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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.)

When you’re used to films with budgets of tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, sometimes it’s nice to scale things back to their roots.

I’d guess Kottentail had a budget of approximately $28.75, and that’s assuming they paid full price for the bunny costume.

In Kottentail, a couple of hot girls free a (stuffed) rabbit from an animal testing lab. The plot quickly shifts to cover four hot sorority girls, the two hot rabbit liberators (one of whom is a prostitute), and a hot female cop. You will never believe this, but one hour into the movie, most of these girls end up having a pillow fight. I digress…

Once freed, the rabbit bites Hans Kottentail, who turns into a giant killer rabbit. This causes him to eat a few random people for no real reason.

Eventually five of the hot girls team up and come up with a plan that involves putting on hot bunny costumes in an attempt to lure Kottentail in. It works, and he promptly mauls one of them to death.

There’s some sound effects that sound like they came from 16bit arcade games, there’s some cheesy music, there’s some T&A, there’s a disemboweling, and there’s a killer 6′ tall rabbit in overalls on the loose.

Twenty-four hours ago, Jack Frost was my favorite “bad” Halloween movie. Today, Kottentail knocked it down a rung.

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

Most of the horror icons of the 80s — Jason, Michael Myers, and so forth — were cut from the same fabric. They were big and mean and, for the most part, silent. They rarely spoke, and when they did it wasn’t to crack jokes. Freddy Krueger was the first of the pack to break that mold. In the original Nightmare on Elm Street he was mostly just evil, but with the second film came “You’ve got the body, and I’ve got the brains!” (as he peeled back the top of his own head), and by the time part 3 rolled around he was uttering an evil catch phrase with each murder. (My favorite was when he said “Welcome to prime time!” right before shoving a girl’s face through a television.) Soon after there were dozens of copycat murderers hacking their way through slasher films, doing bad things while offering up bad puns. A match made in Hollywood, for sure.

1997’s Jack Frost begins with the demise of a serial killer named Jack Frost. On the way to his execution, Frost escapes, only to get blasted with an unknown chemical as part of an auto accident. The chemical (which we later learn is experimental genetic chemicals) physically bond’s Jack Frost’s soul with the snow, turning him into a wise-cracking killer snowman.

Jack Frost vowed revenge on Sheriff Sam Tiler, the man responsible for his capture. Frost makes his way back to Snowmonton (ugh) to get his revenge against the Sheriff. By all counts, Frost has the upper hand: he moves silently, he has the ability to melt and reform a’la Terminator 2, and he comes armed with a few weapons and even more bad puns. I’ll give you three guesses what happens right before Jack Frost says, “I only axed you for a smoke…”

After “the world’s most pissed off snow cone” begins hacking his way through town (killing several locals along the way), Frost finally makes it to the police station to face off against the Sheriff, his deputy, and a couple of yahoos from the chemical company who have been posing as FBI agents. The sheriff’s initial plan is to melt Jack Frost, which seems dumb as both we and they have seen Frost melt and reassemble at will. At one point the faux-FBI agents try shooting at water puddles. They even blow up the police station in an attempt to melt Jack Frost, which they learn the hard way won’t work. Frost quickly assembles himself, although he doesn’t look quite right for a bit.

“Look ma, I’m a Picasso!” -Jack Frost

After unconventional weapons fail the cops turn to hair dryers and antifreeze, which work to an extent although knowing there’s a Jack Frost 2 out there (and a third one was planned) makes their solution seem temporary at best.

With a couple of beers and the right friends, Jack Frost might be one of the best worst movies I’ve seen in quite some time. If you’re going in expecting horror or dialogue or anything to make sense, keep on sledding. if you’re looking for a movie about an evil snowman armed with killer icicles and an amorous carrot, boy did you hit the jackpot.

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

Black humor. It’s not for everyone.

