Demon Wind (1990)

Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead = The Velvet Underground.

I accept that it’s not a perfect analogy, but you get where I’m coming from. It’s an undeniable influence.

Nearly 10 years after Raimi and Bruce Campbell caught lightning in a bottle, Charles Phillip Moore and his crew unveiled a delightfully unfettered homage, Demon Wind, about another bunch of old teenagers assailed by occult forces in a rural location.

Corey (Eric Larson) and his girlfriend Elaine (Francine Lapensée) meet up with a group of friends and stereotypes to solve the mystery of Corey’s grandparents, who perished under mysterious circumstances during the Great Depression.

Turns out the family farm (more of a tattered theater set, really) is on land originally claimed by a devil-loving preacher and his followers who were set ablaze by townsfolk with no taste for human sacrifice.

Once Corey and his comrades reach the farm, all hell breaks loose, and suddenly, we’re at a Dead show, with ghouls coming out of the woodwork.

I’m not recommending Demon Wind because it’s a brilliantly conceived film that was nurtured to life by the artistic vision of writer-director Charles Phillip Moore.

Rather, it’s the sort of slap-dash amateurism (it was filmed in seven days) that drove Ed Wood to create flying saucers out of paper plates and a cockpit from a shower curtain.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and the makeup and practical effects on Demon Wind, though plentiful, range from barely adequate to comically half-assed.

Moore employs a similarly scattergun approach to the narrative, seizing and abandoning ideas with random enthusiasm.

One of the doomed kids, Chuck (Stephen Quadros), is a magician with a black belt. His friend Stacy (Jack Forcinito) has a shotgun with unlimited ammunition.

Chuck still carries a torch for Terri (Lynn Clark) who now belongs to homophobic meathead Dell (Bobby Johnston).

Poor Bonnie (Sherrie Bendorf) gets turned into a doll, and no one seems to care.

Magic spells are cast. You can tell because that’s when the bloopy, hand-drawn animation appears.

The entire cast looks as though it just stepped out of a Huey Lewis video. Feel free to hit pause and ridicule the myriad lame looks available to pre-grunge adolescents.

And don’t worry about Corey’s friends dying. When the pack gets thin, Amazon thoughtfully sends more.

Stinky cheese makes the tastiest snack, no?

Terrifier (2016)

Move over, Pennywise. There’s a new clown in town, one without pity or dialogue.

Ladies and gentlemen, Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton).

There’s little setup necessary in Terrifier. It’s Halloween. There’s a killer clown at large. What else do you need?

After a night of fending off creeps, Tara (Jenna Kanell) and Dawn (Catherine Corcoran), a couple of pickled party girls, stop off for a slice of pizza in the hopes that one of them will eventually be sober enough to drive home.

While perusing the menu, they are in turn perused by the next customer, a plainly fiendish harlequin, who says nary a word. Incapable of miming his toppings, the clown gets 86’d by the brusque owner of the establishment (Gino Caferelli).

And thus the fuse is lit and the carnage cannon can commence firing.

Art the Clown kills people because he thinks it’s funny, explains a character identified as Cat Lady. “But it’s not funny, because people die,” she concludes.

Talk about a weird sense of humor. Art the Clown doesn’t merely murder his victims, he creates gory performance art installations.

He chases victims atop a wee tricycle with a little beeping horn. He stomps one guy’s head like a pumpkin (big shoes!), and removes another head to make a jack-o-lantern.

For his big-finish showstopper, Art non-magically saws a woman in half.

Even when he prosaically resorts to using a gun, it’s not for the sake of efficiency, but because he likes to make holes in people’s faces.

Terrifier is an absurdly gruesome and bloody spectacle, and writer-director Damien Leone leaves no jugular unsevered, layering one darkly delicious death on top of another like an evil cake boss.

The silently menacing clown, a sinister cross of Harpo Marx and Pagliacci, is indeed terrifying. Actor David Howard Thornton demonstrates an impressive range of skills, including dexterity and marvelous comic timing.

Only it isn’t funny because people die. Fortunately, they do pass in entertaining fashion.

 

Babysitter Wanted (2008)

The subject is babysitters. Talk about a thankless job. Minimum wage, shitty snacks, bratty kids, and knife-wielding maniacs? Hard pass.

But what can you do when you have no bed to sleep in? Get a job, slacker.

