Category Archives: Crash Reports

Twin Peaks: The Owls are Not What They Seem by Billy Crash

When David Lynch’s alternative and surreal soap opera twist, Twin Peaks hit the small screen in 1992, I was glued to the show like millions of others. I couldn’t take my eyes off the television or get my mind away from the many mysteries that took residence in the bizarro town, as well as the lines that would become catch phrases (only Joss Whedon’s Buffy surpassed Lynch in that category). Twin Peaks worked because it was far removed from the typical mundane television formula: The story was vibrant and multifaceted, the acting superior, and Angelo Badalamenti’s music burrowed deep within one’s soul. Plus, it showcased the most screwed up and demented high school students on the planet.

Granted, the first season proved to be brilliant, and except for the final two episodes of the second and final season, those shows were an embarrassment and became a parody of Lynch’s vision, as well as co-creator and co-writer Mark Frost. After the show’s demise, Lynch brought a pre-quell to the world that allowed Sheryl Lee to star instead of being “wrapped in plastic.” Although he cut a tremendous amount of footage to get the film into theatres, many audience members hated the movie. I remember stepping into a venue and enjoying the film with thirty people – or so I thought. Before the film ended, only three of us remained.

This Must Be Where Pies Go When They Die

In early March, I drove to North Bend, Washington where Twin Peaks had been filmed. Just forty minutes from Seattle, the town was small, welcoming, and not weird at all.

Pulling into town on a somewhat cold and flurry kind of day, the first thing to come into view was Twede’s Café, known to the world as the Double R Diner in Twin Peaks. During filming, it was actually the Mar-T Diner until it changed hands. The place had a cool feel, though it was far more cramped than the interior reproduced for the show on a sound stage. Hell, in the real place Sherilynn Fenn wouldn’t have room to dance two steps. Then again, the actual diner had burned to the ground in 2000. The new diner was remade in the original style with that giant U-shaped counter in its center. Although I never saw a juke box, I felt like a goober for sitting in a booth and ordering a “damn good cup of coffee” and a slice of cherry pie. The wait staff had heard it all before and didn’t even flinch. The cherry pie proved to be amazing, but Dale Cooper’s coffee wasn’t as damn good as I had hoped.

A Place Both Wonderful and Strange

As for the sawmill, well, you can’t get near it – unless you want to climb a high fence and get arrested for trespassing. Then again, the abandoned brick edifice is all a bit “crumbly.” Thankfully, I had a telephoto and got some pictures though getting inside would have been cool. To do that, I’d have to find a way down onto an active dirt race track and hope my camera survived the dust and dirt that swirled about as if sawdust from the mill. I had to pass.

From where I stood to take the shots, all I had to do was spin around to take pictures of the sheriff’s office – the headquarters for the racing school. It’s here that I didn’t meet one of the Bookhouse Boys, but a kind soul who had moved to North Bend long ago because of Twin Peaks. She had been on set for the upcoming season, and like an actress from the series I had met in Seattle, she was kind but wouldn’t say anything about the resurrected show. I didn’t want to know anyway, but both women, as well as all cast and crew members, had to sign an agreement that if they leaked a word, a picture, or anything, they’d be slapped with a one-million dollar fine. Beyond the secrecy, both women didn’t want to disappoint David Lynch by saying something out of turn.

The mill and station were far removed from town, and thanks to a map of shooting locations from the tourist guide, I drove up a few miles to check out the Twin Peaks sign, which as expected, wasn’t there.

When You See Me Again, It Won’t Be Me

The high school entrance that had welcomed Laura, James, Audrey, Donna and company proved to be inaccessible thanks to a ton of construction equipment and high fences. Even with the television history and the tourist attraction angle, the façade is being refaced and will no longer look the same.

Fire Walk with Me

Leland Palmer uttered the “Fire walk with me” line from his poem during Twin Peaks’ first season. To introduce the film of the same name, Sheryl Lee, Wendy Robie, and Gary Hershberger took the stage in the theatre at the Seattle Art Museum, not far from the famous Space Needle and Public Market.

The trio took questions from the audience, and most were devoted to working with David Lynch – all positive responses, of course, even if the actors weren’t sure of what he had planned for their characters. When Hershberger went to Lynch and asked why bandages were packed so high on his head, and why he was coming on to Nadine (Robie), Lynch just leaned in and said, “Play it intimate.”

Even with all the mystery, the actors trusted Lynch and his vision, and like the audience, they went along for the ride.

Nobody Loved Laura But Us

The new series of Twin Peaks will be something special and bizarre, of course. How can Sheryl Lee reprise her role of Laura Palmer again when she’s long dead as well as Ray Wise? Who the hell knows what’s in store for us, but with Mark Frost and David Lynch in the driver’s seat for all eighteen episodes, it’s bound to be a trip.

Who knows what would have happened if ABC had let Lynch and Frost not resolve the Laura Palmer murder, which led to the ill-fated collapse of season two. Even so, an unexpected limited series is on the way that will bring new magic to the small screen.

Regardless of ABC’s ultimate idiocy, and all the questions stemming from series’ end, many will wonder if we’re in the Black Lodge or White Lodge, but the Linoleum on the floor tells us we’re in the same damn place. Here the good of Cooper and company will use the energy from the lodge to battle the demons that plague the souls of Twin Peaks, and that evil will draw upon that same energy to destroy them. One can only wonder how Lynch and Frost plan on bringing this wild world to fruition with their own Twin Peaks logic. In all honesty, I hope that like most towns, they’ll just keep on keepin’ on. Hell, what’s life without a sense of mystery? So, grab a jelly donut, turn on the television to Showtime, and enjoy where Lynch and company take us. After all, it won’t be like anything we’ve seen on the small screen since 1992.

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Kyle McLachlan from Birth.Movie.Death.)

THE DARK TAPES (2017) by Dee Emm Elms

[98 minutes. Not rated. Directors: Vincent J. Guastini, Michael McQuown]

As soon as I finished watching the horror film The Dark Tapes, I realized that I had a big problem as a movie reviewer. I wanted to immediately get the word out to encourage other people to find the movie and see it – but I also didn’t want to give much of anything about it away to anyone. I came into the movie almost completely cold, and that’s how I think everyone should see it. And, believe me, I think everyone should see it. Just watch it. It’s that good. But for those who need more convincing, I’m offering as much of a spoiler-free review here as I can. That’s how much I want you to see The Dark Tapes.

In telling you that this movie joins the ranks of The Blair Witch ProjectThe Poughkeepsie Tapes, and Alien Abduction, you can probably guess that The Dark Tapes is a found-footage movie. The title kind of gives it away. And let me add that before pressing “Play” on my remote control, I thought the title seemed uninspired and bland. After watching it, I realized that the title is perfect, and I wouldn’t want anyone to make a change. Its rather-generic name belies its contents, which is kind of a central theme to much of the movie – that what you see isn’t what you get, that conventions can and will be subverted in ways a viewer may not expect, and that sometimes it’s the most unassuming things that can hide the biggest and most sinister secrets.

So many found-footage movies try to compensate for a limited budget by being loud and shocking. They throw things at the camera over and over, or feature loud “stinger” sound effects or screams to hide the hollowness of their contents.  The people who made The Dark Tapes know this, and they play with the audience’s expectations of this in a variety of ways throughout the movie. I didn’t jump in my seat even once during The Dark Tapes, and if you think that’s a bad thing… well, I submit that you don’t know much about horror beyond its ability to provide the odd adrenal rush.

The Dark Tapes is about the horror of dawning realization. It’s about the horror of creeping dread. Right from the first segment, it draws your interest and makes you question what it is you’re seeing. It drops you right into its world. That could be a weakness for less-aware filmmakers, but I suspect it’s done here with definitive intent. Because from the first moment to the last, The Dark Tapes pulls off a trick that only the absolute best found-footage movies can manage: keeping you in that perfect horror movie moment where you’re in a state of perpetual dread, in that feeling you get when you hear the clickity-clack ride up the roller coaster… right before the big drop. Except that The Dark Tapes isn’t about the big drop. It’s about the ride climbing and climbing… and then coming to a sudden stop, and leaving you there – waiting for a more existential drop. With The Dark Tapes, you don’t get to release the tension the movie builds until after you finish the movie. This film leaves you halfway up the climb – perhaps suspended there, perhaps hanging upside-down, and waiting for a rescue that you know in the back of your mind just isn’t coming because that’s not how the world really works. In the world of The Dark Tapes, there’s something deeply wrong with the roller coaster we’re all on, and observing how and why – unspoiled – is one of the movie’s great pleasures.

