PopGap Diary: Octoblur 2021

Octoblur 2021

| dorrk

A No-Theme Halloween

For Octoblur 2020 we focused on three recurring themes — Creepy Kids, Scorned Warnings, and Horrible Houses — and most of the 59 horror movies that made onto our schedule touched on one or more of these motifs. For Octoblur 2021, ain't nobody got time for that.

Instead, we'll focus on a rag-tag collection of new discoveries, ghosts of wallflowers past, and disreputable deplorables. That's not to say there won't be any themes, but more likely many mini-themes.

We have a "short" list of 165 potentials for Octoblur 2021's Horror Movie Marathon and it doesn't take more than a squint to see multivariant patterns running through these titles, the kinds of commonalities that may be fairly exploited as one-night double-or-triple-feature themes, many of which we have explored in the past and will explore again in the future (if there is one).

Mini-themes like: Asian Horror, Axes, Lisas, Black Horror, Black Rainbows, Creepy Kids Redux, Cult Favorites, Occult Savour-its, Cycles of Life and Death and Life after Death, Devil Dolls, Folk Horror, Foreign Horror, Freddie Francis, French Zombies, Giallo-ween, Gore Classics, Bollywood Horror, Italian Horror, Lo-fi Horror, TV Movies of the 1970s & 80s, Medical Mischief, Mexican Horror, Monsters, Party Crashers, Scary Scarecrows, WTF Craziness, Screams, Serial Killer Identity Crises, Sex Vamps, and, scariest of all, Wild Women.

Throw in some new horror titles, some possible classic and obscure franchise binges, and whatever classic revisits my kids talk me into.

Who knows what darkness lurks in the hearts of Octoblur 2021? Stay tuned here to find out.

Just a sample of what might be in-store...

Octoblur 2021 Shortlist Sample

Reviews of all Octoblur 2021 Movies

Octoblur 2021: 33. Brain Damage (1988)

Brain Damage (1988)

Movie #33
Dir.: Frank Henenlotter
Flickcharted: #2982 (43.53%)

1980s New York grindhouse splatter king Frank Henenlotter followed up his breakthrough cult hit Basket Case with this equally quirky and gross body horror drug addiction narrative. Rick Hearst stars as Brian, a young man who develops a symbiotic relationship with a little blue veiny creature who injects perception-altering chemicals into Brian’s brain in exchange for human brains to eat. Hennenlotter’s concept of the creature, Elmer (or, more correctly, Aylmer), steals the show, with his benign manner and droll voice executed through charming puppet and stop motion effects. There are some other neat 42nd avenue-quality gross-outs, like a plate of spaghetti and brain meatballs, a distinctly unpleasant incident of oral sex, and an ear-horror moment that stands alone atop its niche. But there’s also a strange lack of energy to Brain Damage, with moments between the shocks practically defying attention. For Hennelotter- and splatter/creature-fans, this is a must-see, but it’s a bit too drowsy for anyone else. 

Octoblur 2021: 32. The Video Dead (1987)

The Video Dead (1987)

Movie #32
Dir.: Robert Scott
Flickcharted: #3592 (31.97%)

This DYI zombie comedy from writer/director Robert Scott starts with a lot of pluck and humor, enough to offset the low quality of acting you expect from these types of upstart productions. It also has to be said, Greg Becker’s photography is surprisingly competent — this is a technically impressive effort given its constraints. However, as good as The Video Dead looks (to be honest, I wasn't even expecting it to be shot on film), and as fun as its concept of zombies with personalities and emotions is for half an hour, it doesn’t have enough in the script to sustain 40 minutes, let alone 90. All of the goodwill it builds with its modestly clever effects — including a truly disgusting zombie chainsaw vivisection, revealing live baby rats crawling inside — and modestly amusing jokes dissipates in a snooze-worthy fog once the zombies revert to more typical undead form and the movie barely tries to sustain itself with clumsy and unexceptional scares and action. Still, it was a promising debut and it’s too bad Scott never followed it up with anything of note.

Octoblur 2021: 31. Halloween Kills (2021)

Halloween Kills (2021)

Movie #31
Dir.: David Gordon Green
Flickcharted: #4361 (17.39%)

As a long-time fan of director David Gordon Green, it pleases me to say that his second addition to the Halloween franchise, Halloween Kills, bears none of the arch, self-conscious visual staging that felt so out-of-place in his 2018 revisionist sequel Halloween. Green, in fact, shows throughout Halloween Kills, as he did in moments of Halloween (2018), that he has a keen eye for vividly spooky evocations of the Halloween season. With his typically naturalistic style, Green should be capable of making a stylistically faithful continuation of John Carpenter's 1978 slasher classic. But there is a serious problem with the screenwriting of these new Halloween films, and maybe in the overall concept of what he and co-writers Danny McBride and Scott Teems want to accomplish within the franchise and slasher genre. I’m not sure that they know the answer to that question.

Halloween Kills carries on directly from the end of the 2018 film, with its events continuing on through the same Halloween night that brought masked killer Michael Myers and former babysitter Laurie Strode (Jami Lee Curtis) back into direct conflict. There is also, briefly, a flashback to 1978, establishing new events and backstory which act as a bridge between Carpenter’s original and Green’s reboot trilogy (all of the other films in-between are now considered non-canonical). Even though this new material feels, at first, like a studied extension of John Carpenter's original film, and features one of my new favorite actors, Jim Cummings, if there’s one thing the Halloween franchise doesn’t need it’s more backstory. Green & co. pile on several extra loads of melodrama and new quirky characters who get a few minutes each to indulge in contrived shtick prior to receiving a knife through the mouth (or an eyeball, or a fluorescent light bulb through the neck, or an excessive gouging of the eyes… this is by far the goriest of all Halloween films).