In 1999’s Idle Hands, a perpetually stoned teenager named Anton Tobias murders his parents. When his two stoner friends (Mick and Pnub) discover what he has done, he murders them too. It is soon revealed that Anton’s hand has a mind of its own, and soon it wants to kill the love of Anton’s life, Molly. Unable to stop his hand from killing, Anton severs it from his body. Unfortunately this does little more than free it; now, Anton, Mick, and Pnub must stop the hand from killing Molly before it’s too late.

And yes, I included Mick and Pnub. Despite the fact that Anton’s possessed hand stabbed a broken beer bottle into Mick’s forehead and cut Pnub’s head clean off with a well-thrown saw blade, the two of them return from the grave and help Anton in his quest.

Unfortunately the more the writers try to explain why all of this is happening, the worse they make things. We don’t need to know why Anton’s hand is doing these things and frankly the little backstory we get about a high druid priestess chasing a spirit that inhabits only the most worthless of individuals just leads to (a lot) more questions. I wish they hadn’t bothered. The film is funny enough with Mick and Pnub wandering around like undead versions of Bill and Ted while Anton bumbles his way through his quest. Spending brain cycles wondering why any of this is happening is a waste of time.

The special effects in Idle Hands were impressive. Obviously a substantial chunk of the film’s $25 million dollar budget went toward animating Pdub’s severed head and Anton’s wandering hand. In theaters the film earned $4 million. I’m sure more killings took place in the boardroom after the closing credits rolled.

I liked Idle Hands. While the violence is cartoony (Mick reattaches Pnub’s severed head to his body with a meat skewer and a roll of duct tape), the language and drug use would keep me from letting my kids watch it. I didn’t jump while watching the film but I did laugh more than once, which makes Idle Hands better than the film’s 16% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes implies.

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

The last time I saw Motley Crue perform live was January 3rd, 1990. I was sixteen years old, and the band was touring in support of their fifth album, Dr. Feelgood.

After 33 years together as a band, in 2014 Motley Crue announced their farewell tour and publicly signed a contract stating that they would no longer tour together as a band after 2015. While many bands have announced “farewell tours” only to renege later (KISS’s farewell tour was in 2000; they played Tulsa last month), I’m taking the Crue at their word here and assuming this is the last time I will ever have the opportunity to see Vince and his buddies Sixx, Mick, and Tom perform live.

For their farewell tour Motley Crue brought along “very special guest” Alice Cooper as an opening act. Alice Cooper is 66 years old and I did not expect much from his show. I was wrong. Despite the fact that most members of his touring band weren’t even born when Alice first took the stage, they performed each song as if it were their own. (Lead guitarist Nita Strauss was born in 1986, the same year Alice Cooper released his sixteenth studio album, Constrictor).

It was great to finally see the father of shock rock and the predecessor of Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie do his thing on stage. Throughout the show we got to see Alice Cooper strapped into a straightjacket and tortured by a demented nurse, electrocuted, and ultimately, beheaded in a guillotine. After Cooper was “electrocuted,” the band was joined by a ten-foot-tall monster. Check out this “not from our show but it looked just like this” clip. Jump to the 2:15 mark for the good part.

I was disappointed that the band didn’t play anything from Raise Your Fist and Yell (my favorite Alice Cooper album) but they certainly ran through Alice Cooper’s most classic material.

Alice Cooper Setlist

Hello Hooray
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Under My Wheels
I’m Eighteen
Billion Dollar Babies
Poison
Dirty Diamonds
Welcome to My Nightmare
Feed My Frankenstein
Ballad of Dwight Fry
Killer
I Love the Dead
School’s Out (with “Another Brick In The Wall”)

After roughly 30 minutes, Motley Crue took the stage, opening the show with the title track from the latest (2008) album, Saints of Los Angeles. People cheered not for the song but for the band. This was our last time to see Motley Crue perform live. People wanted the band to rip through their entire discography, and that’s exactly what they did. The band didn’t waste any time playing less popular songs from “those years,” completely omitting all material from 1994’s Motley Crue (1994), Generation Swine (1997), and New Tattoo (2000). Instead they stuck with their biggest hits, giving the crowd exactly what they wanted.

