolly Dearest is a work of art. It really isn’t. But it is fun. Definitely a hidden gem in the scary doll genre. But if you’re already unafraid of dolls, this isn’t the film to change your mind.

*”The Tale of the Dollmarker” will always be the exception to the rule….and Talky Tina. Ok and that thing from Trilogy of Terror.

Wicked Wednesday: Archie’s Weird Mysteries ep 1.1 “Attack of the Killer Spuds”

I watched the premier episode of Archie’s Weird Mysteries nearly a month ago. The intention was to write about it here before I left on my annual summer trip to Wisconsin.

If you couldn’t tell from my lack of posting this month, that 100% didn’t happen. But despite all the time apart from each other, I can recall “Attack of the Killer Spuds” pretty well. Mostly because it really lives up to it’s name: this show is really weird.

Archie’s Weird Mysteries was a US/French co-production originally airing from 1999-2000. It took Archie and the gang through a mystery-of-the-week-style romp. Clearly a soft predecessor to later Archie releases (Archie vs Predator, Riverdale). From the episode title alone, it’s pretty clear that an admiration for 50s b-movies is in every aspect of this show. “Attack of the Killer Spuds” was one part Attack of the Killer Tomatoes with a side of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

After Jughead wins a radio contest, he receives a curious-looking potato trophy from the radio DJ. Soon the spud somes to life and makes a clone of Juggie. This evil clone leaves Jughead in a vegetated state. He spreads the spuds around, slowly creating clones and turning everyone else into mindless beings.

So it’s up to Archie to defeat the evil spuds when they take over all of Riverdale. He and Dilton Doiley team up to take down the radio tower that’s sending microwave transmissions to the spud army. After climbing the tower, Archie is able to defeat the giant spud leader. The town of Riverdale returns to normal and the spaceship carrying the potato aliens flies away.

This show wears its inspiration on its sleeves, and clearly has a lot of fun doing so. It’s pretty strange seeing Archie reimagined as a hero. He’s usually such a hopeless buffoon. But everyone else here is pretty by-the-numbers classic Archie Comics. Just throw in a dash of Scooby Doo and I guess you’re halfway to a show.

I had intended to watch all the episodes of Archie’s Weird Mysteries (there’s fourty of them). But I…don’t think that will happen anymore. While this is a cute show, it felt really long for something with a 20-minute run time. Perhaps this wasn’t the best episode to start with? If anyone is a mega fan, hit me up.

This certainly won’t do the job for anyone looking to fill the Riverdale void until October. And it’s definitely not better than The Archie Show. But I think anyone who watched this show as a child will find revisiting it fun. For the rest of us, we can watch for the references.

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.

Wicked Wednesday: Urban Legend (1998)

For years I was intrigued by Urban Legend but was always warned away by anyone who had ever watched it. “It’s terrible,” they said, and I listened. So in its own say, Urban Legend had become its own urban legend for me.

And you’ll never believe how disappointed I was when I finally watched this 90s slasher and came to the realization that it is neither terrible nor a hidden gem. It’s…pretty much every 90s teen horror film that followed in the wake of Scream.

Where Scream brought new life to tired horror movie tropes, Urban Legend tries to intensify the fear of popular urban legends.

And in fairness, it does start on a good note: the infamous “killer in the backseat”. This is my least favourite (meaning favourite) of all urban legends because it feeds on my greatest fears. Poor Michelle doesn’t understand that she’s about to get a starring role in the tale.

While driving one day, college student Michelle runs out of gas and stops at a gas station. The attendant tells her to go inside the building. When she’s inside, she believes he’s attacking her and she run away. Unbeknownst to her, the attendant was trying to warn her about the person in her back seat. The hooded figure promptly chops off her head with an ax.

On the campus of Pendleton University, the news of Michelle’s death is broken by journalism student Paul (Jared Leto). His papers with the article are pulled, though, considering he’s claiming there’s a madman out to get them.

One of the students to hear Paul’s news is Natalie. Despite being quiet about it, it’s revealed that she was a good friend with Michelle. Her friend’s death gets to her, but she keeps their relationship a secret.

But her glum attitude is noticed by her friend, Damon (Joshua Jackson). He tries to “cheer” Natalie up by taking her into the woods and attempting to get it on with her. Natalie rejects his advances, so Damon heads into the woods to take a piss. While out alone, a hooded figure in a parka fights him and puts a noose around his neck. He’s hung when Natalie panics and tries to drive off with his car, which has been tied to the noose.

When she returns to campus, Natalie realises that no one believes her that Damon is dead. Thanks to a convenient course she’s taking on urban legends, Natalie concludes that both Damon and Natalie’s murders are based on the familiar stories. No one believes her. Even her urban legend-loving pal Brenda.

Soon the murders get out of control. Natalie’s roommate is killed while she’s in the room. It’s somehow deemed a suicide. Apparently autopsies don’t exist in this cinematic universe. Or the ability to choke yourself to death exists.

Natalie and Paul team up when he eventually comes to believe in her theory. They go to question their Professor Wexler (Robert Englund), who they discover is the only survivor of a massacre at their school 25 years earlier. Somehow a major massacre happened there and was successfully covered up – only to survive in legend. That’s a thing.

Inside Wexler’s office, they discover a parka and an ax. That’s seemingly murder solved. Only of course not because no killer is that lazy. Even a movie one.

In the build up to the Massacre Day frat party (no idea what it’s really called), Natalie becomes uneasy. She admits to Brenda that she knew Michelle. Years before, they killed a boy in a car accident. Only Michelle covered up the manslaughter and got away scot-free.

In true slasher-movie style, everyone else is killed off during the party. Bodies are discovered and teens freak out. Paul, Natalie and Brenda flee the school. While stopping for gas, Natalie and Brenda discover Professor Wexler’s corpse in Paul’s trunk. They flee and are separated.

Natalie eventually returns to the university and finds the corpses of all the victims. It’s then revealed that Brenda was killer. The girlfriend of the dead boy, murdered by Natalie and Michelle (well, by accident).

Paul and Natalie work together to defeat Brenda. And they believe they succeed after shooting her, getting into an accident, and catapulting her body into a river. That works for offing most people…right?

After all these years of being warned away, I guess I expected a bit…more. Either something truly horrible or really campy. But it’s honestly one of the most whelming movies I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly watchable, though, and I think that counts for quite a bit. It would have been more fun to build up the lore and eliminate more useless side characters.

It tries, but Urban Legend is certainly no Scream. And it’s impossible to not make similarities between the two. One is just much more clever than the other.

Also. For getting top billing, Leto doesn’t do much here. Alicia Witt carries the whole damn thing as Natalie. Popular names be damned! Gersten was great. Rebecca Gayheart (playing Brenda) was equally great at balancing innocent and absolutely batshit crazy.

Wicked Wednesday: Without Warning (1980)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wicked Wednesday: Cry_Wolf (2005)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s seemingly all over.

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

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

But…it’s not really much of a twist.

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

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

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