Angie (Sarah Thompson) is a new student at a Northern California community college, with a dorm room that includes a sullen stoner roommate, but sadly, no bed. Beneath a bunch of Missing Person fliers on the community bulletin board, she finds a number for a babysitting job.

Once employment is secured, Angie looks forward to eventually getting a good night’s sleep.

Complications abound. The job is way out in the boonies and Angie’s shitbox car won’t make it. Also, there seems to be a horribly scarred bald dude following her.

At this point, Angie could probably write off her anxiety as a bad case of freshman jitters, since Jim Stanton (Bruce Thomas) and his wife Violet (Kristen Dalton) appear to be honest, hardworking farmers who just need someone to watch their little boy, Sam (Kai Caster).

What could possibly go wrong? Let’s put it this way: the scary scarred dude is the least of her worries.

In my estimation, writer and co-director Jonas Barnes utilizes the babysitter premise far more effectively than Ti West did in the similarly themed House of the Devil, which came out the following year in 2009.

While West is undoubtedly a gifted visual stylist, HotD comes across as a painfully self-aware exercise in genre clothes. The onscreen shocks were distant and removed, as though filmed through a dispassionate filter.

Babysitter Wanted is savage and satisfyingly visceral, with a cast that plays it to the hilt, including the always-dependable Bill Moseley in a rare non-maniac role.

Sarah Thompson, who looks a bit like Jennifer Garner, imbues Final Girl Angie with fire and fortitude, which comes in mighty handy when the kid she’s being paid to watch wakes up hungry as hell.

Wouldn’t you know it? He’s got dietary restrictions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trick (2019)

By the narrowest of margins, I’m going to recommend Trick.

It was barely compelling enough for me to see it through, largely based on a gutsy performance by Omar Epps as FBI agent Mike Denver, a haunted man tracking a Halloween-masked serial killer.

Epps is the big fish in this cinematic small pond and acquits himself as a true professional, elevating a maxed-out credit-card budget and a ponderous script to a level that is almost entirely serviceable.

Nutshell: Anonymous adolescent Patrick (“Trick”) Weaver (Thomas Niemann) becomes an internet celebrity after flipping his mask and stabbing a bunch of classmates at a Halloween party. Despite being gutted by a fireplace poker, falling out a five-story window, and getting shot several times by Denver and Sheriff Jayne (Ellen Adair), Trick’s body is never found.

Coincidentally, teens in neighboring towns are similarly slaughtered on subsequent Halloweens, leading a determined Denver to ponder the possibility of a copycat killer—or one that’s seemingly returned from the grave.

Director and co-writer Patrick Lussier is an industry lifer with editing credits that date back to MacGyver in the late 1980s. It’s not surprising that Trick is competently crafted in terms of action and pace, and there’s more than enough blood and guts to pacify the psychos.

However, if you’re paying attention at all, there are plot holes aplenty, and when some characters we barely know reveal themselves to be key figures in a vast conspiracy, the effect is more confusing than clarifying.

Mostly what you get with Trick are familiar bloody tropes taped together in haphazard fashion, in the hope that genre fans will recognize and appreciate a very modest tribute.

 

Creep (2004)

Talk about being typecast. Ever since her star turn in the 1998 indie thriller Run Lola Run, German actress Franka Potente could usually be found in films sprinting around scenic European locales, pursued by dark forces.

They don’t get much darker than the titular fiend in Creep, and the speedy Ms. Potente is off and running once again, this time through the labyrinthine London Underground.

Kate (Potente) is a fashionable socialite who gets a tip that George Clooney is in London, so she sets off in the wee hours to crash his party. Instead, she falls asleep on a subway platform and gets locked in the tube for the night.

Upon awakening, Kate discovers her life has rapidly turned to shit. First, she’s set upon by a coked-up coworker (Jeremy Sheffield), and then forced to flee into the tunnels chased by a murderous albino freak (Sean Harris) who lives in the subterranean ruins of an abandoned hospital and shrieks like a bird.

Creep actually works better as a Buñuelian bourgeois bad dream, rather than a straight-up monster movie. Kate’s literal descent into the lowest social strata is the true horror here. From privileged party girl to submerged in sewage, fighting for her life armed only with a spiked heel, she must adapt and survive guided by her most primitive instincts.