There were three breaks in the action. The first was Tommy Lee’s drum solo, an event that has been evolving since the early 90s. Back then, Lee’s drum kit would spin 360 degrees as he played to the crowd. For the farewell tour, his entire drum kit is connected to a roller coaster track that carries him out into the audience as it spins him 360 degrees. Gimmicky, decadent, and over the top? You’ve just described Motley Crue.

I wouldn’t watch this entire clip, but you should watch the first minute of it.

The second break in the show came from Nikki Sixx, who asked the entire crowd to sit down and get ready for story time. Sixx spent the next five minutes telling the story of Motley Crue; how the band members met, how they struggled, and what decisions we all made to get us all in that arena at that time. It was pretty deep. Moments later he strapped on a bass guitar with a built-in flamethrower and shot fire over the crowd as 20,000 people pumped their fists in the air and screaming “Shout at the Devil” at the tops of their lungs.

The final break in the show was Mick Mars’ guitar solo. Mick Mars’ health has seriously been on the decline for the past decade, but you wouldn’t have known it from last night. Note for note, Mars ripped through every song and every solo, nailing every note. Unfortunately, and maybe it was where we were sitting, but his solo sounded like a muddled mess to us. The stage amps were in competition with the house speakers, causing enough of a delay to make the whole thing sound like muddy noise. The guy can still shred though.

Vince Neil did what Vince Neil does, running around the stage, hitting most of the words while working the crowd. Perhaps it’s nostalgia that makes him sound better than he really is at this point. If you’re going to see the band perform one last time you need to see it perform with all four original members and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

As the show closed and the band made their way through their biggest single (“Home Sweet Home”), a slideshow of pictures (starting with the guys’ high school yearbook photos) was projected on to a screen and I have to admit I got a little teary eyed. I have followed this band for as long as they’ve been a band and saying goodbye, as silly as it sounds, felt like saying goodbye to an old friend, a real friend.

As the lights came up, Tommy Lee stood at the edge of the stage shouting, “I’m gonna miss you guys.”

We’re gonna miss you too.

And now… on with the show.

Motley Crue Setlist

Saints of Los Angeles
Wild Side
Primal Scream
Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)
Looks That Kill
On With the Show
Too Fast for Love
Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room
Without You
Mutherf**ker of the Year
Anarchy in the U.K.
T.N.T. (Terror ‘N Tinseltown)
Dr. Feelgood
In the Beginning
Shout at the Devil
Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
Live Wire
Too Young to Fall in Love
Girls, Girls, Girls
Kickstart My Heart
Home Sweet Home

Someone is murdering beautiful young women in London using creative and dangerous inventions. We witness one of these murders within the first two minutes of the film when a young woman receives a pair of binoculars in the post. As she places them up to her eyes, sharp spikes shoot out and into her eyes, killing her instantly.

She never saw it coming, yuk yuk yuk.

Cut to a conversation between members of Scotland Yard and Edmond Bancroft, a local writer/reporter/author. Bancroft makes reference to Scotland Yard’s museum collection of murder weapons that have been collected of the years. Little does Scotland Yard know that Bancroft has put together his own “Black Museum,” one that contains deadly weapons far superior to anything the Yard has collected.

If you ever visit someone’s basement and it looks like this, run away.

At first it seems obvious that Bancroft is the murderer, as he appears to be purchasing the murder weapons from Aggie, a local shop dealer who specializes in antiques and weapons. Moments later we witness one of the murders taking place (guillotine, swish!) and it’s not Bancroft! What is going on here?!

Soon, the plot is revealed; Bancroft is behind the murders; after committing them he writes about them in his newspaper articles and books. When Aggie figures this out, she gets a pair of ice tongs to the neck; when his psychiatrist figures it out, he gets electrified and then tossed into a vat of acid until nothing remains but his skeleton.

