Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: 100 Horror Films in 92 days, wrap-up #1

Earlier this month, I mentioned I was participating in the Letterboxd challenge “100 Horror Movies in 92 Days“, created by Sarah Stubbs. The premise is simple: watch 100 horror movies in the months of August, September and October that you’ve never seen before.

Now I am an outfit repeater. I’ll watch one or two new movies a week (if that), but I love rewatching old favourites more than anything. So watching 100 new-to-me movies is 100% a challenge for someone like me. So I’m pleased that I haven’t fallen at any hurdles yet! That being said, we’re only one month in…

So here is a list of the first films I’ve watched. We’ve hit the 33% mark, which I don’t think is too shabby. Though I have to admit a lot of these movies were shabby. But a small handful have become new favourites.

Are there any titles here that you’re surprised I’ve never seen before? I think most people would say #32 would be surprising. But shhhh… I’ve at least seen #4 multiple times over the last decade.

My goal is to watch more foreign films in September. I watched a small handful, but they were all European still. Let me know if you have any recommendations! Asian cinema (outside of the cornerstones) is always a blind spot for me.

Films #1-35

1 Horror Hotel (The City of the Dead) (1960) dir. by John Llewellyn Moxey

2 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) dir. by Scott Glosserman

3 Freaky (2020) dir. by Christopher Landon

A hilarious and fun return to teen slashers. I love it and was so pleased that this finally got it’s UK release date!

4 Scare Me (2020) dir. by Josh Ruben

Easily one of my favourites. Was absolutely shocked how much I loved this one!

5 Llamageddon (2015) dir. by Howie Dewin

And this one… 0% shocked by how much I hated this one.

6 Attack the Block (2011) dir. by Joe Cornish

7 Four Flies on Grey Velvet (4 mosche di velluto grigio) (1971) dir. by Dario Argento

8 The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) dir. by Pete Walker

9 The Screaming Skull (1958) dir. by Alex Nicol

10 Macabre (1980) dir. by Lamberto Bava

Honestly, I hate myself for not having watched this batshit-crazy giallo earlier. A completely bonkers film worth going into blind.

11 Witchcraft II: The Temptress (1990) dir. by Mark Woods

12 C.H.U.D. (1984) dir. by Douglas Cheek

13 The Funhouse Massacre (2015) dir. by Andy Palmer

14 Fade to Black (1980) dir. by Vernon Zimmerman

15 X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) dir. by Roger Corman

16 Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) dir. by Mary Lambert

17 Verónica (2017) dir. by Paco Plaza

18 Eaten Alive (1976) dir. by Tobe Hooper

Another Hooper movie that will be added to my favourites list.

19 Dark Water (2005) dir. by Walter Salles

20 Invisible Ghost (1941) dir. by Joseph H. Lewis

21 Piranha (1978) dir. by Joe Dante

22 The Haunted Palace (1963) dir. by Roger Corman

23 Bowery at Midnight (1942) dir. by Wallace Fox

24 The Dead Pit (1989) dir. by Brett Leonard

25 The Reef (2010) dir. by Andrew Traucki

26 Friday the 13th (2009) dir. by Marcus Nispel

This one took me by complete surprise. As someone who was never a major fan of the originals, I think this is a fun addition.

27 Nightmare Beach (1989) dir. by Umberto Lenzi, James Justice

28 Phantom of the Megaplex (2000) dir. by Blair Treu

29 Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire (2019) dir. by Stephen Cognetti

30 The Raven (1963) dir. by Roger Corman

31 The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) dir. by Roger Corman

32 Scream 3 (2000) dir. by Wes Craven

33 Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000) dir. by Steve Boyum

34 The Found Footage Phenomenon (2021) dir. by Phillip Escott, Sarah Appleton

This was the only film I went to see at FrightFest in person this year. This documentary is a fairly in-depth look at the found footage subgenre, filled with the directors who created the iconic titles like Deodato, Øvredal, Sánchez among others.

There will be a wider release in the future, and I think anyone who is a fan of the subgenre will take something away from it.

35 Wishmaster (1997) dir. by Robert Kurtzman

Wicked Wednesday: Summer 2021 Horror reads

Since the start of all this pandemic business, I’ve been reading less than I have in previous year. I have no motivation and no boring, 1-hour commute on the train. But I still tried to squeeze in some horror novels over the summer. Now that September is drawing ever closer (!), I’ve made a brief wrap-up of the horror titles (and true crime) I’ve read in the last three months.

