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Top Ten Horror Locations (Part I) from Billy Crash

<img src="dontlooknow.jpg" alt="Horror Locations Venice">

Horror Locations includes Venice, Italy.

Any corporate person will tell you the most important thing about a business is location, location, location. But in the horror genre, location can bring stories to life in remarkable ways and resonate as a character in the film. When it comes to Horror Locations, some movies rise above in big bad ways.

Top Ten Horror Locations

Hotel Hell

Can you imagine if Jack (Jack Nicholson) and family were at a motel off the beaten path instead of the Overlook in The Shining? No, I can’t either. There’d be no crazy maze with all its changing entrances, no intense sense of isolation, and Danny (Danny Lloyd) would just roll around in the parking lot. I guess the creepy sisters would hang out in a sandbox.

The important item is that the Overlook isn’t only haunted, it’s other worldly. Once we see the outdoors, and then peek inside, it’s clear the pink and gold ballroom couldn’t fit. There are doors and stairs to nowhere, windows are in place where it’s impossible for them to exist, and pathway’s change. The greatest thing to add to the unease is that element of pure isolation – and when the snow hits, forget it. The family’s cut off. It’s them and the Overlook. Stephen King may have written the famed novel, but Stanley Kubrick made the Overlook even more menacing in how he presented the property. This is one of Horror Locations most bizarro settings.

What once seems like a getaway for a family to reconnect turns out to be a sinister experience that instantly exploits their existing craziness. It’s clear their issues, from child abuse and anger, to detachment and “shining,” fuel the paranormal fire until it erupts in murder.

In the end, the Overlook becomes a fun house out of an amusement park. The only difference: You’re not supposed to survive the ride.

Isn’t Venice Beautiful?

After you watch Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Know, you may never look at Venice the same way again. Considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities and known to travelers as “The Bride of the Sea,” it’s hard to imagine such a venue on a Horror Locations list. But director of photography, Anthony B. Richmond makes every canal, every bridge, and every alley look like a passage to Hell.

Even in the daylight, the city takes on a sense of foreboding, where bridges and canals that once seemed like welcoming passageways, now serve as veins and arteries ready to bleed. The Baxters (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland), didn’t come to the city for terror, they wanted to get away and pick up the pieces after their daughter’s death. But Venice brings them no peace: Laura can’t convince John that their daughter’s trying to speak to them from the grave, and John has one hallucination too many that he misinterprets with every blink of his eyes.

All the while, Venice serves as a dark pool ready to absorb them under the waters, just like the pond did to their daughter back home.

Of All the Cities in All the World

It could have landed anywhere, but the giant alien in Cloverfield came up from the depths off the shore of New York’s Coney Island.

New York’s vital to the film because the monster isn’t just toppling buildings and stomping souls, he’s taking out icons. The first piece of destruction is the head of Lady Liberty that sails down the street with Hud (TJ Miller) and friends looking on, then the Brooklyn Bridge gets cut in half, and guess what? Not even the subways are safe. And don’t even think about taking an early morning stroll in Central Park.

Matt Reeves may bring us a creature feature of adult proportions in a major American city, but the release date came just seven years after 9/11. When Hud and his buddies hide out in a shop as a cloud of dust and debris passes by, it’s reminiscent of the real horror that took place in 2001, which only adds to the tension and suspense. Whether you like the hipster Millennials or not, once we have that first image of an exploding building in our mind, followed by that white cloud, it’s hard not to root for any character to get the hell out of there.

But in this journey, the dawn may not bring a new day.

Life’s a Rubik’s Cube

Familiar locations work wonders because we expect them to be innocuous, so when horror ensues, we get that jolt from experiencing “the other.” But imagine waking up in a lame uniform on the floor of a colored room with hatches in the center of each bulkhead. Each room’s a different color, you have no food or water, you’re with some other scared strangers, and you have no idea what the hell’s going on.

This is Cube, Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 independent feature that left many a sci-fi and horror fan with an uneasy feeling. Because it’s not just the fact that there’s a series of rooms to nowhere, but most of them sport horrible death traps. To survive them and somehow find an escape route, the group must focus on their strengths and work together as a team to make it out alive.

Well, that sounds simple enough, but the rooms are silent, and other than different room colors, the move from one cube to the next creates monotony. And with thirst rising and hunger taking its toll, the trapped souls will undoubtedly start to make mistakes.

Cube serves as one of the unique Horror Locations, and it works because the kidnapped occupants have no frame of reference to work from.

Trapped in a room within a room leads to tension, fear, and desperation – and there may be no way out.

