Mirror, mirror: OCULUS at Regal Cinemas, Oaks, PA.

Oculus 202x300 Mirror, mirror: OCULUS at Regal Cinemas, Oaks, PA.


Promoted as a gift from the producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious, Oculus is actually an expansion of a 2006 short horror film by Mike Flanagan: Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan. It was picked up for an expansion a few years ago and given the Hollywood treatment. Unfortunately, the “enhanced” version does nothing to advance the early movie. If anything, the expanded movie lessens the punch of the original 30 minute short film.

The original Oculus was brilliant in its simplicity. A man surrounds himself with recording equipment in a room where a haunted mirror has been placed. Although it’s not a “found footage” movie, he utilizes the video equipment and recording devices to tell the future audience what he’s doing. He’s researched the history of the mirror and found it to responsible for countless deaths. But he’s going to defeat the evil presence inside the mirror by having every possible precaution taken to stop it. In the end, the mirror appears to have won again, having more power than its victim suspects. We also learn the man’s father was a victim of it. And there is the lingering doubt of the supernatural element: is he just going crazy?

The new and improved Oculus adds a brother and sister to the story. Following much of the same time line as the earlier movie, we learn the brother Tim Russell has been released from a mental hospital on his 21st birthday. He shot his own father in  front of his older sister Kaylie after their father killed their mother. His sister has picked him up since the review board determined him to be of no threat to society. But she has a motive of her own: Kaylie’s obtained the mirror she believed possessed their father, driving him into madness. As in the earlier film, she’s set-up a battery of electronic recording devices intending to prove the mirror is controlled by demonic entity. But there is one added attraction: a weighted pike which will smash the mirror if she doesn’t reset the mechanical timer which releases it every half hour. She’s set the experiment up in the house where they lived years earlier. But, once again, the demon in the mirror is more powerful than can be imagined.

The audience consisted of local out to enjoy the good turn in weather. For the first time in months I had a chance to watch a movie in a theater with a good-sized crowd. I estimate the turn-out for the 7:50 PM show at 100 people. Not a stellar sell-out, but a good crowd for the popcorn sellers who run the Regal chain of theaters. Other than a few kids (what the hell?) running in and out, it was a quiet and appreciative crowd, looking for a good scare.

With the bigger budget and expanded script, what made the claustrophobic earlier movie work, just doesn’t add anything. The level of acting is adequate, just not good enough to justify the lengthier running time. Plus, having the movie take place in a McMansion causes it to loose the paranoia of the earlier movie. It’s nice to see a bigger budget for the monsters from the mirror, but not enough to break anything new. And if you’ve seen the earlier short film, you already know how it’s going to end.

But there was something which infuriated me about this film: its treatment of children. We don’t see the protagonist as a young boy in the original film. In the new one, the story constantly interacts between the adults trying to stop the demon in the mirror and their younger selves. Showing two innocent kids being terrorized in bad enough, using them to deliver a downer ending is indefensible. I have strong moral feelings against the abuse of children as the target of violence in any film. This movie had the audacity to make you feel pity for the young kids, then show everything they’d endured dumped on them once again as adults. Yeah, I know abuse happens on kids in real life and permanently messes them up later. I don’t need it shoved in my face as part of the story line of a horror movie.

I suspect this is a new trend in horror cinema: to get the audience to accept the use of children as the object of violence. And if it is, I want no part of it. You would think the entertainment industry would’ve learned a few things after Roman Polanski and Victor Salva. But, like the demon in the mirror, it just keeps coming back.



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Underground Cinema 14: VIDEO NASTIES and SEVEN YEAR RENTAL at Viva Video, Ardmore, PA

video nasties 203x300 Underground Cinema 14: VIDEO NASTIES and SEVEN YEAR RENTAL at Viva Video, Ardmore, PA

The 2014 Cinedelphia Film Festival kicked off last night with a special showing in the basement of Viva Video. Two documentaries were shown, Video Nasties and Seven Year Rental. This was a truly underground movie experience as the audience sat on folding chairs and watched the videos projected onto a screen while hearing patrons walk over head. All that was needed was a sign reading “Safe House” on the door leading down to the basement. Refreshments were provided by the film festival sponsors and Miguel Gomez, Viva Video’s owner, who popped the  popcorn. I kept thinking back to 30 years ago when I used to run a film series in Ohio. The 16mm projector I used was always giving me a hard time.

Viva Video 300x168 Underground Cinema 14: VIDEO NASTIES and SEVEN YEAR RENTAL at Viva Video, Ardmore, PA

VVpopcorn 300x168 Underground Cinema 14: VIDEO NASTIES and SEVEN YEAR RENTAL at Viva Video, Ardmore, PA

Video Nasties: Moral Panic Censorship and Videotape is a 2010 documentary produced by Jake West about the “Video Nasties” scare which gripped England in the 1980′s. With the advent of video technology, all kinds of violent movies suddenly were showing up in the British Isles which would never have been allowed to be shown by the British Board of Film Censorship. Due to a loop hole in the laws, they were freely distributed all over the UK.

