The Andy Baker Tape, Horror in the High Desert 2, and Tahoe Joe

The Andy Baker Tape2021, US, 70m. Director: Bret Lada.

Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva2023, US, 74m. Director: Dutch Marich.

Tahoe Joe2022, US, 88m. Director: Dillon Brown, Michael Rock.

THE ANDY BAKER TAPE (2021) Suave video blogger Jeff Blake (Bret Lada) sets out on a road trip with Andy (Dustin Fontaine), his wrong-side-of-the-tracks half-brother. Thinking it would make a great bonding experience—while at the same time creating content for his YouTube channel—Jeff records their adventure while sampling different foods around the Jersey Shore. Andy’s personality clashes with Jeff’s strict on-camera tactics, creating an air of tension between the two brothers. Their relationship crescendos when Andy decides to make his own home movies and reveals to Jeff what really happened to their deceased father. A well-produced, nicely acted, but ultimately predictable and disappointing found footage chiller that doesn’t go far enough. C (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

HORROR IN THE HIGH DESERT 2: MINERVA (2023) A series of bizarre disappearances and deaths within a small Nevada town is seemingly connected to the unsolved vanishing of explorer Gary Hinge a year earlier, documented in the first Horror in the High Desert (2021). Focusing their attention on circumstances surrounding the demise of geology student Minerva Sound (Solveig Helene), a film crew looks into the young woman’s last days, while staying in a remote trailer in the middle of some desert wilderness known as Cypress. Much like the first film, Horror in the High Desert 2 is structured as a faux-documentary and interweaves interviews with footage shot by neighbors, search-and-rescue teams, dash cams, and content from Minerva’s phone. There’s a videocassette found within the wall paneling of Minerva’s trailer that features some impressively unnerving footage reminiscent of the movie reels found by Ethan Hawke in Sinister. Details—such as that video tape and the climactic body cam footage of a volunteer fireman searching for a missing mother in a ramshackle house—give the movie an overwhelmingly creepy aesthetic lacking in many other found footage titles. Horror in the High Desert 2 can’t distinguish itself enough to truly separate it from the bulk of similar-themed POV vehicles, but an ending leaving the door open for Horror in the High Desert 3: Oscar should tickle fans. B(Currently streaming on Tubi.)

TAHOE JOE (2022) A former Green Beret (Michael Rock) is hired to search the last known whereabouts of a missing person in the wilderness of Lake Tahoe. When it becomes known that the missing individual was searching for a Bigfoot-like figure known as Tahoe Joe, Rock is joined by skeptical filmmaker Dillon Brown to capture possible evidence of the mythical creature. The set-up of Tahoe Joe sounds like the majority of POV horror titles released in the wake of The Blair Witch Project, although many found footage fans will link this to 2013’s Willow Creek, which successfully immersed the viewer in its claustrophobic, woodsy environment. Tahoe Joe makes the mistake of spending too much time out of the woods and focusing on details that should really only have taken a few minutes of plot exposition. The movie saves face by delivering likable characters in a suspenseful final fifteen minutes. C+ (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

Return to Sleepaway Camp, Shallow Grave, and Whispers

Return to Sleepaway Camp – 2008, US, 86m. Director: Robert Hiltzik.

Shallow Grave – 1987, US, 89m. Director: Richard Styles.

Whispers – 1990, US, 100m. Director: Douglas Jackson.

RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP (2008) This “official” sequel to the 1983 slasher classic bypasses Sleepaway Camps 2 and 3 and brings back original director, Robert Hiltzik—but it’s all the more disappointing when Return to Sleepaway Camp ends up being just a cheap and uninspired remake. Campers are turning up murdered at Camp Manabe—and all the victims are part of a bully squad who’ve been making camp hell for the local black sheep (Michael Gibney), an obnoxious slob who, quite frankly, deserves every whupping he gets. The bloodshed is revealed to be the work of Angela (Felissa Rose), back to continue where she left off in the first film by punishing the popular troublemakers and rule-breakers. Moronic characters, juvenile humor, and cut-rate gore effects abound. The only thing Return to Sleepaway Camp will have you longing for is the fast-forward button. Felissa Rose deserves much better. D(Not currently streaming.)

