Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: This House Possessed (1981)

One of my favourite things about TV movies is seeing familiar small-screen faces. Just this year alone I’ve seen Valerie Harper, a slew of soap opera stars, and now this week – teen heartthrob Frank Hardy himself, Parker Stevenson.

Stevenson, like Harper, is also a bit of a TV movie regular. (We bow to royalty!) Though this is my first time seeing him in one, he’s as delightful and charismatic in This House Possessed as he is in The Hardy Boys.

Gary (Stevenson) is a popular pop musician. During a performance, he collapses due to exhaustion. He’s taken to a hospital for treatment where he meets a young nurse, Shiela.

The youngin’s take a liking to each other. When Gary is on the mend, it’s decided that he will go somewhere to rest and write, and Shiela will go with him as his live-in nurse. The two head out to find a place, but a place soon finds them: a giant modern mansion. This building is so stunning, I really hope the location scout got the biggest bonus.

Though with almost all things, there’s always a catch. On their first night at the home, Shiela begins to hear voices. She tries finding the source but is caught wandering before she can get too far.

The next day, she goes into town where a lady calls her “Margaret”. This confuses Sheila for very obvious reasons. When the disembodied voice also calls her Margaret, it becomes more than just a coincidence.

Meanwhile, Gary’s off-and-on again girlfriend Tanya stops by to stir up trouble in paradise. But the house seems to have other ideas, and soon scares her away with the help of some blood.

The increasingly strange incidents prompt Sheila to come clean to Gary: she knows little about the early years of her life. She was found wandering on the road, and everything before that is just a mystery to her. After being called Margaret just one more time, Sheila knows she needs to do some digging into both her history and the house’s.

The mystery is eventually revealed to be one with plenty of holes in it. Some of the lines connecting the dots are tenuous at best. But we’re not here for the story, really, but for some spooky ambience and imagery.

The scenes from the house’s POV are all done through some security cameras. Though it’s not entirely clear (again) why none of the humans knows this? Does an incredibly famous popstar not hire anyone to do the security? Does he or his nurse not even consider checking it themselves when things beings to go haywire?

As standard for most TV movies of this era, it’s not very heavy on the horror elements. The romances and love triangle are given much more screen time for that. But for an early 80s TV movie, some of the scenes are surprisingly visceral. There’s a bloody shower scene that’s plenty gross and another death scene that made me let out a “CHRIST!”, then one giant “HA!”

This vaguely reminded me of Paganini Horror, which is significantly more fun. That story also features musicians in a creepy yet beautiful home that’s a bit possessed. It’s obviously bolder due to it not having any of the restrictions of network television. But I’m here for anything with spooky houses and cheesy music!

So for that – I give This House Possessed some credit. It’s silly, but often not silly enough, well-acted and has some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve seen in a movie.

Wicked Wednesday: Fantasies (1982)

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

The voice inside my head

As long as I can remember, my mom has watched Days of Our Lives. And for just as long, my mom has complained about it. My grandmother watched Touched By an Angel. My childhood friend All My Children. Though I never watched soaps myself, their power and influence still reached me through many women in my life. (The number of tragic car crashes and affairs my poor Barbies suffered!)

I’m endlessly fascinated by soap operas. When I learned that Fantasies was a TV movie slasher set around a soup, I knew this was for me.

Middleton, USA is a popular soap opera, created by Carla Webber (Suzanne Pleshette). Carla is smart and successful – and witty to boot. It’s all going her way until she receives news that the main baddy on her show has been murdered.

The owner of the network puts Carla and her writers under pressure to rewrite the show and rework the show without their villain. They do, but he’s soon killed off, too.

To get away from the drama and get thinking about the show’s new direction, Carla takes her daughter, Sandy, to their beach house. There Carla bumps into her ex-husband at a party. He’s there with his new, younger beau. Seemingly unbothered, Carla turns her attention to the detective on the case of the murders, Flynn.

Things get plenty soapy as Carla battles her two men. And sure, more actors get killed. But life carries on, right?

