Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: Deadtime Stories (1986)

I spent went felt like an absolute age trying to pick out this week’s film. I wanted something complete stupid and mindless. And as soon as I saw Deadtime Stories, I knew I had found the perfect thing.

This anthology movie is a weird one. A young boy is being babysat by his uncle (why is never explained), and the young boy demands a bedtime story before he can do to sleep.

His uncle begrudgingly begins to tell him the story about a fisherman’s son who has to live with two witches when he runs out of options. They drag him around to help create the spell to raise their sister from the dead.

He eventually must seduce a girl so that they can sacrifice her life. But the son falls for the girl and turns against the sisters. While the story has a traditionally happy ending, the uncle changes it to one of death just to please his nephew.

The last two stories are significantly better. The first sort of looks like the fairy tale bits from Troll 2. But the latter take on a much more watchable Troma vibe.

Story number two is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood. Rachel is a sexually frustrated teenager. She also likes to go running. Are these things related? Maybe.

One evening, Rachel is sent off to get her grandmother’s meds and deliver them to her. She bumps into a rather wolfish man while at the pharmacy and the two accidentally switch prescriptions.

The man attempts to go track down the grandmother, but she refuses to answer the door. Rachel, who still hasn’t delivered the goods to gran, is too busy losing her virginity to her boring boyfriend. Eventually, the man turns into a werewolf without his meds. He kills grandma, and he kills Rachel’s boyfriend too.

The werewolf is eventually killed, but not before it can turn grandma into a werewolf as well. “What big teeth you have!”

The third bedtime story is easily the best. It’s zany and beyond stupid. In Goldi Lox and the three Baers, two members of the Baer family escape from a mental asylum with the help of Mama Baer. After avoiding the police, they agree to return to their usual hideout to lay low. But when they arrive, the discover that the Goldi Lox is already.

Lox is also an escapee. She’s also a serial killer with telepathic powers (because of course). While the Baers are initially upset with her presence, they agree to let her stay. The family soon learn that having Lox around is a great asset to their lifestyle.

It’s totally loony, but it’s great in a very over-the-top sort of way. And it certainly takes many leaps of logic to actually believe.

In the end, when the uncle finished his stories, the little boy is attacked by a puppet monster in his room. A bit of a weak payoff in the end, considering it’s difficult to even understand what the puppet it meant to be doing.

But you don’t exactly go into a movie like Deadtime Stories and expect really high quality. It’s a weird sort of film that made my evening just that bit more enjoyable.

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Wicked Wednesday: The Witch in the Window (2018)

Horror is having a bit of a moment, isn’t it? More than ever, the stories of ghosts and maniacs are becoming popular, in large part due to the fact that they feel so relevant. One of the best themes in many contemporary horror films is family. You’ll see it in The Babadook, Hereditary, and the new Halloween film. And that trend continues in the beautiful and subtle The Witch in the Window.

Simon and his son, Finn, head out to the Vermont countryside where Simon is supposedly flipping an old farmhouse. Finn has been banished from his home with his mother in the city after doing something not-quite explicitly said on the internet. Their relationship has been both strained and distant, which is mostly due to Simon’s long absences from his son’s life.

The father-son duo get off to a rocky start. Finn, for one, is resistant to help restore the house with his father. He also claims the toys his father got out of storage are “childish”, and he talks back with some very colourful language.

Simon brings out the local electrician and neighbour, Louis, who tells him that the line had been clipped. After Simon expresses his dismay, Louis takes the opportunity to tell the story of the woman who used to live in the house. She wasn’t very well liked, often called a witch because she loved horrible things happening to people. Both her husband and son died in a suspicious accident.

Louis’ story unsettles Simon and Finn, but they both try to blow it off. But things begin to go “wrong” in the house. Much of the slow build-up consists of searching for the witch, Lydia, who seems to be lurking in every scene.

When the father and son realise Lydia’s ghost is really haunting them, Simon must step up as a father and take care of his son.

The Witch in the Window really takes a sad turn at the end, but it’s not exploitative. Rather, it feels open-ended enough to encourage a bit of thought.

This movie is certainly blurs the genre lines. Any one looking for an all-out ghost thriller won’t find it here. The story is very subtle and character-driven. But it’s so well done. Over the span the movie, I really came to care about Simon and Finn a lot.

Horror movies can churn out disposable characters, but occasionally, it feels really good to invest in someone.

Wicked Wednesday: Hell House LLC (2015)

Hell House LLC was a bit of a surprise for me. I’ve noticed the cover and read the synopsis a few times over the years. I think I’ve even started watching it at one point, but never have made it more than five minutes in.

But this is really a found-footage gem. It really has all the things I hate in life: haunted houses (the paid attraction kind) and clowns. Throw in some blood and subtle imagery and you have me DEAD.

The film is a mockumentary in some ways – mixing footage with interviews, YouTube videos and still photos. The documentary aims to find out one thing: what happened in the Abaddon Hotel on October 8, 2009?

A group of young entrepreneurs, who own and run Hell House, travel together to a small town in New York state.

Together they aim to put together a haunted house to top anything they’ve done in previous years. Though the group soon realise that the Abaddon Hotel is maybe a bit more than it appears.