SHALLOW GRAVE (1987) This tongue-in-cheek slasher opens with a spirited tribute to cinema’s all-time greatest slashing—the shower scene from Psycho—when a pretty coed is prank shish kebobbed in the shower by her rowdy classmates. Moments later, the four women pile into a convertible and head south for a fun-filled spring break. Unfortunately for our spunky protagonists, they take a wrong turn in a backwoods Georgia town where they end up being witnesses to a murder committed by the psychopathic sheriff (Tony March). The film then turns into a semi rip-off of Macon County Line as the women try to escape before becoming the sheriff’s next victims. After a terrific first act, Shallow Grave stumbles when the screenplay (by George Edward Fernandez) becomes unsure of what to do with the characters. Fortunately, the film’s final act is suspenseful enough to grab the viewer’s attention and maintain it until the bleak ending. An imperfect but entertaining little B-movie. B (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

WHISPERS (1990) Writer Victoria Tennant is repeatedly attacked by a maniac (Jean LeClerc) who seems to have supernatural ways of defying death. The local police think she’s crying wolf, but good cop Chris Sarandon believes her and tries to help. She finally kills the psychopathic stalker, but Tennant finds herself in a living nightmare when LeClerc returns from the grave, sending her and Sarandon down a rabbit hole of Satanic cults and a lot of other uninteresting mumbo jumbo that never gels into a cohesive plot. The script is based on a Dean Koontz book, and Whispers is so proud of its literary inspiration that it flagrantly states as much in the opening credits with the title “Dean Koontz’s Whispers“—although I highly doubt the author would have approved. Sarandon gives a good cop-in-distress performance, but Tennant is stiff and wholly unsympathetic. A bloodless bore with very little redeeming qualities besides the odd joke or two. D (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

Amityville 1990-1996

THE AMITYVILLE CURSE (1990) It’s just as well this Canadian production didn’t return to Toms River, New Jersey, where the previous four Amityville movies were shot. Based on a fictionalized story involving the notorious Long Island house, the film’s new location and structure lend this completely different tale a little more credence—but only so much. A pompous psychiatrist (David Stein) and his semi-psychic wife (Dawna Wightman) buy the Amityville house as a fixer-upper for them and their friends, unaware that it harbors the vengeful spirit of a priest who was murdered twelve years earlier. The friends unknowingly expose themselves to the place’s “curse,” manifested through various bizarre incidents, including a nail gun that powers on by itself, strange noises in the basement, and the slow possession of one of their party (Kim Coates) that’s essentially just a replay of George Lutz from The Amityville Horror. Spiders seem to have replaced flies to signify the house’s evil, but one can’t help feel it was easier (and cheaper) for the filmmakers to use the same tarantula over and over instead of wrangling hundreds of flies. The Lutzes don’t seem to exist in this alternative Amityville timeline—a townsperson mentions the DeFeo murders, although its referred to as the “possessed boy who killed his family.” None of this would be a deterrent hadn’t the filmmakers created such a lifeless film. Coates (Sons of Anarchy) gives a decent performance, but the rest of the cast is stiff and unconvincing, just like this movie. C(Currently streaming on Tubi.)

AMITYVILLE 1992: IT’S ABOUT TIME (1992) A California tract house (not unlike that in Poltergeist) becomes the scene of supernatural horrors thanks to a haunted antique clock. If you’re wondering what this has to do with the Amityville timeline you’re not alone. Actually, the L.A. location was most likely due to convenience on the part of the filmmakers, as well as the apparent decline in budget. Architect Stephen Macht returns from a business trip to New York, where his company has just demolished the street on which the notorious Amityville house was standing. He brings back with him an ugly clock from the old Amityville digs, which immediately takes control of Macht by turning him into a temperamental jerk. Macht’s teen daughter (Megan Ward) turns into an evil seductress, while his son (Damon Martin) finds out the clock was the creation of a 15th century Satan-worshipper and used to open a portal to Hell. The director (Tony Randall—Hellbound: Hellraiser II) is striving for something different, and several scenes are visually impressive, including the climax where Macht’s live-in girlfriend (Shawn Weatherly), in an effort to destroy the evil, reveals the clock’s internal gears are growing inside the house’s walls like a parasitic organism. The writers drop the ball on the clock’s backstory—how and why it ended up in Amityville is never explained—but the characters are mostly intelligent, and the pacing good. Most surprising is the fact Amityville 1992 ends up being one of the better entries in the series. B(Currently streaming on AMC, Shudder, Tubi.)

AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION (1993) A skid row apartment building occupied by pretentious artists and yuppies—do I detect an anti-gentrification message?—falls under the influence of an evil mirror in this needless but well-acted hodgepodge of every other Amityville movie on the market. Struggling photographer Keyes (Ross Partridge) is given a mirror by a mysterious vagrant, igniting artistic inspiration in Keyes’s neighbor, Suki (Julia Nickson), a painter. It seems anyone who looks into the reflecting glass perishes—the first victim being Suki’s douchebag ex-beau (Robert Rustler), who’s slashed to ribbons after he does the same to one of her paintings. Predictably, Suki’s work begins to manifest into images of demonic creatures as the Amityville house reflects from the mirror’s glass, and more people end up looking like they stepped out of a Picasso portrait, sans canvas. Why is all of this happening? Because the mirror hung in the Amityville homestead the night of the infamous 1974 massacre, although here the family name has been changed from DeFeo to Bronner. Don’t worry—I doubt even the writers can make sense of it. A good cast tries its best, but even the likes of Terry O’Quinn, Richard Roundtree, and David Naughton can’t save Amityville: A New Generation from descending into woeful sequel overkill. C (Currently streaming on Freevee, Shudder, Tubi.)

AMITYVILLE: DOLLHOUSE (1996) Yet another dysfunctional family is used as puppets by the Amityville evil, this time emanating from a miniature replica of the Long Island House of Horrors. A Brady Bunch-like family composed of a father (Robin Thomas), his two kids, and his new bride (Starr Andreeff) and her son move into a house in the middle of the desert. The structure comes complete with a haggard work shed left by the previous owner, which contains the usual assortment of bizarro items, including a dollhouse modeled after 112 Ocean Avenue. Thomas gifts his daughter the dollhouse for her birthday and—wouldn’t ya know it?—strange things immediately take shape. The pet mouse grows to the size of a pit bull, teen Allen Culter’s girlfriend is barbecued in the fireplace, and the youngest (Jarrett Lennon) makes friends with his deceased dad, who fills the boy’s head with murderous thoughts. But it just so happens that Thomas’s sister (Lenore Kasdorf) dabbles in the occult, and her investigation opens a can of worms in the form of demonic activity. It might be the eighth entry in the series but Amityville: Dollhouse‘s inherent stupidity gives the movie a boost of brainless entertainment that was missing from the majority of the other, more “serious” sequels. In fact, the film’s ostentatious visual flare—culminating in a monster-infused climax—is a welcome sight and helps to create a fun little flick that’ll most likely kill some brain cells along the way. B (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

Blood Shack, Deadtime Stories, and Spellbinder

Blood Shack – 1971, US, 55m. Director: Ray Dennis Steckler.

Deadtime Stories – 1986, US, 82m. Director: Jeffrey Delman.

Spellbinder – 1988, US, 99m. Director: Janet Greek.

BLOOD SHACK (1971) Carol (Carolyn Brandt) inherits a dilapidated two-room shack in the middle of some Nevada dust bowl. Unfortunately, the property is haunted by a “ghost” called The Chooper, which takes pleasure in killing passersby with a sword. We know this because in the opening scene a scantily-clad woman spending the night in the shack is slain by the all-black-wearing specter. (If you’re thinking there’s a twist coming, you’re not wrong.) Despite Carol’s voice-over narration, which supplies the viewer with needless (and dull) exposition about the history of the shack and surrounding land, Blood Shack can’t hide its ramshackle story structure and sluggish pacing. Even at just 55 minutes this movie feels too long. Never a good sign. An additional ten minutes of rodeo stock footage was tacked on to secure theatrical distribution, which doesn’t help in the slightest. From the director of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Become Mixed-Up Zombies; a must-miss. D(Currently streaming on Tubi.)

DEADTIME STORIES (1986) Deadtime Stories does for children’s fairy tales what Creepshow did for E.C. Comics, but not as successfully. In order to put his tempestuous nephew to sleep, a man tells the kid three bedtime stories. The first tale stars Scott Valentine of Family Ties fame as a peasant sold to a pair of murderous sisters who use the young man to aid them in the resurrection of a powerful witch. Tale two is a spin on Little Red Riding Hood, as a man (Matt Mitler) pursues a sexed-up teen (Nicole Picard)—decked out in a red jogging suit—after she accidentally takes his anti-wolf medication from the pharmacist. The final (and most cartoonish) story depicts the escape of the murderous Baer family from an asylum, who discover serial killer Goldi Lox (Cathryn de Prume) is using their hideaway to store the bodies of her many male victims. The sense of humor actually saves a lot of the movie from its obvious poverty row origins, as does some impressive Ed French makeup, especially in the first segment. Look for Oscar-winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) in a small role. Funniest bit: When a woman is confronted while taking a shower, her response is: “You were expecting perhaps Janet Leigh?” C+ (Currently streaming on Freevee, Pluto TV, and Tubi.)