Until one night, Carla herself is attacked while in bed. She makes a narrow escape when a delivery man scares away the masked man.

With Carla the next target, she and Flynn are forced to figure out who the killer is – fast. There’s a whole slew of fun and campy suspects: a former star, a crazed fan, maybe even the husband! The movie gives you plenty of red herrings along the way, but this is a soap opera: clues hardly matter!

Fantasies has all the makings of being an awesome movie. However, I think its TV restrictions hinder it from being truly excellent. Any violence is toned down and the focus is mostly on relationships and romance. The soap opera aspects win out over any mystery or horror. It could be truly lush and bloody if remade for the cinema or streaming. However, any remake wouldn’t have Pleschette, which would be a shame. She’s wonderful and charismatic in this. She carries the entire movie on her back!

I also enjoyed a main character who was a bit older. TV movies are usually good at this, as they often focus on motherhood as one of the central themes. Carla was successful and strong and had plenty of her own agency. She might have admitted to writing pious female characters, but she was a little more complex than that.

This might not have been everything I wanted it to be, but I think it’s well worth the watch even if just to see Pleshette look utterly glamorous on screen.

Wicked Wednesday: Fall into Darkness (1996)

The 90s were so good at teen drama. From 90210 to Clueless – there was some really iconic stuff in the decade.

But drama that leads to death, fake deaths and plots to frame your friend for murder? Truly iconic, and that’s what you get in this made-for-TV adaption of Christopher Pike’s novel Fall into Darkness.

Sharon is a rising star in the piano world, and a Julliard hopeful. Her playing catches the eye of the wealthy Jerry Price, who invites her to a party at his house one night.

At the party, Sharon learns that Jerry and his sister, Ann, are incredibly wealthy orphans. She meets Ann, a haughty and rude girl. Despite being absolutely catty towards Sharon, the girls become friends.

As Ann and Sharon grow closer, Jerry’s affections for Sharon grow. When he tries to come on to her, though, she rejects him.

Burnt by the interaction, Jerry goes to his friend Chad’s place and gets drunk. It’s that night that the girls learn that Jerry has supposedly taken his own life by jumping in front of an oncoming train.

Ann is distraught. Even more so when Chad tells her why – that Jerry couldn’t take the rejection from Sharon, mixed with his depression. Ann becomes angry and begins plotting Sharon’s demise with the help of her boyfriend, Paul.

For the first part of their plan, Ann invites the gaggle of friends to go camping. During the bonfire, Ann makes Sharon angry by belittling her playing. Sharon storms off and Ann later follows – claiming to want to apologise.

When the girls are in the woods, Ann begins screaming Sharon’s name, setting it up to look like she’s being attacked by her friend. Ann throws herself from a cliff, seemingly to her own death.

From there the boys all tell the police that they believe Sharon has killed Ann. But no one can find the body.

Sharon must prove her own innocence and uncover the truth before the real killer comes for her next. It’s a pretty fun maze of twists and turns. Though eventually (and probably a little too soon) the truth becomes obvious. The story still manages to keep the pace up, though, even when its audience knows where things are going next. I think that’s partly due to how compelling both Tatyana M. Ali and Jonathan Brandis’s work.

Fall into Darkness takes a lot from its predecessors in many ways: a bad boy with Jason Dean vibes, a lack of humour and camp to show that it’s taking itself seriously. It’s not really breaking any new ground. That being said, it’s still a good time, and it’s pretty nice to return to basics here. I have read that this is a not-so-great adaption of Pike’s work, so maybe this is even due a reboot?

Pike is one of the pillars of YA and children’s horror fiction in the 80s and 90s. But somehow, there aren’t very many adaptions of his work. At the time of writing, Fall into Darkness remains the only one. An adaption of superb Midnight Club for Netflix, created by the always-dependable Mike Flanagan, finished production in 2021. If there’s a success there, hopefully more adaptions will follow. I personally am ready to find more of his books and give them a read!