Take Your Skills to the Mall

Thanks to the internet, many may have given up on shopping at malls, but in the 1970s, finding everything you needed from different stores under one roof proved to salute consumerism like no other capitalist idea. George A. Romero knew this all too well, so with his Dawn of the Dead sequel, he forced a group of strangers trying to survive a zombie apocalypse inside the walls of a mall.

And what a great hiding place! There’s food, clothes, beds, and just about everything one could ever want. Except you can’t leave. The zombie horde’s outside waiting to cut you down so you’re trapped in a sort of gilded prison. Plus, there’s a mad biker gang that needs a beat down. So much for the fun and excitement of being locked in a mall. (If there was a movie mashup with Chopping Mall, robot guards on the prowl would have added maybe a bit too much to the mayhem.)

The mall becomes a prison instead of a fortress for the human hangers-on, but where to go?

When a few survivors leave what they once thought was a sanctuary, they may never find a home again.

Farm Living

Nothing like a beautiful, emerald farm in the land of Éire. Unless your farm has a breeding experiment that goes horribly wrong.

In Isolation, Billy O’Brien’s use of an off the beaten path farm as a backdrop for terror really amps up that uncanny feeling when even docile cows can become your worst enemy. Ossie Davis, before her stint as a mother in trouble in Babadook, plays Orla the vet who tries to help farmer Dan (John Lynch) with a pregnant cow in distress. It’s not just that the new calf bites Orla, but experiments with Bovine Genetics Technology have gone haywire and the result is the movie Alien on a farm.

Thanks to veteran cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, Dan’s farm looks like a dark brooding Hell, and cows never looked so creepy. It’s enough to make one think that pure unadulterated terror rests behind every barn stall, and for all we know, tractors may become self-aware and run one down. Ryan’s work proves that lighting and the atmosphere it creates lends so much to Horror Locations.

Even if anyone makes it out alive, the charm of the farm may never return.

A Quaint Little Island

In The Wicker Man, Summerisle looks like that perfect getaway off the coast of Scotland. Nice people, rustic charm, fresh air, and a bizarre rites festival to bring the world we know to its knees.

Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) comes to the island community via helicopter to find a missing girl – a girl the townspeople say never existed. But Howie’s a constable that doesn’t give up easily, and does his best to work around the smiles, the kindness, and the cheer to find her. Just one problem: The island’s namesake, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) seems to get in his way at every turn.

The horrific beauty of The Wicker Man rests in turning the tropes of the genre on its head. Director Robin Hardy kept the atmosphere light yet bizarre, and most of the terror occurs during the day amongst shiny, happy people.

But is there evil behind every smile, or has Sergeant Howie found himself in a society where the rules of normalcy are a bit different?

Either way, whether he finds the girl or not, there’s a good chance he’ll be next on the “missing” list.

It’s an Atomic Blast!

Ah, the 1950’s. Happy Days. As long as you didn’t live near ground zero when the US government ripped up the Nevada dessert with nuclear tests.

And in The Hills Have Eyes, two families collide: The mutant remains of atomic bomb testing survivors and a “normal” family on vacation. The latter makes the mistake of getting off the main road only to end up stranded in an old nuclear testing area.

The setting is the dessert and its surrounding hills. All is barren, exposed, and one’s life is up for grabs. The odd reality is that this vast wasteland evokes a sense of heightened isolation. There’s no place to run, no place to hide, and the only witness to the carnage is what remains of the Air Force’s testing site. After all, that mutant family is akin to indigenous people who have no clue that a more advanced and orderly world exists outside their own.

This isn’t some backwoods cannibal story, but one where writer/director Wes Craven asks us to forget where we are and the rule of law, and poses the question: Doesn’t a mutant family have the right to survive on their own terms?

The problem is that the dessert isn’t kind to humanity in any form, and loves to keep secrets, which makes it one of the best Horror Locations. It may be a miracle if anyone makes it out at all.

Final Frontier of Death

In Ridley Scott’s, Alien, the mining crew of the Nostromo followed protocol and made one big damned mistake. They landed on a rock, picked up an alien entity, and brought the bugger back with them.

The crew’s 70 million miles from Earth. And in space, no one may be able to hear you scream, but there isn’t much traffic either. Stuck on a ship that will take forever to get to the Outer Rim to contact Antarctic Traffic Control, they must face their chrome-toothed opponent and kill it before their vessel becomes one giant tomb. Take about one of your “really out of the way” Horror Locations.

Since the Nostromo’s a mining vessel, this isn’t some lovely well-lit space craft. It’s a blue collar truck in space hauling ore with the barest accommodations. The ship’s dark, stark, and claustrophobic. Even the flight deck has the crew on top of each other because more room means less ore and that means less profit for the company.

It’s a fight in tight quarters to defeat the beast before that long trip home.