SPELLBINDER (1988) Los Angeles lawyer—and all around nice guy—Jeff Mills (Tim Daly) rescues damsel-in-distress Miranda (Kelly Preston) from her abusive boyfriend and ends up in a whirlwind romance with the beautiful young woman. Miranda eventually moves in with Jeff and life seems too good to be true. That is until Miranda’s mysterious past comes knocking and pulls Jeff into a dangerous world of black magic. Miranda just happens to be part of a Satanic cult, and they want her back by the next lunar moon in order to complete an ancient prophecy—and guess who’s the sacrificial pig? Cue the overplayed scene in which our straight-laced hero gets in over his head at the stereotypical occult book store. All of this is predictable and the execution is strictly by-the-book, leaving very little in terms of surprises. Still, Spellbinder is harmless and enjoyable for the most part, featuring a good performance by the late Preston and a downbeat ending not typically found in films as mainstream as this. B(Currently streaming on Tubi.)

Amityville 1979-1989

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) In terms of showy special effects, The Amityville Horror may not be the best haunted house movie ever made. But its effectiveness lies within the filmmakers’ subtle interpretation of the source material—the book by Jay Anson. After purchasing property on the shores of a Long Island community, the Lutz family believes they’ve found the deal of the century in a three-story colonial house—the sight of a grisly mass murder the year prior. The American Dream soon turns into a nightmare when strange things begin to plague their happy existence. Windows open on their own, the toilets back up with a mysterious black ooze, and one of the upstairs bedrooms has a fly infestation that comes and goes. None of this seems like a prime indicator for a haunting, but the psychological implications outweigh the physical, especially for dad George Lutz (James Brolin), whose mental capacity collapses. This plays into one of the questions the book raised during its popularity: is the house really inherently evil, or was it just a figment of the family’s imagination? No matter what you believe, The Amityville Horror is an undeniably well-made yarn that uses suggestion more than jump scares to unnerve you. Brolin gives an intense performance, but it’s Margot Kidder, in a sympathetic turn as Kathy Lutz, who holds the movie together. B+ (Currently streaming on Max.)

AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982) Instead of picking up where The Amityville Horror left off, Amityville II goes back to the murders that happened the year before the Lutz family moved into the house. Based on Hans Holzer’s speculative book, Murder in Amityville, the film chronicles the lives of the fictional Montelli family—and their demise—in the wake of moving into 112 Ocean Avenue. Once inside the dwelling, the evil of the house—emitting from a secret doorway in the basement—immediately takes hold of the Montellis by exploiting their dysfunctional relationships. But it’s the eldest child, Sonny (Jack Magner), who becomes the puppet for the demonic force to do its bidding, and who ultimately takes a shotgun to the entire Montelli clan. After a good first hour, the film looses its footing and turns into a half-baked courtroom melodrama by way of The Exorcist. Fortunately Amityville II saves face when we return to the house, where a priest (James Olson) performs an exorcism on Sonny, culminating in the demon literally bursting out of the young man in a gory special effects showdown. Subtlety is not the tone of this well-made but overwrought prequel, which features child abuse, incestuous rape, demonic possession, and the lustful thoughts of priest Olson towards the teenage Montelli daughter (Diane Franklin). In fact, Amityville II is so successful at pushing boundaries that it often feels evil, especially during the first act, which is impressively creepy. A tighter script could have made this a semi-classic. As it is, The Possession is a decent follow-up worthy of a rewatch. B (Currently streaming on Starz.)

AMITYVILLE 3-D (1983) (AKA: Amityville III) Once again the old Amityville digs are for sale, and once again its new owner gets up to their neck in ghostly goings-on, and this time in 3-D! In the opening scene, two reporters for Reveal Magazine—a tabloid-type rag that specializes in debunking the supernatural—catch a couple of charlatans in the act of using the Long Island house of horrors for monetary gain. Having successfully defrauded the infamous house, lead investigator Tony Roberts thinks the home is too good a deal to pass up and—despite the nay-saying of his photographer (Candy Clark), and his ex-wife (Tess Harper)—purchases the place. Predictably, soon after moving into 112 Ocean Avenue, sinister happenings plague Roberts and his family, ultimately disproving his scientific theory that all seemingly supernatural occurrences can be explained. After a full-scale parapsychological study of the dwelling, which includes numerous demons and other ghastly manifestations, the house decides it’s had enough and blows itself up in a fairly spectacular climax. The ominous buzzing of a fly in the last shot of the film suggests the evil is still with us, and soon enough Amityville 4 was unleashed onto an (un)suspecting populace. Perhaps influenced more by Poltergeist than the previous Amityville twosome, Amityville 3-D is a gimmicky showcase of flashy special effects the first two movies didn’t really bother with. The 3-D elements take center stage and, for the most part, are impressive. And despite its overt silliness, Amityville 3-D is an enjoyable and harmless bit of schlocky entertainment. B(Currently streaming on Freevee, Starz.)

