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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan, Part I

By Zachary T. Owen

Most horror and cult fans have seen just about everything—we tend to exhaust our favorite genre. But there is always something out there we might have missed. The following is a list of movies I believe to be underseen, forgotten, or if nothing else, underrated. If you’ve seen them all, congratulations, you are a warrior. Not all of these are what you’d call masterpieces, but each is unique in its own way. Some of them will appeal to the open-minded movie watcher, while others can only be enjoyed by devoted lovers of schlock and cult cinema. So, this October, when you’re aching for something different, something neglected, or just want a few yuks, consider this list. Without further ado—Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan:


Lyle (2014)


Stewart Thorndike’s “lesbian update” of Rosemary’s Baby starring Gaby Hoffman and Ingrid Jungermann is actually one of my favorite horror movies of the last few years. Lyle streamed for free in effort to gain interest in funding Thorndike’s second film of a proposed trilogy of women-focused horror films. A brisk 65 minutes, there’s more punch in Lyle than in many longer films. It’s a tense, well-acted, paranoid little movie that isn’t afraid to take a few risks. And there’s nary a drop of blood, either. It caused some upheaval when conservative journalist Robert Stacy McCain tried to criticize it for being feminist propaganda. Stewart Thorndike looks to me to be a rising talent in horror. I hope for her success. (Trailer)


Hellmouth (2013)


How this one slipped by, I’ll never know. Written by Tony Burgess, who previously adapted his novel Pontypool Changes Everything into a screenplay, this movie is something akin to the horror version of Sin City or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow—sort of a vintage 50s vibe mixed with modern visuals. But without a budget as big as either of those films, you can see where the limitations are pushed. Stylistically, the film is something to behold. The CGI is dodgy at times but the whole thing is so surreal looking it doesn’t really matter. Tonally, it’s much different from Pontypool. Hellmouth is essentially about a man (Stephen McHattie, star of Pontypool) charged with the task of guarding the gates of hell. The script starts off strong but eventually falls into the trap of having too many ideas with not enough time to develop them. Hellmouth ends up muddled and the romantic subplot is bungled, too. Still, it’s worth seeing for McHattie’s electric performance. It’s a low-budget movie with big-budget aspirations, and I commend it for that. (Trailer)


Fear(s) of the Dark (2007)


I can think of very few animated horror movies made for adults. It’s really a shame there aren’t more, though the ones we have are fairly spotty. American audiences tend to view cartoons as “for kids only”, so it’s not surprising a movie like Fear(s) of the Dark could never be made in America. A French import, this anthology of black and white animation tasks famous graphic artists with the duty of telling short horror tales. Unfortunately, Fear(s) of the Dark is very uneven, but the various styles of animation and a few really fantastic segments make it worth a look. What the film doesn’t make clear is some of the segments are told in one go and others are dispersed throughout the film, which may be confusing for first time viewers. Stand-out stories include a body horror entry by Charles Burns (yes, that guy who wrote Black Hole) and the final story, about a man alone in a house haunted by a violent spirit, which is a great study for “less-is-more.” Chilling and minimal, it will leave an impression after the film is over. (Trailer)


Terminal Invasion (2002)


Okay, so this is mostly The Thing but at an airport. It’s also directed by Sean S. Cunningham, most famous for creating Friday the 13th as the cover so liberally states. This is one of his rare directorial efforts. There’s nothing terribly original about it. Terminal Invasion is by-the-numbers. But it stars Bruce Campbell. You like Bruce Campbell, don’t you? I thought so.


Saint Sinner (2002)


I never thought I’d recommend two Syfy channel originals, but as it happens, they occasionally come out with something watchable. Saint Sinner is based on an original Clive Barker story, who also served as a producer. Saint Sinner chronicles the journey of a young monk who travels to the future to defeat two succubi he accidentally unleashed, along the way teaming up with a tough lady detective. Overall, it’s sort of silly, but well photographed and chock full of gooey effects—it surprised me how gory this was for a Syfy original. Plus, there’s a scene where a maggot grows to the size of a small dog and attacks previously mentioned lady detective, which is never brought up again after the fact.

Inexplicably, the only video I could find for Saint Sinner is a spoiler heavy fan-made Creed video. Watch at your own peril.
 

There's Nothing Out There (1990)



Rolfe Kanefsky has been pumping out genre movies and skin-flicks for years. This is easily his best film—pure, zany entertainment. Nothing came out a full six years before Wes Craven’s Scream and yet was somehow pegged as a Scream rip-off because its self-awareness and endless jabs at horror tropes. The protagonist is a guy who’s “rented out every single horror film on videotape” and is convinced they must play by the rules of horror movies. At one point, he looks directly at the camera when somebody asks if he is implying they might be in a horror movie. Basically, Nothing is about a group of thirty-year-old -teenagers battling some kind of alien-frog-mutant-thing. Remember, nobody likes a mouth full of shaving cream.  (Trailer)


The Brain (1988)


The Brain is nearly-forgotten 80s schlock gold, directed by cult filmmaker Ed Hunt who helmed Bloody Birthday and Plague. The basic premise: an alien brain is the mastermind behind a self-help program—unnervingly similar to today’s Dr. Philcalled “Independent Thinkers” which sets out to brainwash its viewers. Many of the best bits involve vivid hallucinations, including a bleeding teddy bear and tendrils tearing through walls. David Gale (Dr. Hill in Re-Animator) plays The Brain’s right hand man and the host of Independent Thinkers. The Brain is a slightly creepy, slightly goofy creature, which looks great when it doesn’t actually have to do anything. There’s also a ridiculous scene in which David Gale’s head is decapitated by a solid punch. It left me wondering if someday we’ll see Dr. Phil’s head punched off in front of a live audience. We can only hope. While it’s easy to find on cheapo DVD overseas, The Brain never really got a good release stateside. It’s in VHS hell but you can find it on YouTube.  (Trailer)

Cameron's Closet (1988)


Another mostly forgotten 80s flick, Cameron’s Closet is most notable for being based on a book of the same name by Greg Brandner, who also penned The Howling. It features a creature designed by Carlo Rambaldi who created the alien in E.T. (sorry to say…this is not his best work), a score by Harry Manfredini, and as an added bonus, a cameo by Maniac Cop director William Lustig. Cameron’s Closet is full of great horror archetypes, including the deadbeat, sports loving stepdad; the tough-as-nails cop with a past; and the kid with telepathic abilities he can’t quite control. Despite a lukewarm execution, Cameron’s Closet is a movie with a lot of good ideas and some memorable scenes, including an absurd decapitation (pretty common in horror movies, apparently) in which a man places a machete on a closet shelf and then accidentally falls on it, a cop getting his eyes burned out upon sight of the creature-in-the-closet, and also this fucking scene.

Werewolf (1987)


I’ve heard Werewolf was conceived as a movie and was so popular it led to the TV series, thus making it something an accidental pilot. I’m not sure if I buy that, as the movie feels like it was always meant to be a pilot: it’s a lot of set up for a longer narrative. Either way, it’s really enjoyable. Featuring Chuck Connors in his last television role (playing a character named after the vampire in The Night Stalker) and the special effects wizardry of Rick Baker, it’s hard to go wrong here. This is standard werewolf fare: silver bullets, full moons, themes of duality, but there are a few twists and turns, the dialog is pretty solid, and Werewolf makes good use of its TV budget. As far as I know, the Werewolf pilot has never been released in any format…and good luck finding the show on DVD. Luckily, you can find the pilot in its entirety on YouTube.


Find Part II here!


Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. You can find him on Twitter and other internet vacuums. His books can be found here.

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