Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

True crime fascinates people. We love it. It’s the reason why we’ve been obsessed with the likes of Ann Rule, Unsolved Mysteries and The Staircase for decades.

My recent not-so-lockdown lockdown obsession has been the My Favorite Murder podcast by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. The only way you haven’t heard about this podcast is if you’ve been living under a rock. For me, I’m so late to the game because I never really got into podcasts in general. Now I’ve got years of content to catch up on.

One of my favourite aspects of the show is the hometown murders where viewers send in their local stories. A story that caught my attention was a series of murders called the Moonlight Murders that took place in Texarkana in the 1940s.

And low-and-behold, I was absolutely chuffed to learn that the pseudo-documentary The Town That Dreaded Sundown was based on these murders. It was a movie I’d been putting off watching for ages, and it finally felt like the right time to watch.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is done in the same style as director Charles B Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek. There’s narration throughout the story that leads views throughout the scenes of destruction.

In the year 1946, the sleepy town of Texarkana is hit by a series of brutal murders. The murderer is a man donning a pillowcase on his head (think Jason’s mask in Part II) who likes to target young couples at lovers’ lane.

The case quickly becomes too big for the small town’s police force and a Texas ranger is brought in to help solve the murder.

The murders are all pretty monotonous until we get to a wonderfully bizarre and out-of-place scene where the killer wields a trombone/knife device! It’s completely out of left-field. But I suppose, if you’re going to be historically inaccurate your motto really ought to be, “Go big or go home!”

The real murders were never solved, and there isn’t much resolution here either. It’s certainly an interesting adaption of a true-crime story. Like The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Town That Dreaded Sundown tries to strike a balance between horror and slapstick comedy.

In my opinion, it doesn’t work very well here. Thankfully Vern Stierman’s narration helps pull the story back into its drama. I think The Legend of Boggy Creek worked better simply because I find mythical animals sillier than real serial killers. Also, there’s no banging tune in this one! That being said, I really do love the faux-documentary style that Pierce used.

Apparently, the film was remade in 2014 with loads of my favourite names attached: Jason Blum,
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Ryan Murphy. The trombone is reported to have made an appearance. I’d certainly be willing to give it a try because, at this point, the true story of the Moonlight Murders seemed to have surpassed facts and into the realm of fantasy.

Wicked Wednesday: The Quiet Room (2018)

Well, guess who had Wednesday spring up on them again. Me. This girl. For about two months running now.

Though it’s always a good reason to squeeze in the viewing of a short film. I’ve watched so many at this point, I feel like I could be a sommelier of short films.

And The Quiet Room is certainly worth a recommendation, particularly if you love your reds with plenty of psychological messages to unpack. (Can you tell I don’t drink wine?)

Michael is a young writer on the edge. After a failed suicide attempt, he wakes up in a hospital. He’s put under evaluation and kept in the psych ward.

He soon makes friends with a group of young people in the hospital. They tell him about the legend of the demon who lives at the hospital. The demon supposedly holds suicidal men in the “quiet room” where their screams can be heard.

As Michael’s stay continues, he begins seeing visions of his dead boyfriend. And it certainly seems like something is out to get him.

The Quiet Room doesn’t really offer up a lot of scares (though it’s very gross and bloody). But it is much more about a man, plagued by guilt, as he descends into madness.

I love films that blur the lines of reality. And The Quiet Room does a successful job of entering you into a world where nothing is quite as it seems.

Wicked Wednesday: Murder by Phone/Bells (1982)

Man, what a slump these past few weeks have been. My desire to watch films has basically dwindled away to nothing. I can stomach one episode of Unsolved Mysteries a night or a weird documentary (looking at you, Tickled), and that’s about it.

This week I really wanted to put in the effort. But it had to be something exciting and fun.

And honestly, what movie has a more intriguing title than Murder by Phone? Sure, killer object slashers can be rather hit-or-miss, but a killer phone! Surely that has to be fun?

