neck-checking nasties: invaders from mars

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There are a lot of movies from my childhood that stand out just based on how much they scared me at the time. One of the most rewatched freakout flicks for me was Tobe Hooper’s 1986 take on Invaders from Mars. To this day it very much remains a “you probably had to be five when it came out” movie, but those memories are still vivid and easily poked and prodded.

Like Ghostbusters and the Large Marge scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, this was a movie I had to make myself watch over and over to zap away its power to scare me. I used to be convinced those big, lumbering Martian monsters would come trundling through my door at any second whenever I watched it, and I’m still not entirely sure they won’t!

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Watching this again for the first time in ages was mostly a nostalgia trip. From the moment, ahem, DAVID GARDNER!! sees his teacher eat a frog to the swirling sand traps and the furious underground invasion in the third act, Hooper’s movie is all about stoking childhood paranoia. It reinforces the thought that something about your parents, your teachers, and everyone else in your life isn’t quite right. Maybe they know something you don’t, or maybe there’s something else cooking under it all that proves every adult around you is a dang ALIEN.

Hunter Carson should have gotten an award for best child actor that year. Just look at the way he reacts to all the horrific sights in this film! I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that no one told him he was filming a movie. This is the face of someone who believes it all, just like I did over three decades ago.

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So, is Invaders from Mars a classic? It depends on who you ask. I still think it’s pretty fun, but I also still have the same diseased brain as that five-year-old kid who grew up watching a ton of weird shit on TV.

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Halloween 2019 Movies:

1. Sequence Break
2. Deadtime Stories
3. Hell House LLC
4. Body Bags
5. Pumpkinhead
6. Friday the 13th Part III
7. Child’s Play 2019
8. Ghoulies II
9. Satanic Panic
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
11. Demons
12. You’re Next
13. Frankenstein
14. The Ranger
15. The Fly
16. Train to Busan
17. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
18. Army of Darkness
19. Lake Mungo
20. Popcorn
21. Beyond the Gates

vhs visions: beyond the gates

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Back when I started the month off with Graham Skipper’s Sequence Break, I mentioned that I preferred the movie he starred in rather than the movie he directed. Jackson Stewart’s 2016 indie Beyond the Gates isn’t anything groundbreaking or amazing, but there’s something I dig about its endearingly awkward crack at ’80s VHS board game nostalgia.

In Beyond the Gates, Skipper plays Gordon, who meets up with his estranged brother John (Chase Williamson) to sort through his missing father’s old video store and put a bow on some family matters. In the process they find an old VHS board game called Beyond the Gates, and together with Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant), they fire it up and dive headfirst into its sinister trappings.

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At the heart of the game is a mysterious woman played by Barbara Crampton (From BeyondRe-Animator), who beckons them to dive deeper, even when the path to saving their father comes at the cost of a handful of innocent lives along the way. The deaths are few and far between but goofily gory, and the music plays on the faux video nostalgia that drives the project.

The end result doesn’t really attempt to hide how cheap it is, but it still looks better than a lot of its contemporaries. The performances are fine, and there’s just enough weirdness under the skin to make it interesting. I like Beyond the Gates enough to own it, even if I find it difficult to classify why, exactly, it’s better than something like Sequence Break or Satanic Panic. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it also doesn’t play ironically, so I’ll chalk it up to the dopey earnestness of it all.

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I love that Crampton is the only person featured on the poster despite the fact that she only exists on a small black and white tube TV for the entirety of the runtime.

Halloween 2019 Movies:

1. Sequence Break
2. Deadtime Stories
3. Hell House LLC
4. Body Bags
5. Pumpkinhead
6. Friday the 13th Part III
7. Child’s Play 2019
8. Ghoulies II
9. Satanic Panic
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
11. Demons
12. You’re Next
13. Frankenstein
14. The Ranger
15. The Fly
16. Train to Busan
17. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
18. Army of Darkness
19. Lake Mungo
20. Popcorn

showtime shocker: popcorn

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One of the thrilling prospects of horror movies is the thought that you’re always one movie away from discovering some gem you can’t believe you’ve never seen before. For me, Popcorn—a 1991 slasher flick directed by Mark Herrier—is exactly the type of movie I’m hoping I’ll come across at any given moment.

Jill Schoelen plays Maggie Butler, a film student who keeps having these bizarre dreams about a young girl being chased by a maniacal man. She hopes to turn it into a movie some day, but in the meantime she and the rest of her class need to raise some money for their struggling film department. Their big plan involves hosting the ultimate horror movie all-nighter, complete with gimmicks for each showing and plenty of crowd-pleasing special effects to go along with them.