AMITYVILLE HORROR: THE EVIL ESCAPES (1989) (AKA: Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes) Acting as a direct sequel to The Amityville Horror, The Evil Escapes begins with a squad of crucifix-armed priests storming the haunted Long Island dwelling and successfully exorcising the place of its evil. The county sells off the furniture left behind by the Lutzes, unaware that the demonic entity is now inhabiting a large standing lamp that was situated in one of the bedrooms. When said possessed lamp is sent to Jane Wyatt in California, it causes havoc in her cliffside manor, which is coincidentally being occupied by her daughter (Patty Duke) and grandchildren. The supernatural activity embeds itself within the place’s electrical circuits, where it promptly cooks the pet parakeet in a toaster oven and slices off a teen’s hand in the garbage disposal. The demonic force even manipulates the youngest grandchild into believing her recently deceased father has returned from the grave—a subplot reused in Amityville: Dollhouse—by turning the kid into a psychopathic brat. As with the original movie, the filmmakers here are focusing on the dysfunctional nuclear family unit, but it’s hard to keep a straight face when the film descends into utter ridiculousness, such as the lamp driving a truck off into the night like a remote controlled toy. Despite its idiotic demeanor, Evil Escapes features good acting and a few suspenseful moments—the “hand-down-the-garbage-disposal” bit is a highlight. Expect anything more from this made-for-cable movie-of-the-week and you’ll be sorely disappointed. C+ (Currently streaming on Shudder, Freevee.)

To be continued…

Please listen to The Video Verdict, a podcast I co-host with Frank Pittarese. Our episode about The Amityville Horror is available on Spotify!

Axe, The Convent, and The Love Butcher

Axe1977, US, 68/72m. Director: Frederick R. Friedel. Streaming: N/A

The Convent2000, US, 78m. Director: Mike Mendez. Streaming: AMC, Shudder, Tubi

The Love Butcher1975, US, 85m. Director: Mikel Angel, Don Jones. Streaming: N/A

AXE (1977) (AKA: California Axe Massacre, Lisa Lisa) A thug named Steel (Jack Canon) and his two henchmen break into a hotel room to torture and kill a gay man who cheated them out of money. After they shove a lit cigar into the man’s mouth, his horrified lover jumps out of the window and plunges to his death. In response to questioning why someone would jump twelve stories down, one of Steel’s henchmen answers: “It’s only nine.” These are clearly criminal masterminds. After Steel humiliates a cashier at a convenient store because the apples weren’t fresh, the trio invade an isolated farmhouse where the occupants—young Lisa (Leslie Lee) and her paralyzed grandfather—don’t conform to their liking. That’s because Lisa is on the brink of mental collapse and has probably seen Last House on the Left one too many times. Using her expertise at chopping off the heads of chickens, Lisa wields her large axe and enacts bloody revenge. A gritty, ultra-low budget curiosity that’s not the gore-drenched epic its title suggests. That’s not to say Axe is a serious character study, because it ain’t. It does achieve a level of morbid entertainment, and a scene in which Lisa fights off a sexual attack by Steel is cleverly married with the voiceover narration of a football game playing on the background TV. A slightly amusing hodgepodge of oddly endearing trash cinema. B

THE CONVENT (2000) This movie has more energy packed into its 78 minutes than most mainstream Hollywood films combined. A group of frat guys and their sorority girlfriends break into the neighborhood haunted house (in this case, an abandoned convent) for some late night fun. Along the way, they pick up goth queen Mo (Meghan Perry), who informs the college pals of the convent’s unsavory history—in which a Bettie Page-like woman named Christine slaughtered all of the nuns and priests inside the place forty years earlier. Unbeknownst to our protagonists, the convent has already been invaded by Satanists who conjure forth demons that systematically possess the characters. If you’re thinking you’ve heard this one before, you’re not wrong. Fortunately, The Convent is a hoot—a flashy throwback to splatter movies like The Evil Dead, Demons, and specifically Night of the Demons, which the makers of this flick are obviously fans of. Unlike the majority of those titles, The Convent never takes itself seriously and flourishes in its perverse sense of humor and comic book-style visuals. Unreleased until 2002, this demands cult classic status. B+