But will anyone escape when there’s nothing but the cold, vast vacuum of space to keep them company?

A Thousand Miles from Nowhere

As far as Horror Locations go, for the men at Outpost Number 31, it’s the first goddamned week of winter of their discontent. They’re not happy, they’re dulled by their Antarctic surroundings of endless white ice and cold winds that never stop bringing the chills that can go to seventy below. Plus, the station has come alive with something weird and pissed off that’s not of this world. The radio’s down. The choppers and other vehicles have been hacked. The sled dogs are dead. They’re completely cut off and facing an enemy that can change at will – and may be the person standing right beside them.

John Carpenter brought the cold and then some with a landscape that glowed blue, gray, and ugly in The Thing. And with Ennio Morricone’s suspense laden and minimalist score, the sense of doom’s pervasive.

It’s safe to say all hope’s lost, and if anything can survive the bitter temperature and the tumult, it’s most likely the Thing in furry form.

So that’s the top ten – off the top of my head. But this is only round one. Other great Horror Locations have much to say, from the alien underworld in Crawl or Die to haunted house in The Changeling and beyond, so expect to see a “part two” sometime soon.

Share your favorite’s, and maybe they’ll find themselves on the next list…

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk)

He 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 Don’t Look Now from Sand Spice.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Remembering Tobe Hooper

THE LAST KNOCK artwork from Palko Designs

We salute independent horror director and writer, Tobe Hooper

Sad times as we say goodbye to independent filmmaker Tobe Hooper who left his mark by creating a new form of horror storytelling with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

But he’s far from a one-hit movie wonder. The Texas born director went on to helm Eaten Alive, the successful Salem’s Lot mini-series, Lifeforce, Mortuary, Toolbox Murders, and many more projects for the big and small screens.

We’ll look at Tobe Hooper‘s life, why he’s right up there with George A. Romero and Wes Craven, how he changed the horror landscape – and we put the ludicrous Poltergeist directing controversy to rest.

If you’re a fan of the genre…

Hooper’s work serves as the foundation for slasher films in the 1980s, and contributed to the “hand held” aesthetic that keeps many horror fans on edge.

Listen in as Billy and Jonny explore their favorites from the horror master, and remember to leave your comments at Crash Palace about your favorite Hooper films!

Tobe Hooper image from Mirror

Crash Palace and THE LAST KNOCK extends its condolences and best wishes to Mr. Hooper’s family and friends.

Love space vampires? Then check out Billy Crash’s piece about Lifeforce!

(THE LAST KNOCK art from Palko Designs. Tobe Hooper image from Mirror.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Monster Mania 2017

The Last Knock art by Greg Palko at Palko Designs

We recap the goings on at the recent Monster Mania convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. We’ll talk about who was there, who we met, what we did, how Jonny spent a gazillion dollars on DVDS, and how Billy almost stomped on the tail of a tyrannosaurus rex. You’ll find out what star got stuck waiting for an elevator that took forever, what star had to bail, and what one star told Billy about a disturbing naked role.

Besides the discussion of stars and vendors, we’ll tell you why PJ Soles and Sid Haig are so loved, and why David Hagan’s Monster Mania does it right.

To learn more about Monster Mania, follow them on Twitter and visit their website!

Monster Mania image from Monster Mania

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@MonsterManiaCon @OwenMcCuenQuest @palkodesigns @shriekfest @DeniseGossett @blunderground @inthenightdoc @DonRiemer @RonGizmo @RealJillyG @isaacrthorne @ThisIsHorror @PromoteHorror @ScreamHorrorMag @GuyRicketts @stevecourtney79 @WeAreGamerBorn @FadeGrips @MyGamingCareer @patriciadeddy @BleedingCritic @valkilmer @KateBeckinsale @Scott_Ian @J2thecarpenter @ActwithAlison @choptopmoseley @vhsps @SeverinFilms @VinegarSyndrome @diabolikdvd @ArrowFilmsVideo @CrownePlaza

(THE LAST KNOCK art from Palko Designs.)

The Elevation of THE DARK TOWER (2017) by Jonny Numb

Idris Elba Matthew McConaughey[95 minutes. PG-13. Director: Nikolaj Arcel]

Adaptation is a funny thing.

Regardless of what route you take, you will take heat from fans of the source material.

Someone – online or elsewhere – will accuse you of “ruining the book(s) forever” (even though that’s total bullshit).

One example in particular that galled me – Christ, 17 years ago – occurred on a Yahoo! Club for author (and professional crank) Bret Easton Ellis. The forum was sparsely-populated, yet the conversation was always active. The long-gestating film version of American Psycho had finally seen release, and the consensus among the Club members was divided. I thought it was an excellent adaptation, but one of the other members took a different track, arguing that the excised extremes of sex and violence – which comprised the novel’s crude backbone – rendered it an unfaithful telling.

