radical rats: ghoulies ii

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There’s a great story about the first Ghoulies in an interview with producer Charles Band, who recalls how the original tagline and poster came to be. Once the infamous photo of the Ghoulie popping up out of a toilet—which convinced me it must be the scariest movie of all time when I saw the box at a video store as a kid—was taken, it was such an effective image they realized they needed to go back and shoot a similar scene to go along with it. Without that, surely, audience members would feel ripped off; who wouldn’t?!

Like many of the horror section staples of the ’80s, though, Ghoulies never quite lived up to its box art. If the toilet shot was an attempt to make it the movie it should have been all along, then 1987’s Ghoulies II is, from beginning to end, the full realization of that attempt. It’s more raucous and ridiculous, and the Ghoulies get to shine as the casually murdering miscreants they were meant to be. And yes, there’s a toilet.

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Since they’ve already been summoned into this world, all director Albert Band and his cast and crew have to do is get them to the setting of this sequel: a down-on-its-luck carnival. No attraction is closer to the chopping block than the haunted house, Satan’s Den, and if it doesn’t turn a profit soon it’s going to be replaced by an all-ladies mud wrestling showcase. Thankfully, the Ghoulies show up just in time to turn things around for Larry (Damon Martin) and good ol’ drunk Uncle Ned (Royal Dano). Once a couple bratty kids find them kicking around in Satan’s Den—and quickly refer to them as cool “rats,” which seems like a total insult to the Ghoulie species—they spread the word and ticket sales go through the roof.

Before you know it, visitors are standing around chanting “RATS! RATS! RATS!” and the Ghoulies are high fiving each other in between murders. That’s the kind of movie this is, and it’s the kind of movie every Ghoulies installment should be.

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The Ghoulies eventually break out of this rinky dinky spookhouse and run amok through the whole carnival. Believe it or not, this full-scale carnival, working rides and all, was entirely built on a massive soundstage. One would have to assume this is the only way to truly contain Ghoulies and keep them from going on a rampage in the real world. Or, in this case, at least through Italy.

As I watched the Ghoulies tie people down, bite them, charge at them and knock them over, and generally physically dominate everyone that got in their way, I had to wonder just how strong these little freaks are. Let’s take the Gremlins and Muppets genera as counter-examples. Both seem to be pretty lightweight, such that your average human can toss them clear across a large room. Ghoulies, on the other hand, are made of sterner stuff. They have real heft and can exert an impressive amount of force. This is worthy of further exploration; I’d love to see their stats.

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And then there’s The Big Ghoulie at the end, who is so strong he can pick up and eat other Ghoulies like they’re little more than bugs or small rodents (rats, perhaps). I shudder to think of this monstrosity’s god-tier stats.

The bottom line: Ghoulies II should be called Ghoulies, and Ghoulies should be considered a lore-centric prequel called Ghoulies: Origins. There’s two more of these, by the way.

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Halloween 2019 Movies:

Sequence Break
Deadtime Stories
Hell House LLC
Body Bags
Pumpkinhead

Friday the 13th Part III
Child’s Play 2019

bad buddi: child’s play 2019

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Don’t let that headline fool ya, I liked the new Child’s Play movie! It’s a pretty fun spin on the 1988 classic, even if it’s completely apparent which aspects of the story belong to Don Mancini, who wasn’t involved in the remake. Without the Charles Lee Ray storyline or a reasonable knockoff, this isn’t a traditional Chucky movie, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining or worth watching.

What we get with this one is a tight 90 or so minutes of sinister, murderous Buddi horrors, and what more does one really need out of a Child’s Play movie? Mark Hamill doesn’t bring the same gleeful cruelty to the role as Brad Dourif, but I enjoyed his take on a slightly more modern, smart-home-enabled Chucky that just wants to be best buddies forever with Andy Barclay.

I recently watched all 7 Chucky movies in a row, so this is the 8th one I’ve seen in 2019. Amazingly, I’m not sick of this little monster yet. With that in mind, now is the perfect time to formally present the ranking I tweeted out immediately after shotgun blasting the entire series into my tired old face.

7. Seed of Chucky (2004)
This one is hard to watch now, it’s very bad and the design for Glen is awful.

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6. Bride of Chucky (1998)
I used to think Ronny Yu’s movie was good and funny, but it turns out they made the second worst Chucky movie 10 years after the original.

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5. Child’s Play 3 (1991)
This one concludes the marathon OG trilogy; it’s simply the worst of the three, which isn’t even that much of a knock. They don’t take great advantage of the military setting, and it doesn’t have the same energy established in the second movie.

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4. Cult of Chucky (2017)
If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I never would have imagined just how well Don Mancini would right the ship after Bride and Seed. This isn’t as strong as Curse, in my opinion, but I love what it sets up near the end.