Only it really wasn’t. Weirdly, though, it has the pedigree to be something interesting. It was directed by Michael Anderson (Logan’s Run) and stars icons like Richard Chamberlain and Sara Botsford.

But Murder By Phone doesn’t really live up to it’s name. Mostly because I think it takes itself too seriously.

For one, the movie follows Nat Bridger (Chamberlain), an ecologist who is attending an ecology conference. If that doesn’t sound like a hoot…

When one of Bridger’s students mysteriously dies, he begins to look into her death. The police aren’t convinced that it’s any more than a heart attack. Strange for a young girl, but they’re not interested in digging up more.

Soon more victims pile up. Each is killed when they answer a phone call. See, now if it was the phone doing the killing, we might have something here. But instead the plot turns into a convoluted story about the control of phone companies…?

Honestly, the phone lingo had me so bored I zoned out too much. Perhaps the real plot is buried somewhere and I missed it?

Anyway. Bridger is the typical hero trying to take down The Man. We see him doing silly things like stealing his girlfriend’s ID to sneak into the phone company and beating up photographers for following him.

Movies like Murder By Phone are much more fun when they don’t take themselves too seriously. This movie could have been a slasher full of silly deaths and hide-behind-your-hands moments. But instead we’re given something more of a science fiction thriller with a few fun, but samey death scenes.

Perhaps this film would be more watchable given a good clean up in both the audio and visuals. It’s pretty unwatchable otherwise.

So the search for the perfect, fun movie continues. At this rate, I might lose the will to ever watch a movie ever again.

Top 5 recent horror reads

I have always loved thrillers, mystery and horror books. But lately, it seems that I can’t devour the stories fast enough. My Audible library is teeming audiobooks from Valancourt Books and my pre-order list for this summer’s releases is maaaybe just a little too long.

But what else do I have to do with my time but consume stories? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

And there’s certainly been a lot of crud that I’ve read. That’s for sure. But instead of talking about everything I’ve recently read, here are the shining lights from the last six months.

Top 5 Horror/Thrillers from the first six months of 2020 in no particular order because I hate ranking things:

1. I’ve gone on about this book already, so I’ll keep it short. But When Darkness Loves Us by Elizabeth Engstrom is a dark and twisted pair of novellas from Valancourt Books’ Paperbacks From Hell series. 

It’s been said in many reviews, but it’s a sin that Engstrom’s name is not mentioned more in the list of great horror writers. “When Darkness Loves Us” is a visceral and stomach-churning tale of revenge. And “Beauty Is” is the magical realism horror that tackles misogyny that we all need. 

2. So I wrote an entire short story about my love for Christopher Pike’s The Midnight Club. Magically it was deleted, and I will hate WordPress forever for it. But this is another one I’ll keep to the point.

This was my first foray into Pike’s work. I love me some early teen horror. So I really was expecting a ghoulish tale of ghosts and children up to no good (probably me just associating the title with the Midnight Society). 

Instead I was slapped in the face with a poignant story about reincarnation and accepting death. This probably shouldn’t be classified as a horror novel. There are no ghosts. There are no mysterious figures arriving to deliver punishment. Just a group of four young adults in a hospice coming to terms about the end of their lives.

I felt out ugly sobbed at the end of this book. It really just hit me in all the right places. It’s been announced that Mike Flannagan is going to be directing an adaption for Netflix. Given how he handled the themes of death in The Haunting of Hill House, I couldn’t pick a better man for the job. 

3. I struggle with anthology novels. The stories are often forgettable, surrounded by one of two memorable pieces. I’ve read a small handful this year so far, and not many of them were impressive. The one that stood head-and-shoulders above the rest was Stephen Graham Jones’ After the People Lights Have Gone Off.

First of all: THAT TITLE! 

But more importantly, Jones has a wonderful style that’s vividly descriptive. I read it via audiobook, but I bet reading it physically is something entirely more visceral (remind me to buy my physical copy). Because I don’t have the book and I read the physical book a month ago. I can’t name my favourite stories. And that, kids, is quality content! 