Making a 95-minute version of The Dark Tower is as counterintuitive as cracking a fortune cookie with a sledgehammer. It has no reason to work. King devoted seven novels of varying girth to this epic tale, and to capture its essence in such an abbreviated amount of time is madness.

Yet…if you’re looking for that essence, it works. Somehow.

“Good enough for Government work,” as the saying goes.

People who dig on the Harry Potter novels or Lord of the Rings are often vehemently unflagging in their enthusiasm: certain diehard fans will absolve a sacred series of any transgression, while some will raise issues that nonetheless don’t detract from the enjoyment of said series. In most cases, people who begin a book series finish it, and come to view the individual volumes as a cohesive whole, to the point where it’s just plain Harry Potter, not Harry Potter and Whatever Subtitle.

I’m in a unique position with The Dark Tower series because I’m not particularly fond of all its parts. The self-indulgence and running-on-fumes storytelling evident in Song of Susannah (book 6) and The Dark Tower (book 7) turned me off, and transformed something that had begun with great promise (not to mention storytelling economy – The Gunslinger (book 1) came in at well under 300 pages) into a disappointment by its end. With a devoted fanbase that would finish the series regardless, King’s kitchen-sink, “fuck it” mentality left a bitter aftertaste.

Based on this, I was willing to give Nikolaj Arcel’s film adaptation the benefit of the doubt, and embrace the streamlined approach to the tale.

This could be a reflection of my own ongoing fatigue with Hollywood’s current daze of “blockbuster brain,” epitomized by this year’s shiny – yet awfully empty – Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. (And how long will Avengers: Infinity War be? Six hours with three bathroom-break intermissions? But I digress.) With studios operating under the notions of dwindling box-office receipts and dried-up physical-media sales, the last option, outside of 3D and IMAX, is, well, making movies longer.

Because more minutes equals more entertainment, amirite?

Yes, The Dark Tower does signify a mass condensing of King’s prose. Taking bits and pieces from up to the fifth book (The Wolves of the Calla – my personal favorite), it simplifies the plot, doesn’t take enough time to establish the quirks and rules of its interdimensional logic, and relegates some characters (such as Jackie Earle Haley’s Sayre) to cameo status.

But I didn’t mind too much.

The tale of Roland Deschain – aka Roland of Gilead, the last in a long line of Gunslingers – and his quest to defend the fabled Dark Tower (which keeps life across all dimensions in balance) from ageless sorcerer Walter (Matthew McConaughey), is engaging, old-fashioned fantasy-adventure stuff, told with a keen attention to aural and visual detail. The story begins, however, with Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy “blessed” with psychic visions of the titular Tower. When he discovers an interdimensional portal in a crumbling New York City mansion, he enters another world, where he quickly meets Roland and becomes an unlikely sidekick on his quest to defeat Walter, whose ultimate goal is to bring the Tower down, thus raining chaos on humanity.

The performers convey an eclecticism that’s fitting to King’s text: as Roland, Idris Elba possesses the imposing physical frame and a Spaghetti-Western stoicism, but is also tender and vulnerable – it’s a brilliant bit of casting. McConaughey is also good, resisting the urge to mug or fall back on his looks; Walter plays to his smugness in a perfectly apt way – with an incantation or a wave of a hand, he murders people without hesitation, sometimes cracking an impish one-liner after. There’s a spectral quality to Walter that adds an element of unpredictability to the proceedings, and Arcel makes fine use of simple camera pans to spring surprising reveals. As Jake, Taylor is a standout presence – never veering into precocious or obnoxious territory, he’s wise and astute and a more-than-worthy sidekick to the grizzled Roland.

In addition to Earle Haley lurking in the margins, I also appreciated the inclusion of genre faces Abbey Lee (The Neon Demon) and Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods) as the grunts working behind the scenes at Walter’s lair.

Arcel handles the action with efficiency, and even the quieter character moments never feel sentimental or indulgent. Ditto his reverent winks to characters, monsters, and places from throughout King’s oeuvre. As adaptations go, Tower doesn’t lean on exposition like, say, Tim Burton’s dreary adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. We are given enough detail to keep the plot cohesive, enough character development to keep us invested, and enough action to keep us anticipating what will happen next.

The Dark Tower is not a masterpiece; it’s just enough.

3 out of 5 stars

(Photo of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey via Desktop Wallpapers.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb

(Aka Jonathan Weidler), he 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.

