Today’s movie is a perfect example of the early 70’s showing us exactly how to create a truly unsettling atmosphere by using the simplest techniques available. Watching Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is an unnerving experience. There’s almost no blood, most of it takes place in the broad daylight, and yet, it all just works. This is the story of Jessica, who has just been released from a mental institution. Along with her husband and friend, they leave the city life and try to start anew in the country. They buy an old house near a lake, that, well, may hold a few dark secrets. In fact, the entire town just might. But you have to figure it all out. One of the things that makes this flick so unsettling is that you hear Jessica’s inner voice throughout much of the movie. And even though she’s smiling on the outside, she’s usually confused and fearful of something on the inside. She, and thus the audience, is always hearing whispers, and voices from beyond. But what are they? Who are they? Are they real? Is this all in her head? It’s just such a trip. In fact, along with all these whispers, all the sounds of this movie are simply amazing. I’d recommend watching it with the voiume turned all the way up. Because the usage of music, jolting cues, whispers, and all kind of audio effects create a powerful overall unsettling experience. Also, beware the underwater scenes. Haunting. It’s just such a creepy little flick. If you’re looking for a good old fashioned ghost story, then look no further. Hell, Stephen King claims this to be one of his all time favorite horror movies, so if you’re not going to take my word for it, take his.
About this time last year I was writing about the original Phantasm, a bizarre mind trip of a movie that I freakin’ love. So I figured this year I’d throw in the sequel. Phantasm II picks up right where the first movie ended with Mike (now recast, but more on that in a bit) and Reggie still fighting the Tall Man and his dwarf minion slave jawas. But after a brief opening, we then fast forward 7 years after Mike is released from a mental institution, and he and Reggie continue their search for the Tall Man and his carnage. Phantasm II is an interesting movie in many ways. Some of the reasons are in front of the camera, and others are because of all the behind the scenes studio drama. For me, it really hit because 1988 was prime Jeff Dixon Fangoria time. I remember flipping through the pages and seeing gruesome photos of those magic flying death spheres and their awesomely awesome carnage. In fact, I actually saw Phantasm II before I saw original Phantasm. What’s funny about the sequel is that it followed the Alien/Aliens model a bit. You can tell there was a much bigger budget, and that this time it was actually a “studio” movie. For this reason there’s a bit more action, car chases, and lots of pretty extraneous explosions. Everything the studio thinks audiences need. In addition, gone are the dreamy segments and a lot of the more bizarre aspects of the original Phantasm. Only Reggie Bannister was allowed to come back with Mike being recast with James LeGros (studio tinkering). So yeah, while everything feels a bit bigger and more “studio”, it’s still a pretty damn entertaining movie. We’ve still got the fantastic Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man. We’ve still got the awesome silver spheres, but here we’re also introduced to the gold sphere that has a laser(!) and sawblade grinders! Young Jeff truly loved the scene where the gold sphere drills itself inside one of the morticians and just decimates him from the inside, eventually popping through his mouth (that was one of the pictures I got giddy over in Fango!) It’s a bit more tongue in cheek, it’s seriously 80’s, and even though it’s a bit more studio-friendly, it’s still bizarre and awesome. Hell, we even get another glimpse of the trippy alternate universe. Go and give it a spin… BOY!!!!!!
Prepare yourself. Today’s an extreme one. Saying it’s NOT for everyone doesn’t give it justice. You’ve been warned. But for those looking for a truly brutal, original, and exhilarating psychological horror experience, you can’t go wrong with Maniac. Those in the horror circles know all about William Lustig’s brutal 1980 grindhouse slasher film, Maniac. But outside of that group, I think it’s safe to say that most are not that familiar with that flick at all. Which is why it was an interesting choice when Elijah Wood signed on for this equally cruel, and at times vile, remake. But I’m here to say that in my humble opinion, this is one of those rare times where the remake far surpasses the original. Yes. A remake that’s better! It actually can happen. Mainly because this remake doesn’t just manage a shot for shot redo, but rather takes the ideas contained in the first film and expands and twists them in their own original way. The biggest and most unique change is that the entire movie is shot in first person perspective. It’s completely from the POV of Elijah Wood’s title killer (with a few exceptions, but those moments are only for psychological effect). This is why this film is so disturbing. We’re living and experiencing everything the killer does. His BRUTAL kills. His migraine headaches. His hallucinations. It’s haunting and so disturbing you can’t even believe. The story is about a isolated man who works in a mannequin factory. After a childhood of mental abuse he’s left with serious mommy issues and a need to “create” new mommies out of his mannequins and the torn scalps of his women victims. It’s seriously depraved stuff. And when I say it’s violent… hear my words… It’s VIOLENT. The scalpings themselves are so realistic I found myself with a turned stomach on more than a few occasions. If you ever wanted to spend 90 minutes in the head of a killer, here’s your chance. Like I said, you’ve been warned.