Pleased to say that all of these are good enough to recommend!

Adult fiction:

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Lynette Tarkington is a real-life final girl, a woman who survived a massacre over two decades ago. She and the other final girls make up a support group, relying on each other while trying to overcome their trauma. But when Lynette realises that a new killer is targeting the final girls, she must do everything she can to keep them all alive.

It’s no secret that Hendrix is one of my favourite authors of all time. He writes with a beautiful balance of humour and scares that I love – all with great poignancy. Alas, this might be one of the weaker titles from him. I think that for me, it’s because this is more of a thriller than true horror – no supernatural elements this time. It clips along at a great pace with great characters, but the plot was lacking in some respects. Namely in the relationship-building of the support group.

But that being said, there’s still great messaging about survival and trauma. Everything Hendrix writes is gold. Seek out interviews with him about the origins of this story idea if you’re in the mood for a cry.

Bonus points that the audiobook is narrated by final girl Adrienne King!

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Part fantasy. Part horror. This novella is a supernatural twist on American history during the height of the KKK’s reign. Maryse Boudreaux is a smuggler and fighter with a magical sword. With that sword, she can kill the “Ku Kluxes”, a type of demon. The demons are a creation of a hexed version of the film Birth of a Nation.

Clark fills a lot of action, folklore and mythos into the short page count. Easily a book you could consume in one night. One worth going into without knowing too much!

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

This was my first foray into Martin’s work. Incredible, really, considering just how prolific this man is. Fevre Dream is what happens when you mix Dracula with Mark Twain.

A steamboat captain and his unusual new business partner begin travelling down the Mississippi River in a steam boat in the year 1857. Unbeknownst to the captain, his new partner is on the look out for vampires.

This is a great, atmospheric version of the vampire story. It’s heavy and full of gothic air. Martin is terrific at building suspense, I was pleasantly surprised! Will certainly be looking at which horror novel (or short story) to read by him next.

Children’s

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

Daka Hermon’s novel is one of the best children’s books I’ve read in a long while. She manages to perfectly encapsulate children’s imaginations when they become a little dark and twisted.

When Justin’s friend Zee returns after going missing for a year, he knows something isn’t right. Zee isn’t himself. At Zee’s welcome home party, the children all play hide-and-seek. Only the game isn’t as innocent as they may think, especially when one of them breaks the rules.

This book reminded me of playing games with my multitude of cousins when I was younger. The games were always a bit morbid. It’s certainly a creepy story, though, about abductions and missing children. Thrilling, but within the comfort zone for Middle Grade readers.

One Day at HorrorLand by R.L. Stine

A classic in Stine’s repertoire. I decided this summer to revisit some classic children’s horror, and where better to start than with the master himself?

When a family accidentally wind up at the HorrorLand theme park, they decide to try out a few of the rides. But not everything is as it seems in the park.

This is some classic Goosebumps. There’s a twist…then another twist! Gleeful and quick to read. There are more in a spin-off series to read that I might get to…one day. There’s also an adaption for the original Goosebumps TV show that I’ll need to hunt down ASAP!

DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Rarely do I get to read “nice” things at work. But this graphic novel written and illustrated by Hamish Steele was an absolute treat.

When Barney gets a job at the Dead End theme park, he’s in for more supernatural hijinks than he expects! His dog gets possessed, he meets plenty of ghosts, and he faces literal demons.

This is a really fun LGBTQ+ graphic novel with rep that feels natural. I really want to visit Dead End one day. Even if there is a chance my soul will be sucked by a Dolly Parton knock off.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

A classic of children’s horror fiction. This collection of short stories, urban legends and poems has been haunting children since it was first published in 1981. My eldest sister had copies of all three collections, and my sisters and I would always look at the haunting illustrations like they were taboo.

These stories are meant for very young children, so don’t expect to be terrified by them as an adult. But Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are still perfection. I recommend reading these aloud at story time, as they were meant to be told.

Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry

This is a collection of short stories inspired by Alvin Schwartz’s books. While many of these stories were good at the time, I can’t say I recall any of them now. It was also difficult to tell what age group this was aiming for. Some were very dark, while others were silly enough for 9-year-olds. But there are so great names attached, and well worth seeking out if you love an old-school spook tale.

True crime:

Chase Darkness With Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

Deep down, many true crime fans think they have what it takes to solve an unsolved mystery. Billy Jensen has proved that you can.

