Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: The Monster Club (1981)

If I had to sum up The Monster Club in one word, it’d be “goofy”. It’s simultaneously serious and silly, creating a real mix of emotions and feel throughout the entire movie.

And when it’s an anthology, that’s to be expected to a certain extent.

This 1981 British film was based on the work of author Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes. He’s injected into his own story by becoming one of the main characters in the framing story. Chetwynd-Hayes (played by John Carradine) bumps into a stranger one night, and becomes a midnight snack for a vampire.

But the vampire (Vincent Price) doesn’t finish the author off, but rather invites him to the Monster Club: a swingin’ club that, well, has monsters in it. The author is slightly alarmed, but is met with constant hospitality. The two hunker down at a table and the vampire, Eramus, begins to tell three stories – each about a different monster.

The first, “The Shadmock” follows a poor and greedy couple as they seek ways to make money. The woman, Angela, answers an ad in the newspaper from a man looking for someone to catalogue his antiques. When Angela first visits, she’s frightened away by the man’s face, but her boyfriend insists she return.

Angela reluctantly returns and takes the job working for Raven. She slowly learns about all his wealth, and the pair become closer. Raven eventually proposes to Angela. Her boyfriend again encourages her to follow through with it for the sake of money. Angela tells Raven that she accepts his proposal, and he suggests that they have a masquerade to celebrate.

At the ball, Angela is discovered trying to rob Raven. The man, now revealed to be a “Shadmock”, releases a high-pitched whistle. The smouldering corpse of Angela returns home, much to the terror of her boyfriend.

In “The Vampires”, the second tale of the night, a young boy struggles through life being bullied and slightly neglected. His father sleeps all day, and he rarely spends any time with the boy. But one day, when the boy is downtrodden, his mother tells him that his father is a count.

The boy goes to school and brags to his bullies. While he’s pushed down again, he’s rescued by a black-clad man (Donald Pleasence). He talk to the man, who begins to ask more questions about the boy’s father.

Eventually, the boy discovers that his father is a vampire. But before he can do anything about it, the black-clad man arrives with his crew. He reveals that they are vampire hunters, and then promptly stakes the father in the heart. But before the vampire can die, he bites the vampire hunter, turning him as well.

The other vampire hunters kill their leader and flee the house. It’s then revealed that the father vampire had been wearing a stake-proof vest all along.

The third story follows more strange monsters, “The Ghouls”. While just as deadly, the Ghouls appear more human than the Shadmock and keep more regular hours than a Vampire.

A film director heads to a small village while scouting for movie locations. When he arrives, he finds that the locals are both creepy and unhelpful. He tries to leave the the village, but discovers that his car has been tampered with. The locals then force him into a room in the inn on an upper level.

The director then meets a young girl, who explains that she is only half-human, unlike the others in the village. Everyone else there is a ghoul and likes to feast on human flesh. The girl also explains that the ghouls cannot go on holy ground. She then helps the director escape the inn and head into the village church.

There, the director learns the truth about the village’s history. It was overrun with ghouls who mated with humans (presumably dead ones). The girl arrives at the church, and they both try to escape to the outside world together.

The girl eventually dies, but the director flees to the motorway and waves down police officer. The officer offers to give him a ride, but the director soon finds himself back in the village. There to be a snack for the ghouls’ leaders.

After Eramus’s stories, he invites the author to become an honorary member of the Monster Club. While the author is resistant, Eramus explains that the most terrifying monster of all is the human.

The Monster Party is certainly an odd one. I couldn’t get through the first twenty minutes last week without turning it off. It’s tone is inconsistent, and it’s distracting.

There are some scenes in the club with bands playing. But even that doesn’t quite hit either the “this is excellent” or “this is so bad it’s good” marks.

If the film had committed to which tone it wanted, it might have been more successful. But overall, it’s just right in the middle.

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Wicked Wednesday: Mr Jones (2013)

Found footage films are pretty “Marmite”. Some people love them, others hate them. For me, I think the bigger question while watching found footage movies is why? Very few stories are enhanced this way. Do certain stories need to be found footage? Can the story be better told in a more traditional way?

In most cases, the found footage style is a waste. A ploy to get asses in seats.

Mr Jones is one of the more tough ones to figure out. For one, it falls into the category of “these people are way too attractive to be actual humans”. Think of all the reasons why Blair Witch failed and Blair Witch Project succeeded: are your actors believable? One of the best examples of this is Bad Ben (you’ve watched it already, haven’t you?). But I always find it difficult to enjoy a found footage movie when everyone in the movie looks way too good too be all together in the same setting.