4. There’s something slightly shameful about admitting how much I loved revisiting Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. It’s been very difficult getting to the reason why

Is it because it’s salacious? Are stories by women more inherently less worth-while if they tackle themes of sex, guilt and desire? God knows. But if loving Flowers in the Attic is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

If you’ve been living under a rock your entire life, Flowers in the Attic follows the tragic story of the four Dollanganger siblings. Following the death of their father, their mother moves them into her parents home. Only the children are soon locked up in a room to be kept as a secret. They’re promised their release will be in a matter of days. But the nightmare emerges when the children’s stay turns from days into months and into years. 

It’s wild in the best sense of the word. But it’s more than just a story about incest. It’s about Cathy and the horrible women in her life. Gillian Flynn’s piece on the book sums it up better than I ever could. If you like her stories, you’ll certainly love the Dollangangers and their secrets. 

5. And finally. The pièce de résistance. The book I haven’t shut up about in months: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying.

It’s always intimidating starting a book you’ve been looking forward to for so long. Even if the author has impressed you time and time again, there’s always a chance that the next book will be the disappointment. 

So when my copy of Grady Hendrix’s latest novel arrived (over a month late, mind), I almost didn’t want to pick it up. But holy shit am I glad I did. Hendrix has a way of taking the most camp-sounding plots and turning them into something so worthwhile and meaningful. 

Patricia is a good housewife in her town in South Carolina. She tries her best to be the good wife and mother to her family. But she’s also a member of a true-crime-loving book club. When a new neighbour moves in, Patricia is suspicious of the man. And while she’s adamant that something more is going on, the rest of her town, including her book club, turn on her. 

Sure. This is a book about a vampire and the group of housewives wanting to take him down. But it’s also about the silencing of women (particularly black women) within a community, class and the complexities of motherhood. 

Though don’t worry. There’s still plenty of gore and horrible scenes of disgusting rats!

I haven’t reread a book in years. But I think Hendrix’s last three novels have “reread” written all over them.

Wicked Wednesday: Abrakadabra (2018)

I love gialli. Stylistically, these Italian classics are everything I love; they’re moody yet vibrant, atmospheric and always glamorous. Do the mysteries always have a good pay off? No. But they sure as hell will always give you something beautiful to look at.

Abrakadabra is the latest giallo from the Argentinian Onetti brothers. Like other homage-style films like House of the Devil and The Love Witch, this movie perfectly emulates a time in cinema history. In barely over an hour’s running time, we’re given a glimpse back into the beautiful and brutal world of giallo. But this time there’s magic!

Lorenzo Mancini is a magician. He’s also the son of a murdered magician. Bad luck seems to follow him everywhere. Most clearly exemplified when a woman is found murdered on stage just before his debut.

Mancini is insistent that he doesn’t know the deceased. Though her unusual abracadabra amulet catches his eye.

That night, Mancini performs for his audience. Despite a strong start, things begin to go awry when he brings his assistant on stage. The crowd quickly become disinterested when he pulls off a trick.

The following morning, Mancini realises his assistant Antonella is missing. He sets off to find her. But along the way, he quickly realises something is not right.

When more women are murdered, more fingers are pointed at Mancini as the culprit. But what’s really going on? Who, exactly, is trying to frame him?

The story begins to weave it’s convoluted web of fact and fiction, dreams and reality.

The film’s ending can give you whiplash if you don’t keep up. The twists come in thick and the imagery is quick. But the pay off is truly in the giallo style.

I had a blast watching this movie just for the images alone. There’s some really strong moments of cinematography. It makes each death worth remembering just for the sheer art on screen.

The style reminded me of early gialli like Sei donne per l’assassino (from which it heavily borrows its lighting’s colour pallet) and Argento’s Tenebrae. I don’t make these comparisons lightly, Abrakadabra clearly wants us to be looking for these homages.

While I really enjoyed the film. There’s one thing that really lets it down: the English dub. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a wacky dub (I’m looking at you, 30-year-old man who gave Giovanni Frezza a voice). Most gialli have a mixture of actors delivering lines in various languages, so they’re all inevitably dubbed at some point.

