Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: Cellar Dweller (1988)

Some films have “pedigrees”. Certain names and histories attached to productions mean certain things. And film fans love to look for them. We see something is being produced by A24, and we know the film will be of a certain caliber. Is it by Mike Flanagan? Chef’s kiss. There are certain films made just to be “Oscar bait”.

Horror fans love looking for this sort of thing. Who was the director? Who was the writer? Well, they worked on Ghost Menace Pt 8: The Reckoning, but did you know they were production assistant on Don’t Ever Do Anything… Alone!?

Cellar Dweller is one of those movies that ticks a lot of fun fact boxes. It was written by Don Mancini. Directed by John Carl Buechler, who literally had a hand in almost every horror franchies ever at some point. Yvonne De Carlo plays a bitchy headmistress. And it has early scenes with Jeffrey Combs, and was distributed by Empire Pictures (of Re-Animator and Ghoulies fame).

Weirdly, Cellar Dweller isn’t quite the powerhouse you’d expect it to be with all those names attached to it. But it is still a charming, fun film.

Thirty years in the past, a comic book artist Colin Childress accidentally brings a monster to life using a Satanic book. In order to stop the beast, he sets the pages of his comic on fire. Only, he is set on fire himself.

Years later, his home has been turned into an art school where young Whitney arrives. She’s an aspiring comic book artist and a devoted fan of the late Childress. Though when she turns up at the school, she’s given a cold welcome by Mrs Briggs, who runs the school.

The school is quirky. Full of eccentric artists from all different mediums. But Whitney is a sort-of outcast due to her art.

The girl is immediately taken under the wing of Philip, another student. She begins to fill him in on Childress’s story: that he apparently killed a woman with an ax before setting himself on fire.

Though warned away from the cellar, it doesn’t take long before she breaks in. Upon entering with Philip, she opens a locked box and discovers The Book. She later begs Mrs Briggs to allow her to uses the space as her own. The older woman readily agrees, you know, as Whitney isn’t a real artist.

She begins her work in the cellar, all the while being filmed by her nemesis, Amanda. Whitney catches the other girl in the cellar and threatens her. Unbeknownst to Whitney, Amanda is trying to frame the girl as a plagiarist. But as Whitney draws Amanda being attacked, the attack occurs in the real world – and on camera.

Having freed the beast once again due to her drawings, Whitney’s classmates are attacked in the following days. The pages of the comic begin to appear by themselves as the monster gains its own initiative.

When Whitney and Philip discover the created pages, they try to save one of their classmates from her demise. But upon seeing the beast, they run away in fear.

Whitney realises she must set the pages on fire. But before she can even sit them alight, Philip is dragged into its panels.

Mrs Briggs seemingly comes to the rescue, only for Whitney to discover that Mrs Briggs is the monster. While fending off the monster, she accidentally throws a bottle of white out over a panel, only to discover that it changes the story. She writes her own happy ending and reintroduces her classmates back into the world. And all is well…seemingly.

Cellar Dweller has a certain charm. Though is someways, it doesn’t feel very much like a horror movie. There are elements of fantasy blended in that remind me more of shows like Twilight Zone (there even is a grand sense of moral written in).

This was the first film the great Don Mancini wrote. Later in the same year, Child’s Play would be unleashed on the world. It’s easy to see why Cellar Dweller is often overlooked. This attempt feels like a very straight-forward story. In some ways, it’s old fashioned (not in a bad way). You don’t really get movies written like Cellar Dweller anymore – an embodiment of the “careful what you wish for” idiom.

That being said, I really like Cellar Dweller‘s charm. I think some might find this hokey and dated, but there’s still plenty of fun within this short running time.

Wicked Wednesday: Ghostkeeper (1981)

Ghostkeeper is weird. And I mean that in a good way.

It’s commonly classified as a slasher, but it’s sleeker in many ways. It’s one part The Shining and another part rooted in First Nations Algonquian folklore. It’s cheap, but it’s beautiful. It’s strange, and it’s actually kind of wonderful.