In the United States, there has been a long tradition of edgy movies playing at urban grindhouses and Drive-Ins. Hollywood managed to convince the US government it could police itself and unleashed the MPAA rating system to keep everyone happy. But these institutions didn’t exist in England, so the government had a tight control on what could and could not be shown to the public. Extreme violence was always carefully regulated. So there was a huge outcry in the tabloid press when Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Beyond began making an appearance at the local video store.

Video Nasties is an exceptional film in that it showcases all the parties involved. You get to hear from academics involved in the fight against censorship and the politicians who tried to ban all of these films. Several British filmmakers discuss the whole phenomena and how it influenced them. It’s supposed to be slated for a US release in the next few months.

But the real treat of the evening was the other documentary shown: Seven Year Rental. This is a sad look at the slow demise of a small video store chain near Milwaukee. The filmmaker, David Neureuther, had decided to make a film after graduating from college, but he couldn’t decide on a subject. Since he was already working at a local video store- this was in 2007- he decided to make a movie about working in a video rental store. He’d planned to portray the unique business of video rental and the crazy characters who work their. What he captured was the slow dissolution of an entire industry.

Much of the film was recorded on the security cameras of the video store, Video Plus. We get to see irate customers coming in to pay their late fees and people asking for movie recommendations. There are interviews with the people who work their as clerks-mostly high school kids. We even get to hear from one of the managers, a kindly older lady who acts as den mother for her charges.

Best of all is the interviews with the owner of the stores, a man who only goes by the name of “John”. An immigrant from the Balkans, John created a 7-store chain in the Milwaukee area by giving people what they wanted to see. It’s hilarious listening to how he bought new titles from Walmart. Sadly, we are forced to watch him close store after store as the business moves on-line until he’s down to three stores, then two, one and finally the last one closes.

It’s a bittersweet portrayal of an industry in decline due to technology and the economy. In some ways, Seven Year Rental reminded me of Cinema Paradiso. The director was on hand to answer questions about the film and complained about the trouble he’s had in getting it into film festivals. The very reality of the movie is what makes it difficult for most audiences. There’s no salvation at the end, the last store closes and John fades into the good night. Plus, most of the video store employees are not the Breakfast Club version of high school kids. They are scruffy Midwesterners, not bleached blonds from California.

There was even a brief intermission between the films where the audience was able to go upstairs and see if Viva Video had any of the video nasties on the shelf (they did). I don’t think there were more than 20 people in attendance, but more would’ve felt crowded in the basement.

The Cinedelphia film festival will continue for the rest of the month. Most of the showings will be a the PhilaMoca and I plan on catching a few. The crew who hauled in the video projection equipment deserves a big round of applause for their work. And do patronize Viva Video in Ardmore, the owner went out of his way to make his store available.






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Spanish Shockers: CURSE OF THE DEVIL, JACK THE RIPPER and THE DRACULA SAGA at International House, Philadelphia, PA

curse devil2 Spanish Shockers: CURSE OF THE DEVIL, JACK THE RIPPER and THE DRACULA SAGA at International House, Philadelphia, PA

 Spanish Shockers: CURSE OF THE DEVIL, JACK THE RIPPER and THE DRACULA SAGA at International House, Philadelphia, PA


DraculaSaga 203x300 Spanish Shockers: CURSE OF THE DEVIL, JACK THE RIPPER and THE DRACULA SAGA at International House, Philadelphia, PA

Back to International House in Philly this week for 3 Spanish Shockers from the 70′s: Curse of the Devil (El Retorno De Walpurgis), Jack the Ripper and The Dracula Saga (La Saga De Los Dracula), all courtesy of Exhumed Films. The City Where The Brothers All Love Each Other is home to many film groups and Exhumed Films have been sponsoring showings for over 10 years. You can see them at the Monster-Mania conventions selling DVD’s too. Their October 24-hour horror movie marathon sells out within minutes (I’ve tried twice to get tickets and failed). People travel from all over to attend these shows. I met one man who drove all the way from Albany. All films shown were in 35mm.

3shock2 300x168 Spanish Shockers: CURSE OF THE DEVIL, JACK THE RIPPER and THE DRACULA SAGA at International House, Philadelphia, PA

Having figure out the new parking kiosks which so confused me the last time I was at an International House showing, I was able to be in the lobby by 7 PM. Exhumed Films already had a few tables selling t-shirts and DVD’s. Since the theater is in a dormitory for international students, there was no popcorn to be found. The building does have a lounge area with some vending machines, so I at least got my soda. Price wasn’t too bad either.

Inside the theater was the usual crowd of middle aged cinemaniacs (like myself) and urban hipsters. I don’t know what happened to the Goths, guess that movement has played out. It was a very respectful audience, something I’ve learned to appreciate as the years go bye. No MST3000-style running commentaries, thank Gawd. The general level of audience seriousness may have had something to do with the presenters warning about “phone lights and talking”. After a few brief announcements and some door prizes, the show began.