As they set up throughout the weeks, tensions run high, and more and more strange and horrible things begin to happen.

Ultimately, it’s revealed what happened on the night of October 8th, using the footage the Hell House group filmed themselves. It takes all the fun out of it to give anything more away.

Like most contemporary horror films, Hell House LLC fails to stick the landing. After so much build-up, the ending is a tiny bit lame. I think that may be mostly to the fact that nothing is very well explained. Just over the line of leaving too much unexplained. Viewers like the fear of the unknown, but it is helpful to have a little bit of context.

But beyond it’s cliched third act, Hell House LLC is one of the first films in a long time that actually manage to terrify me.

Like a good found footage movie, it draws the views in by being believable. The cast all look like people you know, and their terror feels real.

I know I didn’t sleep very well the night after watching this, and that is what I like in a horror film.

If you’re looking for a very Halloween movie to watch building up to the 31st, I recommend this highly. It has the right vibes and will (hopefully) scare all of those bejesuses out of you.

Wicked Wednesday: Mausoleum (1983)

 

After all the bullshit that happened State-side these past few weeks, I really wanted to watch a horror film with a badass lady. So I put in a lot of research and did my readying. I had everything all picked out, but what did I do?

Abandon everything last minute because I couldn’t be bothered to pay £2 to watch the film.

Instead I watched Mausoleum. A film that lacks in mausoleum screentime, and is a serious mess.

The film revolves around Susan, a girl whose mother died when she was only 10. After the burial, Susan runs away from her Aunt Cora, and sees a mausoleum with a bit of dancing smoke in front of it. The young girl enters the building and becomes possessed as she approaches a coffin with the name “NOMAD” over it.

Twenty years later, Susan is a grown woman with a husband. She seemingly has a great life, but her aunt remains skeptical. Cora reaches out to a psychiatrist, Dr Simon (Norman Burton doing his best Dr Loomis). She gives him a family history that is contained in her father’s diary, then blabs about a demon. But Dr Simon insists that nothing is wrong with Susan, whom he has known her whole life.

But of course there is something wrong with Susan (note: this would be a much better title). She’s possessed by a demon. As the first born girl, she was destined to become a demon’s puppet.

To put things simply, Susan spends most of the movie getting her tits out then killing men by setting them on fire or blowing up their heads. There’s a super irrelevant series of scenes about some weird painting that she steals. She even tears poor Aunt Cora in half.

Susan’s husband Oliver is really stupid. He panics every time his wife does something. Oh my wife is sitting in a rocking chair! Let’s not talk to her – CALL THE DOCTOR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING NIGHT!

After being dragged into the mess, Dr Simon begins researching and reads up on the Nomad family history. He calls in a friend who insists that Susan is possessed. She somehow knows that the only way to break the curse is to put the “crown of thorns” onto Susan’s head.

He succeeds with little effort. Then drags Susan to the mausoleum to put the crown onto the demon’s head? Again? I don’t know. It didn’t really make any sense to me. I think there was even meant to be a twist ending. The gardener she killed is actually a man who is meant to look over the mausoleum? Fuck if I should know.

Mausoleum wasn’t the so-bad-it’s-good kind of fun I was hoping for. That acting is pretty terrible (that poor actress playing Susan). The plot doesn’t make much sense. It’s mostly an excuse to make an actress strip so she can kill people.

Either way, I think there is a lesson to be learned in this: if you put all the hard work into something, you should probably fucking follow through with it. When you take the easy (ie free) way out, you’re stuck watching this.

Wicked Wednesday: Night of the Eagle (1962)

Some films really stand the test of time. They’re story speaks years beyond its initial release due to great storytelling.

Then there are films like Night of the Eagle. Which, while not terrible in any way, just comes off as incredibly dated. And not in a fun, 80’s perm kind of way.

Norman Taylor is a successful psychology professor at a university. He is a critic of the mystical and superstitious. He lives his very nice, clean-cut life with his seemingly nice, clean-cut wife.

One night, after hosting a party for his co-workers, his wife Tansy begins to act strangely. He later finds two dead spiders in her drawer, which she claims is just a memento of their honeymoon in Jamaica.

But he later discovers a plethora of unusual objects after searching through Tansy’s things (!). After he argues with her, she admits she’s a practicing witch. She tells him that she only wants to protect him, and that there are plenty of bad forces after him. But he’s a man and she’s just a stupid, superstitious woman! So he then burns her things as she watches. So he really won’t be winning and Husband of the Year awards.

Norman burns the spiders last. And once he does, the phone rings and a woman’s voices comes through the other line. She speaks to him suggestively, but he hangs up on the unknown woman.

The next day, bad things begin to happen to Norman. He’s nearly hit by a bus, then later one of his students accuses him of rape (but later redacts her accusation).  When he gets home from his long-ass day, he sees that he has received a tape from one of his lectures. He begins to play it, but Tansy notices something is not right and turns it off.

That night, Tansy decides to kill herself in exchange for her husband’s safety (as she had seen a mother do that for her daughter in Jamaica). She leaves the house to go to the family’s cabin. Norman realises she’s gone in the morning and goes after her. He is eventually able to find her before she drowns herself in the sea.