A Large Buttered Popcorn with Fiery Death, Please! by Ron Shaw

Recently, an excellent, thought-provoking article, “A Dinner with George” by Isaac Thorne, was featured at Crash Palace. Isaac’s nostalgic, heartfelt piece on George A. Romero and his iconic masterpiece (IMO) of Night of the Living Dead captured my thoughts and memories of yesteryear, launching me mentally into the past, reflecting somewhat on how and why horror and science fiction films impacted my life.

During my years of youth, the concoction of real-life horrors and fantasy ones on the big, white screen were indeed a strange brew that some may have suggested were unworthy of human consumption. The bitterness of reality is always a poor dish served, neither sweet nor savory.

I was born eighteen months before the end of the Korean War. Like post World War II, soldiers returning stateside proceeded as best and as quickly as they could to find hearth, home, and procreation, if they hadn’t done so before serving. After all, why would “Dear John” letters exist without pre-war girlfriends and sometimes, wives.

My youth was partially spent feasting on horror and science fiction movies of the day… while in a real way trying to find a path to minimally comprehend and survive the seemingly constant onslaught of reports of the gloomiest nature from here and abroad that we may be headed into another war ─ especially one featuring the unfettered use of nuclear weapons. As we were taught with alarming regularity, this next one would be the war that would truly end all wars and life on this blue planet as we had only begun to be taught, discover, and appreciate it.

Sound familiar?

In dimly-lit rooms of flickering fiction and most regrettably almost everywhere else in nonfiction, the atomic age of real or imagined horrors had landed on us. In frightening movies, we were fed disaster as salty and warm as a box of never-ending popcorn, and in our daily lives in school, we practiced, rehearsing our nuclear attack procedures even more often than our fire drills. A horrible, fiery death was either one atomic bomb, one gigantic, nuked insect, or a single assassin away.

Like most Americans who lived during these years, I’ll never forget the day our president was shot and killed. It had happened during a school day. After a school wide nuclear attack drill, we were called to the school’s auditorium for the dire announcement. John F. Kennedy’s assassination exacerbated the growing feelings of despair, fear and futility for us grade school kids in our tumultuous neighborhood, an Atlanta, governmental, housing project.

In addition to carrying a full lunch sack of horrors, back in the 60’s, during the national manhunt for another assassin, we’d learned from the news media that the fiend who had killed Martin Luther King, Jr. had abandoned his still warm and smoking getaway car, a Ford Mustang, on our turf, parking it on a city street beside our elementary school, Ed. S. Cook, in Atlanta, Georgia.

The deadly, racist serpent had escaped, slithering from this location beside our school playground. By the time his Mustang was located, reportedly, the crazed shooter was supposedly fleeing to a foreign country directly passed the front door of our apartment en route to Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta, heading north.

Death seemed to live and thrive within our Capitol Homes neighborhood. Surely, we and Atlanta were vital targets for atomic bombs raining down on us from the USSR!

Our warring history, present conflict maybes, and future prognosis had signaled to those in the universe beyond Earth that we were not worthy of club membership in a rational, intellectual, evolved, peace-loving, universal community of beings. In 1951, the sternest Einstein-worthy-ray-of-oblivion-across-the-bow-of-Earth to date was issued within the film classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. Obviously, we were not feeling Gort.

Concurrently, during the fifties and sixties as fictional fodder fallout from our past use, continued testing, and potential abuse of atomic weapons, a plethora of gigantic creature features swept big screens of drive-in and air-conditioned, walk-in theaters across the country ─ Godzilla (1954), Them (1954), and Mothra (1961) to name a few. How many times and ways must we be warned?

From the nuclear testing grounds of the western USA, to the depths of the Pacific, and from the entirety of Japan and the seas around the island, came massive monsters like we’d not seen in such numbers, appetites, or propensity. All were bent on avenging that which reckless humans had wreaked. In self-preservation mode, nature was fighting back in horrific, non-nurturing ways.

It’s shocking how much difference ten to fifteen years in age can make where and when you view a great horror film or the works of a fine horror director like Isaac Thorne writes about. I very much enjoyed reading about Isaac’s life, feelings, and experiences in conjunction with Romero’s film.

Thorne’s article also caused the above and below reflections on my life when Night of the Living Dead hit the scene. Back in 1968, we were well accustomed to black and white films and television. In short, the use of classic black and white in photography and films held on for as long as the world in those days remained in its drab shades of carnage. I’d be inclined to think for some of these people, the true colors of it all may have been too harsh in an all too real way.

In 1968, I would turn seventeen and the potentiality of going away, experiencing Vietnam, was only a year off, if I didn’t volunteer first. But where I came from you didn’t volunteer for Jack or his rabbit because “the man” shopped for warm bodies and weak minds in our impoverished area with great regularity. The poor are easily forgotten.