3shock1 300x168 Spanish Shockers: CURSE OF THE DEVIL, JACK THE RIPPER and THE DRACULA SAGA at International House, Philadelphia, PA

The first film, Curse of the Devil, began with two knights fighting in somewhat realistic armor on horseback. Unfortunately, it was a lackluster attempt at medieval combat recreation. Here’s a hint to future film directors who want to make it look good: don’t have one of the knights hold the mace handle in the middle. We quickly learn that an evil witch has been in league with the prince of darkness and is oppressing the land. But before she can carry out her latest fiendish plot, the Grand Inquisitor Irineus Daninsky (Spanish actor Paul Naschy AKA Jacinto Molina) shows up with his troops. He has the witch and her followers slaughtered, but not before she curses his lineage. Fast forward to the 19th century where his descendant, wealthy land owner Waldemar Daninsky, is pursuing a wolf. He kills it with a silver bullet, only to discover the body of a young gypsy boy. The leader of the gypsy tribe, an old witch, summons the forces of evil to carry the werewolf curse to Daninsky.

Paul Naschy was a popular horror movie star in Spain and the rest of the world in the 70′s. Not too bad for a man who started out as a weight-lifter and film extra. I’ve always thought of him as a better director than actor. He tended to give an understated performance, which works well in Dracula’s Great Love and People Who Own the Dark. But in this movie he walks around not doing much. Even the werewolf transformations are obviously taken from the Universal horror movies. The sets looked good and realistic. Dubbing was adequate for the time of the release. And the print they used for the showing was in decent shape with little signs of wear, splice, or fading.

I missed out on the opening scene of the next attraction, Jack the Ripper, as I’d stopped to talk to the owner of Viva Video. As I walked into the theater, I was treated to the sight of Klaus Kiniski hauling a body bag. I can think of few better ways to open a film. Ripper, a German movie directed by Spanish director Jesus Franco, features Kiniski playing the kind Dr. Dennis Orloff by day, but who hunts down prostitutes at night. It all takes place in Victorian London, although the streets resembled Ye Olde Deutschland. The police are stymied and have few witnesses, one of whom is a blind man. The girlfriend (played by Josephine Chaplin, Charlie’s daughter) of the detective investigating the case takes it on her self to go undercover and find the killer.

The print shown of this film was pristine. I don’t know where they got hold of this one, but it was definitely stored in the right conditions. It was a treat watching Kiniski’s skull face fill the screen. How could anyone miss him as the killer? There was even a hilarious sequence where a police sketch artist draws a picture of the suspect as supplied by the witness’ testimony. Little by little, you see a perfect rendering of Kinski’s features. There was also plenty of gore in this feature, but of the orange blood 70′s variety.

The final feature, was a real treat: a Euro-vampire movie from the 70′s I had never seen: The Dracula Saga. 19th century in the mountains of Wallachia: a pregnant bride with her new husband is returning to her family’s ancestral estate, Castle Dracula. When they finally do arrive at the castle, the family retainer, Gabor, shows them the family tombs. Confused, they wait around until grandfather and the rest of the family show-up. After dark, naturally.

Produced in Spain with a Spanish cast, Dracula Saga was directed by Argentine filmmaker Leon Klimovsky. Although dubbed into English, the dialogue was quite good. Plenty of cues to the audience that something bad was about to happen to keep the attention. Although the crowd had dwindled by the time this feature was shown, everyone was entranced by the movie. I highly recommend this film. Unfortunately the print used was sub-par. But sometimes you just have to take what you can get. I grew up on snowy 19″ TV screens trying to pull late night signals in from cities 60 miles away.

I’m looking forward to Exhumed next big event in May, the eXfest. Got my ticket already.






Posted in 70's Horror Movies, Horror Movies, Slasher Movies, Vampire Movies, Werewolf movies | Leave a comment

MANHUNTER at The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA.

Manhunter michael mann film poster 191x300 MANHUNTER at The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA.


Give the committee at the Colonial Theater credit, they do know how to pick quality films: Manhunter (1986). This was the first film to feature horror icon Dr. Hannibal Lector, the insane psychiatrist. It was also directed by Michael Mann and is as much of the 80′s mystique as his Miami Vice TV show. You can even see MV inspired casual clothes throughout the movie.

The audience was a little on the light side for a Friday evening show. Monstermania was taking place in nearby Cherry Hill, NJ. A lot of the crowd who make these events were probably attending the semi-annual event where they could watch The Shining at midnite and meet the grown-up twins as special guest stars. But they missed out on seeing a 35mm print of Manhunter, so shame on them. The print was in exceptional shape, with a few tale-tell scratches, but generally in good condition. The only downer was noise bleeding through from the bar nearby; the break in the weather had inspired all kinds of street activity.

manhunter 37814 300x168 MANHUNTER at The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA.


Manhunter was a 1986 adaptation of Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon. The producers of the film had the name changed to Manhunter for the movie version figuring people would think it a karate movie. It’s been remade to take advantage of all the Hannibal Lector interest, but I have no desire to see the new one. I’m the guy who avoided the Batman remake because I felt there was no way to improve on the original. The 1986 Manhunter was a great example of Michael Mann as a cinema auteur: he successfully blended everything he’d learned as a TV director and producer for the big screen. What he began doing with Thief and The Keep easily gave way to the atmosphere of Manhunter.

