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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan: Resurrection, Pt. 1

by Zachary T. Owen

It's that time of year again—the most special time for horrorhounds and Halloween freaks. In honor of our favorite Holiday, I'm resurrecting Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan (see the originals here and here). I happen to think all of the films I've rounded up this year are worth a watch (and some worth many, many watches) but, as each person has their own personal taste, your mileage may vary. My original introduction is still very suiting, so here it is:

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.

The Evil Within (2017)

Okay, so this one is probably going to gain most of its viewers because of its wild backstory. A passion project of Andrew Getty, The Evil Within suffered a long and troubled production, beginning its journey clear back in 2002 and, only now, two years after Getty's death, seeing a release. The movie was largely self-financed after Andrew Getty inherited money from his oil tycoon grandfather. In a bizarre move—perhaps due to a simple lack of knowledge—Getty purchased most of the equipment he needed  for the film instead of renting it, which ramped up production costs. He also developed a meth addiction at some point (yes, really). Needless to say, the finished film is, at times, a bit rough, but overall an enjoyable and twisted little romp. It doesn't hurt that veteran horror actor Michael Berryman has a prominent role as a shadowy villain, and the film has several impressive set pieces and some mid-range to great special effects. Lead actor Frederick Koehler's performance is also rock-solid.

WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

The WNUF Halloween Special is an enticing blend of nostalgia and clever wink-wink-nudge-nudge filmmaking. Billed as a “real” broadcast from the 80s of a local news station investigating an allegedly haunted house, WNUF manages to impress with its authenticity–the program is repeatedly interrupted by fake commercials, some more absurd than others, but all of them tonally dead-on for the time period. The main narrative itself is slight but involving and amusing. The WNUF Halloween Special is the kind of movie you watch with a group of friends on Halloween night with a couple of six-packs. My only real criticism is the acting is all over the place. Some of the actors are pitch-perfect, but some decidedly more amateur. This isn't usually a complaint I have with B films, but this time around it does take away from the illusion.

Grow Up, Tony Philips (2013)
Director Emily Hagins first came onto the horror scene at just 12 years old with her zombie movie Pathogen, chronicled in the documentary Zombie Girl. While the movie was, essentially, a home-video quality effort, her passion for filmmaking at such a young age was a sure sign she wasn't just goofing with friends. At 17, she put out the her second film, My Sucky Teen Romance. While still a bit on the amateur side, it was an quite an improvement. Grow Up, Tony Philips, her third movie, is her most accomplished. When I say that, I mean it's a well-made, damn fine movie. It isn't a horror movie, but still appropriate for the season. The titular character is a high school boy in love with dressing up for Halloween to the point of planning his costumes months in advance. While his hobby is innocent enough, the people around him seem to find it juvenile and a little weird, so naturally, they ostracize him. Tony Philips must begin his coming-of-age quest. But this time around we're getting a story about teens growing up from the perspective of an actual teenager (Emily was 19 while directing the movie). That just might be a movie first.

Burning Bright (2010)

The title of this underseen animal-gone-amok thriller is a reference to William Blake's famous poem “The Tyger.” That's about as literary as the film gets, but what we do have is a sturdy thriller with competent performances, especially by lead actress Briana Evigan, and some good chase scenes. The basic premise of Burning Bright is this: a hurricane is fast approaching and Kelly and her autistic younger brother Tom are trapped in their house, which has been sealed off by their stepfather (who is so obviously the evil-stepdad archetype that nobody is fooled). Oh, and a live tiger from the “safari zoo” he wants to build is somehow loose in the house. It sounds silly, but it's actually pulled off well by screenwriters Christine Coyle Johnson and Julie Prendiville Roux. Burning Bright has commercial sensibilities so it's too bad it never really found an audience. Bonus points: it's got a cameo by Meatloaf.

Long Pigs (2007)

Long Pigs is a Canadian mockumentary horror film about two filmmakers following the exploits of a serial cannibal, somewhat in the vein of Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and The Last Horror Movie. The humor is bleak and deadpan (my favorite kind) and the movie has a do-it-yourself look perfectly suited for this kind of story. Anthony McAlistar is excellent as the cannibal and, balanced with the dark laughs, is the right amount of subtext. Long Pigs asks some interesting questions on morality, the human condition, and the nature of evil. A radio host character acts as a good foil to the humor, bringing some gloom and gravity to the story. When Long Pigs was first released on DVD the limited edition included edible jerky prepared by Anthony McAlistar himself. I wonder what it tasted like.

Mindwarp (1992)

Fangoria produced this sci-fi flick with strong elements of horror. Mindwarp was meant to get a 1990 release but had a tumultuous production. By the time it was distributed, two years later, there was no interest in a theatrical run. Consequently, it went straight to video and was promptly forgotten. The movie is a mess—but an ambitious one. Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm deliver great performances, the special fx by KNB are pretty stellar, and there are some really interesting elements in the screenplay. Mindwarp is essentially a dystopian/post-apocalyptic narrative about a woman who leaves behind her comfy, virtual-reality lifestyle and is thrown into the real world, a desert wasteland filled with mutants. Along the way she meets Bruce Campbell, possibly one of the last un-mutated humans to exist outside the complex of rich people plugged into VR. The two of them end up in an underground lair where they are tormented by Angus Scrimm's character, who acts as a messiah for the mutants. Mindwarp is a little too heavy on the twists and turns. The ending left me underwhelmed, but the movie as a whole was so entertaining that I didn't mind.

Come back in two days to get part two!

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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