THE LOVE BUTCHER (1975) Caleb is a chrome-domed simpleton in Coke bottle glasses and overalls who speaks in a “yes’m” southern accent despite living in Southern California. He spends his days being berated by the women whose yards he attends to in an upscale suburban neighborhood (after Caleb asks his employer for a glass of water she calls him an irritation). Little do they know Caleb is a psychopath who takes on the personality of his “brother,” Lester, when he feels unjustly treated by society. A suave ladies’ man, Lester seduces the women who’ve treated Caleb like garbage and ultimately takes a knife/shears/pitchfork to them. Sort of the slasher movie version of Ethan Hunt, Caleb/Lester (both played by James Lemp) takes on disguises in order to infiltrate the homes of his victims. As if performing an overzealous theater pantomime, Lemp’s acting choices are often so hysterically overwrought the movie becomes almost mesmerizing in its awfulness. And Lemp is probably the best thing about the film! The rest of the story is filled with a typically dry police/newspaper investigation of the murders, in which the hard-boiled police captain and the overworked reporter scream their lines at each other until the veins in their foreheads nearly burst. The Love Butcher is either a misanthropic commentary on the seventies, an anti-feminist story, or a spoof of both. Either way, the viewer loses. C

Streaming on YouTube: Horror Castle, Junior, and The Orphan

Horror Castle1963, Italy, 84m. Director: Anthony Dawson (Antonio Margheriti). Streaming: YouTube

Junior1985, US, 82m. Director: Jim Hanley. Streaming: YouTube

The Orphan 1979, US, 83m. Director: John Ballard. Streaming: YouTube

HORROR CASTLE (1963) (AKA: The Virgin of Nuremberg) A married couple, traveling to Germany, stay at the husband’s ancestral home, a massive castle with a grim past. On their first night there, the wife (Rossana Rodestà) discovers the mutilated body of a woman inside the place’s pristine 200-year-old iron maiden. When the body seemingly vanishes, the husband (George Rivière) dismisses his wife’s claims as the result of exhaustion—but the housekeeper (Laura Nucci) believes the spirit of an infamous hooded torturer/murderer has returned to continue his diabolical work. This is half-truth as a flesh-and-blood hooded menace is running around the property abducting women and subjecting them to grueling torture—one poor victim has her nose chewed off by a caged rat strapped to her face. An obvious precursor to the giallo, Horror Castle is just entertaining enough to get past its threadbare plot. A good cast (including Christopher Lee as the castle’s deformed red herring) and a genuinely suspenseful climax help to create a nice little Italian oddity. B

JUNIOR (1985) (AKA: Hot Water) Curvaceous ex-cons K.C. (Suzanne DeLaurentiis) and Jo (Linda Singer) seek out a fresh start in Texas—they’ve obviously never seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Macon County Line, or many other Southern-fried horrors. Once they arrive in the boonies, K.C. and Jo set up shop in a dilapidated lake house only to be bombarded by a gaggle of hillbillies lead by the sociopathic Junior (Jeremy Ratchford). Junior spends his days raping, terrorizing, and engaging in general depravity, after which he runs home and brags about his exploits to his even more demented mother. After the requisite T&A shots and sex scenes, Junior’s rampage of terror turns to murder, sending K.C. and Jo into full I Spit On Your Grave mode. Junior is too goofy to be taken seriously, but that seems to be intentional; the film’s tacky appeal provides a likability factor that would pair it nicely alongside the similarly-themed and equally rambunctious ‘Gator Bait 2: Cajun Justice. If you like your roughneck revenge sagas with a side of cornball humor, you could do much worse than Junior. C+

THE ORPHAN (1979) (AKA: Friday the 13th: The Orphan) A young boy, David (Mark Owens), is left an orphan after his mother shoots and kills his father before committing suicide. David’s aunt (Peggy Feury) promptly moves into the family estate and begins running the show, keeping everything under her strict thumb and turning David into a sociopathic brat. When the aunt orders the destruction of David’s makeshift shrine (where he prays at the altar of a stuffed chimpanzee called Charlie) and accidentally kills his dog, David snaps and transforms into a bad seed—as if he wasn’t one already! A knife soon starts slashing and the bodies start piling up, with no mystery as to who is conducting the reign of terror. In the end, David brushes off the bloodshed and happily goes about eating his toast and jam in peace. The only thing viewers will get in return is an understanding of the word “suffering.” A ceaseless and bewildering bore. D

The Children, Curtains, and Hannibal Rising

The Children1980, US, 93m. Director: Max Kalmanowicz. Streaming: Peacock, Prime, Tubi

Curtains1983, Canada, 89m. Director: Jonathan Stryker (Richard Ciupka). Streaming: Peacock, Roku