In Manhunter, William Petersen expertly plays Will Graham, an FBI profiler who’s living in blissful retirement with his wife and son on the gulf coast. His former boss, played brilliantly by Dennis Farina, coaxes him out of retirement with pictures of several families who’ve been slaughtered by the latest sensationalist serial killer, the tooth fairy. Against his better judgement, Grahm takes the assignment. He even goes so far as to visit the despicable Dr. Hannible Lector ( Brian Cox) who’s on ice in a maximum security prison after Graham’s work led to his capture. Time is running out as the killer strikes on the full moon, only a few weeks away. Will Graham find the killer in time to stop him from striking again, or is he being pulled into the killer’s world by his close investigations?

Watching the “Inn-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” conclusion on the big screen was a treat. I’d seen it before on video, but nothing compares to watching William Petersen fly through the window on the big screen. 6′-7″ Tom Noonan was running on full psychotic mode as the killer. I can’t even imagine this movie without him in the role, another reason I didn’t bother with the new version.

With all the dreck released in the area since last Halloween calling itself horror movies, it’s good to see a nice presentation of an old classic.



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DARK WATERS at International House, Philadelphia, PA

Dark Waters 300x234 DARK WATERS at International House, Philadelphia, PA

Dark Waters, original poster

The Secret Cinema in Philadelphia has been around since the early 1990′s. Led by the visionary Jay Schwartz, they preserve actual celluloid movie film and sponsor showings in the Philadelphia area. They don’t usually have a schedule, but can be counted on to organize presentations of rare archival films on short notice. Their Christmas shows are legendary and I wish the Prince Music Theater would have them back. They’ve also been active in keeping Philadelphia’s legendary Boyd Theater from being torn down.

Last year I had the opportunity to attend one of their showings at The Trestle Inn. Mr. Shwarz presented a film of a Belgian rock band he has recently acquired with a magnetic sound track. Since it’s impossible to play one of these films on a standard 16mm projector (which uses optical tracks) he copied the soundtrack to a CD and hand synchronized the sound to the film as he ran it. For that feat alone he deserves an oscar.

So naturally I jumped at the chance to see a rare 35mm print of Dark Waters they were presenting. Last evening’s show was in the auditorium of International House, right across the street from the University of Pennsylvania. International House has a long history in the Philly area, having been constructed in the early part of the last century to house visiting foreign students.

Having way too much experience with Philadelphia parking in general and the U of P campus in particular, I left for the show as early as possible. Fortunately, my little Mini Cooper is perfect for urban parking. I found a space right around the corner from International House. However, it had been a few years since I’d spent anytime in that part of Philadelphia. The street parking set-up had changed. Now there are no parking meters. In its infinite wisdom, the city of Philadelphia has installed kiosks in the vicinity. With the help of a few other film attendees, I managed to figure out how the kiosk worked: you put money or a credit card in and bought parking “time” which was spat out in the form of ticket you place behind your windshield. But the kiosk we were using was out of commission. Fortunately, there was another one across the road which did work and we were able to purchase parking tickets. I’m still hoping I didn’t get double charged. Have to check my credit card account tomorrow.

secret cinema 3 300x168 DARK WATERS at International House, Philadelphia, PA

Once inside International House, someone at the desk referred me to the ticket booth where I purchased my ticket for the evening. Next, I was referred to the auditorium, located at on the other side of the building. And, note to self, the bathrooms are strategically placed downstairs in the basement near the mailboxes.

secret cinema 4 300x168 DARK WATERS at International House, Philadelphia, PA

The auditorium for the showing was clean and built on a stadium style. Which meant everyone could see the movie, irregardless of seating. As usual, Mr. Shwartz humbly introduced the movie and shorts we were about to see. His introductions are always brief and to the point, a practice I wish more film presenters would follow.

3 short films from the Secret Cinema archives were shown before the main attraction. The first was a borscht belt comedian presenting a shaggy dog routine, which was filmed for a “soundie” machine. The second was a womens’ marimba performance from a college which just never seemed to end. The third, and best, was the running of the bulls of Pamplona, filmed in glorious color. No coming attractions, but you can’t have everything.

More of a thriller, Dark Waters (1944) was a low-budget B picture by Andre de Toth, the one-eyed director who gave the world House of Wax (1953), still the best 3D movie ever made. The story concerns the plight of Ms. Leslie Calvin (Merle Oberon) who has survived a boat torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. One of the few survivors, she travels to Louisiana to stay with an aunt and uncle she’s never seen, her only remaining family. But when she does arrive at the their sugar plantation, she’s greeted not only by her aunt and uncle, but also by Mr. Sydney (Thomas Mitchell, who played Uncle Billie in It’s a Wonderful Life), a family friend who staying with them. She also meets the foreman of the plantation, the creepy Cleeve (Elisha Cook, Jr.) who has too much interest in her. Mr. Sydney also assumes all authority in the house and seems too concerned with keeping her away from the locals. But help arrives in the way of a handsome doctor, who takes her to a Cajun dance party and checks up on her every few days. But she’s still suffering from post-traumatic shock. Then Leslie starts hearing voices calling her name. Is she going nuts or is someone trying to mess with her mind?