The premise is on the lofty side too. A young couple decide to go out into the wilderness to stay in a cabin for a few months. It’s their sort of “reconnecting” opportunity as their relationship has been going through a rough patch.

Husband Scott is a documentary maker, trying to get work done out in the wild. But he quickly realises that he has no point in mind for his new film, and it doesn’t help matters when he quits taking his medication.

When his wife, Penny, finds out about his self-treatment, she becomes upset. The couple continue to be on the rocks until one night. A group of birds attack the house. And the following day, Scott’s backpack (containing the car keys) is stolen by a hooded figure.

He and Penny eventually track down the figure and find a home filled with strange scarecrow-type figures straight out of the Blair Witch’s house. But while Scott becomes paranoid, Penny becomes absolutely jubilant. When they return to their cabin, she informs Scott that the man they followed is “Mr. Jones” – a Banksy-esque artist whose work is worth millions as the artists himself stays anonymous.

The couple quickly decide to make money off their find and focus Scott’s documentary on Mr. Jones. Scott goes to New York where he begins collecting interviews with various art collectors, experts and the people who have received pieces from Mr. Jones unsolicited. The collectors love Mr. Jones. The experts love exploring the artist’s use of protective charms as his motifs. And the people who’ve received the art? Well, they’re haunted by a nightmare.

Penny, meanwhile, stays in the country where she bumps into Mr. Jones. She notices that the ‘artist’ wears a creepy burlap sack mask. But the man seems harmless.

When Scott returns, the couple decide to step up their game and break into Mr. Jones’s house again. Scott leaves Penny outside to keep watch as he goes through a hatch. He finds an endless maze-like tunnel. He eventually comes across a room, set up in a shrine-style manner filled with the scarecrows.

Scott sees one of the figures, a baby, and steals it from its spot. Meanwhile, Penny comes across Mr. Jones again. When Scott finds her, she doesn’t seem to remember what happened to them.

What follows is a seemingly endless second half of the movie. A little like that tunnel system ol’ Jones has. The couple see doplegangers, dream-like nightmares and other pointless stuff!

It’s a movie that started off with a fairly great idea and plummeted into the world of We Didn’t Finish the Script.

In many way Mr Jones struggled. And it wasn’t just the ending (and the ending was loooooong).

While the use of the high-end cameras was neatly explained away, it just felt silly. The viewer isn’t stupid and can see right through the flimsy premise. There really was no need for the dual perspective cameras, which much of the ‘footage’ relies on. And there was really no need to be filming themselves. Scott wanted to make a nature documentary, why was he filming arguments with his wife? I mean, who edited this footage anyway? Penny?

I also found it distracting that the characters didn’t really stay in character. Scott goes off his medication, but it’s quickly forgotten after the first few minutes. If it was alluded to again, it was way too subtle. And if you were to ask me to characterise Penny, I couldn’t. One minute she’s adventurous, the next she’s boo-hooing because she’s walking in the dark.

Mr Jones will probably hit the right chord with a certain type of person. But unfortunately, I was not one of them. It’s really a found-footage movie that needed to do a lot more soul searching.

Wicked Wednesday: Goosebumps ep. 1.16-17 “A Night in Terror Tower” (1996)

London, like all major cities, is full of tourist traps. But it’s also home to some of the most fantastic historical buildings. The Tower of London is one of them. The Terror Tower isn’t.

Goosebumps is always delightfully 90s Canadian. And it really shows its best side in “A Night in Terror Tower”.

This early Goosebumps episode from season 1 is an hour-long special hosted by RL Stine himself. The man has no charisma, yet always manages to come across as really likable? He’s quite the dude.

After his silly intro, the story begins about two young children visiting London with their parents. While their parents are away at a conference, the children join a tour group to explore the Terror Tower.

Before entering the tower, young Eddie sees a man waving to him, telling him to leave. When he points out the figure to his older sister, Sue, the ghostly figure has vanished.

As the tour begins, so to the strange going-ons. Sue tries to take a photo of Eddie, but sees one of the mannequins move through her camera’s viewfinder. Eddie finds a etching on the wall and another ghostly figure.