Credit directors Vincent J. Guastini and Michael McQuown for making beautiful use of budgetary limitations. The Dark Tapes reportedly cost around $65,000 to make, but you wouldn’t know it from watching because this movie shows how creative people can overcome the shortcomings of any budget. So much work, craft, and care are evident, and special note should be made of McQuown’s clear expertise at editing that brings all these well-crafted elements together – they not only transcend typical found footage movies, but horror movies in general. In The Dark Tapes, you get a film that takes you on a journey from calm to chaos and back with the guiding hand of someone truly creative who knows what they’re doing and isn’t wasting a second of what you see onscreen. And, in a way, even that deft editing could be interpreted as something sinister. But I’ve said too much already.

Performances throughout The Dark Tapes are natural when they’re supposed to be, and unnatural when… well, let’s say when you’re dealing with the unnatural. Again, my desire to keep your experience undiluted prevents me from saying much else.

However, I do want to give praise to Cortney Palm as Nicole Fallek, and David Roundtree as Martin Callahan. Both play characters who are dealing with fear, panic, and realization – while also keeping their heads in bizarre circumstances. Like everything else about The Dark Tapes, their work displays a delicate balancing act that ramps up the tension while remaining believable. Future found-footage moviemakers could learn a lot by observing how these two performers play out their reactions to what they’re experiencing.

I want to, mysteriously perhaps, levy praise on a pair of elements: the visible and audible in-movie work of Guastini, McQuown, and Ryan Allen Young that I simply can’t reveal further without spoiling. The things I’m talking about literally gave me goosebumps on five different occasions. You’ll know them when you see and hear them. And, if you’re like me, you’ll never forget them.

Likewise, I don’t think you’ll forget The Dark Tapes. It’s a movie made by legitimate talents that gets at the heart of what makes movies scary, and what makes horror movies both unnerving and delightful. When the film ended, I felt like I could watch five more movies set in the world of The Dark Tapes, each telling different stories. If more is to come, I’ll be waiting – with a blanket pulled over my head in that mix of anticipation and fear.

Because in the world of The Dark Tapes, the truth isn’t out there – it’s right behind you.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Dee Emm Elms was born in 1972 in Glens Falls, New York. Dee writes about many subjects ranging from social justice issues to Lost In Space, and often mixes them together. Her favorite topic is horror, and horror movies in particular. Her novel Sidlings may be read at sidlings.com, and she would be pleased for you to check it out.  Dee may be contacted at her email sidlingsnovel@gmail.com, or her Twitter: @d_m_elms.

(Movie poster from Teaser Trailer. Dee Emm Elms photo via Dee Emm Elms.)

The 2000s: Horror’s Best Decade (Part 3: The Final Chapter) by Paul J. Williams

Please allow me one last time to preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers may exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And, I’m not a movie historian or expert; I’m just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: Why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic as well.

NOTABLE DIRECTORS

As we entered the 2000s, one filmmaker seemed to lead the charge for a resurgence in the horror genre: M. Night Shyamalan. Coming off the monumental success of 1999’s The Sixth Sense, he dipped slightly with 2000’s Unbreakable, before reconnecting with audiences with 2002’s Signs, which unfortunately has not stood the test of time in terms of its plot or an ending that makes sense. After that, poor Night descended that proverbial slippery slide with one miscalculation after another. However, I’m happy to report that the past few years have been a rebound for Mr. Shyamalan with the success of The Visit in 2015 and Split in 2017. While Night might have slumped in the 2000s, several other filmmakers rose to prominence in the horror genre, aside from the aforementioned Eli Roth, Neil Marshall, et. al.

TI WEST started with a couple of independent features before directing the sequel to Cabin Fever, which he now disowns. Afterwards, though, he started the run he has become known for with The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and segments on V/H/S and The ABCs of Death. His latest feature-length film was the 2016 non-horror, but critically acclaimed, In the Valley of Violence.

LUCKY McKEE brought us the now cult-classic May in 2002. Several years later, he returned with The Woods in 2006, followed by The Woman in 2011. His latest movie, Misfortune, is scheduled for release in 2017.

IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT: Post-Apocalypse

Another oldie but goodie subgenre that resurged in the 2000s was post-apocalyptic movies, with many in the zombie subgenre as well. Here are a few survivors, though admittedly, some are more drama than horror:

REIGN OF FIRE, starring the not-as-yet-popular Christian Bale and the always great Matthew McConaughey, in a 2002 UK movie where dragons emerge and destroy half the planet.

TIME OF THE WOLF is a 2003 Michael Haneke post-apocalyptic drama that nobody saw during its initial run, but has become appreciated years later.

WAR OF THE WORLDS is Steven Spielberg’s 2005 loosely-based adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel about an alien invasion. Tom Cruise plays a longshoremen from Newark, NJ (remember, this is science-fiction) who must flee with his kids as the war-machines destroy everything in their path. With awesome set-pieces and special effects, the movie went on to receive positive reviews and hundreds of millions of dollars.

CHILDREN OF MEN is a 2006 UK movie set in a near-future where women, inexplicably, can no longer become pregnant. Alfonso Cuarón directs Clive Owen to a great performance as the man who may be able to help mankind. Surprisingly not a hit at the box-office, the movie earned critical acclaim and always pops up on “Best of” lists.

THE ROAD is the 2009 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a father and son trekking along a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of that elusive safe-ground.

DAYBREAKERS is a 2009 vampire tale starring Ethan Hawke, who must love acting in these genre movies. Ultimately a fun ride, the film made double its budget.

STAKE LAND, from 2010, also sets us in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with vampires. A touching story executed on a low budget with some great scenes and a moving soundtrack.

“THE ORIGINAL WAS BETTER”…Yeah, No Shit…

Remakes, reboots, reimagining, whatever you call them, they were everywhere in the 2000s and the horror genre was the biggest victim. This was really the only low point, in my opinion, for the genre this decade.

Look, I like to think I’m not naïve or a prude; I get it, I really do. Hollywood is a business, and businesses’ goals are to earn profits. I’m an American trying to turn a buck as much as the next guy, so maybe if I were in these producers’ shoes I’d do the same, but they all reek of capitalism. There appears to be no artistic or creative goal to them at all… Okay, maybe I am a little naïve after all…

Anyway, let’s take a look at some of these:

THE FIRST: Announced in 2001 and realized in 2003, the first remake of an original horror classic in the 2000s was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Besides Jessica Biel running around in a skimpy white tank-top, the movie offers or adds nothing to the iconic 1974 original.

THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL: Touched upon in Part 2, after the relative successes of Rob Zombie’s early/mid 2000s horror-films, producers who owned the rights to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, tasked Zombie with remaking it in 2006. He would go on to write, produce, and direct it entirely in his own broad, bloody vision, abandoning what made the original so special. It didn’t stop Millennials and scores of others from rushing the theaters, and the movie went on to huge box-office grosses, which spawned the 2009 sequel. A feud of some sort, that might be total nonsense, between Carpenter and Zombie has emerged over the years, but the two seem to have made amends recently.

THE WORST: Hands down, unequivocally, without any doubt, 2006’s unintentional spoof-remake of the 1973 UK classic, The Wicker Man, takes the prize. Nicholas Cage leads the way in this turd, playing the detective searching for a missing girl on a remote island. An unmitigated disaster all the way around… “Not the bees!”…

THE VICTIMS: All of these tried and essentially failed at remaking their original classics: Willard (2003), The Amityville Horror (2005), The Fog (2005), House of Wax (2005), The Omen (2006), When A Stranger Calls (2006), Black Christmas (2006), The Invasion (2007), April Fool’s Day (2008), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Friday the 13th (2009), The Last House On the Left (2009), The Stepfather (2009), The Wolfman (2010), I Spit On Your Grave (2010), and last but not least, A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010). That list is way too long.

