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Have you ever taken a bite of terrible food and immediately turned to the person next to you and said, “Here, try this!” Have you ever seen a disgusting video on the internet only to show it to someone else just to see their reaction? This, I suspect, is the reason people are still talking about Sleepaway Camp today.

Thanks to the success of Friday the 13th, like several other slasher films of the 1980s, Sleepaway Camp takes place at a summer camp. After her father and brother are killed, young Angela goes to live with her Aunt Martha and cousin Ricky. Ricky and Angela go off to summer camp together, which seems like a good idea until Angela begins getting picked on and people begin dying. Is sweet, innocent Angela the killer? Is it her over protective cousin Ricky? Or is it someone else?

All of this is difficult to focus on because there’s so many other creepy things going on. And I don’t mean creepy like spiders crawling on people, I mean creepy like camp counselors who continually make remarks about which thirteen-year-old campers they want to have sex with. And then there are the death scenes, which sound disturbing (one involves a beehive; another, a curling iron) but are so bizarre that it’s hard not to laugh at them.

Yes, every part of this movie is bizarre. And then there’s the ending, which is so bizarre that it makes the rest of the movie… I don’t want to say “seem normal,” but it’s so earth-shattering bizarre that no one will be talking about the beehive or curling iron scenes afterwards. It’s so jarring that I guarantee you will rewind however you are watching the film and watch it again. It wouldn’t surprise me back in 1983 to hear of people marching right back into the theater to watch the film a second time. Like Sixth Sense, this film is entirely different upon a second viewing.

When this movie was pitched, I can imagine the studio asking “what sets your movie apart from all the other slasher films?” and then the producer shows him the last page of the script and they all say, “yup, that’ll do it!”

If you’re ever up for watching a messed up movie, come on over and we’ll watch Sleepaway Camp. I can’t wait to see your reaction.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

On June 16, 1984, Ricky Kasso murdered Gary Lauwers over a $50 drug debt in the woods outside Long Island, New York. Ricky Kasso was a self-proclaimed Satan worshiper, a fan of heavy metal music, a drug addict, and schizophrenic. Kasso was arrested for the murder less than a month later on July 5th, and hung himself in his jail cell two days after that.

Several books and films have documented Kasso’s case. Ricky 6 (also known as Ricky Six and Say You Love Satan) is unique in that it’s a film “based on a true story.” Only the names have been changed (yeah, right). In this film Ricky Kasso becomes Ricky Cowen (aka Ricky Six), while his real life partner-in-crime Jimmy Troiano becomes Tommy and Gary Lauwers’ name is inexplicably changed to Tweasel.

Director Peter Filardi’s biggest challenge with Ricky 6 was making the character Ricky remotely likable. He does this in a number of ways; one, by picking a somewhat attractive actor (Vincent Kartheiser, better known as Pete Campbell from television’s Mad Men).

In a rare case of making the fictionalized version of a news story less (instead of more) violent, Filardi also toned down a number of the facts from the case. In the film, Ricky stabs Tweasel and shouts “Say you love Satan!” In real life, Kasso’s victim was tortured to “three or four hours,” according to witnesses. Also in real life, Kasso shoved rocks down his victim’s throat and carved his eyeballs out with a knife.

Despite leaving out some of the more violent details, the film loosely parallel’s Kasso’s real life. Both stories show a troubled teen’s life spiraling out of control as he falls into heavy drug use (lots of mescaline and PCP-laced joints) combined with schizophrenia (hearing voices). Although Kasso was originally arrested wearing an AC/DC shirt and some press at the time mentioned the “heavy metal” angle, it’s not presented strongly in the film. Instead what we see is a fall from grace (and sanity) by a kid with some definite mental and chemical issues. We see Ricky go from a kid on the football team to a kid who dabbles in Satanism to a kid strung out on dope to a murderer to a kid who hangs himself in his own jail cell in under two hours. Forget those ABC after school specials; let your kid watch this and he’ll “just say no” on his or her own.

After making a brief visit to a few film festivals, Ricky 6 was shelved and never released. Some online sources say that the Columbine shootings played a part in that; others report that the film’s owner is now in prison himself (I could not verify this). Ten years ago this is the type of movie that, without distribution, would have dropped off the face of the earth. Fortunately for anyone interested you can watch the entire movie on Youtube.

I don’t know that I would watch Ricky 6 again or that I would even classify it as a horror movie. If you want to really be scared, read David St. Clair’s non-fiction account of the murders, Say You Love Satan. It’s a hell of a lot scarier than any fiction film.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

While in Denver last week, the O’Haras and the Martins went on a gold panning adventure in the Phoenix Gold Mine located in Idaho Springs, Colorado.