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3. Curse of Chucky (2013)
This is the real return to form here. A straightforward, mean Chucky movie that gets back to the spirit of it all. Fiona Dourif is great in both this and Cult.

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Child’s Play 2 (1990)
This one got dangerously close to taking the top spot. It’s even meaner than the original, and the glee Chucky gets from his kills is at its absolute peak. One of the best slashers of the ’80s/’90s.

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Child’s Play (1988) 
You could argue with this, but you shouldn’t. The way Chucky manipulates Andy in silence for the first half is brilliant, and when it’s time for Dourif to really explode in anger and show the world what Chucky has to offer to the genre, it remains hair-raising to this day. An absolute classic.

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How’s that for a little Halloween treat!

Halloween 2019 Movies:

Sequence Break
Deadtime Stories
Hell House LLC
Body Bags
Pumpkinhead

Friday the 13th Part III

 

deadly dimensions: friday the 13th part iii

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The only thing scarier than watching 1982’s Friday the 13th Part III is watching it with 3D glasses.  Alas, I am a coward who doesn’t own any 3D glasses. What kind of movie fan am I? Thankfully, Steve Miner shot Part III in such a way that the 3D gags are so overt that you barely need the glasses to imagine a broomstick in your face, or a yo-yo dippin’ down within inches of your noggin.

Beyond being a 3D movie that put a brand new camera to use at the time—one Miner didn’t want to stop moving for even a moment throughout the shoot to great effect—Part III is notable for supplying Jason with his iconic mask. There’s something amazing about the source of his mask being the goofy-looking, perpetually single Shelly Finkelstein (Larry Zerner), who just wanted to spend his time at the cabin pranking everyone around him because he’s too awkward to socialize in any other way.

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Part III is a step down from Part II for the most part, from characters to kills, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely without its highlights. Jason seems a little wobbly—like he’s still reeling with embarrassment from the time he fell off that chair in Part II—but it’s cool to finally see him with his mask on, no matter how ill-fitting it may be at this point.

Even when this one leans on its 3D innovations, it’s still a stupid and fun Friday the 13th movie with another frantic score from Henry Manfredini. Honestly, 3D movies haven’t changed a whole lot in the past 37 years. You can still tell when they’re going for the in-your-face wow factor, even in 2D; Friday the 13th Part III is just way more honest about it.

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If you plan on popping this into your Halloween 2019 rotation, take this beleaguered blogger’s advice: Score a pair of 3D glasses first. You might want to keep a weapon handy, though, because Jason’s comin’ at ya in this one!

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Halloween 2019 Movies:

Sequence Break
Deadtime Stories
Hell House LLC
Body Bags
Pumpkinhead

macabre mythologies: pumpkinhead

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If you ever doubted that with youth comes great stupidity, allow me to teach you a brief lesson. Back in the early ’90s, when Hollywood Video and Blockbuster still flanked my neighborhood at a reasonable distance, I could usually be found trying to pick out the grodiest horror movie covers on the shelf. Eventually, I stumbled upon a recent creature feature, 1988’s Pumpkinhead. I rented it, and I recall coming away disappointed because, brace yourself, the monster didn’t actually have a pumpkin for a head.

Kids are incredibly stupid; Pumpkinhead is great.

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In one of the most straightforward tales of revenge of all time, a very backwoods Lance Henriksen’s simple life with his bespectacled, large-headed son—maybe he was the pumpkinhead all along!—comes to an end when some roustabout partiers accidentally zip one of their motorbikes right into the kid. They all bolt except for one, who pleads to Henrikson’s Ed Harley that it was all just a horrible accident.

Meanwhile, the main punk responsible for said accident is spiraling, because he’s already on probation for something similar. He ain’t goin’ down for this, which is his first mistake, because everyone knows you’re better dead than Pumpkinhead.

Beside himself with grief, Ed Harley turns to an old local legend that involves resurrecting a demon nicknamed Pumpkinhead, who will go after those you have marked until they’re all torn asunder. He visits an old witch to get the ball rolling, and she has him dig up Pumpkinhead’s dumpy little corpse and drop him off with her. After that, there’s nothing more to be done. It has begun.

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Pumpkinhead marked the directorial debut of effects master Stan Winston, which means you get to see what happens when an effects guy directs and shoots his own monsters. Pumpkinhead is smartly lit, and they show the perfect amount of it, from the cold open teaser to the violent climax. Winston’s work on Aliens definitely shows, because Pumpkinhead kind of looks like a Xenomorph whose head stopped growing in the back during puberty.

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There was one sequel, Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, which I think I braved back when it came out on video in ’94. I can’t promise I won’t watch it again since it’s on Hulu, but there’s no way I’m watching the mid 2000s made-for-TV sequels. If you’re feelin’ nasty, Scream Factory put the first movie out on Blu-ray.