Jensen takes readers through his career from a small-time reporter at the New York Times to piecing together evidence with Michelle McNamara to his innovative way of using social media to solve crimes. It’s a fascinating and quick read. And if you’re really interested, he also provides a guide on how to solve mysteries yourself on the internet.

Green River, Running Red: the Real Story of the Green River Killer – America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule

My first-ever book from the master of true crime herself, Ann Rule.

I have to admit, I didn’t really know much about the Green River Killer before going into this book. As far as serial killers go, he lacks “pizzazz”. And as Rule points out, it’s because he largely targeted sex workers – making his victims nearly invisible outside of those who loved them or were working to solve the case.

Rule gives a lot of the spotlight to Gary Ridgway’s 49 victims and beyond. She clearly is passionate about the case, but she does sometimes get a bit redundant in the way that she tells the stories of the victims. I did enjoy this one, even if it did feel dated already. And will gladly pick up more of the master’s work.

Wicked Wednesday: Eaten Alive (1970)

This month, I’ve opted myself into a Letterboxd challenge to watch 100 new-to-me horror movies by the end of October. Now, even though I mostly write about movies these days…I don’t actually watch that many movies. (I have other hobbies, you know!) But even though I’m only two and a half weeks in, the challenge has me getting to movies that I’ve been putting off for too long.

Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive has called out to me many times and for many reasons. But biggest of all? Killer crocodiles!

Eaten Alive was released between not only what are two of my favourite Hooper movies but two of my most favourite horror movies ever: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse. So there was certainly a bit of anticipation going into this one for the first time.

Thankfully, for me, this scuzzy little movie didn’t disappoint.

Judd is a lonely old man who runs a rundown hotel in the swamps of Texas. One night, his peace is disturbed by Clara, a sex worker who has been kicked out of the town brothel for refusing to have sex with a client. While he takes her up to her room, he decides to attack her.

Clara tries to protect herself, but she’s soon killed by Judd and is fed to his crocodile.

Days later, Judd’s peace is disturbed yet again by the arrival of a rather-whacky family. Shortly after the family’s arrival, their dog Snoopy is eaten by the croc. The young daughter, Angie, begins to have a meltdown. It doesn’t help that her parents begin to argue in the meantime.

To make Judd’s situation even worse, his other new guests are the father and sister of a missing young woman…who just happens to be the sex worker he fed to a crocodile.

The story alternates between the young family being attacked and chased by Judd, Clara’s family’s attempts to find her, and Robert Englund generally being a creep.

I seem to have the opposite opinion to many people. Some of the criticisms of the film include the lighting. But for me, I adore the red-saturated Argento-style lights. It feels so seedy and gross. Really, I loved the way everything looked. Unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which has the vast emptiness of Texas, Eaten Alive feels very closed in. A very 1960s shot on-sets kind of vibe. It’s difficult to see what’s going on beyond the mists. And for me, that makes everything all the more unsettling.

There’s also a very good cast in this. Ranging from Hollywood icons like Neville Brand, Carolyn Jones and Mel Ferrer to future-icons of the genre like Englund, Marilyn Burns and William Finley (“SWAAAAAAN!!!”). Everyone is seemingly loosing their minds to perfection. It’s a joy to watch. I particularly enjoyed Brand’s performance as Judd. Completely unhinged, yet was pathetic enough to almost make you feel sorry for him.

Almost.

But even more, Eaten Alive was loosely based around the true story and myths of Joe Ball. In Texas folklore, Ball fed his enemies and ex-wives to his gator. In reality, most of this is probably not true – as there was never any evidence of it. Though I do think Hooper does a great job of spinning this tall tale into a truly horrific story.

I’m so glad I finally took the plunge and watched Eaten Alive. A fun movie that I can’t wait to watch again.

Wicked Wednesday (yet another late one): Horror Hotel (1960)

So I missed…two Wednesdays. Oops?

I’ve been away visiting my family in the States for the last month and have since returned to London. Only now I’m stuck in a 10-day quarantine from hell. Every day has been remarkably like the last, which is my only excuse as to how I’ve forgotten that it was Wednesday. Twice.

But when I go home, my dad and I usually have time to watch older Universal horror movies or monster flicks by Roger Corman and the likes. This visit was a bit light on that, so I took it upon myself to squeeze in something with the legend Christopher Lee himself.