Hannibal Rising2007, Czech Republic/Italy/UK/US, 121m. Director: Peter Webber. Streaming: Tubi

THE CHILDREN (1980) A cloud of toxic pollution emanating from a nuclear power plant transforms a busload of kids into zombified killers. One of the the parents is hugged by her nuclear-powered son and microwaved into a pile of charred, bloody pulp. The local sheriff (Gil Rogers) deputizes a couple of nogoodniks to be stationed at a roadblock, which proves fruitless as the children continue to cook their way through the small town’s populace. Much like the zombies in a George Romero film—which The Children resembles quite often—the youngsters cannot be stopped by simple gunfire, but one of the survivors realizes cutting off their hands seems to put them down for good. Its nonsensical plot does little to dissuade one from viewing The Children as nothing more than silly entertainment, made by a handful of crew members who would later work on Friday the 13th, including cinematographer Barry Abrams and composer Harry Manfredini. B

CURTAINS (1983) In order to prepare for an upcoming role, renowned actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) voluntarily checks herself into a mental hospital. Weeks of enduring the asylum don’t pay off when Samantha is stabbed in the back by her filmmaker lover, Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon), who leaves her in the nuthouse and holds a casting session at his country estate for more youthful actresses. Stryker’s plans are foiled when Samantha escapes from the hospital and does a bit of impromptu backstabbing herself—literally. Or so the viewer is led to believe when someone in a hag mask begins cutting down the competition with a razor-sharp scythe. Eggars is good but her character is too obtuse to care about. Most of the auditioning actresses are nondescript; that includes the real actors portraying them. The sole exception is Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas), whose bubbly comedian, Patti O’Connor, failing to be taken seriously as a dramatic actress by her peers is the only character trait that rings true in the film. Robert Guza, Jr. was a prevalent soap opera writer and his experience in that medium shows within Curtain‘s flashy theatrics, which for most of its running time are ridiculously contrived—but undeniably enjoyable. B

HANNIBAL RISING (2007) The laborious and often needless origin story assigned to so many popular fictional figures is here given to everybody’s favorite cinematic serial killer—Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter. In war-torn Lithuania, 1944, young Hannibal witnesses the massacre of his parents at the hands of Nazis. Hannibal and his younger sister, Mischa, are held captive by local SS soldiers, including the wild-eyed psychopath, Grutas (Rhys Ifans, not dialing it down), who after ripping into the carcass of a pheasant with his teeth uses Mischa as a food source for his hungry comrades. The traumatic event turns Hannibal (the late Gaspard Ulliel) into a mild-mannered young man who harbors violent aggression towards his fellow rude humans. Hannibal applies his newfound psychosis to his martial arts training, orchestrated by his wealthy aunt (Gong Li)—and conveniently, Auntie’s in-house chef teaches Lecter about the importance of fine dining etiquette. After years of medical training in Paris, Hannibal plots his revenge against the men who slaughtered his sister, including Grutas, who in the decade following the war has become a sex trafficker—one of many hilariously overwrought moments found throughout this despairingly awful film. The most shocking aspect—and ultimately most disappointing—of Hannibal Rising is the fact that Hannibal creator, Thomas Harris, wrote the screenplay. D

Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies, Dead Snow, and Dead Snow 2

Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies2016, Austria, 78m. Director: Dominik Hartl. Streaming: Tubi

Dead Snow 2009, Norway, 91m. Director: Tommy Wirkola. Streaming: Tubi

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead2014, Norway, 100m. Director: Tommy Wirkola. Streaming: Peacock

ATTACK OF THE LEDERHOSEN ZOMBIES (2016) To compensate for the lack of snow due to climate change, the owner of a ski resort in the Alps concocts a chemical that seamlessly produces the white powder. Unfortunately, when consumed, the chemical transforms people and animals into drooling, pock-faced zombies. Soon the quaint Bavarian village is overrun with the walking dead, trapping a group of snowboarders on the mountain. The survivors arm themselves with whatever weapons they can find, which includes ski poles (used by a barmaid to take out the eyes of a zombie), and, naturally, snowboards in the climax’s snowboarding-cum-zombie massacre—accompanied by Johann Strauss’s “The Blue Danube.” It might lack the energy of Shaun of the Dead—the obvious inspiration—as well as any actual lederhosen-wearing zombies, but it’s difficult not to enjoy this spirited romp as nothing more than stupid escapism. The practical makeup effects are excellent. B