The film print was in beautiful black and white, but did show some wear, making me curious as to how old it was. I doubt it was an original print, considering the year of the film’s release. The audience was a local film buff crowd and was respectful of the showing. You have to love any audience where you can hear people talking about auteur directors and the Talking Heads before the show. The break in the arctic air brought out a nice crowd, I estimated 150 souls in the audience.

Philadelphia is blessed to have Secret Cinema. It takes real dedication these days to show physical film and maintain the equipment when the whole world is going digital.

secret cinema 2 300x168 DARK WATERS at International House, Philadelphia, PA

Posted in Gallos, Horror Movies, Noir Movies, Thriller Movies | 1 Comment

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE at the Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA.

Phantom of the Paradise movie poster 197x300 PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE at the Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA.

Phantom of the Paradise original movie poster.

This week’s horror movie is  Phantom of the Paradise. I managed to avoid both Vampire Academy and I, Frankenstein last week. I like posting on a regular basis, but we all have standards. To my relief, last night The Colonial Theater in neighboring Phoenixville had something watchable. Since it was Valentine’s Day, they were generous and showed Phantom of the Paradise. Now wasn’t that nice?

This was the third time I’d seen the movie. I’d wanted to see it upon reading about the film in the old Famous Monsters magazine back in 1974 (when it was first released). However, my hometown of Dayton, Ohio managed to get Phantom for all of one week and at one theater. So I bided my time and managed to catch it in 1978 at a revival theater in Columbus, Ohio when I was attending college. Saw it again in ’86 when the movie was released to home video. Going to see Phantom was like visiting an old friend.

colonial phantom 300x168 PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE at the Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA.

The audience was varied. Not only were the young film fanatics there in Death Records t-shirts, but the movie attracted a lot of older fans of it (like myself) who had seen it years ago. It was a smaller crowd than usual for these late night showings, so the party atmosphere was vacant. I’m sure the record snow had an effect on the crowd size. Touting their new DCP video projector, the committee who introduced Phantom pointed out that the Blu-Ray being shown was from the best source they could find. I had to agree; the movie looked very good and could only be topped by a mint condition 35mm print.

Prior to showing Phantom, a local video maker had the opportunity to present his own tribute to the era of the grind house and Drive-in: Midnight Show. This was a short film consisting of several faux coming attractions from the days of scratched prints. Usually I don’t care for these attempts at duplicating an era which will never come again. At best they are homages, at worst a parody that’s just not funny.  But some of the fake coming attractions in this feature hit the target. Special mention should to Coin Slot, a trailer for a nonexistent teen comedy from the 80′s. It actually had the look and feel of a back-shelf production from 1984.

Released in 1974, Phantom of the Paradise is still the best movie ever made about the rock music industry. Brian De Palma’s rip into the whole world of Midnight Special arena rock was supposed to be called The Phantom of the Fillmore, but couldn’t get the rights from the owner of the legendary concert hall. He had numerous problems making it, including financing issues which threatened to shut down the entire production. When De Palma discovered the name he had originally chosen for the record company in the film, Swan Records, was too similar to an existing company, a new name and logo had to be slapped onto all the existing ones in the movie.

Phantom blends elements from Faust, Dorian Grey, and Phantom of the Opera into a horror take-down of the entertainment industry. Winslow Leech, a geeky composer has his rock opera stolen from him by Swan (songwriter Paul Williams). He’s tossed into prison on trumped-up charges where he has his teeth replaced by metal. When Leech hears his music being played on the radio, he flips out, escapes from prison and tries to burn down Swan’s record factory. But he accidentally gets caught in a record pressing machine, which permanently disfigures his face. Assumed to be dead, he makes his way back to Swan’s rock palace, The Paradise, and tries to sabotage the production of his rock opera with a bomb. When he eventually confronts the sinister Swan, Leech is tricked into signing a contract in blood. Swan pushes him to finish the opera, promising he’ll push Winslow’s love interest Phoenix (Jessica Harper) to stardom. But Swan has other plans and obligations which are only revealed at the conclusion of the film.

Phantom is filled with character actors who give dynamite performances. Jessica Harper would go on to star with her big brown eyes in Suspiria and Pennies from Heaven. Swan’s lieutenant is played by George Memmoli who was patterned on every sleaze bag tour manager who ever graced a concert. And Gerrit Graham as the glam rocker Beef who can’t even stand up in his platforms. The same three back up singers are used for doo wop, beach, and death rock scenarios.

Phantom, like some other rock-themed horror musical produced a few years later, bombed when it was first released. The only place it ever did well on the initial release was Winnipeg, which no one still can figure out. It has developed a big following and has its own fan page. De Palma savaged the entire music industry with his film. Drugged-out singers, disgusting producers who use their positions to abuse young women, audiences partying away while the stars of the show lay dead and dying, it was all too much.

It’s a movie to keep in mind the next time you hear some music industry coke head whine about a social issue.