I can understand Green’s impulse to focus on the humanity of horror and how serial murders affect people and society, but this is problematic here in a couple of ways. First, it’s a sharp deviation from four decades of Halloween franchise tradition, so the onus is on the director to find a way to make it work or risk failing to honor the brand in tone and content. Second, Green is flat-out terrible at doing this gracefully or with any subtlety, and Halloween Kills is a shit-show of awful “character moments” and, now, ham-fisted social commentary. Anthony Michael Hall joins the cast this time around, as a grown-up Tommy Jarvis who assembles an angry mob to hunt down and kill Michael Myers, leading to a series of preposterous chaotic events which climax with Charles Cyphers (reprising his role from the 1978 film) saying out loud the most cliched theme in horror, one which best not be used let alone spoken: “Now he’s turning us into monsters.” Ugh.

Here’s the real problem with what Green & co. are trying to do with Halloween either through intent or carelessness: The slasher is a simple genre that presents a mundane reality — boring people going about their unexceptional lives — suddenly shattered by inexplicable terror. Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween arguably perfected the form, with its quiet rumination on prosaic fears — fears of parents, peers, dating, homework — smashed up against the faceless stalking inevitability of death. By attempting to complicate this formula, by attempting to make it work as drama and, worse, as moral lesson time, Green gets lost in the cumbersome minutiae of his complications and becomes distracted from why these movies exist as cultural phenomena.

This isn’t to say that no one should try to make original movies that explore deviations from genre formulas — Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's 2014 remake of The Town that Dreaded Sundown deconstructed the slasher genre quite elegantly — just that it’s increasingly perilous and ill-advised within a well-established franchise with set expectations, even one that has gotten as silly at times as Halloween. (That's another problem: going from silly to hyper self-serious in one move is whiplash-inducing, which may please the cultural revolutionaries remaking pop culture from the inside, but we spectators tend to find it deeply unpleasant if not outright hostile). And, it helps to be both aware of the pitfalls of this approach and to take extra care to ameliorate the possible problems, and it doesn’t look to me like Green has done either. It’s also fine if a filmmaker considers slasher movies to be beneath them or unworthy of their attention and talents, in which case they can please go fuck off and make something else, and leave our stupid gross formulaic exercises in juvenile visceral carnality alone.

Octoblur 2021: 30. J.D.'s Revenge (1976)

J.D.'s Revenge (1976)

Movie #30
Dir.: Arthur Marks
Flickcharted: #3462 (34.38%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

This previously obscure horror-tinged blaxploitation drama has gained a small cult following of late amongst those who enjoy discovering hidden gems on the fringes of cinema. It’s cine up frequently on recent lists of underseen horror classics, and it does have some impressive assets, such as early appearances from the likes of Glynn Turman and Louis Gosset, Jr. Turman stars as a mild-mannered law student who, during a nightclub hypnotism act, becomes possessed by the spirit of a nasty gangster thirsting for revenge against the man who killed his sister. While the narrative is underwhelming, Turman gives his all in a Jekyll & Hyde-style role which perhaps comments on the changing definitions of black masculinity using a 1970s blaxploitation stereotype at one end of the spectrum. However, especially early in his career, Turman has such a graceful theatricality about him, that he doesn’t always sell the authenticity of his performances. He looks like a dancer interpreting a character through movement, which is not always the most apt or effective style. Joan Pringle is solid as a  beleaguered girlfriend with the thankless duty of forgiving her abuser. Culturally interesting more than anything else. Includes some graphic, unsettling, and not completely necessary slaughterhouse footage.

Octoblur 2021: 29. Body Parts (1991)

Body Parts (1991)

Movie #29
Dir.: Eric Red
Flickcharted: #2353 (55.40%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Body Parts (1991) was a late and unplanned addition to Pure Cinema week, spurred by Pure Cinema's Elric Kane, who proposed a spirited and controversial defense of the film while guesting on the Screen Drafts podcast’s Body Horror episode. A year before his ill-fated title role in The Lawnmower Man (1992), Jeff Fahey gives a pretty stellar performance here as a psychologist who loses an arm in a car accident and is given a second chance with an experimental limb transplant. The trouble is, the second-hand arm sometimes acts on its own, violently. To make matters worse, the recently executed death row convict who unwillingly donated his body parts to Fahey and a few other unlucky charity cases wants them all back. It’s hard to say anything critical of a movie in which Jeff Fahey punches both a child and a woman, and the strong, grisly climax in a treat, but the first hour of Body Parts is confusingly lackluster despite being otherwise decently paced. It’s fun to see, too briefly, Brad Dourif show up in another plot about a killer named Charles attempting to possess his way back into existence.

Octoblur 2021: 28. Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

Movie #28
Dir.: Jeff Burr
Flickcharted: #1932 (63.38%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Pure Cinema week has briefly turned into a "Scarecrow Night" double-feature.

My low expectations struck a modest jackpot with this surprisingly fun and energetic mid-1990s monster movie that was nowhere near as cheap and amateurish as the seasonal-themed shlock with which I associated it: Jack Frost (1997), Uncle Sam (1996), and Thankskilling (2008). On the contrary, director Jeff Burr pours vision and creativity into this ludicrous tale of a century-dead warlock whose spirit escapes his cornfield grave and possesses a scarecrow with the intent of conjuring himself back to life. The scarecrow looks great — like a post-puberty overgrown juvenile delinquent version of cute little Sackboy from the LittleBigPlanet video game — and his methods of killing are bizarre, macabre, and memorable, including some top-notch stop-motion animated effects. While the two leads in Night of the Scarecrow are unexceptional, the movie boasts an otherwise strong cast, with early key appearances from John Hawkes and Stephen Root complementing veterans like Dirk Blocker, Gary Lockwood, and former James Bond villain Bruce Glover (who is the spitting image of his son Crispin). Coincidentally, former two-time Bond girl Martine Beswick also makes an ill-fated appearance.