In 1692, the settlement of Whitewood burn the witch Elizabeth Selwyn. And if we’ve learned anything from the Fear Street movies, this is supposed to be the right way to rid yourself of witches. Only with her last living breath, Elizabeth announces the pact she’d made with the devil.

Three hundred years later, college student Nan develops an interest in Whitewood. With the encouragement of her professor, Alan Driscoll, she decides to travel to Whitewood on her own to do some research on primary resources. Her brother and boyfriend find it all a joke, insisting that she stay with them during her vacation, but the woman goes off to her doom alone.

Nan drives to the Raven Inn in Whitewood, an accommodation recommended to her by Driscoll, and learns that the inn was the site of Elizabeth’s burning.

While exploring Whitewood, Nan meets Pat – another young woman who lends her an old book about witchcraft. The two women hit it off immediately. You must in order to lend a rando your old ass books.

But that night – the night of Candlemass – while taking notes on the book, Nan is lured down into the tunnels below her room. She’s killed off by a cult in hoods.

The weeks go by, and both Nan’s fiancé and brother, Dick, become increasingly worried about her absence. Pat goes to see the me and explains she’s also concerned about Nan’s disappearance. She did, after all, lend her that book! The group each go out to Whitewood on their own to search for Nan themselves.

That night, the night of the Witches’ Sabbath, Pat goes to see her grandfather, the local priest. He tells Pat that Elizabeth Selwyn is still alive as the owner of the Raven Inn. She needs two sacrifices a year in order to live forever. After learning the story, Pat is attacked and kidnapped by the cult.

But thanks to Dick’s help (as well as that brother who didn’t die in a car crash), the cult are all set on fire and seemingly all’s well that ends well! Minus the charred corpse in the chair, of course.

Horror Hotel (called The City of the Dead in the UK) is delightful. It’s well made. Well acted. It just doesn’t age as well when it comes to the content. Perhaps I’m spoiled with the modern-day assessment of wronged women burned as witches. But if that is, then let it be so!

I liked Nan as a character a lot. As she initially pulls up to the Raven Inn, she declares that she loves how picturesque the place is. Complete with its own cemetery! A girl after my own heart. It was a shame she didn’t make it to be the final girl. RIP Nan!

There are some wonderfully 1960s bits in this: the town that’s contained to a studio lot, the endlessly-rolling fog and the entirely inappropriate music. It’s, yes, cheesy at times because it is 60+ years old. But it also pack a wallop of dark atmosphere. And Christopher Lee is, as ever, brooding perfection.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? “Part Three: Destroy All Tophats” (2019)

All good things must come to a end. And with Part Three of this Are You Afraid of the Dark? reboot, all things conclude in a very satisfying way.

Rachel gets the gang together to talk to the gang (minus the missing Gavin) to have an emergency meeting. She has them all realise that they can’t remember her story or the Carnival of Doom. But the remaining three all agree to follow Rachel as she tries to solve the mystery of the missing boys.

They track Akiko’s phone, which the creepy clowns had taken from her. They trace it back to Idaho, where Rachel was from before she moved with her mom…and where the Carnival of Doom had stopped before. Akiko’s brother, Officer Hideo, agrees to drive them to Idaho. And he’s especially convinced after watching the strange footage from the carnival.

On the journey, the group go to a rest stop, where Officer Hideo is attacked by Mr Tophat’s scorpions. When Akiko goes to get him, she realises that he’s seemingly vanished without a trace. She finds a single gold coin by the drain…and her brother trapped in the mirrors.

Alone without an adult, the kids realise they’re on their own. Thanks to Graham’s (very slow) driving skills, TMS make it to the carnival. They bump into Bartholomew, a man also from Rachel’s dreams, who tells them the story of Mr Tophat…a man who was also alive in 1944 as Mr Cochran. He was so desperate to make money, that he opened his carnival before it was ready or properly tested. When a bunch of guests die in an accident on the ride, Mr Cochran is approached by the Devil.

Cochran accepts an offer that he will live forever with his successful carnival. No one will remember his deeds…until one day a child will come along and end his reign. That child is, of course, Rachel.

Bartholomew then explains how to defeat Mr Tophat: destroy his hat. They are given a golden coin to enter the secret room. With the knowledge at their disposal, the group make a plan to distractions at the carnival while Rachel takes the coin to the secret room.

As Rachel gets into the secret room, the others are attacked by Adam and a clown-ified Officer Hideo. Without her friends to come to her help, Rachel enters the room and finds herself on the stage of the big tent, having been tricked by Bartholomew.