THE EXCEPTION: Let Me In is the 2010 American remake of the 2008 Swedish vampire drama, Let the Right One In. Perhaps why this was one of the very few remake successes in the 2000s is the ingredients of talented professionals that collaborated to make it: Written and directed by Matt Reeves and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, and the always great, Richard Jenkins, the movie received critical acclaim, though wasn’t the biggest hit at the box-office.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Before we finish, I’d like to mention other movies of note that prove this was one of the best decades for horror:

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, a 2005 “young girl possessed” movie adds the unique aspect of also being a legal drama. That, along with great performances from both veteran and novice actors, separates this from other ubiquitous demonic possession stories.

HARD CANDY, a two-hander directed in 2005 by David Slade, stars Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page, a year before she would explode as Juno, in this disturbing revenge tale set in the modern, technological era.

BUG, a 2006 psychological horror from William Friedkin, who directs a sparse cast, made double its budget, and was well-received, despite many disappointed with its conclusion.

TRICK ‘R TREAT, technically a 2007 film, is a horror anthology directed by Michael Dougherty, set on Halloween, that was released straight-to-DVD in 2009. Of course, with hindsight being 20/20, not releasing this was a detrimental decision by Warner Brothers, as the movie was eventually received with critical acclaim and has gone on to develop a big cult following. It undoubtedly would have earned a significant profit at the box office.

THE MIST is a 2007 adaptation of Stephen King’s 1980 novella by director Frank Darabont, who seems to be one of the only filmmakers to successfully transfer King’s stories to movies. The film is faithful to the pages up until the ending, I’m sure most of you know by now, which is very different from the novella that had an ambiguous, yet hopeful finish. It’s a real kick in the balls.

THE ORPHANGE, in 2007, is a scary ghost story (with kids!) from Spain.

EDEN LAKE, a highly disturbing 2008 UK film, starring Kelly Reilly, a then little-known Michael Fassbender, and an unknown Jack O’Connell. A young couple are attempting to enjoy their vacation, but a gang of local hoods have other plans for them. Some scenes are hard to watch, for sure.

TRIANGLE, a UK release in 2009, is a mind-fuck of a movie that, despite Melissa George running around in short-shorts and heels, is a very cleverly structured film.

ANTICHRIST, a 2009 experimental horror from the mind of the infamous Lars von Trier, stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a grieving couple whose infant son dies in the prologue. No hyperbole: It’s some of the craziest shit you’ll ever see on screen.

GRACE, from 2009, stars Jordan Ladd as a grieving and pregnant widow, who may also lose her baby. Directed by Paul Solet, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

DRAG ME TO HELL is the 2009 supernatural movie written and directed by the accomplished, Sam Raimi.

BLACK SWAN, though not 100% horror, is Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 companion-piece with 2008’s The Wrestler, about a performer’s obsession with their craft, ultimately leading to their demise. Natalie Portman’s performance would go on to earn her an Oscar for Best Actress. Creepy scenes, mild “gore,” and foreboding atmosphere allows me to list this as a horror.

MONSTERS is the 2010 feature-film debut of Gareth Edwards, who would go on direct Godzilla in 2014 and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016. It’s not surprising that Edwards would be selected to helm these big budget movies, considering what he does with the visuals and effects in Monsters with only $500,000. The movie puts a great twist on the alien “invasion” subgenre and explores themes way more relevant today than in 2010. Dialogue was adlibbed a la Before Sunrise, however, the actors in that film were much more up to the challenge than the cast in Monsters.

Last, I’m embarrassed to admit I omitted in Part 1, the South Korean movie, A Tale of Two Sisters, from 2003. Unseen by me until some years later, the film is loosely based on an old Korean fairytale and has since been adapted several times.

2010: THE BUBBLE BURSTS

With a decade like the 2000s filling up with so many notable horror movies, the inevitable bubble would burst, which it did, right on cue in 2010 with two films: Human Centipede and A Serbian Film.

One rare thing these two movies have in common is that in this modern, digital, social-media age, each film had an old-fashioned word-of-mouth aspect to them. This was more so with Human Centipede, which I think more US viewers have seen or at least heard of. 2009’s Paranormal Activity was the last horror movie I remember having more of that pre-internet dialogue amongst folks.

HUMAN CENTIPEDE Technically, it’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) and was written, produced, and directed by Dutch filmmaker, Tom Six (Oh, the Dutch!). Just from the movie poster, you know you’re in for it. The film starts out torture-porn-esque, with three tourists kidnapped in Germany by a deranged scientist, but devolves much lower than other movies of this ilk. If you haven’t watched it, I’ll just come out and say it: The victims are surgically attached to each other, mouth to anus, hence becoming his human centipede. Themes and inspirations in the film are evident and, of course, this received what you could call “mixed” reviews at best, but it has spawned two sequels which, admittedly, I’ve passed on.

Before we move on, I want to formally recognize three professionals. I’ve been on movie sets and have asked actors to reach down into some deep emotional and physical territory to accomplish a scene, but what is asked of the three actors in Human Centipede goes above and beyond. Here’s to Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, and Akihiro Kitamura for what they endured in this movie. It wasn’t for nothing.

A SERBIAN FILM Co-written, produced, and directed by Srđan Spasojević, A Serbian Film is an obvious indictment of the filmmaker’s country, Serbia, and its government. Also classified in the subgenre of “just when you thought you saw it all,” A Serbian Film tells the story of poor Milos, a financially strapped, retired porn actor called back to duty by the craziest fucker ever to live. Just how crazy? I’ll give you a hint: “Newborn porn” becomes a porn subcategory.

Somewhat surprisingly, the movie is photographed very nicely, and has way more of a professional look for a movie of this nature. A Serbian Film would ultimately become one of those movies defending itself against censorship in many countries, creating various edits. No matter which cut you’ve seen, or will see, the movie is like no other.

POST-MORTEM

So here comes the arbitrary part where I try to figure this all out. Why, in my assertion, was the 2000s a great decade for horror?

It could be because we became a global society and gained access to movies from around the world that we may have missed twenty years earlier. You’ll notice many, many of the films discussed did not originate in the United States.

It could be because cameras and equipment became much more affordable, opening up filmmaking to those who are truly independent and outside the Hollywood studio system. Everything went digital, as well. DSLR cameras shot HD and became an accepted norm. Expensive film-stock was no longer necessary. Editing software could be downloaded on a laptop. Creative, talented filmmakers were no longer on the outside looking in.

It could be because so many events of the 2000s were so painful, filmmakers thought they had to raise the bar in the movies they showed us. They didn’t want us to pause our movie to turn on CNN and watch something in the world more horrific.

It could be that filmmakers thought they could only explore themes with certain subgenres of horror. The zombie and post-apocalyptic movies jump to mind.

It could be just the ebb and flow of life. The 1980s were an important, prolific decade for the horror genre, which was then followed by a horror dearth in the 1990s.

But, enough of me blabbing. What do you think?

Before I go, I’d like to thank Billy Crash, proprietor of Crash Palace Productions and close friend, for hosting this series on 2000s Horror. I had a blast.

Until we meet again, everyone…

(Photo of Stake Land from Confessions of a Film Junkie.)

Crash Palace Support Team

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Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, and his short films have appeared in numerous festivals. Although Paul’s the man behind Rolling Dark Productions, he’s also a detective in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul’s a Medal of Honor recipient from the City of Newark for actions on December 14, 2002

Hungry Like the Werewolf by Billy Crash

Werewolves Got Bite

When it comes to horror sub-genres, “creature features” are a favorite of many, and one can break down that sub-genre into other segments, like a centipede, human or otherwise, if you prefer. But the hairiest of them all – besides King Kong and Mighty Joe Young, of course – are tales of werewolves.

This is not a personal favorite because of the limitations of the beast in recalling who it had annihiliated in the wake of a full moon; the notion of the full moon itself because even if the satellite is not full, the moon is still present with its gravitational pulling power; and since silver is so prevalent and realitively easy to come by, it’s not too difficult to take out a weremonster on the silver screen, no less.