So, in 1968, Night of the Living Dead became the perfect metaphor for the prospects of carnage and futility of a bright future we “boy-men” were experiencing daily.

In Atlanta, among other odd jobs, I worked as a soda jerk at a drug store located across the street from one of the oldest, busiest, and largest funeral homes in Atlanta. Back then, the boys, men now, were coming home in great numbers in pieces in body bags. Some were friends from high school and later, college.

It became increasingly difficult to be entertained by make believe death and fantasy mayhem in a movie during this bleak period. In some forms of entertainment such as films, like Night of the Living Dead, it seemed they took on a more sinister meaning than simply being a brief time spent enjoying something unreal.

At times, it felt as if the dead were all around us. During these moments, the “Barbras” in living color, moms, wives, daughters, friends, and girlfriends were as hysterical, fetal, and in frightened tears as the Barbra in black and white on the big screen.

Often, those brave soldiers who did make it home alive were reduced to a state of living while walking dead. Nobody seemed to care, but the funeral homes, alcohol, drug, and methadone clinics, and much more sadly, Veteran’s Administration hospitals, were thriving businesses.

In the sixties and seventies, a heroin epidemic was also sweeping the nation. Once again, death and destruction were as formidable as the dead rising from the grave. Many veterans who had made it back succumbed to a less obvious enemy, trying to “inject” and often drink their post traumatic stress disorder and nightmares of war away.

Yes. It can be both sad and obvious to see how at times art can imitate life and death, and comprehend why it becomes a direct reflection on the reality of life through films. In respect to Night of the Living Dead, these factors appeared to be mutually exclusive in comparison and even sensory numbing in the end when the living dead and living became merely target practice for robotic men with hair triggers on their weapons with plenty of ammo at the ready.

“They’re coming to get you Barbra (or Bob)” took on a true deadly meaning when Uncle Sam’s letter to report for your physical for the draft arrived in the mail. I would think most high school boys were ill-equipped to handle such potentially deadly realities.

Like hundreds of thousands of young boys, I had a 2S draft exemption status while attending college in Macon, Georgia. Slowly and methodically, the government began ending the draft exemption for most, if not all, students, depending on your date of birth and luck of the lottery draw. We’d soon learn bingo had never been so intense.

In 1971 while in college, my lottery time had arrived. As we know, several Vietnam draft lotteries were conducted, starting in 1970. The strong rumor mill, also implied by the media, had it that if your number was two hundred or lower, say goodbye frat row and hello Vietnam. It was a somber crew of boys that day at Mercer University watching the drawing live at our Kappa Sigma lodge. The atmosphere was a direct opposite – a dire, visceral, and visual juxtaposition of when we gathered at the lodge to enjoy Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” each week huddled close to our dates.

For those fighting the war, their potential Night of the Living Dead became at least one tour, if they survived that long. Life had become as black and white as death back then.

After that lottery, I think they drafted numbers up to around one hundred. At the time, I was somewhat optimistic with a guarded sigh of relief since my lottery number was above one hundred and fifty. To this day, I regret those feelings while so many had stepped up voluntarily to answer the call or had reported as ordered once drafted. To me at least, a debate on whether any war is just or not is almost as futile as Tom living beyond the day after his Night of the Living Dead.

Not serving my country during this time is one my greatest regrets in life. , I also cowered in the basement, unwilling to step forward, helping at minimum to join with those willing to stand and fight regardless of self.

Isaac, your piece was excellent!

(Photo of Night of the Living Dead from Pittsburgh Haunted Tours. Photo of Ron Shaw from the author.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Ron Shaw

Ron Shaw is an Atlanta, Georgia native who currently resides in metro Atlanta with his wife and daughter. In1974, he graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. degree in English Literature. In 1996, he retired from the Atlanta Police Department with the rank of Captain. In 2013, with “Seven Fish Tree,” he began his writing career. Since writing his initial book, he has authored other novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, and poetry. As his published works indicate, Ron enjoys writing in a wide variety of genres like romance, horror, humor, travel, young adult, coming of age, science fiction, paranormal, erotica, visionary and metaphysical, among others.

Check out the man on Twitter, Amazon, and his website!

 

At Dinner with George by Isaac Thorne

I was having dinner with a good friend the evening of July 16 when I heard the news. As most folks do these days, my dinner guest and I occasionally glanced at our phones to check notifications and create replies on social media during our meal. Don’t judge. We’ve known each other for a long time now, and we’re comfortable that way. At one of her Twitter checks, my friend turned to me and said, “Some big horror person named George has died.” The name that automatically appeared in my head and from my lips was, unfortunately, the correct one. The father of the modern zombie apocalypse, George A. Romero, had passed away at the age of 77 after a brief battle with lung cancer.