Also, can we get a boutique label to start releasing nice blu-ray editions of these made-for-TV movies. Honestly, the quality of some of these films is so bad! I’d kill to watch these and be able to see what the actors’ faces look like.

Wicked Wednesday: Night Terror (1977)

I love made-for-TV movies. I love Made-for-TV March. A whole four weeks of dramatic pauses for commercials, effective uses of lightning and familiar faces from shows your ma watches. Truly, a most wonderful time of the year.

This week, I treated myself to Night Terror, a suspenseful chase film starring the TV movie legend Valerie Harper.

Harper plays Carol Turner, a frazzled and forgetful housewife. Her family is preparing to move across the country to Colorado for her husband’s job. Now just saying this upfront: Carol’s husband, Walter, is a loser and does not deserve her!

Anyway, the kids go ahead with their aunt and father while Carol follows behind with the station wagon. She intends to meet up with Walter for their second honeymoon before going to Colorado. Only Walter needs to cancel their plans because of work-something-or-another.

Carol’s night only gets worse when she discovers that her son has been sent to the hospital and needs surgery. Panic-stricken, she gets into her car in the middle of the night and heads off to Colorado on her own.

Along the way, Carol realises her car’s gas tank is nearly empty. She sees a cop on the side of the road with another car pulled over, she stops to ask for help. Only when she does, the man in the pulled-over car shoots and kills the police officer.

Panicked, Carol drives off into the night, but her pursuer is not going to let her go. What follows is a pretty lengthy, but intense chase scene.

Carol has to use her wits to get help and avoid the killer. She commits a few faux pas along the way, but she’s ultimately responsible for all her successes. But the killer is pretty relentless and clever, there are a number of times I shouted, “NO CAROL!!!!” at my TV screen, which is surely a sign of good pace!

When Carol is finally victorious and at her child’s bedside, her husband arrives. When he tells her, “You poor baby. You of all people.” without knowing what she’s been through… well, it’s enough to make your blood boil! Please tell me there’s a part two where she kills him and lives her best Thelma and Louise life.

Night Terror is a gem. It’s got a great pace, which I think is greatly benefited by its 70-minute run time. Not only does it clip along nicely, but it looks great too. The rainy night and dry, desert day look fabulous on screen. The killer (played by the super hot Richard Romanus) is excellent. You don’t know much about him at all. He’s really just there to be menacing – and he is!

There are several things that date this one in a not-so-fun way, but if you want a fun thriller version of The Hitcher or Duel. But this one has Valerie Harper, so it has to have an edge in that respect! Harper manages to seem both frantic and compelling while not overdoing it completely. This is why she will always be an icon.

Wicked Wednesday: The House of the Dead (1978)

I love horror anthology movies. Some of the best scary stories are quick, brutal and to the point. It’s often why the short film format is often one of the most effective forms of horror. Link them together with an excellent framing story, and you’ve got yourself gold.

And who better to listen to scary stories from than a mortician on a stormy night? Though if you’re a cheating man named Talmudge, it’s probably not going to be an ideal situation for you.

After fooling around with another man’s wife one night, Talmudge tries to head back to his hotel. Only his cab drops him off on the wrong street during a storm. He’s taken in by a mortician, who seemingly pities the man’s situation.

Inside the mortician’s place, Talmudge sees five caskets out. The mortician explains that he only takes in “interesting” corpses that have had unique deaths. He then explains each death in detail to Talmudge.

The first story is about a grumpy teacher who hates children. She’s a monster to them, but what happens when they become monsters themselves?

A second corpse is that of a man who was executed after being found killing women. The crimes he filmed himself doing.

The third coffin contains the body of a detective. One who was competitive with a fellow detective and was willing to put him to the test of wits. But which detective is in the coffin and whose remains were too little to be buried?

The fourth, but not final, story is about an office worker who cares for no one but himself. After harassing a homeless man, the office worker finds himself in a closed shop that he can’t escape. No matter what he does, he finds himself further and further into the shop – and into another form of torture.