Pumpkinhead is 100 percent about its legend, so you can make sequels without ever referencing previous films. It’s with that in mind that I insist someone make a new movie starring Walton Goggins in the place of a Lance Henriksen type. If I have to, I’ll pitch this to someone after I pitch my new Wishmaster movie.

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Halloween 2019 Movies:

Sequence Break
Deadtime Stories
Hell House LLC
Body Bags

thrillride three-fer: body bags

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In a perfect world, John Carpenter’s BODY BAGS would have been a five-season series that served up Showtime’s answer to HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. After all, this 1993 flick has Carpenter himself essentially playing the Cryptkeeper, complete with ridiculous puns and makeup that makes ’93 Carpenter look eerily close to 2019 Carpenter. Is his role a portent of the future, or merely a convenient way to unspool three screamin’ yarns with the bite of irony we’ve come to expect from your average horror anthology?

It should come as no surprise that Body Bags is exactly that. Now, without further ado, let’s stare right into the eyes of The Coroner as he whisks us away on a rotten roadtrip.

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Of the three stories in Body Bags, “The Gas Station” is perhaps the most viable candidate for a full-length John Carpenter feature. It all centers on a woman’s first night working the late shift at a gas station. While she’s firmly locked up within the safety of the attendant booth, her first night also coincides with the news that a notorious serial killer is still on the loose.

As each customer pulls up to fill their tank, there’s the sneaking suspicion that one of them just might be the killer. This includes a cameo by Wes Craven as “Pasty Faced Man,” and the short even ends with a very dead Sam Raimi in a role that, were I to name it, would spoil the whole thing. If Carpenter had made this into a feature, he could have spent a good amount of time playing up the paranoia that comes along with a young, attractive woman working the night shift all by herself. I’d love to have the “which weirdo is a killer” theme stretched out over the first act and a half before settling into a slasher structure. 

This doesn’t really factor into the plot at all, but I felt compelled to take a screencap of this excellent gas station bathroom stall artwork:

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Though there’s no time for true dread in something like Body Bags, there’s plenty of it to spare for Stacy Keach’s Richard in the second story, “Hair.” In this short, Keach basically plays himself, assuming he also agonized over his own thinning hair and convinced himself his girlfriend hated the fact that he was most definitely going bald. That’s the position Richard finds himself in, so he’s got major hair envy every time he walks around town. ESPECIALLY when he passes by a very luxuriously-maned Greg Nicotero as he walks his equally luxurious dog down the street.

Bubbling with frustration, Richard finally takes the plunge and signs up with a new doc in town who promises stunning results without surgery, hair plugs, or ridiculous looking toupees. Sure enough, after one night with the treatment on his scalp and a bandage wrapped around for protection, Richard wakes up to find his own Italian Stallion dreams come true.

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This is a horror anthology, though, so his flowing locks and the newfound virility that comes along with them don’t last long. Before you know it, he looks more like Danny Trejo than Stacy Keach, and he soon discovers the terrifying secret behind this particular too-good-to-be-true procedure. 

Body Bags‘ big closer is director Tobe Hooper’s “Eye,” which has Mark Hamill playing a successful and somewhat surly baseball player a decade after he capped off the first Star Wars trilogy with Return of the Jedi. Seeing Hamill in this role will make you wish he got a chance to play more intense roles outside of animation, because Brent the baseball player really flips after his eye surgery goes sideways.

The surgery in question came about after Brent crashed his car hard enough into a pole to lodge a massive shard of glass into his right eye. His career in baseball may not be over just yet, however, because one of the doctors has a new experimental surgical procedure in mind that might do the trick. All it involves is transplanting the eye of a recently deceased person and wa-lah! His colleague, Dr. Bregman—played by none other than Roger “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime” Corman—doesn’t seem as confident, but if it doesn’t work they’ll just remove the eye and go back to square one! Easy peasy. If you think this goes anything close to as planned, you’ve been sleepin’ through this whole movie.

Without getting into spoiler territory, Brent starts seeing gruesome sights with his new eye. Arms poking out of the garbage disposal, bodies emerging from the dirt in his garden below; the works. Meanwhile, his newly pregnant wife just wants him to be excited about the baby that’s on the way, but Brent ain’t havin’ it. He’s gone off the deep end, and “Eye” is all about seeing how far off he really goes.

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Body Bags is a little gem of an anthology with simple stories and entertaining payoff. Carpenter is a bizarre Cryptkeeper stand-in, but you have to love his enthusiasm and his dad jokes, which are further proof that you can’t make a narrated horror anthology wraparound without overdelivered puns. You can experience these tales from the morgue for yourself on Shudder, or you can be truly bold and pick up the Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

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Halloween 2019 Movies:

Sequence Break
Deadtime Stories
Hell House LLC