Octoblur 2021: 27. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Movie #27
Dir.: Frank De Felitta
Flickcharted: #1948 (63.07%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Pure Cinema week has briefly turned into a "Scarecrow Night" double-feature.

I must have missed this legendary made-for-TV movie from my childhood years, as none of it seemed familiar, and I think I would recall its fantastic opening sequence during which Larry Drake, as a developmentally challenged adult, is hunted down by a bloodthirsty posse when he is mistakenly suspected of killing a young girl. It’s a perfect mix of the semi-wholesome aesthetic style of the 1980s TV movie mixed with content that you can’t believe made it to prime-time television. The rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to that standard, however, with a drawn-out series of too few mysterious weaksauce deaths. It’s fun to watch peak Charles Durning play a real piece of human garbage the year before his two delightful career-high performances in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) and Tootsie (1982). I guess my main point of disappointment with Dark Night of the Scarecrow is that its “shock ending” reveal would’ve made the overall movie more compelling had it not been withheld until the final scene.

Octoblur 2021: 26. Nightmare (1964)

Nightmare (1964)

Movie #26
Dir.: Freddie Francis
Flickcharted: #1921 (63.58%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Pure Cinema week has briefly turned into a Freddie Francis / Hammer Studios double-feature.

This second of three Hammer Studios team-ups between director Freddie Francis and writer Jimmy Sangster within three years has a lot in common with their previous collaboration, Paranoiac (1963). Sangster was reportedly concerned about recycling stale ideas — both stories involve scheming imposters — but Francis wrings the story so tightly, with such a high caliber of precise, invested performances, that Nightmare never for a moment feels ordinary. With John Wilcox behind the camera exploring the moody shadows, and Sangster doling out layer upon layer of gaslighting, Nightmare makes a fair play at Diabolique-level suspense. The movie loses some of its emotional appeal when a plot shift backgrounds a key character for the final act, but this is otherwise a solid little creeper. Followed by Hysteria (1965).

Octoblur 2021: 25. Paranoiac (1963)

Paranoiac (1963)

Movie #25
Dir.: Freddie Francis
Flickcharted: #1592 (69.81%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Pure Cinema week has briefly turned into a Freddie Francis / Hammer Studios double-feature.

There are few things in the world of cinema as glorious as Oliver Reed in full-tantrum mode (although Oliver Reed in barely-contained-rage mode comes pretty close). In Paranoiac, Reed gets free reign as a foul-spirited drunk tousling over an inheritance with his siblings — one of whom was until recently presumed dead — and it’s invigorating. Freddie Francis directs this intimate and creepy Hammer Studio thriller with precision and intent, both of which are apparent at all times. Arthur Grant's black & white Grant's cinematography is vivid and haunting. Hammer's one-man content machine Jimmy Sangster packs his dark and twisty screenplay with a few surprises and some emotionally compelling material with which the cast deals expertly. I do sometimes wish that these lean, brisk Hammer thrillers had more complicated, meatier endings, with more meaningful resolutions, but this one packs quite a bit into a scant 80 minutes.

Octoblur 2021: 24. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)

Movie #24
Dir.: Sergio Martino
Flickcharted: #2629 (50.13%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Pure Cinema week has briefly turned into an Edwige Fenech giallo triple-feature.

Despite a jazzy start, with some viscerally filmed early scenes that suggest this may not be your typical giallo, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) turns into a somewhat sleepy entry into the genre. Directed by Sergio Martino and starring, once again, lovely Edwige Fenech (as well as both George Hilton and Ivan Rassimov), it moves through some typical giallo scenarios — attacks in a shower, car park, elevator, park — but takes a little extra time and suffers due to its lack of urgency. Also, Fenech’s character is harder to empathize with this time around, at least until the end. On the plus-side, Emilio Foriscot’s cinematography is as good as it gets, and the final plot twist is more satisfying than usual. I suppose this suffered a bit in comparison to All the Colors of the Dark (which has, despite no narrative connection, been distributed in Asia as Strange Vice of Mrs. Ward No.2). It’s a solid mid-tier giallo.

Octoblur 2021: 23. All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

Movie #23
Dir.: Sergio Martino
Flickcharted: #1336 (74.65%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Pure Cinema week has briefly turned into an Edwige Fenech giallo triple-feature.

Some of the Italian mysteries in the giallo genre are only somewhat adjacent to horror, as they often involve serial murder and are considered proto-slashers, but many tend to focus primarily on the “whodunit?” aspect. Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark, however, goes full-horror as its heroine (played by genre mainstay Edwige Fenech) suffers from trauma-induced nightmares, is hunted by a blue-eyed creep (Ivan Rassimov), and is targeted by an occult conspiracy. Fenech is terrific, with meaty and emotional material that helps her prove that she is a fine actress in addition to a sexploitation icon. Martino’s direction is tight and Bruno Nicolai’s rock-infused score is even better than what I usually expect from him. Top-class giallo.

Octoblur 2021: 22. The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972)

The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972)

Movie #22
Dir.: Giuliano Carnimeo
Flickcharted: #2646 (49.79%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Pure Cinema week has briefly turned into an Edwige Fenech giallo triple-feature.