Writer/director Christopher Smith gets downright claustrophobic in his underground world building, and he keeps the action grim and brisk. And kudos to actor Sean Harris for creating a first-rate creature, a truly inexplicable anomaly capable of guest-starring in anybody’s nightmare.

Ruin Me (2018)

Honey, for our vacation this year, let’s try something different.

Ever wanted to experience the adrenaline boost that comes from getting chased by a masked killer through the forest in the dark? Man, there’s nothing like it!

This is the premise of Ruin Me, in which thoughtful boyfriend Nathan (Matt Dellapina), surprises his taciturn girlfriend Alexandra (Marcienne Dwyer) with two tickets to Slasher Sleepaway—a 36-hour fun-fest that requires six campers to find clues in order to survive a frightful night in the woods.

Editor’s Note: If I were to surprise my wife with a similar gift, the only blood spilling would be mine.

As so often happens in these bucolic scenarios, the line between fantasy and reality gets lost in the dark, and Alexandra and Nathan gradually come to regret signing the liability waiver as fellow campers are stalked and sliced by a nearby escaped lunatic.

Director and cowriter Preston DeFrancis straps the viewer onto a bucking bronco of jumps, twists, and stupefying gaps of logic that play out in agreeable fashion for fans of the Doomed Camper genre. Even as we celebrate our beloved bloody tropes, we begin to notice clues of our own that point in a different direction.

If you can suspend your disbelief on occasion, the time passes enjoyably and you’ll even find yourself rooting for Alexandra, an unexpectedly complex and resourceful Final Girl, played with much gusto by Marcienne Dwyer.

Like the supporting cast, who appear to be a typical assortment of nerds, goths, and sluts, there is more to Ruin Me than just the usual suspects and psychos dueling in the dark. Sometimes the choices we’re forced to make are far scarier than any boogeyman.

Giant From The Unknown (1958)

He’s husky, but I wouldn’t call him a giant.

It’s pretty obvious truth in advertising laws don’t apply to monster movies made in the 1950s. Former boxer Buddy Baer (uncle of Beverly Hillbillies‘ Jethro, Max Baer, Jr) stands about 6-7, and tips the scales at a solid 250, as the titular creature. Impressive measurements, but well short of beanstalk status.

Still, when he dons his conquistador clothes after waking up from a 500-year nap, the local citizens of a California mountain town wet their collective knickers.

Enter leading man geologist Wayne Brooks (Ed Kemmer), Professor Cleveland (Morris Ankrum), and Janet (Sally Fraser), the prof’s sassy daughter, who are soon on the case, at first searching for fossil evidence of a rogue band of Spanish soldiers that kicked around the vicinity centuries before, led by a large inarticulate fellow called Vargas.

After about 35 minutes of zero action—other than Wayne and Janet’s awkward flirting—the trio deduces that Vargas (Baer), has shaken off the effects of suspended animation after being struck by lightning, and has slaughtered a bunch of nearby livestock (woke up hungry, I guess), sending area rubes into a panic.

The movie is over in 80 minutes, leading to thoughts that the whole thing might have been a diet-inspired hallucination. Highlights include Vargas throwing small rocks at his pursuers, a midnight make-out sesh with Wayne and Janet, and doomed secondary characters named Charlie Brown and Injun Joe who fall victim to the massive Spaniard’s rampage.

Giant From The Unknown is an actual relic, a funny ol’ fly in amber from Tuesday afternoon matinees on Channel 12, when harried housewives had a moment to drain a fast pitcher of martinis before returning to domestic servitude.

Note to Joel: It’s also a prime candidate for Season 12 of Mystery Science Theater. Just sayin’.

 

 

The Bye Bye Man (2017)

Oh bloody hell, it’s another one of those infernal boogeymen that insists on crashing the party whenever some poor slob mentions their name. This incarnation is so sensitive that he’ll appear and turn your life to sewage if you so much as think it.

Elliott (Doug Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and John (Lucien Laviscount) are a trio of uninteresting Wisconsin college students who forgo the dorm experience in favor of renting a dilapidated old brick mansion that they restore to former grandeur in nothing flat.

At the inaugural housewarming beer blast, a little girl finds an old coin in an upstairs bedroom, an impromptu seance occurs, and the next thing you know, Elliott yodels the name of the titular evil spirit, bringing ruination to one and all.