But I found the dub here to be very distracting. Lead actor Germán Baudino’s real voice is smooth and wonderful to listen to. I feel robbed from not being able to hear his delivery. I’d certainly seek out the blu-ray once it’s released in June just to hear it in it’s original language.

So I say for anyone outside of the US (where it’s currently streaming on Amazon), hold out until you can watch it without the dub. Abrakadabra deserves to be watched in its full, glamorous glory.

Wicked Wednesday: The Hitchhiker s3e1 “Nightshift” (1985)

I’m a bit obsessed at the moment with finding the perfect ‘old’ horror, sci fi or true crime show. It started with Unsolved Mysteries and Forensic Files and has moved on to hunting down the likes of Night Gallery and Beyond Belief. It’s amazing how much there is to discover once you open that can of worms.

My latest “discovery” is the 1980s anthology series The Hitchhiker, which first aired on HBO in 1983. Like most anthology series, there’s a mythical, seemingly omnipresent host – the Hitchhiker. He introduces us to each episode as he wanders the dark corners of the world.

Jane Renyolds is a crooked nurse who governs her care home with an iron fist. One night her boyfriend, Johnny, stops by to assess the jewellery she’s stolen from her patients. Though she’s disappointed when nothing seems to be of value.

During Johnny’s visit, a new patient is brought in who had been discovered in a burned-out building. Jane immediately spots the man’s massive ring. She attempts to slip it off his finger but cannot.

Johnny later returns, and the couple start to get frisky. It’s then that they’re interrupted by crashing sounds. Afterwards, Jane hears the angry shouts of her patients. She discovers that a cat has been murdered in the halls. They immediately blame their horrible nurse.

Suspicious of the new arrival, Jane straps him down to his hospital bed and finally gets his ring. Showing incredible strength, the man breaks free from his bindings and chases after the nurse. Unsurprisingly, the receives no help from anyone else in the building.

I always think short stories of horrible people getting their comeuppance are the most fun. “Nightshift” is no exception.

The cast in this is very good: Margot Kidder in the lead with Stephen McHattie and Darren McGavin in supporting roles. The quality is fantastic in it, I’m fairly surprised I’ve never heard of this show before. Being on HBO and not network television, we get a story with much edgier imagery. The gore alone certainly sets it apart from earlier counterparts.

Finding episodes of The Hitchhiker isn’t very easy beyond crap quality uploads on YouTube. I imagine things are probably easier in the US. If a streaming service in the UK could step-up and carry older television shows, that would be fantastic. If I can find more episodes to watch, I certainly will. I love the gleeful darkness.

Also, that hitchhiker is pretty hot.

Wicked Wednesday: Fatale Collective: Bleed (2019)

If there’s any upside to our current situation, it’s the sheer volume of wonderful things being given to us as treats. Free trials. Downloads of the newest cinema releases. We have proven, if anything, that humans are inventive when push comes to shove.

If you’ve been asleep these past few years, you’ll have missed Fangoria’s relaunch, which included many new ventures and a foray back into film production. If you sign up during these Rona Times you can get two free months and scans of the first 14 issues of Fango Vol 1. So why not? What else are you doing? 

Hopefully nothing else because you need to stop whatever that is and watch the Fatale Collective’s short film Bleed

Bleed is a marathon of short films within a short film. Six stories by six directors in less than 14 minutes. The pace is relentless enough to make you lose your breath.

With such a short running time, there isn’t that much time to deliver full stories. Instead you get a one-two punch with each segment. But each director makes sure to make her distinctive mark.

Fatale Collective is a group of female directors working together to “raise women-identifying voices in horror”. So it’s not really surprising that the themes here are, unsurprisingly, very specific to women’s experiences. 

That’s not to say, of course, that it’s only made for women. Trust me, there’s plenty of quick scares that will please anyone. Stories of identity and social pressures are particularly prevalent. It’s interesting to see theses themes manipulated every few minutes under a different lens from the next director.