 

Sympathy for the Hairy Devil

The central element of most forays into wolfdom involves a “good man” who becomes the “bad beast.” In this case, the individual has given up humanity, a consideration for others, and becomes a cannibal or tooth-and-claw shredding machine relying on base instincts. The beast within is our animal instincts made real. It’s as if we’ve gone back 2.8 million years to our hairy ancestors, the Homo Habilis, who stood on two legs in the continent of Africa, and had to navigate the world’s dangers in order to achieve “survival of the fittest” mega-status. This is undoubtedly why most motion pictures depict Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Mr. Hyde” as a primitive and often hairy man. After all, we don’t want Mr. Hyde to look like the rest of us because that means we’re all bad. Dr. Jekyll’s alter evil is the base form of humanity giving into the dark side of the self we often choose not to express.

Like Mr. Hyde, the human turned werewolf isn’t just bad to the bone, but wears its evil on the outside: hairy, pointed ears, larger nose, and gnashing teeth (Hyde also has some kind of deformity). It’s visual proof that this character is to be avoided at all costs.

 

Why Eight is Gr8

What follows is a list of the top eight werewolf films ever made to date. Why not the average top ten? Because this is it. The rest are 3 stars or less out of five, and that doesn’t make the cut. And that’s because most werewolf movies rank really low due to weak storytelling that usually involves someone (a guy mostly), who either becomes a werewolf from a bite, or who already is one, but either does or doesn’t know it, or someone thinks he is and can’t prove it… Well, you know the story. The clichés are virtually endless – as well as the disappointment. But what follows are great looking films with twists to the tried, true, and tropey, that make us embrace the wolf like Seth Green’s Oz in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and keep us free from a trap:

 

The Wolf Man (1941) – 3.5 stars

The hairy grandwolf of them all, because the 1913 silent, The Werewolf had been destroyed in Universal’s 1924 fire, George Waggner’s tale from the pen of Curt Siodmak features Lon Chaney Jr. as the tragic Larry Talbot (the surname means an extinct dog with large ears). Larry’s a pragmatic soul who doesn’t heed the warnings of “you can’t go home” and ends up being bitten by a wolf. He becomes the monster, the wolf man, and his demise, his fall from humanity is one of the saddest stories in all of horror.

 

Late Phases (2014) – 3.5 stars

If anyone should have been nominated for best actor in 2014, it was Don Damici for his portrayal of the elderly and blind veteran, Ambrose McKinley. Bitter about his move to a retirement community, he’s soon concerned that people aren’t dying of old age, but from “dog attacks” in the neighborhood. Like a famed blind samurai, McKinley stakes his ground and fights back – hard. As a writer, Eric Stolze delivered something different than the usual youthful fare.

 

Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (2004) – 3.5 stars

Ever see a werewolf film based on a true story? Sure we had Brotherhood of the Wolf, but that went right off the rails. Elena Serra and Alberto Marini deliver the story of Romasanta, Spain’s first recorded serial killer, who killed thirteen women in the mid-1800s and turned them into soap (Fight Club made real). He avoided “death by garrotte” mostly due to his statement that he was a werewolf. In the film, Julian Sands plays the man who wooed women to their demise in Paco Plaza’s dramatic horror.

 

An American Werewolf in London (1981) – 4 stars

This masterful horror/comedy from writer/director John Landis, with phenomenal special make-up effects from guru Rick Baker, tells the story of David Kessler, played by David Naughton, who should have listened to the locals and stayed indoors. Instead, he heads out, gets attacked by a werewolf, and… Well, the rest is up to you. The narrative took the sad sack story of 1941’s The Wolf Man and made it more introspective, yet maybe just as sad.

 

Wolf Cop (2014) – 4 stars

After winning $1 million in a contest to make an independent film, writer/director Lowell Dean delivers the over-the-top story of Lou Garou, portrayed by Leo Fafard, who’s a drunken bum of a cop, but when fur hits the fan, steps up and finally does the right thing to save his town, and maybe even himself. If you want a fun ride, this one will leave you howling at the moon.

 

Howl (2015) – 4 stars

Coming out of nowhere, if Train to Busan is the best zombie film on the rails, take a ride on Paul Hyett’s train to Furtown where the werewolves come straight out of Creep City to punch your ticket. Ed Speeler’s is Joe, an attendee of spineless proportions who doesn’t want to step up and engage in the hero’s journey. He’s checking tickets and using his best customer service skills to keep ticked off passengers at bay, when the amazing Sean Pertwee, in a cameo as the driver, hits a deer and brings the train to a halt – and then all Hell breaks loose.

 

Ginger Snaps (2000) – 5 stars

Hard to believe that so long ago the horror world came face to face with Emily Perkins, Kris Lemche, and Katherine Isabelle, whose careers were launched from a coming of age parable in bloody wolf form. This very dark comedy of perfect proportions features two death worshipping who want to keep womanhood and the world at bay, but end up fighting against everything they ever wished for.

 

Dog Soldiers (2002) – 5 stars

Sean Pertwee leads his boys on a military exercise in the Scottish Highlands, only to discover that the drill is definitely over when werewolves come out to play and decimate his squad. Kevin McKidd stands tall, and with his breathren, do everything imaginable to truly keep the wolves at bay. Neil Marshall’s amazing film captures a military unit at its realistic best and keeps us rocking on a gut-ripping ride of action, mystery, suspense, and a ton of carnage.

 

No, I didn’t forget lycanthropes of The Howling, Wolfen, Silver Bullet, or The Company of Wolves. They just didn’t have enough bite. Underworld and Monster Squad didn’t make it because the onus was on the vampire who led werewolves around on sometimes invisible leashes. But what do you think of this list? And what are your favorite big teeth, big eyes, and hairy beast movies? Let me know and we’ll chat about it.

Woof.

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Dog Soldiers from Dog Soldiers Wikia.)

Event Report: Monster Mania 36 by Jonny Numb

 

The long-running Monster-Mania Convention knows how to show horror fans a good time. For 3 days every March and August, genre stars and a wide variety of vendors descend upon Cherry Hill, New Jersey (just over the Ben Franklin Bridge) for a celebration of macabre delight.

Over the past decade, I’ve attended at least one MM con per year, and have never been disappointed. Between the guests (usually a mix of new blood and returning fan favorites) and the vendors spread across several rooms, this truly is a holiday for horror-hounds – a combination of celebrity wish-fulfillment and a cornucopia of dazzling material goodies awaiting discovery.

There are certain things that MM newbies should be cognizant of: Even if you get to the Crowne Plaza early, you may want to pack your walking shoes (or something that doesn’t lace up to the thigh). My best friend and I arrived at noon on Saturday, and were greeted by a mile-long backup of vehicles waiting to chance the packed parking lot. As veterans of the con, we had never seen MM this busy.

After an odd winter of wildly fluctuating temperatures (from balmy 60s to well below freezing), the day was a mix of sun and wind, the type of slap-you-in-the-face cold that Calvin’s dad would insist “builds character.” As we walked from our faraway parking spot, we speculated on the reason for the turnout (John Cusack being the headliner guest; our later arrival; the parking lot being taken up by out-of-towners in for the whole weekend) and stopped at a delicious* pit barbecue place for lunch.

Upon passing through the automatic lobby doors of the Crowne Plaza, we faced a scene of (mostly figurative) chaos: the extensive foyer/lounge area was packed with people. On first glance, it was overwhelming and obnoxious – a mass of bodies like something out of a Clive Barker novel – but my excitement over being there eventually trumped a sinking feeling of not enjoying the show on account of being unable to move.

The line for tickets moved with great efficiency (with at least 3 or 4 volunteers keeping on top of things), and good news for everyone whose favored ATMs were on the fritz prior to driving over (like me): the admission table does take credit cards. Following the acquisition of the much-coveted wristband, I progressed to the line for the lobby ATM. While a longer wait (maybe 15 minutes), those around me had a good sense of humor whenever somebody would sincerely ask, “Who are you in line for?”

Following my ATM adventure, I met my friend in the room where a majority of the celebrity guests were gathered. Forming a border along the wall, the center section was a swarm of fans looking to get up close and personal with stars as varied as Oscar winner Louise Fletcher, original “Buffy” Kristy Swanson, guys who played Jason Voorhees (Ted White and C.J. Graham), Lucas and “Toothless” from Stranger Things, and even con mainstay Doug “Pinhead” Bradley (whose line seemed permanently stretched halfway across the room).