The day began by feeding chipmunks at the entrance of the mine. Pans of seeds were provided. If you don’t like chipmunks crawling on you, don’t pick up a pan of seed. They are not shy.

After a brief set of instructions, we were turned loose to go gold panning in the creek that runs down from the mountain. Jeff’s family had their own panning bowls while Susan and the kids used the metal pie plates provided by the mine. Susan wasted no time in scooping up some of the creek’s dirt and sifting through it.

The creek definitely contains gold, just not enough for the owners to mine (they’ve moved on to the next mountain). If you’re patient and lucky enough, you’ll start to find little gold flakes down in the bottom of your pan. Talon (Jeff’s son) found a few flakes in his first pan’s worth of pay dirt.

For a couple of hours, everybody panned away. Mason ended up finding a nugget roughly the size of a BB. Morgan found a few flakes but lost interest fairly quickly. Susan brought home a jug full of dirt and has been sorting through it at the dinner table, looking for more gold.

I’d be lying to you if I said I’ve been dying to watch Q: The Winged Serpent. Fact is, I’m going through the alphabet watching horror movies and there aren’t a whole of them that start with the letter Q.

The plot of Q: The Winged Serpent (such as it is) is pretty straight forward. In the film, Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Stuff, Maniac Cop 1-3) perches the titular winged serpent on top of the Chrysler building in New York City, where it occasionally descends from to feast on the heads of New York citizens. When Jimmy Quinn (played by long time Cohen collaborator Michael Moriarty) discovers the location of the serpent’s nest while hiding out after a failed robbery, instead of turning the information over to the police he instead attempts to sell it to them for one million dollars.

The film co-stars David Carradine and Richard Roundtree as cops in search of Quetzalcoatl, aka “Q”. Before long we learn that an Aztec cult performing ritualistic murders is responsible for Q’s arrival and it’s up to the cops to stop both the cult and Q itself.

According to legend, Q: The Winged Serpent was conceived and written in a single week after Larry Cohen was let go from another low budget film and found himself already in New York City. Along for the ride was David Allen, the stop-motion animator of Q (Allen’s credits include Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Caveman, Ghostbusters II, and the Puppet Master films.) I’ve always been a fan of guerrilla film making and Cohen’s commentary track (available on the Blu-Ray release) is amazing to listen to.

Also amazing is the fact that Q: The Winged Serpent was released on Blu-Ray. But I digress…

I miss the days of stop-motion monsters. Q: The Winged Serpent has a charm about it that makes it fun to watch. Don’t get me wrong: this is a horrible movie and should not be mistaken for good cinema, but parts of the movie feel like some of the people were trying which is about as positive as I can get. Q is a fun but terrible monster movie.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

I saw Poltergeist when it first came out in 1982. The film features an eight-year-old boy named Robbie who gets attacked by a tree outside his window. When I first saw the film, I was also an eight-year-old boy named Robbie with a tree outside my window. Later in the film, Robbie gets attacked by a clown doll. I never owned a clown doll… just in case.

It’s been at least a decade, maybe two, since I saw Poltergeist. I still think it’s great, and like any great horror film, it works on multiple levels. The film contains plenty of scares, but as with many (most?) Spielberg productions, it attacks your heartstrings as well. As a kid, the idea of ghosts pulling me into a television was scary. As an adult, the concept of losing a child and not being able to rescue him or her is horrifying.

In Poltergeist, five-year-old Carol Anne makes contact with “the TV People,” who turn out to be spirits from beyond communicating through the Freeling’s television. The contacts increase in frequency and the poltergeists increase in power until Carol Anne is pulled into the spiritual void. The Freelings bring in a trio of paranormal investigators to search for their daughter, but when the trio of researchers realize that this is no prank and that this is outside of their scope, they bring in Tangina, a psychic with the knowledge and strength to formulate a plan to rescue Carol Anne.

For the most part I feel like this movie still stands up as most of the themes (corporate greed and the loss of a child) are timeless. As for the special effects, I’d say some stood the test of time while some (Marty’s bathroom hallucination) looked laughably fake.

Poltergeist was followed by the almost-as-good Poltergeist 2, the not-so-great Poltergeist 3, and the television series Poltergeist: The Legacy. Some (if not all of these) attempted to build on the back story surrounding the hauntings, but I felt like the first film gave us all that we needed.

A remake Poltergeist is currently underway and set to be released in 2015. I am sure the special effects will be better. I am not sure it will be a better film.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

The Omen doesn’t rely on traditional horror “bumps and jumps” to frighten you. Instead, it frightens the bejesus out of you with a horrific premise, and goes from there.