The Bye Bye Man has a few things going for it: Robert Kurtzman’s makeup effects are ghastly good, and name actors Faye Dunaway and Carrie-Ann Moss stop by for a cup of coffee. Sadly, a few touches of professional acting and groovy gore only serve to make the rest of the movie look rather anemic.

Director Stacy Title can’t summon any genuine frights out of Jonathan Penner’s screenplay (based on a story by Robert Damon Schneck), a hodgepodge of convoluted plot points and cookie-cutter cliches that amount to little more than a bargain-brand Candyman. Adequate genre entertainment, but just barely.

Editor’s Note: A game that requires participants to drink bourbon whenever the phrase “Don’t think it/don’t say it” appears, would help to pass the time.

 

You’re Next (2011)

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Except for one small detail, You’re Next is a satisfying plunge into dark domestic waters, and shapes up as a nail-biting cross between Straw Dogs and Strangers.

Aussie starlet Sharni Vinson is dynamite as a resourceful guest defending a dinner party at an isolated manor house against a trio of murderous invaders. The tension level continually hovers near the ceiling and the pace is relentless.

When Crispian (AJ Bowen) brings new girlfriend Erin (Vinson) to the family estate to meet the rest of his affluent clan, all heck breaks loose, as assorted neighbors and dinner guests find themselves perforated by crossbow bolts and chopped into corpse kindling, with the grisly tableaux usually accompanied by the bloody message, “You’re next!”

As luck would have it, plucky Erin grew up in a survivalist camp and has the skills to fight back against a team of assassins hidden behind creepy animal masks. There’s nifty gallows humor and gritty kills, and the cast includes genre veteran Barbara Crampton as the family matriarch.

My question for director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett is this: Is art director Nathan Truesdell color blind, or did you sign off on the brown blood? During a few key scenes, stabbing victims look more like sloppy sundae eaters, with faces and clothes soaked in a distinctly caramel-colored goo. It’s a noticeable distraction in an otherwise exciting flick.

The wheel is not reinvented, but You’re Next packs more than enough thrills to keep a body tuned in, even if it is covered in chocolate syrup.

 

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

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Where do I begin? Probably where most people do—the ending.

The finale of Sleepaway Camp is crazier than Andy Dick on bath salts, and accounts for about 90 percent of the mystique that surrounds this camp-killer relic. There is also much fun to be had watching an amazing time capsule of hideous ’80s hair and clothes. One kid wears an Asia (the band) T-shirt!

Though not a particularly gory movie, the kills are inventive, and writer-director Robert Hiltzig (a film student at the time) somehow sustains enough tension with his amateur freak-show cast to carry us through to the aforementioned ending.

Which, in case I didn’t make myself clear, is the stuff of afternoons whiled away on the psychiatrist’s couch.

Introverted Angela (Felissa Rose) and her boisterous cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) are shipped off to Camp Arawak, a substandard bucolic retreat for horny teens.

Much of the discomfort encountered in Sleepaway Camp comes from virtually all the campers behaving like hormonal nitwits, which wouldn’t be so bad, except that most of actors look like they’re 12, tops. Ewww.

Since she’s the quiet type, Angela naturally gets picked on by her bitchy bunkmates, but does successfully attract the attention of Paul (Christopher Collett), a nice boy, whom she soon finds in a compromising lip-lock with her chief tormentor, Judy (Karen Fields, who, in her own bored, flirty way, is the film’s real monster). A series of deadly “accidents” ensue, as one camper drowns and another gets stung to death by bees.

Let’s meet the staff!

Counselor Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) is an Italian body builder who ambles about in horrifying shorty shorts; the cook (Owen Hughes) is a brazen sexual predator, and Mel, the cigar-smoking, hopelessly middle-aged camp director (Mike Kellin, who’s been in about a zillion movies since 1950) is a man increasingly worried about the camp’s financial bottom line, once the corpses start piling up.

However, he’s not so worried that he can’t find time to make indecent proposals to Meg (Katherine Kamhi), a counselor that apparently craves the attention of old homely men in knee socks.

My suspicion here is that Hiltzig, a novice filmmaker, caught some Ed Wood juju in a jar. Somehow, through a combination of luck, desperation, and naive audacity, he made a cheap, traumatic slasher flick that people still talk about. The ending, anyway.

Sleepaway Camp inspired a bunch of sequels, but I can’t speak to their quality.