We both had clear ideas of who we wanted to meet, and began with the lovely Ashley Bell (from Carnage Park and The Last Exorcism, among others), who possessed an energy and enthusiasm that was infectious. MM 36 was her first proper convention, and she was elated to meet her fans. She had nothing but glowing things to say about her collaboration with director Mickey Keating and co-star Pat Healy in Carnage Park, and told me of Psychopaths’ (another Keating project) April premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. After graciously posing for a picture, she suggested making a phone call to Billy Crash (proprietor of this fine site!) and concluded by pointing me in the direction of Love and Bananas – an elephant documentary she’s involved with (also her Twitter handle). Though I committed a faux pas that I will take to my grave, Miss Bell embodied everything a fan could want in a convention guest – down to earth, energetic, and clearly passionate about the genre.

Years ago, my friend had a great alternative poster from John Carpenter’s The Thing, which was unfortunately damaged beyond repair in a house fire. Needless to say, he acquired a reprint for MM, which hosted a mini-reunion of the men of Outpost 36 – Thomas Waites (Windows); Peter Maloney (Bennings); con newcomer Wilford Brimley (Blair); and a nearly-missed Richard Masur (Clark).

In addition to first-time convention guests Bell and Brimley, cinematographer Dean Cundey (who shot Carpenter’s most well-remembered films) was also on hand. Keeping within the same universe, synth wizard Alan Howarth was there with a diverse selection of scores, and also closed out Saturday night with a free concert.

At the end of the day, my friend accumulated five signatures for his The Thing poster – not too shabby.

Nestled within the same corner of the room was the wonderful Barbara Crampton, who has worked in (Re-Animator; From Beyond; Castle Freak) and out (various daytime soap operas) of the genre over the years, and has been enjoying a career renaissance as of late, with efforts like You’re Next, We Are Still Here, and Sun Choke expanding her fan base even further. A line of about a dozen waited patiently for her to return from lunch; when she did, she paused to address the fans: “Thank you so much for waiting! I had to get something to eat!” (I suspect that Mrs. Crampton was really visiting the Fountain of Youth – we should all hope to look so amazing at 58.) When it was my turn, my photo choice was a no-brainer – a still from 2015’s Sun Choke, which I told her was her best performance, “Better than Emma Stone in La La Land,” to which she gave a good-natured (yet doubtful) laugh. Mrs. Crampton asked me what I did for a living as we posed for a photo, and revealed that her sister in Vermont was also a civil servant, to which she recited the line that led me to state government: “It’s a steady paycheck, and you get benefits.” ** It was a very human moment that recalled my meeting with Ashley Bell, and another testament to how down-to-earth genre stars can be.

With our usual approach of getting autographs out of the way, we engaged with Phase Two of our MM experience: slowing our pace to a zombie shuffle to be dazzled and lured by the varied wares in the vendors’ area. Everything from horror-based fridge magnets, original art prints, vintage posters, enamel pins, DVDs and Blu-rays, and custom apparel – among many other tempting items – were available in this extensive section.

One of the things I enjoy most about MM is that many vendors are mainstays, so there is a predictability to the layout that is comforting. Troma Films, for instance, takes up permanent residence at a corner table, complete with an alcove for photo ops with Toxie, Sgt. Kabukiman, and the Troma Girls.

After collecting some new pins and magnets, I picked up an out-of-print copy of Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (from a consistently reliable used-DVD & Blu-ray vendor), and dropped considerable coin at the Severin Films table (who were giving away free DVD copies of Richard Stanley’s Hardware with multi-disc purchases). My last stop was Vinegar Syndrome, where I complained about how abysmal Massage Parlor Murders is, and made humorous small talk with one of the slightly inebriated guys, who told me, “When the ATM runs out of money, it beams a signal to the guy who has to put money in the ATM” and – regarding his cell-phone’s cracked screen: “I threw it at a guy once, that’s why it’s cracked; you laugh – it’s true!” If the celebrities started my experience off on a high note, this encounter brought MM 36 to an entertaining close.

Some cons champion quantity over quality, but insofar as personality is concerned, MM has the consistent feeling of a curated exhibition – by fans, for fans. Despite the added stress of an overcrowded hotel this time around, even that tension was fleeting in the name of the wonderful community that descended on Cherry Hill for yet another horrifically satisfying weekend.

 

(* = Billy Crash can attest to this.)

(** = CC: Karen “Plate of Shrimp” Rice-Young)

(Photos of Barbara Crampton and Ashley Bell via Twitter.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

QUARRIES (2017) by Billy Crash

You know those pathetic horror films, usually slashers, where the unsuspecting victims get the best of their antagonists only to beat up on them before freaking out and running away so the guy can get up again and hunt them down?

This isn’t one of those.

Directed and co-written by Nils Taylor, Quarries brings together a group of women on a two-week sojourn through New England’s mountainous wooded region. Posed to learn more about themselves, or to divorce themselves from the stress of life, Jean (Sarah Mornell) the experience backpacker and leader of the group, is matched only by Joy (Joy McElveen) and her former military service. The women are the strongest and most capable, while the remaining five are clearly inexperienced and may not realize how hard Mother Nature can be.

Although an ensemble, the narrative focuses on Kat (Nicole Marie Johnson, who co-wrote the script), a woman escaping from an abusive relationship who bears its most recent physical wounds. Unlike the others, she came late to the party and failed to undergo her two-days of mandatory wilderness training.

What the women have to face in Quarries is far worse than what the woods can throw at them because where Mother Nature is indiscriminate, someone sets their sites on targeting the group.

It’s easy to say we’ve seen this movie time and time again. From The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes to I Spit On Your Grave and the Wrong Turn franchise, as well as last year’s Carnage Park and, most evidently, The Descent, the idea of backwoods mayhem at the hands of man – or even mutants – has provided us with a sub-genre of the slasher realm. Films from Sweden, France, and Spain have also explored this “traveler beware” vein.

One can easily argue the strength of some of these movies, but at times we really don’t get a chance to know the characters, and many are “red shirts,” such as the wayward college students in almost any slasher. Due to the emotional disconnect, many viewers can’t wait to see who gets killed and how creative their deaths are going to be since these stock characters of jock, bully, manipulator, and more, are simply disposable – except for the stock “Final Girl.”

Again, Quarries offers a different take by establishing a heavy dose of realism and character depth that ramps up the suspense and leaves us concerned about those being hunted instead of cheering when they might go down.

Quarries is low budget venture, and we know how those can go. Quite often, someone has an idea that falls under the slasher, supernatural, or ultra-cheap found footage umbrella, and they crank it out. Hell, anyone can these days thanks to easy access to low cost equipment and software. Most so-called filmmakers, however, have no business shooting a birthday party for a little kid. Quarries has made clear that little money doesn’t mean a sacrifice in quality.

Regardless of budget, Nils Taylor and company made certain to do everything right. First and foremost, there are no bad actors. Each person “brings it” and delivers a definitive performance worthy of an audience’s investment as they all undergo a series of emotions in their test of survival. Johnson proves to be a formidable lead actress right away, and Carrie Finklea shines as Wren, the young women who has let her own trials and tribulations seemingly get the best of her in self-destructive fashion. None of the characters are stock, and even if they share some attributes to the tried and true, each women shares a different side of themselves when the environment changes instead of falling back on what seems to be their character’s sole foundation. And like most of us who give up some information about ourselves only to leave a bit of mystery behind in our wake, the characters do so as well in genuine fashion.

John Woodside’s cinematography is often amazing, keeping the action tight with close-ups and medium shots, and only pulling the camera back to establish distance. And the view of the Appalachians is not only stunning, but shows us the dichotomy of how isolated our protagonists are in such a vast region. A solid musical score that enhances the visuals and the action in Quarries instead of distracting us from them comes from more than capable composer Isaias Garcia. David Jacox and David C. Keith deliver the all-important editing, and Cody Davis, the stunt choreographer as well as an actor in the film, keeps the fight scenes hard, bold, and relentless. All of this is thanks to Nils Taylor for directing this cinematic excursion so damn well.