As the mortician finishes his story, the only question left is – who is the fifth, and empty, casket for?

It’s a fun and morbidly gleeful ending to the anthology in the vein of anthology TV shows like Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt.

I really loved a lot about The House of the Dead. Director Sharon Miller manages to keep a consistent tone throughout. And yet each of the stories is very distinct and memorable – something I have to say is often rare for anthology movies. There are usually one or two segments that are weaker than the rest.

But here we are lucky enough to get four solid stories with a framing story that isn’t obnoxious to return to. Nothing is worse than just wanting to skip the framing story and get on to something else, only to have to return to it again.

This was a surprisingly little hidden gem. If you’re a fan of anthologies and have yet to see it, I highly recommend seeking it out.

Wicked Wednesday: Monsters Crash the Pajama Party (1965)

I have no idea how I first learned about Monsters Crash the Pajama Party, but when I spotted it on my Letterboxd watchlist, I was intrigued. Go past me! She knows what’s up.

This is a pretty unusual film in general, but it’s one of the few short films I’ve seen from the 1960s. In fact, it might be the only one I’ve seen outside of those educational films that RiffTrax like so much.

Monsters Crash the Pajama Party is a cheesy “spook show spectacular” that manages to be both very low budget and amusing. One of my favourite combinations.

The opening credits are unique. Instead of the usual title sequence with credits, a voice-over introduces everyone as gorillas stand-in doing the work of the sound editor, camera operator and the like.

A group of kids soon arrive at a ‘haunted’ mansion where a group of sorority initiates have to stay the night. None of the girls believes in ghosts and expects the night to be fairly uneventful. Their boyfriends drop the girls off and seemingly leave them to their own devices.

Unbeknownst to them, the mansion is home to a secret laboratory. A mad scientist lives there concocting experiments and ordering around his gorilla lackeys. One of the girls is kidnapped by a gorilla and brought to the lab.

The remaining girls split up to look for their friend, believing that the boys are behind it with their pranks. One-by-one the girls are grabbed by various henchmen and brought down to the lab (so see what’s on the slaaab).

It’s up to the boys to return and save the girls. But they have to fend off a selection of monsters first!

This is schlocky goodness. The acting is hammy, but the cast is clearly enjoying themselves. The sets and costumes are wonderfully 60s. The SFX are definitely low budget, but in a way that can be found charming if you enjoy that style.

Apparently during screenings of this short, actors dressed as monsters from the movie would walk through the cinemas. I love that sort of William Castle gimmicky fun. I can’t think of any movie in recent times that has fun with its audience in that sort of way. Unless you count those 4DX cinemas, and I know I don’t. This is the sort of movie I’d love to see be remade for modern audiences – it would take true ingenuity.

This is a short and sweet movie very much like Scooby Doo meets Roger Corman. It’s plenty of fun and worth seeking out if you need an amusing way to spend 30 minutes of your time.

Wicked Wednesday: The House on Skull Mountain

People in a potentially-haunted mansion wanting money is one of my favourite horror movie tropes. The Haunting and The House on Haunted Hill both immediately spring to mind. So take that, add some voodoo and a skull-shaped mountain, and I’m completely sold.

Just before matriarch Pauline Christophe dies, she asks her priest to deliver four letters to her family. She soon dies after opening a box containing some voodoo items.

After receiving their letters, members of the Cristophe family begin to arrive at Pauline’s home. First to meet are Lorena and the sex pest Phillipe.

Phillipe is a piece of work. He nearly runs Lorena off the mountainous road. He hits on Louette, the butler’s very-much wife. When he learns that the reading of Pauline’s will must be delayed until the fourth member of the guests arrives, he behaves like a child.

As well as being joined by their cousin Harriet, the family is eventually joined by anthropologist Dr Andrew Cunningham, a white man. Phillipe is, unsurprisingly, hostile towards Andrew.