Initially, the atmosphere of the movie reminded me of Bloody New Year and Bill Rebane films like The Capture of Big Foot and The Game. This probably swayed me into thinking this was going to be of the same calibre because of that. And in some ways Ghostkeeper is because of similar eras and (presumably) budget constraints.

And it does start out on a familiar path: A group of friends leave their cosy lodge to go snowmobiling. They meet a Harbinger of Doom, who warns them to go back before an incoming storm.

Jenny appreciates the warning and insists that her boyfriend Marty heads back. But ol’ Marty has a thing for Chrissy, their pal from the lodge, and would much rather impress her by going off trail.

The three take a trail through some private property, leading them to a seemingly abandoned lodge. When they enter, though, they discover that it is warm. Despite the warm welcome, they realise that no guests had checked into the hotel for nearly five years.

When the storm does arrive, the kids settle in for the night with a bottle of wine by the fire. Their night quickly takes a turn when Marty bumps into a woman in the kitchen. While initially hostile towards them, Jenny is able to calm the woman down and convince her to let them stay in the lodge for the night.

That night, things take even more of an odd turn. Chrissy is nearly drown in her bath by the woman’s son, Danny. He drags her into the basement where there is a cell of ice blocks. She’s wed to a windigo, which is in the form of a man. Jenny and Marty are too busy to notice at first, as they argue about Jenny’s increasing paranoia.

The following morning, Marty and Jenny realise that the snowmobiles are not working. They also cannot find Chrissy. While Marty tries to repair the snowmobiles, Jenny searches for their friend. Instead she finds the older woman, who is evasive about Chrissy.

The woman drugs Jenny, who wakes up conveniently next to a book about Native American folklore. She reads about the windigo and links it to the murders from the surrounding area.

As she tries to return to the main part of the hotel, she is confronted by Danny. She tries to escape, but their scuffle leads to Danny’s death.

With Danny’s death, Marty begins to act strangely. He declares he won’t help Jenny, that she cannot escape being a murderer. He eventually leaves her to trudge off into the snow by himself.

Left all alone, Jenny tries to defend herself. She shoots the woman, but soon discovers that the deaths of the woman, Marty and Danny only spell out her own damnation.

It’s a perfect little movie for a snowy night in. The scenes are stunning, set in the snowy Canadian Rockies. The acting is also above-par, particularly Riva Spier as Jenny and Georgie Collins as the older woman (the titular Ghostkeeper).

Occasionally it’s easy to jump to conclusions from early scenes. It would have been very easy to turn it off, believing it to be another run-of-the-mill slasher. But Ghostkeeper has a bit more magic to it that sets it apart from others. Granted, I would have liked if the film dived deeper into it’s lore. It rarely takes the time to flesh out its story, instead focusing more on the movements of characters.

Maybe it’s because I was taken by surprise, but I think this Canadian gem is well worth the watch.

Wicked Wednesday: Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge (1989)

Last week I got to see Phantom of the Paradise at the Prince Charles Cinema. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen the movie on the big screen, and it’s always magnificent – one of my absolute favourite films. So why not, I thought, wash that good feeling of a good film out of my mouth with a horrible Phantom adaption?

Now. I should have been warned going in, having watched Lindsay Ellis’ two-part series on the characterisation of the phantom (watch parts one and two here). This movie is pretty much universally hated. But I cannot resist one thing…shopping malls.

I have a thing for horror movies set in shopping malls: Chopping Mall, Dawn of the Dead, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, The Initiation (which I seem to remember more fondly than what I’d written). It’s the lure of neon lights, shopping montages and creepy, dark-lit shops.

It’s been difficult to resist the lure of Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge, despite all warnings that I should have otherwise. Should I have listened? I really should have.

Phantom of the Mall follows the rough phantom set-up: scarred man watches beautiful girl from the distance and wants to protect and possess her. He kills off people who hurt her or have harmed him in some way.

Instead of a grand opera house, though, we are entered into the world of the Midwood Mall. Melody and her pal Suzie both get jobs at the brand new shopping centre, a beacon of a new era for the town.

Of course, a year earlier the land was marred by a fire. One that killed Melody’s boyfriend, Eric. Something about the night doesn’t sit well with Melody, and she’s convinced that Eric’s house was burned down as murder (you know, in order to get land for the mall!).