While it doesn't necessarily belong amongst the greats of the giallo genre, The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972) (a.k.a. Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?, or, Why those strange drops of blood on Jennifer's body?) has all of the expected hallmarks of these tawdry Italian pulp murder mysteries and also avoids many of the pitfalls that mar even the most famous of their kind. Sexploitation superstar Edwige Fenech stars as a model who escapes from her cult-ish ex-husband by moving into an apartment building where a masked killer is murdering beautiful young women. Director Giuliano Carnimeo keeps it humming at a nice pace, letting the bold early-1970s Rome fashions and architecture float by to the bouncy tinkle of Bruno Nicolai's era-specific score. Most importantly, where most gialli falter during long scenes of dull police babble, Carnimeo casts playful character actor Giampiero Albertini as the police commissioner, who has fun with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi's uncommon light touch. None of the big moments in The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972) stand out as superlative, but it gets all the small moments right making it a breezy and mild example of the genre's mid-tier.

Octoblur 2021: 21. Alucarda (1977)

Alucarda (1977)

Movie #21
Dir.: Juan López Moctezuma
Flickcharted: #2049 (61.11%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

This cheap little gonzo exploitation classic borrows heavily from 1970s headline makers like The Exorcist (1973) and The Devils (1971) while also tapping into still-hip literary classics from Bram Stoker and De Sade. It's hard to say that what comes of that mish-mash is "good," but it sure is an interesting mongrel and has moments of bracing over-the-top devilishness. The distinctive quality of Alucarda — other than the frequency with which women's names are yelled out with bloodcurdling ferocity — is its seriousness. Its obviously low budget notwithstanding, this is a well-shot movie full of 210%-energy performances; director Juan López Moctezuma and his crew & cast meant business as if this was an episode of Masterpiece Theater complete with naked orgies and a fiery climax featuring at least one combustible nun. There's not much of a story, just a series of plot points centered around the bad influence to end all bad influences, the title character played by Tina Romero, in a performance that has only been surpassed in its excess by Isabel Adjani in Possession (1981).

Octoblur 2021: 20. Dream Home (2010)

Dream Home (2010)

Movie #20
Dir.: Ho-Cheung Pang
Flickcharted: #1916 (63.63%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Maybe I went in subconsciously expecting something at least adjacent to the 2011 turd Dream House starring Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig, but this Hong Kong combo of social commentary and shocking gore constantly surprised me, and also managed to navigate some potentially tricky sentiment thanks to confident direction from Ho-Cheung Pang and a subtle performance from star Josie Ho. Dream Home ably taps into early pangs of the current conspiratorial mindset that all forces are aligned against the aspirations of the modest, and does it with bloody, exhilarating contempt. Not for the squeamish.

Octoblur 2021: 19. Aenigma (1987)

Aenigma (1987)

Movie #19
Dir.: Lucio Fulci
Flickcharted: #2640 (49.89%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Some horror movies need only a single striking scene to earn a place in the pantheon of nightmares. Lucio Fulci may be a master of pure nonsense, but he also has a knack for that which may never be forgotten, and he pulls a real doozy out of Aenigma (1987), his incomprehensible supernatural teen coma revenge boarding school possession romance movie starring a bunch of people with striking eyes and more snails than should ever be seen in one location. Yes, snails. Let’s all take a moment to honor actress Kathi Wise, who, in her only screen credit, allowed an Italian maniac to cover her naked body from head to toe in snails, some of which were alive. (Does it make it any better if some or most of the snails are dead? When one snail, living or dead, is in her mouth, does anything else ever matter at all?) It’s a show-stopping scene and deserves more notoriety than its place in this somewhat obscure Fulci afterthought. Aenigma is actually pretty well-paced, looks great, and is just as entertainingly ridiculous as any of Fulci’s more famous movies (starting with the baffling opening credits scene, set to the songsploitation classic tune “Head over Meels” (sic., that apparent typo is in the closing credits) by Douglas Meakin). Shot in Sarajevo standing in for Boston, Mass., because of course.

Octoblur 2021: 18. A Bucket of Blood (1959)

A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Movie #18
Dir.: Roger Corman
Flickcharted: #2022 (61.61%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Famously shot in 5 days, this early Roger Corman cheapie sets the template for the next year’s more famous Little Shop of Horrors: a poor schmuck gets a shot at his wildest dreams as long as a little murder doesn’t get him down. Writer Charles B. Griffith delivers an improbably fun script given the timetable, mocking both the pretentious beatnik arts scene and the rich poverty tourists who crave its dubious authenticity. Dick Miller, who is best known as a “that guy” character actor from every 1980s Joe Dante movie, is perfectly cast as the morally dubious dimwit Walter. The Fred Katz jazz score ensures that the 65-minute running time never lags. Former game show host Bert Convy also makes an appearance. Yes, any given moment in A Bucket of Blood (1959) crumbles under the lightest scrutiny, but go with it and enjoy its dark thrift store energy.

Octoblur 2021: 17. Rapture (1979)

Rapture (1979)

Movie #17
Dir.: Iván Zulueta
Flickcharted: #4600 (12.65%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Rapture (1979) a.k.a. Arrebato is one of those tricky art films that is either far more or far less than it seems. Either way, it probably wasn’t a good choice for a horror movie marathon, as it barely approaches anything conventionally considered within the genre. Eusebio Poncela stars as José, a frustrated movie director who is intrigued by the experimental home movies made by his acquaintance Pedro (Will More). Like Pedro, José becomes addicted to watching Pedro’s nonlinear movies (some of which resemble Godfrey Reggio’s Koyanisqaatsi) in a way that is meant to mirror heroin addiction. Fine, I suppose, although I don’t often respond well to movies that use horror as a too-obvious allegory for drug use (please, no more vampire drug allegories!), but the long path to get to this fairly simplistic and unexplored metaphor is mostly a drag. Arrebato looks great — cinematographer Ángel Luis Fernández gets some striking images out of a dark palette — but the narrative is both long-winded and static, and when the horror-ish payoff finally comes, it’s more bewildering than creepy, and less than resonant. Cecilia Roth, as José's forsaken girlfriend, provides some moments of brightness in what is otherwise a relentlessly pointless indulgence.