Rachel is tied up to be sawn in half for the show (really giving me Leprechaun 3 flashbacks). But our Rachel manages to cut free of her bonds and wake the friends up from their trances, as well as taking Mr Tophat’s cane – the true source of his power not the hat.

United again (with Gavin!), TMS set off to destroy his top hat. All while walking through a rather creepy-looking and smoky ride – with plenty of flashing lights! One by one, the kids are grabbed and pulled into the water. All on her own, Rachel is threatened by Mr Tophat. He tries to barter with her, but the girl doesn’t fall for it.

With her prophecy-given powers, Rachel destroys that and ends the Carnival of Doom.

And all’s well that ends well. Rachel goes to her next Midnight Society meeting and everyone votes for her to stay on. But there’s always time for a few more little twists. And Gavin begins his tale – “The Return of the Ghastly Grinner”

And yes, this literally made me gasp.

It’s almost sad that this was a miniseries, with the next series being with a different cast of characters. These kids are cute, and a group to really love. I find that many of these series don’t spend the time to make the characters well-rounded, but you certainly get that for most of them.

There are some brilliant sets in this episode (as with the previous one) as well as some cool effects for a children’s TV show. But the story telling is a bit thin in places. Things get a bit convenient, especially towards the end. I suppose that’s why these stories were often better in their 30-minute format, there was only enough time to give a quick tale so plot holes were forgiven.

I’m pleased as punch that this series was so quality. I’m really looking forward to starting the second, which also has an impressive young cast. And no, I won’t wait until two years like I did this time. Though I do hope there is a bit more of the traditional storytelling in the future. It is, after all, everything that matters about the Midnight Society.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? “Part Two: Opening Night” (2019)

Following on Part One of the 2019 Are You Afraid of the Dark reboot, Part Two immediately jumps back into the drama.

Having learned that both their classmate Adam is missing and that a seemingly-evil carnival has come to town, the Midnight Society have an emergency meeting. Our girl Rachel tries to convince the others to go to the carnival with her to look for Adam, but no one takes the bait.

It’s following the meeting that Rachel overhears that Akiko wants Rachel out of the group. Which is a pretty quick change of heart, if you ask me. Gary would never!

Realising that she’s on her own, Rachel begins to make missing posters for Adam. The rest of TMS feel sorry for her, and then agree to go with her to the Midnight Carnival.

On arriving at the carnival, the kids realise that everything looks exactly how they imagined it as Rachel was telling her story around the fire.

They go to the Big Tent where they see Mr Tophat himself. He tells the audience that whoever finds the golden coin that night gains access to a secret part of the carnival. During the show, Rachel suddenly spots Adam, who is looking a bit like a creep. When Louise also sees him, the girls realise they both see him going in different directions. The gang decide to split up and look for him.

Akiko and her friend watch back the footage they filmed of Mr Tophat’s performance, only to learn that the man doesn’t appear on the camera. A group of clowns and circus performers begin to chase them, wanting the phone and the footage.

Meanwhile, the other four TMS members go on rides to look for Adam. But while they’re searching, things begin to go incredibly wrong. Rachel fends off some Zombies in the Tunnel of Love while trying to get the golden coin. As soon as she gets it, everything seemingly goes back to harmless fun. It is all part of the show, right?

The following morning, Rachel is no closer to finding Adam. When she waits to be picked up by Gavin, his dad comes to the door looking for him. She soon discovers that her worst nightmare has come true (maybe for a second time) and no one remembers the Carnival of Doom.

No one, but her.

Part Two is another solid part to the story. Again, the carnival setting is really incredible at setting an eerie setting. I’m genuinely excited for Part Three, just to see how Rachel pulls this off. The kids are pretty good actors as well, and really make the magic happen on screen.

What I’ve really appreciated about both parts one and two is that they feel like standalone stories. You could walk in just watching the second episode, and it could be a story within itself. It’s certainly a good way of making the show feel more modern. Not sure how well the 30-minute anthology format would work these days. Though, hell, I’d love to see how that would go, too!

The twists at the end of both first parts are gleefully classic Are You Afraid of the Dark? Something fun of the gentle suffering of these children, mostly because it’s playful and we all know it’s going to end well for everyone bar the baddies. That said, there are still some genuinely creepy moments in this. It feels me with so much love that children get to enjoy this.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? “Part One: Submitted for Approval” (2019)

I have been dying to watch the 2019 miniseries reboot of Are You Afraid of the Dark? for ages. Though apparently, time has flown since then. I didn’t realise the second season was already released! But we know at this point that being late to the party is my MO.