The Phantom begins killing people off short after the mall’s opening. None of the deaths are particularly noteworthy. But they exist nevertheless.

Meanwhile, Melody befriends the hot journalist, Peter. He’s kind to her and begins to help her investigate the fire. He soon discovers that the man she saw the night of the fire (a white man with a religious-symbol earring), is a security guard at the mall.

But the security guard quickly realises that Melody and Peter are on to him. He alerts his boss, mall-owner Harv, and is told to deal with them. The young couple get away from the perusing guards, though, and afterwards dig up Eric’s grave – suspicious that he is the one behind the killings. Surely this is the only way to confirm that Eric is alive and the phantom!

Things quickly come to a head when Eric saves Melody from the security guard and reveals himself to her. She rejects his advances, having fallen in love with Peter. Plus Eric has a burned face and that’s like, totally ew.

Angered with the mall and Melody, Eric becomes violent. He begins his movements to BLOW UP THE MALL. But as with all things phantom, Eric meets his tragic demise while also getting his revenge.

I don’t think Phantom of the Mall is quite as bad as most people make it out to be. Sure it’s very run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t flat-out horrible. For some people it’s better to feel something than nothing at all. So if that’s what you’re measuring by, it will probably fail the test.

All of the deaths are sort of dark and indistinguishable. Though the acting is passable and the characters are…okay. There’s nothing horribly wrong here, just nothing particularly entertaining.

Weirdly one highlight was Pauly Shore, whose personality out-shined almost everyone on the cast. I’m also kind of in love with the way the film looked – a sort of dreamy, R-rated soap opera. It’s very soft and the very dictionary definition of late-80s style. Honestly, though, the best part about the entire movie was Ken Foree (who should be in everything).

If this movie had turned the cheese and camp level up to 11, this could have been a much better movie. The music put it halfway there (a weird combination of The Vandals and some really over-the-top sex scene romance music). Otherwise, this is very much your uneventful, typical 80s slasher.

Wicked Wednesday: Tales from the Cryptkeeper s1e1 “While the Cat’s Away” (1993)

Can you believe I lived to this ripe-old age without knowing there was a Tales From the Crypt cartoon? I love almost anything horror-related that’s targeted towards children.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that statement extends to the first episode of this show.

Tales from the Cryptkeeper pretty much runs exactly like it’s live-action counterpart: the Cryptkeeper welcomes with several puns before introducing us to the week’s story. This week, the Cryptkeeper is off on holiday. Not-so-incidentally, the boys in his story are the sons of a travel agent. A unsuccessful one at that.

But when the boys overhear their father speaking to a wealthy man (who wants to go to Transylvania – money is no object!), the eldest realises they have an opportunity to rob the man. Why rob him, well, to get money for new bikes!

The youngest, Dwight, is much more nervous than the elder Stu. But he agrees to go along with the plan.

The boys arrive at the home only to realise that it’s more of a haunted mansion. They march in anyway and come face-to-face with a series of traps while trying to make their way around the house. First there’s a ghost in the painting, followed by tentacled monster, Frankenstein’s monster, vampires and zombies!

The boys quickly learn their lesson that it isn’t very nice to steal.

It’s pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Considering this is the first episode, though, there’s very much a chance that it does improve. I’m probably not interested enough to continue on.

The show lacks the twisted humour that the original has. It’s been stripped down to be “horror lite” children, but it goes too far. I think incredibly young children would enjoy it – say 5 or 6. I’m not sure what the original intended audience was, but it’s not very sophisticated or scary in any way.

But my biggest gripe with this show is the animation. It’s truly some of the worst I’ve seen, especially considering this was made in 1993. It’s very uninspired character design with boxy movements. All very low-budget looking. Certainly not half as good as its contemporaries like Beetlejuice (incidentally produced by the same company) or Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

I’m sure if you have nostalgia attached to the show, it will remain charming upon review. I could listen to John Kassir as the Cryptkeeper anyway! He’s easily the highlight here.