Octoblur 2021: 16. Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell (2012)

Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell (2012)

Movie #16
Dir.: Shinichi Fukazawa
Flickcharted: #3351 (36.37%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

This DIY effort was shot in 1995 but was unearthed in 2012. It’s been called “The Japanese Evil Dead,” which is a far more descriptive title than the mostly irrelevant or inapt details to be mined from Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell. Yes, the main character, played by writer/director Shinichi Fukazawa, is a bodybuilder, a fact which is only peripherally germane to the story of a trio who find themselves besieged and/or possessed by the ghost of a vengeful woman in an empty house. Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell directly references Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead movies in both content and ethic, utilizing a creative mix of stop motion animation and other effects in its brief but amusing showcase of mayhem. Some of the animation recalls Obayashi’s Hausu or Terry Gilliam’s work for Monty Python. However much Fukazawa learned from watching Raimi’s effects, though, he didn’t seem to pick up on pacing or structure. Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell doesn’t escalate, but moves from one rudimentarily gruesome creep to another, which becomes monotonous rather than tense, and Fukazawa as a performed simply doesn’t have the unique charm of a Bruce Campbell, which goes a long way toward making this kind of horror feel like it matters. And I can't think of a single reason why I would ever watch this when I could watch Raimi’s original. Still, it’s a nice accomplishment for a lo-fi wannabe, and it’s too bad that Fukazawa didn’t get to parlay this modest achievement into a career working with greater means on more original ideas.

Octoblur 2021: 15. The Battery (2012)

Octoblur 2021: 15. The Battery (2012)

Movie #15
Dir.: Jeremy Gardner
Flickcharted: #1341 (74.53%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

I have considered myself “over” zombie movies since Zombieland and The Walking Dead turned the genre into edge-less mainstream entertainment, so I was reluctant to watch The Battery, despite constant praise from the Pure Cinema podcast. Luckily, The Battery is barely a zombie movie; it’s a buddy-character-study-road-slice-of-life movie that happens to take place in a world overrun by the dead. Writer/director Jeremy Gardner and Adam Cronheim star as Ben and Mickey, former minor league baseball players moving like nomads through the northeast U.S., scavenging for food and supplies while avoiding the slow and stupid hungry monsters who have replaced their fellow humans. Ben is predisposed for a life of isolation, self-defense, and hunting, but Mickey isn’t. The tension in this imbalance informs most of the interactions within their unlikely partnership, and writer Gardner ably explores it through the skill of actor Gardner, who makes a big impression with his crusty performance. I’m not sure that the climax of The Battery withstands scrutiny, especially its final moment, and that takes a little of the shine off an otherwise elegant and impressive directorial debut, but Gardner is one to watch.

Octoblur 2021: 14. You Might Be the Killer (2018)

You Might Be the Killer (2018)

Movie #14
Dir.: Brett Simmons
Flickcharted: #2030 (61.44%)

This week’s Octoblur 2021 programming has come from the Pure Cinema and the Colors of the Dark podcasts — invaluable sources for offbeat movies suggestions — as well as recommendations from members of the Pure Cinema Movie Club Facebook group.

Both horror comedy and meta-horror come with an implicit threat of denigrating the genre, as insecure filmmakers jockey to prove they are more clever than their choice of subject matter suggests. You Might Be the Killer skillfully avoids those pitfalls, managing to work out a twist on the typical slasher point-of-view, and showing awareness of horror tropes, while unashamedly engaging in them. Fran Kranz (of the meta-horror standard-bearer Cabin in the Woods) stars as a summer camp owner whose orientation of his counselors turns deadly when a legendary local curse is reactivated. With the meta-elements limited to affectionate nods — mostly delivered by Alyson Hannigan, whose character is simply a narrative device — writer/director Brett Simmons gets the benefit of showy contemporary pop culture knowingness while simultaneously producing a solid old-school slasher film. He also nails another facet where I find many self-referential or 1980s horror homages going awry: he doesn’t fall into the film school trap of showing off new aesthetic tricks, but opts for a dark, grainy, no-nonsense style that faithfully recalls the visual tone of classic slashers in a comforting, if not groundbreaking, way.

Octoblur 2021: 13. Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Movie #13
Dir.: Sally Mattison
Flickcharted: #2721 (48.31%)

Impromptu theme: This has turned into “Bad Parties” week.

This third entry into the Slumber Party Massacre franchise is the most schizophrenic chapter of what might be the most schizophrenic horror franchise of them all. It’s also, at times, the best; at least, it’s a giant step up from the train wreck of Slumber Party Massacre II (1987). From the start,  Slumber Party Massacre III (1990) has a loose style that gives it a cinematic vitality rarely found in either of the preceding chapters. As its group of young women convenes for an ill-fated pajama party, writer Catherine Cyran and director Sally Mattison pile on the creeps, with a relentless series of badly behaving men causing discomfort until one turns deadly. In this way, Slumber Party Massacre III is the most faithful to the series’ supposed “feminist” themes, with nearly every male figure some form of coward, disbeliever, loaf, stalker, peeping tom, incel, or impotent maniac. That none of these men are well-written or interesting is beside the point; the likable female cast is stacked with should’ve-been-bigger-stars on this evidence, and they seem to revel in the opportunity to indulge in spirited female bonding, abject fear,, and even some effective moments of quiet intimacy and poignant despair (skin-flick mainstay Maria Ford, who initially seems to have been cast for one reason only, gets a shockingly genuine and emotional scene). Even the killer gets an unusually bold and complex backstory. It’s all very messy, of course, this being a low-budget Roger Corman production that probably wasn’t allowed multiple rewrites or any level of quality control, but it tries to do some tough and ambitious things and that effort is appreciated.