It wasn’t long before the Twitterverse exploded with tributes, all well deserved.

Contrary to many kids of the 1970s and 1980s, my first encounter with Romero’s work was not an airing of Night of the Living Dead on late-night independent television. I believe the first Romero movie I ever saw was 1982’s Creepshow, the EC Comics tribute collaboration with Stephen King. I think I saw it in a hotel room while on a trip with my parents. The hotel in question just happened to have HBO – I believe that it was HBO, anyway – and that particular night HBO just happened to be showing Creepshow. I was both amused and terrified, and I think that might have been the point that I became not a fan of Romero, but of King.

I am ashamed to say that I learned little about Romero in the years after I first saw Creepshow, aside from what I later read in a mass market paperback edition of Stephen King’s 1981 non-fiction book Danse Macabre. I don’t know whether I should attribute that to my own teenage horror fan laziness, or the fact that Romero was routinely shafted and rebuffed by the larger film industry, so I was less likely to notice him. It was not until I started college in the very early 1990s that I first saw the original Night of the Living Dead. I believe I saw it on an episode of the Joe Bob Briggs B-movie showcase Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater, back when it aired on The Movie Channel, which was Showtime’s other cable property at the time. Briggs aired Night of the Living Dead as a double feature along with the 1990 Tom Savini remake of the same name, bookended by interviews with some of the original cast.

Over time, Romero has developed an enormous iconoclastic reputation in horror filmmaking, and his films have been dissected over and over as social commentary. Although I was of college age the first time I saw the film and attending a liberal arts university, I didn’t at first get the apparent 1960s subtext of Night of the Living Dead. I grew up partially in the me decade, so I suppose my natural instinct at that time of my life was to try to make the films I watched somehow about me. And so it was with Night of the Living Dead.

My early college days were a dark time for me. Yes, the United States was engaged in the first Gulf War, and rushing headlong into an economic recession. However, above all that for me was the fact that I knew my childhood was officially at an end. In my youth, I doubt anyone could ever have accused me of wanting to grow up too fast. I was happy being a kid. At the time, my impression of being a grown up meant nearly killing yourself every day to make ends meet, feeling like you were a failure at family, and being angry all the time. I figured that was no way to live a life, but I could also see no way out of that eventuality. I knew that once I graduated college, the immediate expectations for me would be to nail down a comfortable salaried job, start a family, and buy a house. It was the American dream, yes, but it wasn’t my dream.

Watching Ben and Barbra board up that old farmhouse while the apocalypse shambled toward them, ready to eat them and their futures alive, felt like a metaphor for my existential crisis in those days. I was Ben and Barbra, furiously attempting to maintain a small pocket universe of normal by closing up any portal to the outside world I could find. I was building walls where walls were not supposed to exist to keep out the reality that was ever so slowly closing in on me from every side of my simple little existence.

If I wanted to extend that metaphor today, I would add that attempting to build such walls is useless. The world scrambles over those walls. In Night of the Living Dead, it comes through in emergency broadcasts on the radio and the television. It breaks through even more forcefully with the arrivals of Harry, Helen, Karen, and Tom, the extended emergency family of Ben and Barbra, who bring with them their wants and desires that are antagonistic to the dream of preservation pursued by Ben and Barbra. They are united in their desire to keep the dangerous world out, yet divided as to both the why and the how of it.

“That cellar’s a death trap,” Ben says when Karl insists on squirreling his family away in the lowest portion of the house. It turns out to be prophetic for Karl and family, but not for the reasons Ben fears.

After I saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time, I immediately wanted to watch it again. Fortunately for me, I had recorded that episode of Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater. Not only did I enjoy both versions of the film over and over again while I was in college, but I returned to that tape many times in the years after I graduated. Perhaps I wanted to remind myself of what I had been so afraid of turning into back then. Maybe I wanted to tell myself that turning into what I feared is still and always will be a genuine danger.

I haven’t owned a working VCR for many years, but I’m pretty sure I still have that old VHS recording of Joe Bob’s Drive-In stored in a drawer somewhere. I’d love to dust it off again in memory of the man who, unbeknownst to him, helped me face some genuine fears in my past.

Thank you, Mr. Romero. The horror-loving world’s everlasting gratitude might not be enough to make up for the shaft you got from the film industry many times over, but in my heart, I do hope you understand what a difference you made in people’s lives; in mine, anyway.

Rest in peace.

(Photo of George Romero from Geek Tyrant. Photo of Isaac Thorne from the author.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

ISAAC THORNE

He’s the author of several short tales of dark comic horror. He’s a nice man who simply wants to provide you with a few fun frights. Over time, he has developed a modest ability to spin a good yarn. Really. He promises. His collection of short tales of dark horror, Road Kills, will be available in both paperback and ebook formats in October of 2017.