But when he takes her home, she’s still in a strange trance. She attacks him with a knife, so he locks her in her room.

Norman eventually realises that something isn’t right and heads to the school where he discovers that it’s the school secretary, Flora, who is targeting him. Her motive is to simply get rid of the man in line for her husband’s promotion. She sets up a tarot card tower and sets it on fire, setting Norman’s actual house (with Tansy in her room) on fire.

She starts playing the tape again, which begins to cast its spell on Norman. He imagines one of the great stone eagles in the school grounds is attacking him. While he runs away, the tape is eventually turned off and the spell broken.

Norman eventually goes back to his burning home and finds Tansy safe, having escaped. Flora, meanwhile, gets crushed by a falling stone eagle.

Night of the Eagle had the makings of something great. I loved Tansy, and was really rooting for her. It was a shame she became absolutely useless in the third act of the film.

Ultimately, through a 2018 lens, this story is more frustrating than anything. Tansy finds her own powers and has to hide them from her husband. He’s the fool but still ultimately saves himself. For me, it felt like a waste of a plot line. If you give a woman magic, let her use it! I mean, heaven forbid a woman be able to be smarter (or even as intelligent as) than her husband.

It was both boring and frustrating watching a movie about two women who had the ability to do FUCKING MAGIC and only used it to get their idiotic, useless husbands a promotion.

Some films are good enough that their era ideals can be forgiven. This is not one of them.

Wicked Wednesday: The Spiral Staircase (1946)

My parents instilled a great love for classic movies in me. My dad Hitchcock, and my mom the classic musicals and dance numbers of Fred Astaire.

Somehow, in this post-world war film, we manage to merge both things.

The Spiral Staircase is a classic of gothic film. It’s beautiful in its dark candle-lit scenes and period costumes. But even more interesting is it’s fantastic imagery that verges on experimental.

The story is one done many times since: Helen, a selective-mute woman must defend herself in a threatening world. When a crazed serial killer goes after women with “afflictions”, she appears to be next.

Much of the film’s plot revolves around men telling her what to do. Leave the house, don’t leave the house. But many have their own motives. The elderly woman she cares for seems to know more information than she’s unwilling to share with Helen.

The story weaves in and out of dream sequences (including a beautiful dance number) and sinister visuals of close-ups of eyes and people lurking in shadows. It’s slightly jarring, but is a great way of seeing into Helen’s psyche: isolated, threatened, and yet dreaming of having a perfectly lovely life.

The mystery unfolds beautifully, and though slightly-predictable, is still thrilling to watch.

Wicked Wednesday: The Night Dracula Saved the World (1979)

I caved into Halloween mania early this year. I say ‘early’ but really, Halloween season always begins on August 1st. But around the Brits I have to pretend to be sensible when really my whole house is decked out.

It’s been a super manic week, so watching something like The Night That Dracula Saved the World was exactly what I needed.

The made-for TV short film originally aired on ABC as The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t. It’s a much-more apt name than the VHS title, but a name will sell anything these days, right?

The story is a strange mash-up of everything you’d find at a cheesy Halloween party and a lesson about the origins of the holiday. Dracula has called a conference at his castle in Transylvania with all the other monsters. Before they arrive, he and Igor watch the news together, in which a newscaster claims that Dracula wants to end Halloween.

Dracula is offended (“Halloween is my national holiday!”), but he allows the conference to go forward anyway. When all of the guests arrive, they learn that Dracula called them together to warn them that they are no longer scary to children.

The other guests seem pretty offended, but the Witch reveals she simply doesn’t give a crap. She announces to the group that she quits, and will be refusing to fly across the moon on Halloween night – the action that sets off Halloween (apparently). She tells the others that she’s tired of the ugly girl jokes, and she really just wanted to be the leader of the monsters.

Dracula refuses, and the witch flies off to her home. Dracula and the other monsters follow her the next night, and break in believing she doesn’t have any magic.

But she’s a witch, so of course the lady has magic. She sends the others running in circles before locking herself safely in her room. Dracula tries to reason with her, offering to agree to her conditions: her face will be on the monster posters, she’ll have shared leadership of the monsters, and to go disco dancing every night.

Dracula agrees, but the Witch immediately redacts her agreement to fly over the moon. But when a pair of local children arrive, they tug at her heartstrings, reminding her of the true meaning behind Halloween: candy and costumes.

The Witch agrees to the children’s pleas and flies over the moon to mark the start of Halloween. Afterwards, the monsters all have a disco. And why? Because this short is clearly insane.

The Night Dracula Saved the World is a really cute piece of nostalgia. The costumes are a bit hokey, as if they were bought from a costume shop, but it’s all really sweet, weirdly. It’s apparently a holiday staple for a lot of kids who watched it on the original ABC run and later on the Disney Channel during the 80s and early 90s. And I can see why, the random-ass disco in the end might be my favourite thing I’ve ever seen in a Halloween movie.

This is the perfect little 25-minute movie to put anyone in the Halloween spirit. Watch it, disco, and keep on thinkin’.