Octoblur 2021: 12. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Movie #12
Dir.: Deborah Brock
Flickcharted: #4410 (16.21%)

Impromptu theme: This has turned into “Bad Parties” week.

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) is something of a cult favorite for how it supplants the straightforward ugliness of its predecessor with some puzzling, arguably batshit crazy, choices. But where the original doubled-down on dour realism, this sequel mires itself in tacky fantasy of the fractured reality variety, which grows old quickly. Crystal Bernard stars as Courtney, the youngest survivor from the events of the first film, now turning 17 and plagued by a combination of trauma-induced anxiety and hormones. During a weekend away with her all-girl rock bandmates, her nightmares about a rockabilly fiend (Atanas Ilitch) with a power drill extending from his electric guitar manifest in reality… or do they? Like the original Slumber Party Massacre, Slumber Party Massacre II has some claim as a “feminist slasher,” with a woman making the primary creative decisions, in this case, writer/director Deborah Brock. Brock continues some of the hallmarks established in the first film, such as creating female characters with strong interests — in this case, their Go-Gos-like rock band — and as direct victims of the puerile male gaze. Rather than focus this time on impotent male sexual violence, however, Brock ostensibly centers Slumber Party Massacre II on the female fear of losing virginity, but spends far more of her scant 75-minute runtime on redundant nightmare sequences and trying to turn Ilitch’s Andrew “Dice” Clay-like dream-fiend into another Freddy Krueger, who was the big new name in horror in the mid-1980s. This goes nowhere, fast, and repeatedly. Brock wastes a cast of largely appealing young actors by pointlessly running them in circles until they make easy targets, and against a foe who can’t be escaped or killed, until he can, just because. There’s never an internal logic to “The Driller Killer” except as a drawn-out metaphor, so there’s no tension. Overall, Slumber Party Massacre II looks and feels cheap, like a bargain music video (and features, in its climax, an extended bargain music video sequence) with a few Troma-quality gory make-up effects. It’s too bad that none of it works, because it is weird in a potentially fun way, and Brock seems enthusiastic about genre film. She would later direct Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever (1991).

Octoblur 2021: 11. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Movie #11
Dir.: Amy Holden Jones
Flickcharted: #2298 (56.33%)

Impromptu theme: This has turned into “Bad Parties” week.

As weird as it may sound, I have a sentimental attachment to The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), from its prominent place on cable television in the 1980s. Among the more prominent slasher movies of its time, it stood out as harder and meaner than its peers, giving it some prestige in one of the most valuable facets of the horror film: the sense that teenage boys like myself shouldn’t be watching it, even if we were already on a diet of Haloweens and Friday the 13ths. Since those taboo days, The Slumber Party Massacre has gained some unlikely cred as a feminist slasher, written by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones. Divorced from those meta-criteria, it’s a pretty ugly movie, maybe by design. I suppose it plays a sort of feminist long-game, indulging in the male-gaze tropes of the day — at one point literally, with teenage boys spying on half-naked girls through a window — concluding its series of subtle tweaks on formula with an obvious castration metaphor. Most notably, the girls in The Slumber Party Massacre are not uniformly petite damsels, but are sturdier physically and often seen performing typically male roles. The girls are, predominately, varsity basketball players, and peripherally the movie also includes a female coach, a female handyman, and a telephone repair woman.

Unfortunately, these attempts at broadening detail aren’t backed up with qualities like charm or empathy: most of the characters in the film range between dour and nasty, as if a rejection of the idea that there is any fun to be had watching horror seeped into every pore of the production. It probably doesn’t help that the movie is scored to funereal organ music, sucking any energy out of it from the start. It’s not badly shot, but it’s also never technically elegant or distinguished, just plain, and without achieving either the affecting realism or gritty lyricism of other low-budget horror films. Yet, it does build to a tense climax, and even though there’s something one-dimensionally unconvincing about Michael Villella as the escaped serial killer who always holds his power drill at crotch-level, when he finally speaks — “It takes a lot of love for a person to do this…” — there is a penetrating creepiness to his words as informed by the point-of-view of the female filmmakers.

I probably wouldn’t recommend The Slumber Party Massacre to anyone, and certainly not to anyone who already has a negative attitude toward slashers, but it’s a contextually interesting entry in the genre if not a fun experience in any way.

Octoblur 2021: 10. Alison's Birthday (1981)

Alison's Birthday (1981)

Movie #10
Dir.: Ian Coughlan
Flickcharted: #1829 (65.24%)

Impromptu theme: This has turned into “Bad Parties” week.

Alison's Birthday (1981) hits a sweet spot for me with regard to several factors: it’s from a period of Australian film that I’ve grown to admire quite a bit over the past few years, it has the intimate feel of early 1980s TV movies, it has elements of folk horror, and it’s about occult conspiracy-fueled paranoia. Joanne Samuel (only a couple of years after playing the title character’s unfortunate wife in Mad Max (1979)) stars as Alison, a teenage girl who is warned from beyond the grave not to return home for her 19th birthday, but does it anyway, and probably regrets that decision Samuel gives a strong quiet performance, as does Lou Brown as her persistent boyfriend. While Alison's Birthday doesn’t pioneer anything, it’s a solid minor offering in the same vein as Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Hereditary (2017) and worthy of that more esteemed company.

Octoblur 2021: 09. Don't Panic (1988)

Don't Panic (1988)

Movie #09
Dir.: Rubén Galindo Jr.
Flickcharted: #2722 (48.26%)

Impromptu theme: This has turned into “Bad Parties” week.