Oh New Zealand. Please tell me you’re back in business with another batch of fantastic horror comedies. Back in the day, New Zealand gave lil’ adolescent me the gift of Peter Jackson and his amazingly disturbing films, Meet the Feebles, Bad Taste and Dead/Alive (or Brain Dead, depending on what part of the world you’re in.) Now, once again there’s another little, twisty-turny, macabre, horror comedy on the horizon with Housebound. Recently released, I saw this the other night on VOD and had an absolute blast with it. Housebound is about a woman arrested after a botched robbery and put on house arrest at her childhood home with her aloof mother and inept stepdad. While this is already her own version of a personal hell, it further gets complicated when her house may very well be haunted. From here, I’ll let the movie speak for itself because there are so many twists and turns, you honestly have no idea what’s going on, or what’s going to transpire next. That’s what I enjoyed the most about the movie. From one moment to the next, you honestly have no clue what’s really happening. It doesn’t feel contrived or cheap, it’s just a good old roller coaster ride that keeps you guessing. And it manages to balance some great scares with some really entertaining comedy all along the way. For me, a main reason why this film just works so well is the acting. The characters and cast are just pitch perfect. From the security man with a secret passion for the supernatural, to the mother who makes me laugh with almost every line or facial expression. But honestly it’s the main star Morgana O’Reilly’s movie. She is just fantastic and I could honestly watch her in anything. It’s a bit long, and probably could have lost a good 15-20 minutes in the editing room, but it’s still a jolly good time. It has one hell of a great 3rd act, and a diabolically fulfilling climax. Plus, any time you know there’s a movie that features an all out battle with an evil Teddy Ruxpin-like teddy bear, you know you’re in for a good ride. Enjoy.
I love minimalist horror movies, especially ones with a sci-fi flair. And you don’t really get much more minimalist than Cube. Cube is basically about a group of people that wake up in a maze-like structure filled with deadly traps that need to figure out how to escape. But they also need to figure out why they were put there in the first place. Each person has a specific skill (and personality to match), and the fun derides from both figuring out the maze and its traps, as well as figuring out who exactly these people are. Because no one is who they initially seem. It’s just a really inventive mind-bender, and a lot of fun. I have a personal connection to this movie because I saw it at a midnight premiere screening at Sundance back in 1998. After I was blown away by how inventive the film was, I got to hear the filmmakers do a Q&A afterward and my mind was blown even further. To think that there was only one full set created for this movie, as well as one partial set of a wall, and that’s it. When you see the film, there’s an infinite vastness to it that makes you feel both claustrophobic and lost in enormity at the same time. Not an easy feat. But when you realize that this infinite sensation was done by using simply 1 and ½ sets, and only changing the lighting to make each one seem like a different room, you have even more respect for the film. Directed by Vincenzo Natali, who is known for his twisted mind-benders, this is one amazing horrific sci-fi ride. Don’t worry about the countless sequels it spawned. Focus here on numero uno. And enjoy figuring it all out.
Okay, time to enter madness once more. Only this time it could almost be considered “high brow” madness. Oh and guess what? Shocker, it’s another film from the 80’s! Oh man, The Keep… Words can’t give this insane movie justice. First off, just know that when this film came out, this baby was almost universally hated by critics and audiences alike. Man, it must be a stinker, right? Au contraire. Fast forward a mere 30 years and this now cult classic is an absolute gem. Let’s look at the pedigree behind making this movie. #1, it’s written and directed by Michael Mann. Michael freakin’ Mann! That’s a top notch filmmaker right there. #2, it stars Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne, Jurgen Prochnow (one of my favs) & even Ian McKellen, amongst others. #3, the music is done by Tangerine Dream! Oh yeah, so you know it’s chock full of sweet, sweet synth. Oh, and did I mention it’s about Nazis doing battle with an ancient demon inside a medieval fortress meant to keep the evil force inside? Nazis! Demons! Oh, and they’re actually working with a Jewish scholar, well, not as much working with as forcing to work with. Oh, and Scott Glenn glows with bright light for some reason. Oh, and there’s killer fog. Oh, and Molasar, the evil force slowly builds himself a physical form throughout the film as he takes more souls, and the FX on that are pretty freakin’ sweet. I might also mention that for an evil force, he has a pretty great singing voice. Oh, and… ahh forget it, I’ll stop listing awesome things and just let you experience them on your own. Man of man, it’s just so full of pure entertaining madness. It actually used to be tough to find because it was never released on DVD, but now with all the streaming services, you should be able to track it down. Who knows if we’ll ever get the rumored 3 ½ hour director’s version that Mann originally cut. But for now, these 90 pack enough to keep me happy. KEEP, me happy. See what I did there? Wordplay hooray! Sorry, it’s late. Enjoy folks. This one’s a trip.