Once the big night arrives, it soon becomes apparent that a twisted killer is on the loose in the theater, and this story collides in a major way with the very dreams that have been both plaguing and inspiring Maggie. Who is THE POSSESSOR, and what does he have to do with Maggie and her mom (Dee Wallace)?!

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Much like the all-nighter itself, Popcorn is a crowd pleaser through and through. I imagine this one plays really well with an amped crowd at a movie marathon, so if you can get some other folks together to watch it with you, definitely do so. No matter how you see it, though, Popcorn is a ton of fun nearly 30 years after its initial debut.

You can find this one online if you’re so inclined. If you dig it, though, Synapse Films put out a collector’s edition Blu-ray a couple years ago, which is something I might have to pick up down the line for the new scan and special features alone.

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Halloween 2019 Movies:

1. Sequence Break
2. Deadtime Stories
3. Hell House LLC
4. Body Bags
5. Pumpkinhead
6. Friday the 13th Part III
7. Child’s Play 2019
8. Ghoulies II
9. Satanic Panic
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
11. Demons
12. You’re Next
13. Frankenstein
14. The Ranger
15. The Fly
16. Train to Busan
17. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
18. Army of Darkness
19. Lake Mungo

deadly downer: lake mungo

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Unlike the movie itself, this is going to be a quick one. Full disclosure: Before choosing to watch 2008’s Lake Mungo, I couldn’t remember which movie with Lake in the title was supposed to be the really good one. It was either this or Lake Bodom, and I just went with this one because it was right before me on a streaming service I can’t recall at the moment. Not that both aren’t acclaimed depending on who you ask, but I’m going to go ahead and guess that I didn’t choose the right one.

Lake Mungo is kind of an interesting take on the traditional ghost story in some ways. It depicts a family as they attempt to recover from the untimely death of their daughter, but certain phenomena allude to the fact that she might not be as gone as they suspect. There’s spooky home video footage, abundant apparitions, and even a séance, all suspended beneath the conceit of a documentary feature. It has its moments, but for the most part I found my interest and my patience waning.

That’s not to say some folks out there won’t love it. If you like the faux documentary angle and aren’t tired exploring the potentially supernatural, it’s out there for you to discover. I’ll also go ahead and tease that it is far from the worst movie I watched this month. Stay tuned!

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Halloween 2019 Movies:

1. Sequence Break
2. Deadtime Stories
3. Hell House LLC
4. Body Bags
5. Pumpkinhead
6. Friday the 13th Part III
7. Child’s Play 2019
8. Ghoulies II
9. Satanic Panic
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
11. Demons
12. You’re Next
13. Frankenstein
14. The Ranger
15. The Fly
16. Train to Busan
17. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
18. Army of Darkness

medieval mayhem: army of darkness

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Time is already a tenuous construct as it is, and after shotgunning a ton of movies this month it’s even less of a factor in my life. With that said, at some point this month I watched Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness on my friend’s projector, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing it for the first time probably since it first hit home video. It’s not quite at the level of Evil Dead 2 for me as far as this series goes, but there are a few things I forgot about that are even more entertaining to me today.

First of all, rewatching this 1993 entry just a few weeks after watching (almost all of) Ash vs. Evil Dead was a trip. Bruce Campbell is so young in these movies, and pulls off an amazing combination of effortlessly cool and colossally stupid. I actually forgot just how Looney Tunes Army of Darkness gets at times, which is never on display more boldly than during the extended battle against Ash’s tiny doppelgangers.

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That second act sequence is just the starting point for when this movie goes completely bonkers. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated that or the stop-motion skeleton hijinks more than I did during this viewing, and I don’t doubt that I’ll be watching it again sooner rather than later.

This time around I watched the director’s cut, which was a tough choice to make. I like both endings equally, but now I want to go back and check out the theatrical cut again. There are some other cuts on Scream Factory’s excellent collector’s edition Blu-ray set, which I highly recommend picking up. As many times as they’ve reissued this movie, I can’t imagine there being a more definitive version down the line as we enjoy what will likely be the last major physical media format.

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Halloween 2019 Movies:

1. Sequence Break
2. Deadtime Stories
3. Hell House LLC
4. Body Bags
5. Pumpkinhead
6. Friday the 13th Part III
7. Child’s Play 2019
8. Ghoulies II
9. Satanic Panic
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
11. Demons
12. You’re Next
13. Frankenstein
14. The Ranger
15. The Fly
16. Train to Busan
17. Halloween III: Season of the Witch