Dig just below the mainstream surface of horror and/or cult movies and you’re sure to hit a wellspring of “so bad it's good” and “so bad it's excruciating” oddities, and it’s not always easy to understand the difference. Mexican director Rubén Galindo Jr. — whose Cemetery of Terror was part of Octoblur 2017 — is one of the masters of shit-show horror, and the reason his terrible movies are delightful is pretty easy to understand: every deranged person involved seems to be earnestly attempting their best work. No cynicism, no phoned-in performances, nothing but 110% energy and joy making the absurd plots and even worse dialog sing. Recounting the narrative is a fool’s errand. It's a gloriously incoherent spasm of cliches from unrelated movies. There’s some possession, some premonitions, bloody hands, bloody faces, a Freddy Krueger rip-off ghoul, a girl wearing a sombrero while holding three balloons, a guy who calls the Devil “Virgil,” a bathroom with shag carpeting, a teenage boy wearing dinosaur PJs, some bullshit about a magic rose… It’s all silly and yet kind of enchanting in its childlike obliviousness. Star Jon Michael Bischof’s facial expressions are, uh, special, as are Gabriela Hassel’s eyebrows. A perfect horror movie for parties where no one is paying attention except to glance over periodically and say, “Is this a real movie, or a prank?”

Octoblur 2021: 08. All My Friends Are Dead (2020)

All My Friends Are Dead (2020)

Movie #08
Dir.: Jan Belcl
Flickcharted: #2029 (61.43%)

Impromptu theme: This has turned into “Bad Parties” week.

Every year, because I try to know as little as possible about some of these movies before I watch them, I end up with a few that are not really horror movies, but horror-adjacent. Dark Polish comedy All My Friends Are Dead (2020) (a.k.a Wszyscy moi przyjaciele nie żyją) is one of these, but still may well end up with the largest body count of Octoblur 2021. A New Year’s Eve house party that starts with a million little tensions bubbling underneath the festivities ends with few survivors. Writer/director Jan Belcl sets himself the ambitious task of balancing a comic tone with a narrative of relentless tragedy and just about pulls it off. His characters are mostly distinctive and likable even when being loathsome. But there's a slickness and almost a fear of its own subject matter that makes All My Friends Are Dead a little unsatisfying. It’s hard not to consider what kind of gonzo masterpiece someone like Gaspar Noe might have made out of this subject matter (his 2018 “one crazy night”-er Climax is not too far removed, but darker, stranger, scarier, and, ultimately, kind of exhilarating), especially when Belcl's contrivances become too forced or sloppy, or the utter sadness of the plot pokes in for a too-real moment, but All My Friends Are Dead usually snaps back into shape just when it seems to be going awry, and has neat dark bits of inspiration scattered throughout. While I’m not crazy about the almost heart-warming coda, I appreciate that Belcl keeps it just a little edgy rather than going full-saccharine.

Octoblur 2021: 07. Edge of the Axe (1988)

Edge of the Axe (1988)

Movie #07
Dir.: José Ramón Larraz
Flickcharted: #3807 (27.61%)

The second part of an "Axe"-themed double feature. Oddly, both movies end with an identical misdirection.

Sometimes a great opening scene can work against a movie. Edge of the Axe (1988) begins with a beautifully shot murder in a car wash and nothing else in it comes close. It has some interesting moments — including the unusual staging of two ax murders which depict, without editing, victims being struck repeatedly with a prop ax that leaves bloody residue — but it’s mostly dull relationship drama and lackluster whodunit leading to a typically convoluted Giallo-like twist. Every Octoblur I contemplate with wonder the European filmmakers who overload their movies with third-rate expository plot that consumes the too-wide spaces between murders as if anyone cares. The truth is, horror fans are there primarily for the lurid sex and violence, the transgressions, and not to see if José Ramón Larraz is the new Hitchcock. While good writing is a definite plus that elevates the best genre movies into classics, blandly bad writing is a suicide trap that not even the biggest shocks can revive. For that matter, Edge of the Axe is not nearly sleazy enough to earn its narrative indulgences, although some of the glib, callous dialog between the mostly unpleasant characters is amusingly antiquated.

Octoblur 2021: 06. Axe (1977)

Axe (1977)

Movie #06
Dir.: Frederick R. Friedel
Flickcharted: #3852 (26.74%)

The first part of an "Axe"-themed double-feature.

Axe (1974) is one of those lo-fi, barely-there productions that can only exist in horror and porn. Clocking in at a meager 67 minutes (with most of the 7 consisting of an excruciatingly pokey end credits crawl), the plot languorously pits a trio of cruel gangsters against a taciturn farm girl (she of director Friedel's preferred alternate title, Lisa, Lisa). The thugs are mean to Lisa and her catatonic grandpa and learn that a life of near-isolation has made Lisa a pitiless hostess who is handy with sharp tools. Some of the 35mm photography looks nice, especially in exterior shots, and the spare score is evocative, but there’s little else to Axe aside from the garish, paint-red blood that earned it a spot on the Video Nasties list.

Octoblur 2021: 05. The Scary of Sixty-First (2021)

The Scary of Sixty-First (2021)

Movie #05
Dir.: Dasha Nekrasova
Flickcharted: #2927 (44.32%)

The Scary of Sixty-First (2021) is not for everyone. First, there's the question of taste. At the center of its semi-arch story of psychological and sexual deterioration is the subject of infamous sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein. Madeline Quinn (also a co-writer) and Betsey Brown star as Noelle and Addie, roommates in a new Upper East Side Manhattan apartment, whose relationship comes under strain when a stranger (played by director and co-writer Dasha Nekrasova) informs them that their new home was once one of Epstein's secret rendevous points for his illicit activities. The roomies react differently: Noelle joins the stranger in obsessively cataloging every detail of the Epstein conspiracy, while Addie seems to become possessed by a hyper-sexualized fixation on both Epstein and his associate Prince Andrew. For its mix of true crime, social satire, and sex abuse, The Scary of Sixty-First is uneasily funny and extreme and violent. One of the bluntest and effective tools against accusations of bad taste, however, is not caring, and one suspects that Nekrasova doesn't give a f**k about anything beyond exploring this psychosexual dysfunction wherever unpleasant it may lead her. Even though I'm not sure that The Scary of Sixty-First hits all it targets with the most precision or impact, Nekrasova's cavalier approach is sort of freeing. After some bumpy acting during the set-up, all of the performers hit some kind of brazen comic frightening stride during the messy climax, which at its best moments recalls Roman Polanski's Repulsion. Whether The Scary of Sixty-First has anything interesting to say about its sensitive real-life subject matter, I'm not likely to forget the 80 minutes Nekrasova spent wildly vibing off its disturbing emanations, and I'm even less likely to figure out whether or not I liked the experience.