What can I say? It was well worth the wait. The first episode of this reboot did everything exactly as it should. From the subtly updated theme to the bright characters and fun storyline – it’s all true to the spirit of the original while very much being its own, relevant thing.

Rachel is the new girl at school. She’s decided that making friends is out of the question before she even arrives through the school doors. But there’s more to her than being meek and quiet; she’s being haunted in her dreams by a figure that she calls Mr Tophat.

At school, she’s distracted by her dreams and her fascination with scary stories. She soon catches the attention of several students around school. One boy, Graham spots her H.P. Lovecraft book and later fishes one of her sketches of Mr Tophat out of the bin.

Soon after, Rachel finds an envelope in her locker. On the note, a group called “TMS” ask Rachel a question: vampires or werewolves? After hiding her response for them in the school, she receives a series of these notes asking similar questions until she’s finally invited to a spot in the woods.

While visiting the woods, a group of masked children request she tell them a story for their next meeting. Rachel has a few days to come up with a tale, but she gets true inspiration from her nightmares of Mr Tophat.

Her tale, “Mr Tophat and the Carnival of Doom” tells the story of a little girl who goes to a carnival with her parents. While there, the girl sees horrific things like a man with no eyes and scorpions crawling out of his clothes. But her parents don’t believe her. Neither do the two girls that she tries to warn away from Mr Tophat.

The following day, the little girl sees on that news that the two older girls had disappeared. Only, her parents don’t remember the carnival. And soon, neither does the little girl.

Rachel’s story earns her a place with The Midnight Society. It’s a cute group of kids. I would have loved to have had these kids as friends when I was a child (or hell – even now!). But while everything seems to be all fun and games, the Mightnight Society soon learn that something sinister has come their way when their classmate disappears and a carnival comes to town.

Part One had everything I wanted. It’s very much in the spirit of the original show but forges its own path by creating lives for these characters outside of their stories. It kind of reminded me of “The Tale of the Silver Sight” (2000), which shows the members of the Midnight Society trying to find the original members of the society.

The writers did the right thing by choosing the carnival setting. It’s not only a classic scary setting, but it looks great on film. I can’t wait to watch the kids explore the reality of the carnival.

There are plenty of horror references that are probably meant for adults, but I think it’s done in a way that will intrigue children. Certainly 13-year-old me would have been lapping this up and taking notes. Hand down, I would have aspired to be Akiko, the aspiring zombie filmmaker.

It might have taken three years to get here, but I loved the first episode of this reboot. The carnival setting is fantastic and the baddie is really fun. Obviously a lot of love and care went into this. Can’t wait for episode two.

Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Manor (1990)

Ah, summer. Days full of sunshine, camping, road trips and murderers in masks.

Is there anything more certain than death to all teenagers who dare take a road trip in a horror movie? We all know it never bodes well.

In 1990’s Deadly Manor, we get a group of kids who are on their way to a lake. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker, who tells them that they are still hours away from their destination despite already having driven all day.

They eventually decide to go off the path and stop for the night. Lucky (or rather unlucky) for them, they come across an old mansion in the woods. Outside the mansion is a totaled car on a plinth with what appears to be a shrine to a beautiful woman inside it.

Immediately, Helen begins to feel unsettled. Her friends all encourage her to calm down, but eventually the girl decides to head back through the woods alone.

And yes – this is the last of Helen.

In the meantime, the rest of the gang break into the old house. They discover fun things like coffins in the basement, walls full of photographs of that random lady, and a big crack in the wall. But most unsettling, despite the fact that the house looks certainly abandoned, the group find a copy of the newspaper from the day before.

Tony begins to have visions of the woman in the photographs. Unable to sleep after his dreams of her, he begins to explore the house again. He comes face-to-face with the hitchhiker, Jack. Though ol’ Tony has Jack sussed out – he’s an escaped con! Only this doesn’t matter much because soon both of these boys are dead.

Each of the kids are being picked off one-by-one by a lady in a white mask. Could this figure with the excellently permed hair possibly be the same woman as the one in the photographs who also has permed hair?