Unbeknownst to her, Katherine Thorn’s newborn son died shortly after birth. Her husband Robert is convinced by the hospital’s priest to secretly adopt an orphaned baby and raise it as their own. Robert agrees to the deception, and the Thorn’s return home with their newborn son, Damien — who just so happens to be the Antichrist.

Early in the film we learn there’s something different about Damien. Animals react violently in his presence and he has a real issue with entering churches, but it’s not until we witness the boy’s nanny publicly hang herself in the middle of Damien’s birthday party that we see the real power he harnesses (whether he knows it or not).

Multiple people attempt to solve the mystery of Damien’s evil origins, the first of which is Father Brennan who actually knows the boy’s history. Damien’s father Robert dismisses Father Brennan as a crazy old man, but later teams up with journalist Keith Jennings who works Robert to solve the mystery when his photographs apparently begin to predict the deaths of people surrounding Damien. Eventually the two race to put an end to Damien before he can fulfill the biblical prophecy and rise to power. I’ll not say who prevails, but the first sequel to this film was called Damien: Omen II. And there were two more movies released after that one.

Horror films from the 1970s are typically slower-paced than modern films, but that works in The Omen’s favor. Damien’s evil slowly builds along with the film’s tension, and we as the audience must go along Robert Thorn’s personal journey as he goes from a protective father to a man being convinced that his son is literally the Antichrist — so convinced that he is willing to murder him.

The Omen is a definite horror classic. I didn’t see the 2006 remake because I feel like this one still stands up. It’s slow and brooding, but sometimes that’s how evil works.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

Growing up I loved all those horror anthologies of the 1980s like Cat’s Eye, Creepshow 1 and 2, Tales from the Darkside, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and countless others. I remember catching parts of of Nightmares on HBO back in the day, but never saw the entire thing from beginning to end before.

Nightmares consists of four stories: “Terror in Topanga,” “Bishop of Battle,” “The Benediction,” and “Night Of The Rat.” Each one contains a supernatural angle. Unlike some of the other anthologies, there’s no “bookend” story to hang the segments on. Here, they’re simply unrelated “chapters” packaged together.

Each segment can be completely summarized with a single sentence. In “Terror in Topanga,” a serial killer on the loose ends up in the backseat of a woman’s car. In “Bishop of Battle,” a young Emilio Estevez is so obsessed with an arcade game that he plays it until the game literally consumes him. In “The Benediction,” a priest who has lost his faith does battle with evil itself in the form of a black Chevy pickup. Finally, “Night of the Rat” is about some rats that attack a family in the night (some larger than others).

I’m being a bit factitious in my descriptions, but in all honesty none of the stories in Nightmares are particularly deep. A couple of the stories (most notably “Terror in Topanga”) feel less like complete stories and more like clips taken from other movies. Unsurprisingly my favorite of the lot was “Bishop of Battle,” most of which takes place in 1980s arcades. The graphics of the game seem silly in retrospect, but then again so do most of the film’s few special effects.

What I took away from Nightmares is that death is pretty avoidable. When there’s a serial killer on the loose, don’t get in your car with the gas gauge pointing to empty and head out for cigarettes. if you hear a rat scratching inside the walls of your house, call an exterminator. If you’re a priest who has lost the faith, read the Bible instead of abandoning the church and setting out on a drive across the desert in a car with no air conditioning. And whatever you do, if the Bishop of Battle taunts you into playing level 13, put down the quarters and your Sony Walkman and walk away…

Despite Nightmares’ 17% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I kind of liked it. Even a bad segment in a horror anthology is only twenty minutes long. I suspect the financial backers of the film ended up with more nightmares than the viewing audience, but I didn’t think it was as terrible as many other mainstream reviewers did.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

The kids were out of school two days last week for Fall Break, so the four of us loaded up the car and headed toward Denver. In between this month’s horror reviews, I’ll be writing a bit about our trip.

We left for Denver Thursday morning, early enough that we made it to Casa Bonita in time for dinner. There used to be a Casa Bonita in Oklahoma City and Susan has many fond memories of it. This was our second time as a family to eat at the Casina Bonita in Denver. Sadly, it will probably be our last.

Our friends in Denver described Casa Bonita as a “Mexican Chuck E. Cheese,” and that’s not far from the truth. Around every corner there’s some sort of entertainment. In the hour we were there we saw a guy in a gorilla suit chasing his trainer, another guy juggling fire, and a cliff diver who dove 20 feet into a lagoon 14 feet deep in the middle of the restaurant.

The part of the restaurant normally known as Black Bart’s Cave was completely redone in a Halloween theme. There was a small haunted house and lots of animatronics ready to jump out at every corner.