The two go to see the carving, which reads “LONG LIVE FREEDOM”. Before they can leave, a gust of wind surrounds them and a man in a big ol’ hat enters the room. They also realise that they’ve lost their tour group. The Man in the Hat begins moving white stones in his hand and reciting a spell, but the children abscond before he can finish his incantation.

The children manage to escape the Man in the Hat before he can catch them. They hail a black cab and head back into London. When the cab pulls up outside of their hotel, Sue realises she doesn’t have any pounds, only some old-ass coins.

The cabbie allows the kids to go into the hotel and get money from their parents. But it’s only when they’re inside that they realise that they don’t have the room key. Then they also realise that they can’t remember their own last name. The man at the desk tells them that there isn’t even a conference at the hotel, so their parents couldn’t even be there.

The children hide from the cabbie, but are eventually caught and arrested by the Man in the Hat. He uses his magic white stones and takes them all back in time.

Sue finds herself in a Ye Olde village outside the Terror Tower without Eddie. She’s quickly picked out for looking strange. She tries to hide, but is betrayed by a village woman (whom she tried to pay off with the gold coins). Though she’s in the man’s grasp, she goes at least learn his identity: he’s the executioner!

Sue and Eddie are reunited when Sue is dragged into the tower’s…tower. There, the children meet the king’s sorcerer. He tells them that they are not Sue and Eddie, but Susannah and Edward – the prince and princess of York. He tells them that in order to protect them, he sent them into the future with created memories. Sue and Eddie begin to recall their real lives as their time of execution arrives.

Before the execution, the sorcerer admits that he no longer has magic, as the executioner has his magic white stones. With the stones, he’d be able to transport the children to the future once more. But thanks to Eddie’s great thieving skills, he manages to trick the executioner and get back the stones for the sorcerer.

The three are save in the nick of time.

As with many Goosebumps episodes, “A Night in Terror Tower” balances the humour and thrills very well. It’s a great episode. I do wish that the children spent more time in the tower and less time running around Canadian suburbs London. But it’s clear why this is one of the most well-loved episode of this series.

It’s a bit silly, but mostly the children are really compelling in their confusion and fear. And best of all, it allows your imagination to get the best of you. Which is really all you can ask from a children’s horror TV show.

Wicked Wednesday: Vampire (1979)

Holy wow it’s already the last Wednesday in March! Each year I think I’ve reached the end of enjoyable movies to watch for Made-for-TV March, but thankfully I’m proven wrong each time.

Vampire is one of the more classy made-for-TV films I’ve watched. It certainly has one heck of a cast with E.G. Marshall, Richard Lynch, Jason Miller, Jessica Walter and Kathryn Harrold rounding out the main roles.

Young couple Leslie (Harrold) and John (Miller) are a fashionable couple. They love art, parties and history. But one night, after the dedication of a new church, something – or rather someone – awakens from the earth.

During a party at their house, Leslie and John meet the mysterious Anton (Lynch) who is their friend Nicole’s (Water) new beau. She shows him off at the party, but Anton only seems to have eyes for Leslie and the art work in her home.

After their meeting, Anton tries his best to get the couple working for him. Nicole tries to lure them in on Anton’s behalf. She tells them his family history, that his family had bought an old home that was later demolished when they couldn’t go to America after the war. Under the demolished home is a series of tunnels supposedly filled with priceless artwork.

Leslie and John agree to help with Anton’s dig, especially after they see how much money they will earn. They begin the work and being to unearth the paintings. But John soon realises that the works are too priceless. He contacts the police after he and Leslie discover that most of the art work has been stolen in the past.

Anton is arrested, but quickly released. He goes to see Leslie and begins to seduce her…kind of. When John finds her body, it’s more mutilated than anything.

After Leslie’s death, John becomes a mess. He stalks Anton and begins to suspect the wealthy man of being a vampire. He’s eventually put into a mental hospital where Anton arrives to kill him. But the vampire is stopped by Harry Kilcoyne (Marshall), a former cop with a bone to pick with Anton.

Anton flees to safety, and Harry begins to work with John to avenge Leslie’s death. The two men begin to track down all of Anton’s coffins and destroy each one-by-one. They face their biggest fears all in order to kill a vampire.

Vampire certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It is slow, almost meandering at points. And for a vampire movie, it’s pretty light on the vampire. But it is very stylish and there’s some fantastic acting here. I’ve seen a lot of people proclaim this as their favourite made-for-TV movie.