Posted in 70's Horror Movies, Horror Movies | Leave a comment

DEVIL’S DUE at the Regal Cinemas in Oaks, PA

DD DEVILS DUE at the Regal Cinemas in Oaks, PA

Devil’s Due

The last post I did for Rosemary’s Baby had me prepped for a found footage version, Devil’s Due. A major Hollywood studio had booked the team responsible for the haunted house sequence at the end of the V/H/S masterpiece. How could it go wrong? Oh, Let me count the ways….I don’t think there has been such a mismatch since David Lynch directed the 1984 version of Dune. And at least Dune had some good scenes.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett were both part of the film group know as Chad, Matt & Rob. Their big claim to fame was the “found footage” movies they produced and shared on YouTube. Most of these involved the producers as actors where they would freak-out their roommates and friends with fake monsters of some kind. Inevitability, the real monsters would appear and the short film would do a 180 degree turn. They’ve also done “interactive” choose your adventure shorts on YouTube as well. After their autonomous collective dissolved, they went on to produce the “10/31/98″ part of the V/H/S  movie. Shot in the style for which they were known, the segment had a group of twentysomethings trying to find a Halloween party who stumble across a real exorcism. The sequence showed they had enough talent to move beyond the YouTube videos.

Regal Oaks 300x168 DEVILS DUE at the Regal Cinemas in Oaks, PA

Regal Cinemas in Oaks, PA.

I chose the Regal Cinemas at Oaks,PA for this outing since it was one of the first of the new multiplexes which sprung up outside Philly at the turn of the new millennium. And it was close. I remember going to the Oaks Cinemas to see the first of the new Star Wars movies. With a 24 screen capacity, the Oaks Regal can show just about any kind of movie you want to see. Lately, they’ve been booking Indian Bollywood movies. Parking is pretty good. Not bad for an entertainment center built next to a former tire plant.

I knew I was in for a real treat when I walked into a stadium theater built to hold an audience in the hundreds and encountered…6 other people. And this was on a Friday night. The movie had only been in theaters for a week, so word travels fast. Cell phones and Facebook have more effect on a potential audience than any New York Times review. Gone were my dreams of recording a theater full of high schoolers freaking out to the screen action. Gone was 2 hours and my $8.50. At least I avoided the over-priced popcorn at $6.50 a bag. Seriously: I know these theaters make most of their money off the concession stand, but; really, you’re just begging someone to sneak a happy meal into the theater.

Devil’s Due starts out with a young pretty white couple getting ready for their wedding. It’s the bachelor party for Samantha and her fiancé barges in and scares the wedding bliss out of her. After exchanging vows, they jet off on a beautiful island vacation in the Dominican Republic. While partying away, they get lost from their hotel and meet a cab driver who doesn’t speak much English, but who takes them to a “real good party”. Said party consists of an after hours place in an underground cavern. They drink too much and find themselves hung over the next morning in their hotel room. This being a found video movie, we see it all happen through the camcorder. Including a few clips of a satanic mass taken without their knowledge.

Once Ken and Barbie get home they find she’s preggers. As the doctor explains: “The pill is 99.9 % effective.” Oops. Not to worry, these are well-to-do yuppies with a big house that has plenty of room for baby. Although there’s an abandoned dwelling in the upscale neighborhood, which figures into the plot later. Soon, moma-to-be starts acting weird and, although a vegan, eats raw hamburger at a supermarket. We see a group of people install hidden cameras in the house. And for a final Rosemary touch, she gets a new baby doctor who acts very strange.

What’s going on? I won’t spoil much by telling that the good-looking young couple was targeted by a heretical cult trying to bring The Evil One into the world. We learn the truth when the young father goes to visit a catholic priest who had a stroke in the middle of a confirmation ceremony (where pregnant wife was present). Seems you can easily tell the mark of this group by the symbol they leave (see above poster). I didn’t bother to check the historical accuracy of this sect because A) its Hollywood speaking and B) I don’t care.

I’m afraid Devil’s Due will accomplish for low-budget films what 3D TV did for Sony. It also shows skill in one type of filmmaking (YouTube screwball comedies) doesn’t always transfer to another (cinema of horror). Granted, the team behind the Evil Dead franchise started out making Super 8mm comedies, but they had to actually hustle and cut film. Hollywood bean-counters will take note.





Posted in Demonic Horror Movies, Found Footage Movies, Horror Movies | 2 Comments

“Rosemary’s Baby” at the Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA

rose2 Rosemarys Baby at the Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA

Rosemary’s Baby, 1968 poster. Couldn’t figure out what it was about.

With demonic kids popping out of the woods lately, it was inevitable someone would remake Rosemary’s Baby. There’s a big mini-series coming up on one of the networks and another take on the satanic baby theme (Devil’s Due) ready to hit the big screens. I don’t know what inspires all these movies, let the social scientists figure it out. Or not. They can’t seem to figure much of anything out.

So I found myself once again at our local art house theater to take in some 60′s deviltry. This was the 2 PM afternoon classic show, which meant the audience was mostly people my age and older. In other words, a respectful audience which laughed and applauded at the right times. Being the Colonial, it was still a mixed bunch. You don’t get the party atmosphere of the late night horror show, but I noted a good sampling of heavy metal and goth kids in the place. However, nobody was dressing up like Mia Farrow. The popcorn is still good and cheap.