One can allude to this group of seven as the Seven Samurai or the American retelling as The Magnificent Seven, but the former didn’t choose the fight and had no training to combat attackers. They are every day women going through all the emotions and stresses that most of us do, yet they were all put in a position where they had to stand up or perish, which certainly outweighs 9 to 5 drudgery, money trouble, and family issues.

My former Kearny High School psychology teacher in New Jersey once said in class, “Anyone can kill. It’s just that not everyone has been in a situation where they’ve had to kill.” And in Quarries, the women may just have to do that to survive. This doesn’t mean morality is thrust by the wayside, but when “kill or be killed” is the mantra, one had best stand tall and fight with abandon, or it will be the last mistake one ever makes. Even if one does go down, the old saying “better to die on your feet than live on your knees” takes on a whole new meaning.

Keep in mind that Quarries is not a “feminist women getting back at misogynist men” tale, but a group of women simply fighting predators to live another day. To get on with their lives. To know their true strength, and to understand that they can now handle any stressor that comes their way because they’ve faced the ultimate battle. This is a rite of passage few of us get to endure. Whether male or female, we can live vicariously through their venture and experience such a gauntlet. But for most of us, we’ll still wonder if we can pass the test.

Don’t miss the interview with QuarriesNils Taylor, Nicole Marie Johnson, and Laura Small of D!amond Cutter Films, and Melanie Wise of the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival. And visit the Quarries‘ site.

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Dog Soldiers Buffy from Dog Soldiers Wikia.)

From SamSam to Dick Pig by Cat LaCohie

SamSam Whirlwind

It’s been such a rush to hit the new year running, shooting the dark comedy/horror feature film, SamSam, in January 2017. LITERALLY starting the New Year the moment I got back to LA – landing in LAX January 10, 11:30am, having just finished a ten-hour flight from London. I left the airport at 12:30pm, squeezed in a modeling job in Downtown LA from 1:30-3:30pm, and then arrived on set to shoot my first scenes of SamSam at 5pm, diving headfirst into a night shoot and also (surprisingly) the best cure for jet-lag! Welcome home Cat!

SamSam, written and directed by Dallas Lee Blanton is a film compiled from the solicitation of real-life Bad Roommate stories. The essence of the worst of the worst stories, boiled down to create: SamSam – The Worst Roommate Ever.

I was so psyched to be working on this project, not only because the sense of humour in the script matches perfectly with my own, but that this character was not the typical sex bomb, mistress, Bond girl, evil villain, which I’ve previously been typecast to play. I got to portray the “sane voice among the crazies,” which is where my sarcastic, sardonic, “tell it how it is” sense of humour lies. Wearing little-to-no make-up, I was dressed down in most of my scenes wearing workout clothes and sweat pants, playing a sleep deprived, touring nurse (I totally nailed the sleep deprived part!). How freeing to no longer have to give a shit about what I looked like and just … do my job … act! I got to be sarcastically mean to the most annoying valley girl (the eponymous SamSam), eat SO much pizza (!) and drag a large, bloodied tree branch through the LA Abandoned Zoo, culminating with a girl-on-girl, blood-splattered showdown battle!

Yes! Life…Is…Good!

A Character’s Born

Taking on characters against my stereotype seems to be the theme this year, as it was during this shoot in the Abandoned Zoo, where I received a text from a dear old friend, Len Smith, who I hadn’t seen in four years. We had been in the theatre show, Clue together, he playing Colonel Mustard and I playing Miss Scarlet (of course – sex bomb, mistress, evil villain … ahem) and we hadn’t seen each other since.

Len, previously a cartoonist for Disney, had been following a character I’d created on Facebook, “Vixen Duckville” and sent me some artwork relating to the character saying, “Do you want to make her into a TV Show?” My response: “Absolutely, I do!”

We didn’t!

But we will… we got sidetracked!

As most people will, during development, Len asked the famous words, “What other ideas do you have?” Now, (in the words of Shakespeare), “by accident most strange, bountiful fortune,” found me shooting the shit a few days previous with the most amazing human being in this world, Keith Thompson, where when discussing an episode of Black Mirror (go watch this series NOW) and the unfortunate University escapades of David Cameron (please educate yourself on who this is), put the words “Dick” and “Pig” in the same sentence … and of course, Keith and I proceeded to joke about the connotations of this combination.

Hence, all in all, Dick Pig was born: “Bitter, cynical, and nonchalantly nihilistic, Dick Pig devotes his life to doing other’s dirty work for them. Should you find your day being disrespectfully disrupted, it may be that someone out there felt the burning desire to send you a Dick Pig!” Totally not a character in my wheelhouse – but someone who’s words I can still write. An actor is a storyteller, but can only go so far in his or her carnal vehicle. Yes, I can dress down and wear less make-up, but I will never be a male, late 40’s, cartoon pig with a chip on his shoulder about how the world around him is changing and won’t let him be. Dick Pig is the vehicle for me to access a whole other world of storytelling, and his Send A Dick Pig website will, in turn, give YOU the freedom and indeed, the permission, to live vicariously through Dick Pig, saying and doing all the mean, socially unacceptable, politically incorrect things, that, honestly … you really wish you could!

Dick Pig Wants You

“We’re allowing people the guilty pleasure of unabashedly behaving badly.”

Send A Dick Pig will allow users to select specific characters, decide their fate from numerous animated “Dick Pig” escapades, and send to friends and foes via text, email, and social media. A tongue-in-cheek and deliciously devilish alternative to the current array of sickly sweet E-Cards and, hopefully, picking up where Bitstrips left off.

Dick Pig: The Retaliative Telegram, delivering justice one DICK MOVE at a time.

We are currently running an Indiegogo Campaign to help us bring Dick Pig’s website to life, and you can check out the link here: https://igg.me/at/DickPig.

Even if you can’t contribute but love this concept, you can do the following things:

1) Start sending a Dick Pig … NOW!!! We have images on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that you are more than welcome to forward to anyone you think would appreciate the concept. (If you tag us and share us of course – don’t be a Dick Pig!).  The more people who know about Dick Pig, the more people will use the website once it’s up and running, and the thing we want most of all is an adoring audience.

 

2) Share the Dick Pig Indiegogo campaign!!!

Tweet us at Twitter

Follow us on Facebook

Gramster-gram us on Instagram

Subscribe to our mailing list for updates and Send a Dick Pig!

 

(Dick Pig art by Len Smith.)

Crash Palace Support Team

 

The multi-talented Cat LaCohie is not only an actress, producer, costume designer, and creative spirit, but a burlesque star known as Vixen DeVille. She also hosts her amazing Burlesque, Body Confidence, and Self-Imagery Discovery Experience and its value cannot be measured. And don’t miss her horror work, and much more, at her IMDb page.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 20th Anniversary by Billy Crash

 

Welcome to the Hellmouth

On March 10, 1997, creator, writer, and oftentimes director, Joss Whedon unleashed Buffy the Vampire Slayer upon the world in a television series that drew in fans from a multitude of demographics and a multitude of countries. The show featured Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, a high school student forced into accepting her fate as vampire slayer in mythical Sunnydale, California.

With a kickass theme from Nerd Herder, and her watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy kept her “Scooby Gang” close (Nicholas Brendon as Xander, Allyson Hannigan as Willow, and someone just as reluctant as Buffy, the “better than you” Cordelia Chase, played by Charisma Carpenter), as she tackled, drop-kicked, and staked vampires, destroyed demons, and more in an effort to thwart the Hellmouth and save the world.

Each week, we’d find something different than the average show at the time, and for a dramatic comedy/horror/fantasy/action series, Buffy had more drama in one episode than a month’s worth of “ER” or “Chicago Hope.” Unlike other television shows that entertained and faded away by morning, people just didn’t talk about the show at the office, they incorporated the “lexicon of Buffy” in their speech, much like many of “Twin Peaks” fans who know that you can trust the Bookhouse Boys, but “The owls are not what they seem.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t just a television show people talked about, but an event that changed how they talked.