This is a late 80s/early 90s slasher. There isn’t much original happening here, and I could have probably dictated you the entire plot from the 10 minute mark. But the ‘twist’ is so utterly stupid, it’s almost impressive (and yes I enjoyed it).

Towards the end of the film, I was feeling rather annoyed that so many plot points seemed pointless. It wasn’t until about the list five minutes or so that we’re given explanations to anything. And I’m not necessarily talking about big reveals or plot twists here.

Deadly Manor makes the mistake of having too many characters. Sure, I guess you need someone to kill off. But we doesn’t spend enough time with any one person bar Tony who just goes and dies anyway. If no one is really likeable or even memorable; you don’t really feel anything when they do inevitably to get offed.

The actress who place Anne is good. But I was convinced the entire movie that she’d be the first to go. We barely know a thing about her. So it’s difficult to root for her at the end. It’s the actor’s likability that works more than the writing does.

So this pretty much boils down to an rather run-of-the mill slasher. Nothing truly bad about it at all, but probably one I’ll forget about in a week’s time.

Wicked Wednesday: House of Wax (2005)

The 2000s horror remakes have really bad reputations for many. Following the 90s slasher boom, which saw the creation of franchises like Scream and genre cornerstones like I Know What You Did Last Summer, it was almost like the creativity dried up. And suddenly, if it wasn’t Saw or Hostel it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Sorority Row (2009) – and really, the list does go on.

So to be honest, I have kept myself away from these – even though they were released at a time I was just beginning to explore the genre for myself. The way the most people talk about these remakes led me to believe that these were just dumper fires. But when I spotted the House of Wax rental on sale for £1.99, I thought it was time to dive in.

Carly and her friends are going on a road trip to a football game with her brother, who was recently released on bail. Though, as this is a horror movie, the group decide to take a shortcut. Of course a detour takes them the long way around, and they soon decide to stop in a field for the night.

They group start to party into the late hours. But their festivities are interrupted by a pick-up truck, which arrives just to sit there. Carly’s brother, Nick, throws a bottle at the headlight, and the truck leaves.

The next morning, Carly’s boyfriend, Wade, discovers that the belt on his car is spent. Meanwhile, his girlfriend and her friend Paige explore the bad smell in the woods. Carly tumbles down a steep hill and lands in roadkill carcasses. As she’s rescued, a man arrives in a pick-up truck – one that has both working headlights.

Carly and Wade agree to go with the strange man to the nearby town of Ambrose to get a new belt. The rest of the gang decide to go ahead with their plans of going to the football game.

The young couple are soon too creeped out by the man in the truck that they decide to go ahead on foot. When they arrive in Ambrose, they discover what is essentially a ghost town. When they go to a church to ask for help, the realise they’ve interrupted a funeral.

They’re met outside by a man Bo, who just happens to own the car garage. He tells them to wait until the service is done before he can help them. In the meantime, the couple explore the nearby Trudy’s House of Wax. And it’s literally a house made out of wax. Why someone thought a house made of wax was a good idea in the American south is beyond me. But hey – it looks good.

After visiting the museum, Bo invites the couple to his house so Wade can use the toilet. Carly becomes inpatient after waiting for a long time. It’s not until she spots that Bo’s truck has only one headlight that she realises something isn’t right. And it certainly isn’t.

Carly and Wade’s friends decide to give up on the game and return to pick them up in Ambrose. Only things aren’t going to turn out too well for them when they reach their destination.

Now – as this movie is nearly 20 years old, I feel like it’s not spoiling anything by saying that Wade isn’t missing because he was taking a very long dump. Instead of a final girl with her man, she ends up fighting side-by-side with her brother as they take on a pair of weird siblings obsessed with their mama.

The climax of House of Wax takes place as the building is slowly melting from a fire. This bit ox SFX is absolutely brilliant. I loved this SO much. It’s both gross and incredible to look at. You might just need to ignore the outdated CGI mixed in.

House of Wax is often called out for being unoriginal. It’s a loose remake of a remake; so there’s plenty of well-trodden path here. It depends what you like, I think. I quite enjoyed the twists; they’re soapy and a little bit silly. But what were you expecting from a movie that cast Paris Hilton at the height of her The Simple Life fame?

It’s good to have originality in storytelling, but I do think there’s something to be said about new technologies adding things to a story. Sure – this movie could have been about 20 minutes shorter to keep up the pace. But I’m someone who gets grumpy as soon as I realise a movie is over 90 minutes.