My personal favourite was Linda Chen’s stylish and surreal animation in “Panoptia”. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in an anthology, which tend to take more traditional routes in storytelling.

I’m not lying when I say I’m loading up the video now to rewatch it. I can’t wait for some feature-length work from these directors, but I’d gladly accept more shorts. And to think, without Ms Rona, this short might have passed me by. 

Wicked Wednesday: The Devil Bat (1940)

Bela Lugosi is one of horror’s greatest treasures. He was a wonderfully charismatic actor, and one was of the most iconic faces and voices of the genre. I find that even if the film is lacklustre, Lugosi brings an enormous presence to the screen (I’m look at you, Plan 9).

There are only so many men that pull off talking to a stuffed back and make it menacing. Think I’m lying? Just watch The Devil Bat.

Paul Carruthers (Lugosi) is the much-loved doctor in the village of Heathville. Unbeknown to them, the doctor is conducting horrible experiments in his laboratory. His goal? To enlarge bats to exact his revenge.

Being a successful chemist, Carruthers worked on products that made his employers millions. But Carruthers remains relatively poor, especially compared to the luxury of the men who write his checks. Though in fairness, Carruthers sounds like he doesn’t have a mind for business – he took an early payout instead of staying on as a partner in the company. Deal with your own actions, buddy!

Coincidentally, it’s a check that sends him over the edge. When he receives a check for $5,000 as a “bonus” from his boss, he decides to let one of his boss’s test his new product: a “shaving lotion”. Only the shaving lotion’s smell lures the doctor’s giant, trained bat.

Soon the boy is found murdered by something with claws. Reporters are brought in to investigate the murder, only to discover that more murders in the same fashion are occurring.

The premise for The Devil Bat is simple. A man is mad. Man becomes mad. Mad man makes killer bat. Mad man with killer bat is killed by killer bat. Such is the circle of life.

Sure, this little movie is a bit hokey. The bat is laughably fake, but I always admire a good practical effect. It’s clear that the film is at least trying, which makes it all the more endearing. This was apparently meant to be Lugosi’s comeback film. I adore him here. He comes off as a complex character despite the script being fairly standard.

The Devil Bat is now in the public domain. So there really is no excuse not to watch this.

Wicked Wednesday: Isolation and ghost stories

At the start of lockdown all those weeks ago, I really thought I’d have the motivation to be productive. I was going to watch loads of movies for this blog. I was going to come up with lots of fun ideas for content. I’d have SO much time to do everything I wanted!

Well, turns out anxiety disorder and being locked in a tiny flat isn’t a good combination. One that does not yield productivity, but does lend itself to lying in bed aimlessly for hours listening to audiobooks alone. So that’s something.

My nights are increasingly getting longer and longer as I stay up later and later. This aimlessness can be blamed on several things: daylight savings, how little energy I expend, and my newest hobby – watching supernatural mystery and cold case videos on YouTube.

I have always loved scaring myself. It is a favourite pastime.

Growing up, my family loved to tell scary stories in attempts to scare one another. We still do if the summer night is particularly hot or stormy. Being the youngest and most gullible, I was always an easiest target. My dad is the master of deadpan delivery, feeding me stories of men with hooks for hands and gangs of people trying to kidnap him from the farm as a child. Not a bit of it was true…right?

I’ve tried cultivating his skills as I grow older. I practise on my nephews, feeding ghost stories to their young minds. They can’t escape it: scary stories are in their blood.

With the current global situation, I won’t be going home this summer. It hurts to think about not seeing my family for so long. I won’t be in my room listening to the crickets outside, wondering if someone is looking through the widow, plotting to kill me. The sense of paranoia is real when you live in a place where “no one can hear you scream”.

So without being able to go home I thought: why not get scared shitless by myself!

It all started a couple weeks ago when I learned about the Max Headroom incident. I tend to see the sinister side to everything, which of course explains the love of horror movies. So when I first saw these clips of this set of famous signal hijackings, I didn’t laugh – I was unsettled.