John Cassavetes (the actor’s actor) and Mia Farrow (married to Frank Sinatra at he time) play Guy and Rosemary, a young good-looking couple in New York City, who move into an old, elegant apartment building called The Bramford. It’s 1965, so the rent’s cheap for a huge gothic living space. Guy is a struggling actor and Rosemary a stay-at-home-housewife (1965, remember). They meet the cranky, but amusing, Castevets, who are elderly and live in one of the other apartments. Later, their friend Hutch, an older writer, tells them about the sordid history of the Bramford, how all kinds of crimes and gruesome murders took place there. But they decide to stay, even after hearing the neighbors chanting in Latin (would’ve sent me packing).

Rosemary had met a single girl who was staying with the Castevets (snickers from the audience) named Terry, who leaps to her death days later. She doesn’t seem to find any thing strange when her husband starts getting major parts in Broadway plays after hanging out with the Castevets. Guy and her decide to plan a family, but Rosemary passes out on the conception night after eating part of a mousse given to her by Ms. Castevets. That night she has a weird dream sequence about naked, elderly Satanists and some guy in a devil costume.

Her family doctor confirms that she’s pregnant sometime later, but she starts seeing a doctor recommended by the Castevets. Ms. Castevet begins bringing her homemade all-natural GMO-free herb drinks to “help” with the pregnancy. Rosemary begins to feel sick and look bad. She finally figures out something is wrong when her friend Hutch comes down with a fatal sickness while trying to get a her a book about modern satanic witches. She becomes convinced Guy and the Castevets want her baby for devilish reasons.

The movie, which came out in 1968, was  a big hit. All I remember about the original release were the ads in the paper, which I couldn’t make sense of. And then all the devil jokes started. A few years later, there was The Omen and various sequels which added a little flavor to the son of Satan. But Rosemary’s Baby was the original and best.

The story surrounding the movie is pretty strange too. Director Roman Polanski had a bad experience with the Manson family after this film came out. Producer William Castle, who has a walk-on role, wanted to direct it, but couldn’t get the first funding because Hollywood thought of him as a low-budget gimmick film director (“What? Is he going to hand out goat heads to the first 100 people buying tickets?”). Mia Farrow was handed her divorce papers from Frank Sinatra’s lawyers during the filming.

It’s a long movie, over 2 hours, but never boring. Polanski created a lot of tension and suspense. And you never know if Rosemary is suffering from Pre-partum Depression or what. Any part of this movie could be a dream. Ira Levin, who wrote the source novel, described it as a dream. So it exists on many levels. Seduction of innocence? The effects of the big city on an impressionable young lady? Or the presence of Satan in the world? Go figure.


Posted in Demon Kid Horror Movies, Demonic Horror Movies, Evil Witch Movies, Horror Movies, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” at the Carmike 12, Pottstown, PA.

Paranormal Activity 5 The Marked Ones Poster 202x300 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones at the Carmike 12, Pottstown, PA.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Poster

I finally made it out the Carmike 12 in Pottstown to see Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2014. I had wanted to see it the earlier, but the latest snowmaggadeon put an end to those plans. A busted water pipe in my house Saturday, courtesy of the freezing weather which followed the snow, put an end to Plan B. I finally made it to the new multi-screen theater 5 miles from me, which went into operation last year as a digital cinema.

No more box offices. I strolled into the theater looking for the place to buy my ticket and was directed to the front counter. You buy your ticket from the same cashier who sells you the popcorn. Now there’s even a separate counter to get the popcorn served. Drinks are dispensed in these new 10,000 variety machines. It’s going to take a little getting used to, including the stanchions to guide the audience up to the counter, but I’ll manage. Besides, the staff is still the same perky high school kids who have always worked these theaters. Did in myself in the 70′s.

Cost of ticket: $12.50. Cost of popcorn and a drink: $11.50.

I do like the design of this theater. The stadium seating is spacious and they have a holder for your drink. Nice modernist style on the entrance to the individual screens. Theater design has shifted from the popular retro look the Regal chain was pushing 10 years ago. The acoustics were very good for the presentation.

pactivity2 300x168 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones at the Carmike 12, Pottstown, PA.

The Carmike 12 in Pottstown, PA.

One of the ways I gauge a movie these days is by audience reaction. I try to attend showings in the evenings and on weekends when you will have the largest audience. This evening’s crowd consisted of 10 people besides myself. I’m sure the lousy weather had something to do with keeping people home.

pactivity1 300x168 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones at the Carmike 12, Pottstown, PA.

Carmike 12 inside

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, is not Paranormal Activity 5. For some reason, the producers have decided to drop the episode numbers for this outing. I think there is a Paranormal Activity 5 coming in the future, which makes this Paranormal Activity 4.5. I think. When tinsel town has quit milking the demonic franchise for all they can get, we’ll be told it was part of some grand scheme all along. Just like The Phantom Menace movies.

It’s helpful if you’ve seen all the other Paranormal Activity movies before you go see this one. There’s all kinds of references to the other movies, most of which I didn’t catch because I’d only seen the first one. After hearing “Oh, that’s like…” and “Just like the last one!” from members of the audience, I read up on the plots of numbers 2,3,4 so I could finally get the referrals. And I left before the credits ended, but the ushers told me there were no great last-minute previews or revelations (thank gawd!).

