"Call me deliverance, that's what I offer thee." -Danzig/The Hunter

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.

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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.)

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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.)

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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.)

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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.)

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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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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.)

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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.)

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