If you do think I should carry on watching. Let me know what episode I should move on to next! Otherwise, I might try to hunt down episodes of New Tales From the Cryptkeeper. You can’t keep a woman away from a Lite Ghoulish Tale (TM).

Wicked Wednesday: Krampus (2015)

It’s Christmaaaaaas!

I’m sure plenty of people are feeling jaded at this time of year. I had to go into Brixton’s M&S to get stollen – I get it! (Their stollen was covered in almonds. ALMONDS!) But occasionally we need to take a step back and assess our own negativity. Is it really worth holding onto? Is that long-held grudge with that one cousin really worth it? Should you have hugged your aunt, even if she’s a bit racist?

I had to take a bit of my own advice here. After watching several weeks of average horror Christmas movies. I wasn’t really looking forward to watching another one. But I decided to take a chance on Krampus. It’s a different than the norm for a few reasons: it has a budget, the cast is amazing, and it was successful.

Sure, Krampus treads very familiar ground, but it’s (successful) twisted and fun approach sets it apart.

The Engel family are less-than-jovial at Christmas. They’re either bickering or ignoring one another. They’re not the family most in the Christmas spirit. Everyone, that is, besides little Max, who still believes in Santa Claus. He writes a letter to jolly ol’ Saint Nick in hopes that the gift he receives is his family’s unity.

But when the extended family arrive, everyone just becomes more irritable. At the dinner table, Max’s letter is read aloud by one of his cousins. He snatches the letter away after an fight, tears it up and throws the remains into the sky.

The boy’s anger calls upon the Krampus, who arrives the next day with a giant blizzard as fanfare. The family and the surrounding neighbours lose power. Max’s sister leaves to look for her boyfriend, but is killed off before she can make her return home.

The family get picked off one-by-one as they fend off the Krampus’s henchmen (in the form of demonic toys). With the help of Omi, the Engel paternal grandmother, they learn the story of the Krampus and why he’s arrived to claim them.

Will the family unite and defeat the beast? Well, the ending is certainly a twisted enough to be both horrible and satisfying. Just like Christmas, right?

The ending is easily one of my favourite parts of the movie, but I’m sure it won’t satisfy everyone. But what will satisfy most people is the performance the cast gives. Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Krista Stadler as Omi and, my personal highlight, Conchata Ferrell as the alcoholic aunt. They’re all parts of what is a treat ensemble cast.

And the movie looks good, too. It’s full of warm Christmas lights juxtaposed with the cold, winter hues of the outside world. I do love a Christmas movie that looks like it’s set at Christmas. Obvious as that is, most Christmas horror movies miss the mark on the details.

The deaths are also pretty good, but as Krampus is only rated PG-13, a lot of the gore is missing. So while it won’t be among the most bloody or graphic you can see, it will be suitable to watch with younger ones. Perhaps perfect for inducting your younger family members into the twisted family of horror? It certainly won over a lot of my non-horror-friends. I think there’s something to be said for that.

As the decade nears its end, it’s easy to look back on the Christmas horror offerings and find most of them forgettable. Krampus, on the other hand, is sure to be a holiday classic in the future joining the ranks of Black Christmas, Gremlins, and Christmas Evil. I saw one review that likened it to the dark gleefulness of Joe Dante. As a Dante fan, I’d have to heartily agree.

It’s definitely a good one. I recommend cosying up with your family on this Christmas night and watching some horror goodness. You’ve survived the holidays with each other, you at least deserve a treat.

Wicked Wednesday: My favourite Christmas tradition

An unintentionally Christmas-y-looking selection.

What is Christmas really without traditions? Emigrating to a new country meant that I gain a whole new set of them. There’s horrible Christmas cake instead of stollen. A new holiday with Boxing Day (though I still don’t get the point). I now enjoy bucks fizz while opening presents! It’s very novel.

About three or four years ago, I stopped going to my office Christmas parties. They’re a bit “too much” with someone with an anxiety disorder. But sitting by yourself all day feels a touch pathetic while everyone else is out partying.

So my first year at home, I started my very first only-for-me tradition: baking while watching cheesy Christmas romance movies followed by the most graphic or fun slashers I can find on my shelves. It started off by accident, but has quickly progressed to a day of the year I really look forward to.