Soon we learn that not only is Bancroft behind the murders, but that he has invented a serum that when administered allows people’s dark side to come out. Bancroft has been injecting this concoction into his young assistant Rick who has been helping him carry out the murders. Just like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bancroft’s magical solution turns Rick temporarily evil and allows him to commit heinous acts of murder, which Bancroft then writes about.

Unfortunately the serum doesn’t also boost Rick’s intelligence. After stabbing his girlfriend (for “knowing too much”) at a local fair (in the Tunnel of Love — nice!), Rick climbs the Ferris Wheel and, before leaping to his death and stabbing Bancroft while landing, shouts, “I did what you told me!”

Based on this sentence, Scotland Yard determines that Bancroft planned the murders, Rick committed them, and the mystery has been solved. The end.

Huh.

I like old horror movies and Horrors of the Black Museum is no exception. I like the plot device of the mystery writer committing the murders and writing about them. I loved the acting and the sets. All of that was great.

I hated the ending. It reminded me of King Kong, when the police and reporters were just standing around Kong’s corpse, making comments. I don’t think Scotland Yard can close a case based on a single line yelled by a crazed maniac hanging from the Ferris Wheel. Maybe they do, what do I know.

These old horror movies focus more on plot and twists than special effects and gore. It’s almost a different genre, but I like it. Worth watching if you’re into old school horror.

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

Almost every horror movie contains something shocking. The most shocking thing about 1984’s Ghoulies is how little the Ghoulies appear in it.

Ghoulies isn’t even really about Ghoulies — it’s about Jonathan Graves, the son of a self-avowed Satan worshiper who inherits his father’s home, book collection, and interest in the occult. (Jonathan was only a baby when his father tried to sacrifice him during an evil ceremony; fortunately, he doesn’t remember that.) At a housewarming party of sorts, Jonathan, his girlfriend Becky, and the rest of their friends decide to hold a seance using the old books found in the home, because hey, that’s what people did in the 80s at housewarming parties. The seance appears to fizzle and everyone leaves while mocking Jonathan, but moments later we as viewers discover that it did actually work as an evil puppet materializes.

Fast forward a few minutes and we find Jonathan — now with glowing green eyes — dropping out of college and spending all of his free time reading books on the occult and practicing incantations. Eventually his hard work pays off and he conjures up “the Ghoulies,” most of which look like slimy Creature from the Black Lagoon babies, but a few of which look like rats. While there are a few variations of Ghoulies, they all look like really bad puppets. Remember the first time you saw Gremlins as a kid and wondered, “How did they do that?” You won’t be wondering that while watching Ghoulies. You’ll just think, “Huh, look at all those puppets.”

Eventually Jonathan conjures up a couple of little people wearing brown coats and metal helmets named Grizzel and Greedigut, two names so awkward to pronounce that even they have trouble saying them at times.

Grizzel and Greedigut, along with Jonathan and all his old friends, perform another seance. This time, Jonathan’s father is resurrected from the grave. And not to make things obvious, but Jonathan’s father’s name is Malcom. Malcom Graves. Subtle, the film is not.

Malcom takes control of the Ghoulies and uses them to kill all of Jonathan’s friends, which is not a particularly nice way to thank people for bringing you back from the dead. He then attempts to sacrifice Jonathan to the devil, again, but things won’t be so easy as Jonathan is joined by Wolfgang, a good sorcerer who also happens to be the caretaker who has been watching over Jonathan his whole life. Just go with it.

By the end of the battle, excluding Jonathan, everyone involved in the battle is dead and everyone who was dead prior to the beginning of the battle is now alive. This includes a few of the Ghoulies, who show up near the end to let us know there will probably be a Ghoulies 2. And there was, followed by parts 3 and 4.

Ghoulies was part of a wave of movies that capitalized on the success of Gremlins, including Critters, Munchies, Troll, Hobgoblins, Beasties, Kamillions, and others. All of these movies copied the “little creatures attacking people,” but none of them were able to capture the wit or charm of the original.

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