Check out the man on Amazon, IMDb, Facebook, and at his website.

 

TRUTH OR DARE (2013) by Jonny Numb

[84 minutes. Unrated. Director: Jessica Cameron]

I’ve only done one interview for THE LAST KNOCK podcast, but it was very special: back in early 2014, I spoke with Jessica Cameron, who was on a promotional kick for her directorial debut, Truth or Dare. I knew of her status as a prolific, hard-working actor and rabid adherent of the genre, but it wasn’t until I spent a fast-moving hour with her (via Skype) that I realized I was in the presence of a promising new horror filmmaker.

Truth or Dare is not without its flaws – which I’ll get to – but it also does a lot of things very well, considering the limited setting, cast, and resources. It’s hard to keep a feature-length movie confined to a single location interesting and exciting, but Cameron finds a way.

True to its title, the film doesn’t flinch from horrible things – it’s also so saturated with screams, shouting, and agony that my neighbors probably thought someone was being murdered in my apartment.

Other than some fleeting comedic asides and a satirical element that recalls the likes of Natural Born Killers and Funny Games, Truth or Dare takes its extremes seriously. The setup, however, is pure Saw territory that evolves, with mounting dread, into the no-(wo)man’s land found in the latter Human Centipede films.

The plot is simple: a group of friends gain online notoriety by staging “truth or dare” videos with simulated life-or-death consequences. During a local talk-show interview, the group is confronted by crazed fan Derek (Ryan Kizer), a screw-loose nutcase unable to discern fiction from reality. On the night of their latest recording session, the friends find themselves taken hostage by this obsessed fiend, who escalates the stakes by revealing everyone’s hidden secrets.

The script (by Jonathan Scott Higgins and Cameron) knows its audience, and aims squarely for the horror discomfort zone: while the initial “truth”-telling by the reluctant participants comes across as a string of contrived tabloid behaviors, fetishes, and misdeeds, the actors are committed to making these details pay off in ways both visceral and emotional. Late in the game, when a mutilated and brutalized (but still breathing) character is shocked into consciousness by a bucket of her friends’ blood, Cameron has reached a level of degradation that few horror filmmakers ever achieve. It ain’t pretty, but goddamn if it isn’t effective.

The flaws of Truth or Dare are mostly innate to the setup…and, in a weird way, could be subliminal strengths. When the reality of the game settles in, the performances take a little time to find their proper footing – sometimes the hysterical reactions are overdone, while others don’t resonate enough. There are also moments where characters, free from their constraints and armed, could conceivably get the drop on Derek, but do not (though by the time this happens, everyone is implicated and chugging along with the game’s twisted logic). And as the emcee of the festivities, Kizer (invoking a cross between Charles Manson and Brad Pitt’s character in 12 Monkeys) is charismatic, albeit the type of deranged fan we’ve seen in many films; he acquits himself well as someone you love to hate, but also whose presence outstays its welcome.

But if the intent was for the viewer’s experience to reflect to characters’, Cameron has succeeded in spades.

The consistent surprise, in addition to the character-based revelations, is the film’s unflinching embrace of bloodshed. Carrie Mercado’s practical effects in Truth or Dare are stunning in their in-your-face brutality, and the actors convey every wound with disquieting conviction – the violence here is not “cool,” but closer to the messy, handmade gore you’d experience in, say, a Jim VanBebber film. Throughout, I also found myself thinking the effects were a spiritual heir to the pioneering extremes of Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Once the credits rolled, I was convinced of Cameron’s skills in front of and behind the camera, and in watching the supplemental interview footage on the DVD, was reminded of her genuine affection for the genre. Truth or Dare is a very distinct calling card that bodes well for her future directorial outings (including the Tristan Risk-starring Mania) – I can’t wait to see what horrible things she brings us next.

What’s Jessica Cameron up to now? A lot! Get the details at her website.

(Truth or Dare is available on DVD from Invincible Pictures, and digitally via online retailers.)

(Photo of Jessica Cameron via Nerdly.)

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.

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with TTBO Productions and Owen McCuen

The Last Knock

Kyle Schiffert and Ryan Fox of TTBO Productions, and actor Owen McCuen stop by to speak with Billy Crash about their latest full feature venture. The team’s creating the science fiction time travel thriller, Replace Yourself. A man goes back in time to save his wife and daughter, but he can’t come back, and his old self’s already there…

Find out TTBO Production’s plan to get this indie film squared away, how the phenomenal Owen McCuen fits into the mix, and how you can be a part of the production by visiting their Kickstarter.

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.)