Now, I’m not the type to be attracted to romance films. And I’m certainly not the type to condone enjoying things ironically. But the last few years I’ve started really getting into these Hallmark-esque Christmas fares. They’re not too bad at getting you in the mood for Christmas. And I’m someone who consistently lacks Christmas Spirit.

After all the drama surrounding Hallmark this year, I can sufficiently say with confidence: Hallmark – get stuffed. But thankfully, Netflix seems to have filled the holiday-film void with some of their own. Top ranked: Christmas Prince, The Knight Before Christmas and the ultimate wild and crazy shit show: Christmas Wedding Planner.

On the surface, it might appear as though holiday romances have nothing in common with horror movies. But it’s like grilled cheesy and jam: it shouldn’t work, but it really fucking does.

I present to you the following similarities:

  • They’re both formulaic. Slashers = people die. Holiday romances = people fall in love.
  • They have unrealistic situations. Average American woman becomes queen just in time to save the kingdom! Family of inbreds blow up their house for kicks!
  • The genres each focus more on plot than they do character-building. Sure, these people have jobs, but they’re really just shells to move along the story.

Um, maybe that’s it? But you get me – they’re genre films for a specific type of person.

This year, I indulged in maybe too many Christmas movies. Thankfully my friend was around to go out for drinks and pizza to break up the potentially mind-melting experience. We watched quite a few of them together. Could I tell you the plots of any of them? No. Do I remember what the differences were between them? Definitely not. I’m certain they’re all just one film.

Thankfully I watched quite a few gems at night after coming home with a bellyful of pizza. I like to mix my horror choices between a couple of giallos (early enough in the night while I can still read) and American slashers – great for the hour when your brain shuts off.

AND I got to enjoy this all while eating gingerbread scones. Who’s to say I’m not living the dream?

So I enjoy a wholesome, silly movies from time-to-time. And it might just be one day a year, but it’s a moment to savour…before ruining it with switchblades, bloody mysteries and ominous shadows. If you get a bit sick of the holiday spirit, I recommend you start a similar tradition of your own.

Wicked Wednesday: Jack Frost (1997)

Tis the season for “it was really just okay but mostly forgettable” holiday films! Apparently, I guess.

I don’t set out to watch average films, but the heavy hitters of Christmas horror movies are far and few between. Jack Frost is certainly an average fare.

If you like the original Child’s Play but want more Christmas spirit and a lower budget, this movie is really made for you.

Jack Frost is a serial killer. A particularly nasty one at that. While he’s being transported to his execution, the van he is in collides with a truck carrying chemicals.

Jack’s body combines with the genetic material and the snow, turning him into a snowman.

As a snowman, Jack is able to terrorise a small town. The small town, in fact, where he was caught by the sheriff, Sam Tiler.

So as the townspeople begin preparing for Christmas, Jack wrecks havoc by killing them. Two men from the FBI arriving, looking for Jack but refusing to admit to anyone that they still believe he’s alive.

But Tiler soon realised something is amiss, especially when his son’s bully is killed in a freak sled-related accident.

Eventually, the agents must admit the truth when the snowman Jack appears at the police station. Ruler and the others try to fend the killer snowman off repeatedly.

When blowing up the police station or sticking Jack in the incinerator doesn’t work, Tiler has the idea to use antifreeze instead. The townspeople all believe it’s done the trick. Only, it’s a horror movie that demands a sequel – so of course it’s not the end of things.

When I was younger (I was six when this movie was released), the VHS cover terrified me at the rental shop. I thought about it constantly. Because of that fear, I never was keen to watch it. But turns out there is nothing remotely scary. It’s very much a comedy with gore.

I actually chuckled a little, whereas I never felt any sense of tension. That’s not to say the film doesn’t try its best. Some of the deaths are rather gross and one actually pretty humorous. Only, a killer snowman is so ridiculous it is so very hard to take seriously.

The same could probably be said about a certain killer doll, but there’s plenty of evidence that says otherwise.

If you’re looking for something ridiculous, this certainly fits the bill. It just depends on how much late-90s tastelessness you can handle.