Prophecy Girl

Beyond words, we had a vampire slayer who fell in love with not just one vampire, but two, while still kicking ass and never turning her back on her friends, the world, and the woman she was becoming. Other than “Xena the Warrior Princess,” it’s hard to think of another show that presented woman as strong, powerful, and self-assured, and who wouldn’t give a man the satisfaction of seeing her fail. Where men rescued women at nearly every turn throughout television history, Buffy saved every man, woman, and child she ran into. And even if she told others to run for safety, Buffy didn’t stand tall to play martyr or find sympathy or become a legendary figure, she just wanted to fight and win every damn time.

And with strong females at the center of the show, Joss introduced the love of two young women without exploitation or apology, and once again, the show only became stronger, more multi-faceted, and more ahead of the curve in social consciousness. If anything, on this front, Buffy brought us some of the most depth-ridden romances ever to appear on the small screen regardless of gender.

As Buffy grew, so did her Scooby Gang: Cordelia became a woman who respected others instead of laughing at them, Xander developed a spine, and little Willow Rosenberg became a witch of epic proportions. Others came into the gang, from vampire lovers Angel (David Boreanaz) and Spike (James Marsters), as well as Tara (Amber Benson), Oz (Seth Green), Anya (Emma Caulfield), and baby sister Dawn Summers (Michelle Trachtenberg). Wait, Buffy had a sister?

New Moon Rising

I remember when Dawn appeared at the beginning of season five. Michelle Trachtenberg not only appeared in the opening credits as if she had been there forever, but Buffy and her mom (Kristine Sutherland) acted like she’d had a room in the house the whole damn time. A head scratcher for certain, and many of us didn’t know the key to this sudden introduction, but that’s what Joss Whedon always did: He kept the story fresh without jumping the shark, having a special wedding episode, or the worst damn thing imaginable, the birth of a child. Instead, we got Dawn, unexpected deaths, bad-grrl Faith (Eliza Dushku), Buffybot, a slew of evil adults from high school administrators to scientists at a secret base, and an endless flow of demonic forces with their own cruel agendas. Joss changed Buffy like a pro bono plastic surgeon: He improved the exterior but didn’t mess with the heart and soul.

At one point, Buffy stated, “My mother said my life is fruitless. No fruit for Buffy.” But the entire show bore fruit. “Angel” became one of the best spinoffs of all time, and people even gave the failed Buffy the Vampire Slayer film another chance, where Pee Wee Herman’s Paul Reubens crushed it as vampire kingpin, Amilyn, and Seth Green played a vampire – which makes him the only actor to appear in both the movie and the series. The stars went on to other projects on television or the silver screen, and twenty years later, Buffy continues to be recognized and appreciated by first generation fans to Millennials and Generation Z as if the season finale had taken place last week.

Once More, With Feeling

Some shows have survived the test of time: “The Twilight Zone,” “Twin Peaks,” “Seinfeld,” “The X-Files,” and “Firefly” because they were “big damn heroes,” and Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues in that off-the-beaten path vein of absolute coolness. Yet, at the end of the day, Buffy hasn’t held up for twenty years simply because it’s cool, but it had something to say about youth, exploration, love, bureaucracy, judgment, parenting, friendship, goals, desires, humanity, and ultimately sacrifice. Even so, at its heart, at its very core, Buffy wasn’t afraid to venture into the darkest regions of the brightest characters or find blinding light within the abyss of demons. If Whedon taught us anything, it’s that there’s good and bad in everyone, and we all need to do our part to not only help bring that greatness to the surface, but to forgive those who falter at times, and give them love, respect, and a second chance.

Because when it’s your turn to save the world, you never know who’ll be fighting by your side. So hush…

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Buffy from Buffy Wikia.)

The 2000s: Horror’s Best Decade (Part 2) by Paul J. Williams

Please allow me to preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers will exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And, I’m not a movie historian or expert; I’m just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well.

LIFE AND TIMES OF THE LATE 2000s: A (Very) Brief Summary

The late 2000s continued the trend of worldwide heartbreak and despair:

Hurricane Katrina ravished the southeast United States and other areas in 2005, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, and the costliest in terms of damage.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 became the U.S.’s deadliest mass shooting, up until the Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016, claiming thirty-two lives.

2008 brought the Great Recession, which was felt around the globe, with many still suffering from its fallout.

Haiti was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 2010, killing over 100,000 of its citizens and leveling scores of buildings, including the Presidential Palace.

LATE 2000s HORROR: Let the Fun Begin

2005 to 2010 gave us some of the best movies in the history of cinema, and especially horror. Low budget, huge budget, foreign and domestic; every demographic is represented and we are lucky to have been alive to catch it all…

A NEW SUBGENRE IS BORN: Torture Porn

Well, admittedly, it’s not my favorite, but we have to talk about it, don’t we? Film critic David Edelstein is credited with coining the term for a new subgenre (sub to the Slasher/Body Horror genres, I suppose) that emerged in the mid-2000s called “torture porn.” These films emphasized nudity, mutilation, and sadism, and though movies associated with this subgenre are not personal preferences, I can’t not mention them.

Eli Roth wrote and directed 2005’s Hostel, a story about a group of American college students traveling across eastern Europe, and historically, the first movie assigned to the torture-porn subgenre. These poor vacationers become kidnapped and sold off to be systematically tortured and killed. Over the years, proponents of this movie have tried to extract bigger meanings from it, most notably the socioeconomic implications and the consequences of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs. Maybe; who knows? Quentin Tarantino, who was probably tangential to the production at best, smartly had his name plastered all over the promotion of the film that, despite mixed reviews, grossed over $80 million on a $5 million budget, and spawned two sequels: the second again being written and directed by Roth, who would then sit the third one out.

What followed was filmmakers trying more and more to gross out audiences:

Australia’s 2005’s Wolf Creek, using the tried-and-true promotion of being “based on a true story” has a Crocodile Dundee-type hunt and kill three backpackers in the outback. It received mixed reviews from critics, but was a hit at the box office, grossing $28 million on a $1 million budget. Wolf Creek 2 followed in 2013, but like most sequels, didn’t live up to the first film.

Turistas was released in 2006. This time harassing backpackers in Brazil, the film was received poorly by critics, but made a profit in ticket sales.

Captivity, from 2007, tried, mostly in vain, to ride the wave of success of Hostel and Saw, and ultimately grossed $11 million.

The Collector, released in 2009 from Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston, winners of Project Greenlight a thousand years ago, is a distant cousin of Saw, and now considered a cult classic. It tripled its budget, despite negative reviews, and spawned the sequel: The Collection in 2012.

ELI ROTH

With a dearth of worthwhile horror, or any horror at all, really, in the late 1990s, the early 2000s was up for grabs for anyone looking to be the next horror maestro. Love him or hate him, Eli Roth was the someone who stepped up. Starting in 2002 with Cabin Fever, which has since been remade (more on that nonsense later), Roth followed in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project with its online marketing, showed everyone who his influences are, became a hit with audiences, grossed $30 million on a $1.5 million budget, and even managed to get a lot of good reviews.

He followed with the aforementioned Hostel in 2005, also launching the “torture-porn” subgenre, and followed with Hostel II in 2007.

Since then, he’s mostly worn the Producer’s hat, being the man behind such films as The Last Exorcism and The Sacrament, and dabbles in acting, as well, with his most notable performance of him chewing the scenery as “The Bear Jew” in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 fantasy, Inglorious Basterds.

His next film looks to be a departure from horror, remaking the 1974 Charles Bronson classis, Death Wish.

LOOK WHAT I FOUND: Another New Sub-genre is Born

Obviously kicking off the modern “found-footage” subgenre is 1999’s The Blair Witch Project (shout-outs recognizing Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast), but what’s odd is that it’ll take years before another recognizable film of this nature is released.

Fred Vogel starts his August Underground “franchise” in 2001, but these are extreme genre films only a select few can sit through.

Zero Day, from 2003, though not a horror, dramatizes the Columbine massacre of 1999.

Septem8er Tapes, also not a horror, was released in 2004, and makes use of every penny of its estimated $30,000 budget, and puts a War on Terror spin on the found-footage subgenre.

The U.K.’s The Last Horror Movie from 2003 is a very disturbing movie, sort of like the found-footage version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes from brothers, John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, has become more about whether people are ever going to see it or not than about the movie itself, and in some ways, this has given more longevity to the film than if it was widely released as originally planned in 2007. First, I’ve seen it, and surprisingly, it lives up to the hype: it’s very disturbing and odd. Second, when is this ever going to be released permanently to the masses? Hell if I know, but it’d probably be the worst thing for it.