Later that night, Phillipe is put under a spell as the butler Thomas begins to perform voodoo on the young man. Phillipe falls to his death in the elevator shaft. As his death is suspicious, the remaining family must stay until Phillipe’s death is resolved. Only they soon find out that none of them is safe. The voodoo objects around the home are seemingly targeting them. It will take voodoo magic, tricks and the spirit of Henri Christophe, the first king of Haiti to save the family.

The House on Skull Mountain is a pretty enjoyable magical house horror film (I can’t really use haunted here, so this new subgenre will just have to do). Janee Michelle as Lorena is stunning, a very cool Black final girl. It’s a shame that she couldn’t be the one to save the day.

There are, of course, issues with this movie. Namely that the script chooses to make the white man the master of voodoo and a true embodiment of Henri Cristophe, a real-life hero of Haiti. It’s a pretty bad choice. But Black actors doing cool things on screen? It’s a pretty fun Blaxploitation horror, though one that I would actually love to see a remake of.

Shout out to Zena’s Real Queen of Horror channel on YouTube, where I first learned about this film. She seriously makes some excellent content and lists!

Wicked Wednesday: Messiah of Evil (1973)

They say that nightmares are dreams perverted.

Beauty isn’t everything, but it certainly counts for a lot. That’s something that many horror films from the 70s understood. Whether it was the blood-red lighting of Argento’s Suspiria or the bright sun of dusty Texas in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, these movies were able to capture both beauty and terror on screen.

Messiah of Evil is an utterly stunning film. But its beauty isn’t just superficial and nice to have, it’s a key part of what makes this movie work.

Arletty is a young woman in search of her father, a painter who hasn’t written to her in some time. She decides to go to Point Dume to look for him there. When she arrives at her father’s home, she finds it vacant. But she does discover his journals and soon learns of his descent into some sort of madness…seemingly.

During her search, Arletty comes across an unusual cast of characters. A man who is mad, but can predict the future. A man and his two groupies. But most odd is the ever-growing crowd of people on the beach, waiting for something every night.

It’s very difficult to describe Messiah of Evil succinctly. The plot is very strange. There are bleeding eyes, haunting paintings and predictions of the future. I’m not convinced I understood everything that was happening, but I appreciate that. This is a movie that will clearly improve over the course of multiple viewings. A movie that you can pull something new with every watch.

Arletty and her new friend Thom realise that not all is well with the people of Point Dume. They’re feasting on raw flesh and are growing ever-colder. It’s not entirely clear what they are, only that they are waiting for the “dark stranger”. Just being in the town seems to be infecting them all.

The eerie and surreal nature of the film just builds and builds to points where the tension is unbearable. One of the key favourites is the scene in which Laura, one of Thom’s companions, enters a supermarket to never exit again.

What I would say, though, was that this suddenly changes when we get a lot of telling at the end of the film. An additional ten minutes would have been great at the end – to see the events more fully instead of mostly hearing about them in a narrated voiceover.

This is the type of movie that I think would benefit greatly from a novelization. There could be loads of lore built into it. I’m truly desperate to know more about the “dark stranger” who survived the Donner Party’s winter.

Messiah of Evil is a beautiful fever dream. One that I cannot wait to bite into again.

Wicked Wednesday: Cold Ground (2017)

Making a good found-footage movie is hard. I often wonder if it’s one of the most difficult of genres to get right. To be wholly convincing while being captivating takes a lot of imagination.

Alas, most found footage just comes off as recycled stories. This was very much the case with the French film Cold Ground.

As with seemingly all found-footage movies, it opens with a title card telling us that the footage being presented was made 40 years earlier in 1976. The footage was found and restored in 2016, then revealed to the public the following year.

A pair of journalists are making a documentary. They head out to the Alps on the French-Swiss border to meet with a group of scientists. Everyone involved in intrigued by a series of animal mutilations that have been happening in the area. The scientists believe it’s due to a new bacteria that has emerged due to the rising temperatures in the area.