DEAD SNOW (2009) Norwegian friends on vacation at a remote mountain cabin spend their time snow tubing, discussing horror movies, and drinking a lot of pilsner. Their play time is interrupted by the arrival of an old fart who tells the friends of the place’s unsavory history involving the torture and murder of the locals at the hands of Nazis during World War II. The civilians had enough and slaughtered most of the Germans in retaliation, with many escaping into the mountains but leaving their stolen loot behind. Much like the gut-munching Nazi zombies of Jess Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies, the SS soldiers in Dead Snow return as the rotten undead and go to any lengths to protect their cherished Nazi gold. Naturally, this includes ripping the vacationers to pieces, all of which is executed via some truly impressive makeup FX—one guy wearing a t-shirt of Peter Jackson’s Braindead has his face split in two. As with Jackson’s splatter classic, Dead Snow is an energetic homage to the gory delights of films like The Evil Dead, complete with deadpan humor intermixed with moments of outrageous bloodshed. A must-see for the splattery zombie aficionado. B+

DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD (2014) In the spirit of the Evil Dead films, Dead Snow 2, like Evil Dead 2, is a slicker, more polished production. It’s also breathlessly paced and filled with wall-to-wall splatter. Martin (Geir Vegar Hoel), the sole survivor of the zombie massacre from Part 1, narrowly escapes the undead Nazi army. Standartenführer Herzog (Ørjan Gamst), the leader of the Nazi zombie squad, begins recruiting soldiers by killing a group of tourists and turning them into the walking dead. Martin discovers that the severed arm of Herzog—which was cut off at the beginning of the film—can bring the dead back to life. With the help of an American zombie expert (Martin Starr of Freaks and Geeks) Martin starts his own army by resurrecting Russian soldiers Herzog himself wiped out in 1944. Perhaps the funniest bit is during the climax where a Nazi zombie doctor sets up a makeshift battlefield triage and uses hay to “fill in” the literal gaps in the zombies’ dismembered bodies. If Red vs. Dead achieves anything it’s the reminder that sequels can sometimes be just as good (or better) than their predecessor. B+

💔 My Bloody Valentine 💔

My Bloody Valentine1981, Canada, 90m, 93m (unrated version). Director: George Milhalka. Streaming: MGM+ via Roku, Pluto TV

My Bloody Valentine 2009, Canada/US, 101m. Director: Patrick Lussier. Streaming: Tubi

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) The small mining town of Valentine Bluffs is putting together a grand February 14 celebration, the first in twenty years. The annual Valentine’s Day dance was permanently axed after 1960, when an explosion trapped five miners underground—one of whom, Harry Warden, went completely berserk and killed and ate his fellow survivors. Warden was sent to an asylum but escaped and—with pick ax in hand—butchered the town’s fat cats, who were too busy enjoying themselves at the Valentine’s party to assemble a rescue team for the buried miners. The present day resurrection of the town’s Valentine’s activities sparks a new series of murders, forcing the sheriff to cancel the big romantic event. That doesn’t stop a group of miners and their girlfriends from doing a bit of partying in the mine tunnels, the perfect location for a Valentine’s Day massacre when Harry Warden apparently returns to the scene of the crime. My Bloody Valentine is a compendium of the slasher sub-genre’s tried-and-true formulas, right down to the final battle pitting the remaining teens against the masked killer. And it all works, with a lot of the credit going to director George Mihalka’s eye for likable characters and suspenseful set pieces, including the climactic underground cat-and-mouse chase. Juicy kills and some actual scares help to make My Bloody Valentine a winner. B+

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (2009) After surviving a tunnel collapse, miner Harry Warden goes bananas and whacks his fellow survivors on the noggin with a pick ax. Warden escapes custody and goes on a mass killing spree—with a body count slightly less than the Iraq War—before being shot by police and running off into the night. The victims who eluded Harry’s wrath have been trying to live normal lives in the years following the massacre, but the upcoming sale of the town’s mine by the owner’s son (Jensen Ackles) ignites a new bloodbath in the form of the apparently still alive Harry Warden. The violence quota is definitely higher in this remake, with plenty of people ending up with their chest cavities opened and their hearts missing. The characters aren’t as memorable as in the 1981 film, but the gimmick here is the use of 3D cameras and the (literally) eye-popping make-up FX that shoot off the screen—and presumably into the audience’s laps. In that regard, My Blood Valentine ’09 delivers the goods in bucketloads of splatter. It overstays its welcome and gets a little too busy with a needless subplot, but hardcore slasher (and remake) fans shouldn’t find that a deterrent. B

Please listen to The Video Verdict’s episode on My Bloody Valentine! You can find it on Spotify!