Personally, I felt more drawn in by the first act and became bored by the time we had out vampire-hunting duo out. That being said, I could listen to Jason Miller’s monologues all day. What a voice! And he really has the ability to add dread and supernatural feeling to every scene.

It’s a little, sleepy number. And great if you love Richard Lynch.

Wicked Wednesday: Body Bags (1993)

Body Bags is a bit of a powerhouse movie. And for a made-for-TV movie, I feel like that’s saying something.

First aired on Showtime in 1993, this is (I think) the first cable made-for-TV movie I’ve watched for Made-for-TV March. It certainly has a noticeably bigger budget than most major network offerings. And you can really tell where that budget went. For one, the cast is incredible and the cameos are really fun (you can spot the likes of Sam Raimi and Wes Craven). But most importantly, it’s directed by the beloved John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper.

Bookending each of the stories is Carpenter doing his best Cryptkeeper with story introductions. And man, he’s clearly enjoying himself.

His first story is “The Gas Station” (directed by Carpenter) and follows a young woman working alone at a gas station one night. On the radio, she hears that a man is murdering people around the town of Haddonfield. Like most young women, Ann feels creeped out by many of her patrons at the station. One in particular is a seemingly homeless man, who uses the men’s toilets and seemingly never leaves.

She’s soon finds herself face-to-face with the killer in town. But it isn’t who she initially suspects.

In the second tale, “Hair” (also directed by Carpenter), a vain man tries his best to get his hair back and stop his balding. He goes to any length, despite the pleas from his girlfriend to stop.

He eventually resorts to going to a specialist, who claims he can grow back Richard’s thinning hair. Richard chooses what style he desires, a Fabio-eque mane of wavy hair. He finds that his girlfriend is now especially attracted to him. He revels in his new confidence, but quickly learns that there’s a price to be paid for his new ‘do.

In Tobe Hooper’s “Eye” a young baseball player on the very of being called to the pros is injured in a car accident. A shard of glass takes out his eye. But a doctor approaches him, suggesting that he tries out a new surgery. The surgery will allow him to use the eye of a recently deceased man.

And all seems well. He can see again, but he begins to start to feel a little…less like himself.

The three stories are all pretty fun. Hooper’s and Carpenter’s style really compliment themselves well. The anthology is certainly more on the silly side. Even “The Gas Station” plays more on the slapstick than a straight-forward Halloween slasher (though it does have plenty of references for fans to watch for). Think more along the lines of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 instead of the original.

It’s fun and incredibly easy to watch. Certainly worth seeking out.

Anyway, I’m having a bit of a mental breakdown this week. Apparently I can’t write anything anymore. Well. At least the movie was good.

Wicked Wednesday: The Midnight Hour (1985)

I have been waiting to watch The Midnight Hour since I first read about it in April of 2018. I have been patient. I have been waiting. But finally we are here, which means only one thing: it’s Made-for-TV March, kids!

Made-for-TV March is one of my favourite times of the year. These made-for-TV gems are always unusual and many of them stick with me in ways that many theatrically-released films do not.

The Midnight Hour is no exception. This campy, 80’s movie is pretty by-the-books, but it has such a fun, wacky atmosphere that it more than makes up for it.

In the town of Kingston Falls/Hill Valley, a group of teenagers get prepared to celebrate Halloween. Their town has a history of witches and witch hunters alike, many of their descendants still living in the town.

One of those descendants is Phil (Lee Montgomery), a “nerd” who is clearly only ‘not-hot’ because they put him in glasses. He pines after girls who ignore him. And his friends make fun of him behind his back. So when they suggest stealing clothes from the local history museum, Phil reluctantly goes along.

After raiding the museum, the kids head to the cemetery to look at the loot that they stole from the museum’s archives. They find a scroll inside a stolen chest. It has a wax seal, but they kids quickly open it up anyway. When Phil’s friend Melissa reads it aloud, they think it’s all fun. But unbeknownst to them, Melissa manages to raise the dead in the town.

The group all gather at Melissa’s house for a Halloween costume party. But there are a number of extra guests attending including many zombies and Melissa’s ancestor, Lucinda.

Lucinda was the original Bad Witch of the town. She cursed the town years ago, only to have her plans foiled by Phil’s ancestor, a witch hunter. But this Halloween, Lucinda isn’t up for playing any games. But she DOES have the time for a good dance number with Melissa.