The journalists meet up with several scientists and an American agent to travel up the mountain where they were meet more scientists at an encampment. Of course, the scientists at the camp haven’t been heard from in some time.

Over the course of their journey, the group are harassed in their tents at night, find strange things in the morning and continue blindly despite all signs pointing to “TURN THE HELL BACK”. Sound familiar? It is, of course, very much the path that The Blair Witch Project took. And if you’re recycling ideas from 1999 without adding anything to it…please ask yourself “why”?

It’s not nice to sound so negative and cynical. But it’s difficult when you’ve watched so many of the same movies over and over again. I think I’m particularly harsh on found-footage movies in particular, of course. Don’t ask me why, as I clearly need to do some self-reflection.

As the group is attacked, we do learn that they are the target of some sort of beast. This could have been a very fun idea, only we’re never given much more than that. No story. No folklore or mythology. Just accept your place of reheated beans and smile.

But it’s very strange to have landed on “killer beast thing” without further explanation. It’s entirely likely that I missed something, but it does seem unlikely. Why build up about killer bacteria? Are the scientists so dumb that they can’t tell what’s been mauled by a beast? Do the bacteria turn things into these beasts?

If we were going down the killer bacteria route, I really was hoping for something down the route of The Thing. We never get convinced of any of the relationships between people. It would have been so fun to see them turn on each other!

I was not at all convinced that this movie was made in 1976. Showing old cameras and slapping on a filter does not an old movie make. Though, I do love the poster art for this (the one with the drawn frozen figure in the ground). I couldn’t track down the artist, but it’s very eye-catching, and I would love it in my home. So as far as aesthetics and style of the 1970s goes, the poster 100% nails it.

The cast is also very solid for the most part. Actor Doug Rand stood out to me in particular. I was even more pleased to learn that he not only wrote the story for Blood Hook but is a fellow Wisconsinite. I knew I had to be biased for a reason!

Wicked Wednesday: Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998)

I really hate aliens. Nothing personal. My brain just seems convinced that I’ll die during an alien invasion. Does that mean I actually believe in UFO sightings in the like? Not really. But the fear remains the same.

So when I watched The McPherson Tape in 2021, I was both impressed and a bit terrified. This was found footage done right in the era before The Blair Witch Project. The technique was convincing. The actors were believable. It was, to me, perfect. Rubber alien masks and all.

But while reading about The McPherson Tape, I learned that there was a 1998 remake by the same director. I was certainly intrigued. How do you improve upon something already so great?

Turns out, it’s pretty difficult. And in this case, it didn’t happen.

Like the original, Alien Abduction follows a family during an evening of celebrations. The McPhersons are gathered for Thanksgiving. Sixteen-year-old Tommy begins to film his family with his new camera.

As the family sit down for dinner, the power goes out. The three brothers (including Tommy and his camera) go out to see what the problem is. They arrive at the fusebox and see that it’s been tampered with. As they go to investigate further, they discover a ship and an alien cutting into a cow with a sort of laser.

The brothers are spotted by the aliens and run home. Much like the original, the family are terrorised throughout the night by the aliens. They kill an alien, try to keep it as a prisoner, but soon realise that it is missing. And speaking of missing? The family begin to disappear one by one.

Throughout, the movie is occasionally interrupted by interviews with the likes of police, a director and an academic. These serve no purpose whatsoever and just slow the movie’s plot down. Though once I understood that this was originally aired on UPN, I wondered if these interjections were meant to be at the end of commercial breaks. Watching it in one go, it really doesn’t work.

The remake has more sex, drinking, and racism. It also has a much longer running time. This is pretty unnecessary, as it really drags out the story. The characters, while given more screen time, are not actually more fleshed out. They’re actually really unlikable.

Overall, I was really disappointed by Alien Abduction. I really have a soft spot for The McPherson Tape and think it’s completely brilliant. It just goes to prove that budget doesn’t always mean it will make for a better movie.

If anything, I think I’ll be rewatching The McPherson Tape tonight.