After killing some time in the haunted caves, we made our way over to the arcade. It seemed smaller than last time — maybe a dozen arcade games surrounded by a few ticket redemption games and fifteen skee-ball machines that were calling Susan.

Arcade games. Haunted mines. Cliff diving. What wasn’t to like?

Stomach cramps and diarrhea, for one. Casa Bonita sent all four of us scrambling to the bathroom, where we sat with stomach cramps as Casa Bonita made its way through us.

And speaking of bathrooms, Susan had one other complaint: cockroaches in the bathroom. Dozens of them, all over the bathroom mirror.

The entertainment was great, but the toilet time and the cockroaches weren’t so great. I’m glad Susan was able to mark this one off her bucket list because it’s pretty doubtful we’ll be back.

I didn’t see My Bloody Valentine when it first came out; in fact, until last night I had never seen it. In 1981, My Bloody Valentine was a violent and somewhat original film. In 2014, it comes off as just another slasher film.

My Bloody Valentine borrows almost every film trope seen previously in Friday the 13th. Both films feature a child who grew up to be a killer. Both killers wear masks. If you have sex during the movie, you’re probably going to die. Both like sticking sharp objects through people’s chests. Sure, one of them prefers machetes while the other wields a pick ax, but that’s really splitting skulls — er, straws. It’s hard to remember a time when these staples of the horror genre hadn’t been beaten to death (both figuratively and literally).

The film takes place in Valentine Bluffs, a mining town that also happened to be the site of a horrible mining tragedy twenty-years prior. Harry Worden, a miner, was trapped underground and forced to eat the bodies of his co-workers to survive, an act that made him insane. Valentine Bluffs hasn’t celebrated Valentine’s Day since the day of the accident, but when they decide to, Harry Worden (OR IS IT?) returns with an ax to grind. Again, literally.

Worden, who appears wearing a miner’s mask to hide his identity, has a habit of cutting people’s hearts out and leaving them in heart-shaped boxes (along with tacky poems) for the local authorities. Once the sheriff realizes Worden is back he tries to call off the local Valentine’s dance, but the townsfolk go around his back and have a party anyway… with bloody results.

There’s a love triangle and a whodunnit mystery going on amidst all of this, but the real stars are the kills — brutal and realistic, especially by 1981 standards. So brutal and real in fact that the MPAA cut somewhere between 3 and 9 minutes (depending on who’s telling the story) to get the film down to an R-rating. The 2009 DVD release has the cut footage reinserted. Again, by today’s standards it’s rather mild, but at the time it must have been over the top.

I didn’t think My Bloody Valentine was bad, I just felt like I had seen before — and if you’ve watched more than a couple slasher films, you have too. I felt more like I was paying respect to the film by watching it than anything. My Bloody Valentine is considered to be a classic of the slasher genre… I just wish I hadn’t seen 100 rip-offs before watching the original first.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

I suspect that The Little Girl Who Lives Down the lane will be one of the least bloody and least violent films I’ll watch this holiday season. It may also end up being the most unsettling.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the lane stars a thirteen-year-old Jodie Foster as Rynn, the titular girl living down the lane. Rynn claims to live with her father in a rent house, but a few nosy townsfolk realize that none of them have actually met the girl’s father. Rynn’s father is always conveniently out of town, working in his study, or upstairs sleeping when people drop by.

The film feels like a play, with one major location (Rynn’s house) and a small cast of characters. The few people Rynn interacts with are Mrs. Hallet (the landlord), her grown son Frank Hallet (the town pedophile), police officer Miglioriti, and his fifteen-year-old nephew, Mario.

In all of Jodi Foster’s childhood roles she comes off as being wise beyond her years, and this movie is no exception. Rynn is always quick with a story as to where her father is and handles herself as an adult throughout the film. She remains one step ahead of everyone, and by the time they realize it, she’s three steps ahead.

This movie is not your traditional horror film. In fact, although we learn about four deaths during the film, none of them take place on screen and we only end up seeing one dead body. The horror in this film does not come from traditional gore or scares; instead it comes from a thirteen-year-old girl being actively hunted by a sexual predator who no one is either willing or able to stop.

The film also includes a sexual relationship between thirteen-year-old Rynn and the slightly older (fifteen) Mario. There’s a brief nude scene apparently featuring Foster’s slightly older sister that’s not terribly explicit, but it’s enough to make you wonder how this film earned a PG rating. The 70s were a different era, that’s for sure.

I don’t know that I would call this a Halloween film or even a horror film (it’s more “psychological thriller,” if anything), I would definitely recommend it.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)