What starts off, what I guess we can call the postmodern “found-footage” frenzy, is Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. It originally premiered in 2007, then after a few ending changes suggested by Hollywood, and a fake story about Steven Spielberg being scared shitless of it, and we get the 2009 wide release, which you most likely viewed. If you don’t know what follows, then you must not be a horror fan: almost $200 million at the box office and, count them, six sequels to date. Not surprisingly, it has (almost) all the same ingredients that made Blair Witch a phenomenon: D.I.Y. filming and editing on a miniscule budget, amateur actors, more happening in the viewer’s mind than on screen, effective online and word-of-mouth marketing, and ultimately, perfect timing for a movie like this to come out.

[REC] is a 2007 Spanish found-footage/zombie film that shows just how much “fun” these types of movies can be. It doesn’t take long getting into the action with our attractive news reporter, watching the craziest 75 minutes of her life. [REC] became a huge hit and spawned a franchise.

Lake Mungo, from Australia, has several release dates between 2009 and 2010, but is ultimately a 2008 movie. More like one of these true-crime documentaries that are so popular today, the movie’s presented with interviews, news footage, etc. Ultimately a story about a family’s grief, Lake Mungo is very effective and downright creepy at times. I do see it listed on various “Top 10” lists every now and again, but I acknowledge it’s a divisive film and, admittedly, it’s a personal favorite.

Quarantine is the 2008 American remake of [REC] by the aforementioned Dowdle Brothers, and in my opinion, might actually be better. One thing I like about the movie is right from the beginning they shed the idea that this is actually real footage, using actors, including Jennifer Carpenter in the lead, that you have seen before. Just like [REC], we jump right into the action, following the reporter covering a local firehouse in L.A. Jump scares, creepy visuals, and claustrophobia follow, and it’s all a blast.

2008’s Cloverfield is what happens when you make a found-footage movie, which historically are independent and very low budget, by a Hollywood studio on a $170 million budget. A recipe for disaster, no? Nope. What you get is one of the best monster movies in horror cinema history. (Yeah, I said it.) J.J. Abrams and Co. make us hang out with a party of yuppies for a full half-hour before anything happens, but once it does, what a ride. Showing only glimpses of the monster throughout, he (or she) finally gets their close-up at the end (literally). A sequel has been talked about ever since, but it seems 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane and the upcoming 2017 movie God’s Particle, described as being in the “Cloverfield universe” is as close as we’re going to get…and that’s fine with me.

The Last Exorcism, produced by the aforementioned Eli Roth, is a 2010 “young girl possessed by a demon” movie presented in the same way as Lake Mungo in “documentary” format. It starts off great: perfectly casted and acted by Patrick Fabian as Cotton, a fraudulent Reverend, and Ashley Bell, as the aforementioned young girl. For me, the ending soured the movie, but it was received well by critics and movie-goers.

Though, not technically a horror, I feel I would be remiss not to mention 2010’s Troll Hunter from Norway. Another “documentary” where we follow some poor documentarians who wind up finding way more than they bargained for, the movie is a real fun take on Norwegian culture and folktales.

ROB ZOMBIE

Always a horror movie fan, musician, and former front-man of the band White Zombie, Rob Zombie started his filmmaking career with House of 1000 Corpses. Filmed in 2000, this movie would go on an odyssey before being theatrically released in 2003, after being acquired and dumped by one distribution company after another. The concern, not surprisingly, the content and potential for an NC-17 rating. Once released, you can guess the reception: critically panned, but it did manage to make a profit, most likely due to loyal Zombie and horror genre fans, and people finally getting to see a movie with so much mystique surrounding it over the previous few years.

Lions Gate Entertainment, seeing the financial potential they had with Zombie, quickly approached him inquiring about a sequel to Corpses. What follows is what is commonly regarded as Zombie’s best movie in his filmography, with Lords of Salem in the running as well: 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. More grounded and visceral than Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects follows the Firefly Family who are on the run from just as crazy Sheriff Wydell. More successful with critics than Corpses and just as profitable in the box office.

When the Powers-That-Be decided it was time to remake one of the best horror movies of all time, they chose Rob Zombie in 2007 to do his take on John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, and boy did he change things up. Despite my opinion about the movie (I prefer the original, to say the least), the film was a smash-hit with audiences and prompted the obligatory sequel in 2009, which fared far worse this time with both movie-goers and critics.

Zombie has remained in “the business” ever since, mostly with horror, but it seems he’s eager to reach out to other genres to write and direct.

KNOCK, KNOCK… Anybody Home?

Nobody was safe anywhere during the 2000s, and if you think locking yourself inside your house was the most secure place to be, you’d be dead wrong. The home invasion subgenre broke out big during this decade. Here are some victims:

2002 starts us off with Panic Room, though not exactly a horror. The famed David Fincher directs a stellar cast in this tale of a single mom, Jodie Foster, who protects herself and her daughter, the new Kristen Stewart, from a band of thieves. Ultimately not one of Fincher’s better films, the movie examines many themes and is still worth a watch.

Ils, the 2006 movie also listed in the New French Extremism category, opens with a great, Scream-esque prologue, then goes on to set-up a simple story of a young couple besieged in their huge home by a clique of criminals, who once their identities are revealed, turns out to have a pretty cool ending.

Funny Games is Michael Haneke’s 2007 American shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian movie, that does more than tell a terrifying home-invasion story, it plays with the audience. Characters break the fourth-wall, the movie rewinds to replay a scene giving it a different outcome, and ultimately, Mr. Haneke asks: If you think this movie is too nihilistic, then at what point did you stop watching?

2007’s Inside, also listed in the New French Extremism section, is a bloody revenge tale set on Christmas Eve as a very pregnant single mother fends off an intruder all night. The end reveal when the antagonist’s motivations are exposed is a really cool twist.

Strangers is a 2008 movie by first-time screenwriter/director Bryan Bertino, which also tells a depressing story of a young couple stalked and terrorized in their home for…well, just because. Taking inspiration from John Carpenter, the film is very effective and despite mixed reviews, grossed a sizable profit on its $9 million budget. Bertino was one of the rare spec-script stories of the 2000s, but oddly he has remained relatively dormant in the years since.

While, for whatever reason, Bertino did not produce any more low budget horrors for a while, other film-makers like himself sure did, which is where we’ll pick-up next time with Part 3 of 2000’s Horror…

(Photo of Lake Mungo from Pinterest.)

Crash Palace Support Team

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Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, and his short films have appeared in numerous festivals. Although Paul’s the man behind Rolling Dark Productions, he’s also a detective in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul’s a Medal of Honor recipient from the City of Newark for actions on December 14, 2002

THE LAST KNOCK presents: THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007)

The Last Knock

John Erick Dowdle’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes is one of horror filmdom’s “Unholy Grails” and a snipe hunt rolled into one. On its ten-year anniversary, we take a look at the film that came with a trailer but an ultra-limited release before being pulled from theaters. The only way to get feature is as a bootleg. So what’s this mockumentary about, and is it worth purchasing illegally until the Dowdle brothers give us a legitimate release? We’ll have some answers – and we invite John and Drew to come on the show and tell us why in Hell The Poughkeepsie Tapes is in distribution purgatory.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@unclerayscrazy @MelanieMcCurdie @dvdinfatuation @SusanontheLedge @HershelGreene1 @GuyRicketts @JessicaCameron_ @AFiendOnFilm @IamMelanieWise ‪@ArtemisPics ‪@Artemis_FF @RealJillyG @RonGizmo @FANGORIA @dixiefairy @ScreamHorrorMag @Israel_Finn @SlaughteredBird @CrypticPictures @dkarner @TheFearMerchant @SpookyMovies @d_m_elms @RSBrzoska @jedowdle @DrewDowdle @Rodney_Ascher @TheNightmareDoc @LanceWeiler @TheTunnelMovie @allorange @TMZ @Scream_Factory @ArrowFilmsVideo @blunderground @JodorowskysDune @CANAL_Factory and Paul J. Williams