Phil ends up leaving the party when it becomes a bit of a drag. He begins to head home, but catches the eye of a young woman in a 50s cheerleading outfit. The two quickly strike up a friendship. They even get attacked by a werewolf during a make-out session! But Sandy isn’t all she appears to be.

Meanwhile, at the party, Lucinda turns Melissa into a vampire. Melissa then proceeds to turn the entire party into ghouls.

Sandy, when she realises what Phil and his idiot friends have done, tells Phil that they need to break the curse before midnight. If they fail, Lucinda’s curse will become permanent – including the “changes” made to Phil’s friends. They work together to get the pieces together before midnight, but can they really save the town from its Halloween nightmare?

I mean, of course they do! There’s really no doubt about it.

The Midnight Hour has many of the hallmarks of an 80s movie: the intense 50s/60s inspiration, the pointless (but enjoyable) musical number, the unrealistic car choices for teens. It evokes many similar feelings to movies like The Monster Squad. You really know what you’re getting into with this one, but just because there are no surprises doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun. Because it is.

Also, it’s got a pretty solid cast. Hello, LeVar Burton!

This is definitely a good one to add to your annual Halloween viewings. It might be March, but it’s never too early to plan, right?

Wicked Wednesday: “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant (2017)

It’s the final week of Women in Horror Month. That’s a whole decade of celebrating the women who contribute to the horror genre.

For the last couple years, I’ve solely focused on contributions to film. But this week I thought I’d chat about the novel Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.

Grant, who also published under her real name, Seanan McGuire, is a bit of a legend. She’s won the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. But she’s also won a Nebula, Hugo and Locus for her work in fantasy. Her Wayward Children series is impossibly popular on the likes of BookTube. Her names are ones I know, but somehow have never gotten around to reading. Until this month, that is.

Into the Drowning Deep is a horror novel set on a ship. But think more Jaws than Ghost Ship with added killer mermaid-like beasts. It’s about what happens when we discover that we are the prey, not the predators. “Did we really think we were the apex predators of the world?”

In 2015, the entertainment company Imagine sent a ship full of scientists and film crew to the Mariana Trench to discover mermaids. The company, headed by its very own Roger Corman-figure (weird how he keeps coming up this month), sought its next biggest hit. Imagine Entertainment thrived on cheaply-made sci fi and horror movies in the past, but found more recent success with a string of “mockmentary”-style horror films chasing mythical beasts.

But unfortunately the crew of the Atargatis, they found what they were looking for.

The boat is eventually found empty. All that Imagine Entertainment have to go on is the found footage of the incidents on the beach. When some of that footage was leaked to the public, a debate started about whether or not the footage was faked or real.

Years later in 2022, a second team sets sail to find out the entire truth of the doomed Atargatis. On board the Melusine is scientist Tory, the sister of one of the crew lost on the Atargatis. She and several other scientists seek the biggest scientific discovery of their generation.

But like the voyage before theirs, the mermaids quickly find the soft, tasty humans waiting on their tin can. When the mermaids start to attack, it’s up to Tory and both the scientists and its crew to band together and discover how to save themselves.

Much of Into the Drowning Deep focuses on the science much of the passengers are working on. But between those scenes, Grant fills the pages with eerie, slasher-movie-like scenes with the “mermaids”. The suspense is built victim by victim, growing a sense of dread and impending doom.

This is a pretty long book, and it was certainly a struggle to get through the first 200 pages or so (this comes to pretty heft 484 pages). Horror is best when it’s snappy and succinct. I found the moments of action incredibly readable. And the gore was splendidly described. I love a bit of face loss!

Like a slasher movie, you can pick out which characters are going to die first and which one’s you’d like to see have a painful death. Many of the characters do silly things, as horror characters often do. It prompts a similar reaction to when their screen counterparts do idiotic things on screen.

I personally didn’t enjoy much of the science nonsense. And unfortunately for me, it was about 80% of this book. It’s too much detail and long-winded scenes reiterating previous ones. Accord to many reviews, the science is very inaccurate anyway.

But regardless of the accuracy, Grant still manages to drive home her message: “Humans had the potential for good, although they did not always make the effort.” We are shown the what-cold-be’s of global warming and the destruction caused by changing the once-balanced ecosystem of the ocean. In fairness, killer mermaids are probably what we deserve.

In the Drowning Deep is certainly an unsettling book at the best of times. I’m certainly not in any rush to get on a cruise ship. If there’s something waiting in the ocean for us, I’d like for it to keep waiting, please.