Octoblur 2021: 04. Howard's Mill (2021)

Howard's Mill (2021)

Movie #04
Dir.: Shannon Houchins, Potsy Ponciroli, Kaiser Whitmire
Flickcharted: #4275 (18.66%)

Making a fake documentary may seem like an easier project than a fictional narrative — you can get away with lower quality visuals and a rougher spontaneous tone — but some of those doc-like qualities are harder to fake than they seem. Even more important, however, is that the supposed advantages of the mockumentary tend to obscure some hidden pitfalls that can call the entire enterprise into question. A good real documentary, for example, is still a narrative, expressing a story/idea that hopefully begins with intrigue and concludes with substance. Even when the end of the narrative is inconclusive, a skilled documentary filmmaker has a strong point of view that can frame realistic ambiguity with meaning. A good fake documentary has an even tougher challenge: unlike their authentic cousins which often discover stories spontaneously, mockumentaries need a well-planned narrative that appears spontaneous and a conclusion that justifies the indulgence of the format. There's really no excuse for an ersatz doc to punt on its ending. To their credit, the production team behind Howard's Mill (2021) gets the technique of the fake doc pretty close to spot-on. The acting is mostly convincing and the editing closely mimics the new breed of slick, hyper-professional reality-TV style documentaries that are sometimes better at hyping their subjects than clarifying them. Sadly, that's also where Howard's Mill fails. Directors Shannon Houchins, Potsy Ponciroli and Kaiser Whitmire propose a potentially chilling subject matter — a Tennesee property at the locus of decades of missing persons cases — poke around the edges of it, introduce some weird twists, and then cop-out from building anything substantial on its foundation of half-ideas. Now, this may be how real TV docs often end their hour-long wank sessions on mysterious occurrences, but it's a drag for a fictional narrative to end the same way, choosing fidelity to a lesser form of throwaway documentary over bridging the novelty of the style with a compelling and complete narrative.

Octoblur 2021: 03. Night of the Creeps (1986)

Night of the Creeps (1986)

Movie #03
Dir.: Fred Dekker
Flickcharted: #1071 (79.62%)
Re-ranked from: #691 (86.85%)

Previously reviewed as part of Octoblur 2014.

The thing about Fred Dekker is that you sense that he really cares about his movies. Like his sophomore effort The Monster Squad (1987), his debut Night of the Creeps (1986) is often silly but doesn't contain a throwaway moment. Dekker takes his time to hang out with his college student characters (most named after horror directors) and build a convoluted mish-mash plot of pulpy sci-fi and horror tropes, but even when it meanders, it doesn't feel wasteful: Dekker likes these people and his crazy, deliberate genre fixations. Tom Atkins and Jill Whitlow are overflowing with screen presence, compensating for their weaker co-stars, and give a more than satisfying taste of the glorious comic horror tone that Dekker would perfect on The Monster Squad. One of the great overlooked 1980s horror movies.

Octoblur 2021: 02. Idle Hands (1999)

Idle Hands (1999)

Movie #02
Dir.: Rodman Flender
Flickcharted: #2929 (44.26%)

An extended riff on the hand scene from The Evil Dead, Part 2, Idle Hands (1999, dir.: Rodman Flender), is technically snappy and occasionally clever, enough to mostly compensate for a typically loathsome collection of late 90s teen characters. Devon Sawa stars as a feckless stoner whose right hand becomes possessed by a murderous force. Seth Green, Elden Henson, Vivica A. Fox and Jack Noseworthy help director Flender maintain an appealing comic tone to balance some creatively gruesome body horror, while Jessica Alba provides eye-candy in an otherwise pointless role. This could’ve been a lot worse, but it also couldv'e been been a lot better.

Octoblur 2021: 01. The Midnight Hour (1985)

The Midnight Hour (1985)

Movie #01
Dir.: Jack Bender
Flickcharted: #1922 (63.42%)

There couldn’t be a more perfect start to a Halloween horror marathon than the light, silly Thriller-inspired monster romp The Midnight Hour (1985). An affectionate & energetic mix of comic horror riffs plus some borderline surreal indulgences as an iconic American small town is overrun by a confusing assortment of witches, werewolves, vampires, zombies, and more on Halloween night. Great '80s TV cast includes Shari Belafonte, Peter DeLuise, LeVar Burton, Dedee Pfeiffer, Cindy Morgan, Kurtwood Smith, Mark Blankfield, Dick Van Patten, and Kevin McCarthy — plus Lee Montgomery (one of my favorite child performers, in Ben (1972)) and the appealing Jonna Lee — not to mention the voice of legendary radio DJ Wolfman Jack. Nice soundtrack of mostly oldies, including the title song more than once. There’s an endearing sweetness to The Midnight Hour, as some ghouls simply prefer to party, but director Jack Bender throws in some arresting weirdness, climaxing in a bizarre chaos montage which includes a milkman apocalyptically pouring out his product set to music from the opera Pagliacci. Belafonte seizes on her relatively meaty role — which includes a fun dance number — with a committed performance that’s as good as I’ve ever seen her.

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