And now for the plot:

Jesse and Hector are two young Mexican American guys living in a working class Latino neighborhood in Oxnard, California. The movie begins with them filming their friend Oscar at their high school graduation as he accepts the valedictorian accolade. There’s a party where we meet Jesse’s dad, Cesar, and Jesse’s grandmother who lives with them. We also meet Marisol, a friend of Jesse and Hector. At their graduation party, held in the court of Jesse’s apartment building, we learn that Jesse’s mother passed away years ago.

Later we see Jesse setting up a GoPro wearable video camera he purchased right after graduation. Next Jesse and Hector run around with the portable video camera recording themselves doing dumb kid things such as pissing off gangsters on the street. Finally they hear some strange noise coming out of an apartment belonging to Anna, a lady the locals call a bruja, or witch. She lives below Jesse’s family. Curious about what is going on down there, Jesse and Hector send the camera below through the air duct to have a look. They see Anna painting a strange symbol on the body of a pregnant woman before the noise of the camera alerts her.

Later, they hear a gun shot and see their friend Oscar running over the wall of the apartment. The police show-up and tell everyone to stay indoors. The next day the newspapers finger Oscar as the killer of Anna. And no one can figure out why. So Jesse and Hector decide to break into the deceased Anna’s apartment to see what they can find. They find a lot. But telling more would spoil the plot.

I will say it’s a scary movie which uses the “Found Footage” format effectively. I haven’t seen one of these FF films on a big screen since Blair Witch made the style famous in 1999. Too much camera swirl makes me sea sick. But the director has managed to balance it just right so the willing suspension of disbelief can take effect. You don’t mind the lack of resolution because it’s expected.

Most of the scares come from things jumping out unexpectedly into the screen. There’s also plenty of unexplained background images to add to the creep factor. People who examine old VHS tapes for ghosts will love this movie. There’s also a good amount of Cops style violence when needed to move the plot along.

There’s no attempt to explain the Mexican-American angle to the viewer. Every thing is “just is”. A big chunk of the dialogue is in casual Spanish (Jesse’s grandmother doesn’t speak much English). However, it just so happens that Hector doesn’t understand Spanish too well, so Jesse has to translate when grandma talks (“She just said…”). I’m sure plenty of people who are fluent in Spanish will be giving interpretations in days to come on the Internet. There are no subtitles in the film.

So I can recommend this movie if you want a good scare. The ending, like the others is vague enough to expect another one, which I’m sure is in the works.







Posted in Demonic Horror Movies, Evil Witch Movies, Found Footage Movies, Horror Movies | Leave a comment

“New Year’s Evil” at The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA

New years evil 199x300 New Years Evil at The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA

Original poster for “New Year’s Evil”.

Friday, December 13 (appropriately), 2013, was the showing of the classic slasher film New Year’s Evil at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, PA. Once again, I was able to make it over to my local art house theater for its monthly “First Friday” horror movie. And a big thank-you to the committee which made it possible. This month’s showing was with a crisp 35mm print. It had signs of wear, but I expected it. As a matter of fact, a few scratches and splices add to the experience. The New Year’s Evil print was a vast improvement over last month’s Tales from the Crypt, which had faded to red.

It was larger crowd than the last showing. And the attendees were in tune with the movie: several of them entered shouting “Pinky Tuscadero!”, in honor of the star of the film. The presentation opened with the committee handing out door prizes and introducing the film. New Year’s Evil was the first of the holiday horror movies released in the wake of Halloween‘s mega success. I didn’t win any of the coveted DVD’s this time.

New Year’s Evil begins with a new year’s TV show selecting the best “new wave” song of 1978. Dianne “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly) is getting ready to host the show. Right away we are introduced to her manager and messed-up son. Her personal assistant gets killed after the credits. While introducing the first band, Blaze gets a phone call from a fan. But this fan is a psychopathic killer who promises to kill one person as it turns midnight in each American time zone. He calls himself “Evil” and promises to call back after each kill.

This movie is best 70′s cheese I can recommend. From the ridiculous hair styles to the lame slam dancing in the audience, this movie is the perfect antidote to That 70′s Show. Even the “New Wave” bands are terribel: songs and performances which make The Knack look like The Clash. There’s even the token discussion of EST, TM and transactional analysis. And the soundtrack music…dear Gawd, was there ever so much analog synthesizer music in one place?

Roz Kelly is the only member of the cast to show any acting ability. Even in her late 30′s, she manages to pull off the “Queen of Rock and Roll” theme with some ability. With the exception of John Alderman’s brief psychiatrist appearance, there’s really not much else to recommend. Kip Niven, who plays the psycho killer, gives a performance at the conclusion which can only be described as pain induction. At least the audience saw the humor potential in it all.

Colonial concession 300x168 New Years Evil at The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA

As usual, the staff at the Colonial did their best, even with the approaching snow storm. I did note the lady in the ticket booth had her coat on. The theater itself was warm, something to be admired in that cavern. And they still have the least expensive theater popcorn in the area.




Posted in 70's Horror Movies, Colonial Theater First Friday Fright Night, Slasher Movies | Leave a comment