Desperate to learn more, I fell down a rabbit hole of strange and unusual topics on YouTube. The driving force behind most of it has been the channel Top5s. The creators behind the channel make videos about the natural and supernatural world. Videos full of the unexplained. I soon found it unbearable to get out of bed in the middle of the night, terrified of the shadows. A safe, but satisfactory way of feeling afraid.

I’m getting to the point where I feel like I’m running out of content to watch. So I went into an even deeper dive and jumped onto the cold case bandwagon. This is not as ‘fun’. It feels too concrete in many ways. There are too many facts. Give me the unexplained! Plus many of the videos I’ve watched since do not have narrators as soothing as the kid from Top5s.

I also recommend watching old episodes of Unsolved Mysteries. Alone, if possible, just to drive home that feeling that someone is watching you. It’s long been a favourite of mine. The late 80s/early 90s was certainly a bizarre time, but it made for excellent television. Hell, it’s worth a gander even for that famous theme song. My best friend recommended Forensic Files years ago, and I still have yet to make it through all the seasons, but it’s good.

They say that we have to get through this pandemic sane. I guess that even includes winding yourself up on purpose.

Hope everyone is staying safe out there. Wash your hands. Stay inside if you can. Lock your doors…and look behind you.

Wicked Wednesday: The Children (1980)

If being in lockdown all these weeks has taught me anything it’s this: children are the worst*.

Our neighbours have two young beings and they’re truly…something else. One ‘plays’ the piano by literally bashing the crap out of it while the other one throws twice-daily tantrums! Would love to say that they’re like three or something, but they’re not. To all the parents out there currently homeschooling their little ones – I salute you.

So Monday morning the eldest ‘creative’ discovered the church organ setting on their electric piano. God bless us all. While laying in bed at 7 a.m. to the haunting sounds of a drunk child organist, I recalled reading the Creepy Kids chapter in Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks From Hell.

We love creepy kids in horror. Or we love to fear creepy kids. From the Satanic spawns Rosemary’s baby and Damien Thorn to the doomed Gage Creed and Sadako Yamamura – they’re staples of the genre.

The Children has a wonderful cast of creepy tykes. Perhaps a bit more hilarious than any mentioned before them, but I still wouldn’t want to cross these kids in a dark alley.

As any good 80s slasher begins, this story starts in a chemical plant. When two negligent workers leave early, a pipe begins leaking toxic gas into the area. When a local school bus drives through the cloud of chemicals, the children on the bus turn from gleeful to ghoulish.

Sheriff Hart is your standard good-doing, well-loved sheriff. When he discovers the school bus empty in the middle of the road, he takes it upon himself to start investigating.

Unbeknown to him, the children are hiding in the cemetery ready to wreck havoc on the world. Their little, sweet faces are still as normal, but their hugs have turned nuclear. As the sheriff runs about town tracking down all the parents, the children go about hugging everyone to death. Seemingly no one can out run or resist them.

When Hart realises his deputy and dispatcher are both dead, he teams up John, one of the missing children’s father. They soon find little Janet knocking about. She’s yet to turn, and unaware of the state of the other children, pick her up in the car. They discover how dangerous she is, though, once she turns in to a zombie in the back of the squad car.

The only way to get rid of the girl is by cutting off her hands. So with only the two of them and a very-pregnant wife, the adults must defend themselves against the tiny terrors. And by sun rise, surely the terror is over, right?

The Children is one of those movies than definitely deserve the “fun” tag. Zombie children that microwave you to death with their hugs? Wild! The children here are truly creepy, which creates some fanatically spooky scenes. But other parts of the story made me literally guffaw. Was it the intention of the film? I think (hope) so because some of these scenes are absolutely iconic. There are also a lot of illusions to Night of the Living Dead’s Karen, which are pretty fun touches.

It does get a touch repetitive and go one for a bit too long. There’s perhaps not enough material in the movie for it to be 90 minutes. It was probably a mistake of the plot to keep everyone separated and their deaths mostly off-screen. That being said, though, there is plenty of joy to be found in the wackiness that is The Children.

*Except for my nephews, that is. Best two humans in the world.