I appreciated the themes of siblinghood. It’s ultimately a movie about the bonds of siblings written by siblings (Chad and Carey Hayes). I do wish it was explored a bit more. It would be really fun to see this redone again with a pair of sisters.

And yes. I do think there could be another remake of this. While there are three movies around this story, there are also others in the genre like Waxworks, which partly inspired the great Waxwork and countless Goosebumps-esque stories involving wax museums. I want to see this done as a found footage movie a la Hell House. This movie was halfway there by including the use of cam footage. Let’s do this again!

Wax museums will never not be weird.

Wicked Wednesday: The Amusement Park (1973/2019)

God bless the people who work in film preservation. Gone to us for several decades was George A. Romero’s educational film The Amusement Park. The film was commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania. After seeing the disturbing film Romero produced, they shelved the project, seemingly lost and forgotten to the world forever.

It wasn’t until four decades later that a copy resurfaced. A print was used in a retrospective of Romero’s work in 2017. The film was restored, and released on Shudder this week. And wow… talk about a masterpiece – a work well deserving of seeing the sun again.

The film opens with an introduction from the film’s main actor, Lincoln Maazel (Martin), who explains the films purpose: to educate people about the abuse of elders and ageism. The people involved are volunteers, or the elderly themselves – all wanting to participate and spread the message.

A bloodied and abused gentleman (Maazel) finds himself in a white room when he is greeted by a pristine, white-suited version of himself. The gentleman tries to warn himself about the dangers of the outside, but the happier version of himself heads through a door and into the amusement park.

At the amusement park – it is sequence of horror and doom. Everywhere our gentleman looks, people are willing to either ignore or take advantage of the elderly. Their treasures are taken in exchange for pennies and tickets. They’re subjected to tighter rules by impatient carnies.

On one of the rides, a man dies and is (presumably) dropped into a wooden box without fanfare. An elderly woman is blamed for a bumper car crash that she didn’t cause. Our gentleman sees all of these injustices – but when he tires to help or speak up, nothing seems to help. He himself is seen as a “degenerate” and someone to avoid or not believe.

There’s an unsettling scene where a young couple visit a fortune teller to see their future. What appears in the crystal ball is an interview with a landlord who has elderly tenets kept in some abysmal conditions, blaming the tenets for the issues. The woman tries to call the doctor to see her husband, but he refuses. A future that the couple could only avoid by helping to improve situations for the elderly before they become old themselves.

Parades and chaos follows the gentleman’s visit to the fortune teller, but suddenly he finds himself in the abandoned park. He sees the grim reaper pass by, just before a gang of bikers appear to harass, beat and rob him. The gang drives away, but as the park fills again, the gentleman is left on the ground without help.

The gentleman continues to see the harassment of the elderly while being subjected to it himself. It finally comes to ahead when he is literally chased away from a show by a crowd. He ends up at a sanctuary, only to find it closed. Sanctuary, it seems, is nowhere to be found at an amusement park. A park only made for the young.

The Amusement Park is claustrophobic, heart breaking and disturbing. A movie that makes sure to remind you of its point by punching you in the gut at literally every turn. Relief? There is no relief to be found here.

I found this film to be a horrifying parallel to the pandemic. We’ve all seen situations where people heartlessly disregarded the elderly and at risk by living their lives carelessly and our governments disastrously mishandle the situation in care homes. This educational film might be nearly 50 years old, but it’s just as relevant – if not more – than when it was produced.

I’m not really sure why the Lutheran Society decided to hire Romero, who had already released Night of the Living Dead nearly five years earlier. It seems an odd fit. But a brilliant fit, to be sure. What set his work apart in the genre, was his ability to seamlessly add social commentary to his work. He wore his politics on his sleeve. It’s interesting to see him flex his muscles in a piece where the social commentary is meant to be so front and centre.

Romero was the first director I fell in love with. But growing up, most most of his non-zombie movies were difficult to find (particularly fifteen years ago in rural Wisconsin). Heather Wixton’s wonderful interview with his widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero (who launched the George A. Romero Foundation), in Daily Dead gives some insight into the creator’s later years – when he felt completely unwanted. A man whose work always meant so much to me, increasingly as his work becomes more accessible, is heartbreaking.

But it does remind you that everything in The Amusement Park, while done up in funfair fashion, rings true. We forget our elders, just wanting to push them aside. But they will always have something to offer. After all, “One day, YOU will be old.”