Join us as we discuss our personal picks for the best horror films of 2020 with our top ten lists.
Our trio is reunited and taking you to the drive-in again, Fright Fans! This trip’s viewing includes UNCLE PECKERHEAD and WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS, both from 2020.
With the range of topics we cover on the podcast, I can travel down some rabbit trails that find the oddities that end up being perfect fodder for this (oft neglected) blog series. May I present to you “Exhibit A”, a film I stumbled into while trying to create a starting list of Satan and satanic cult films for our “Desert Island Picks” episode of them. Though it didn’t even come close to making my list then, it hung out on my Amazon Prime queue anyway.
Devil Times Five also caught my eye for one cast member in particular, and that’s ’70s child star, Leif Garrett. As a child of the ’70s myself, I remember having one of his albums on 8-track (or one of my siblings did) that had his smash disco hit “I Was Made For Dancin'” that came out about 4 years after this film. It also includes his sister, Dawn Lyn, who would appear as his sister again in a couple other productions. So with that twinkle of nostalgia in my eye, I figured why not give it a go.
Turns out that Devil Times Five isn’t even the original title for this! On it’s initial release in 1974, it was titled PeopleToys or People Toys. On re-release in 1976, it was changed to Devil Times Five in the US and UK, and then even changed again to Tantrums for a home video release in UK. And that’s the least confusing or convoluted thing about the film and its production.
Strap in for this ride, Fright Fans.
The quick and dirty synopsis of this delight is that a van loaded with what turns out to be five kids from a pediatric sanitarium crashes in the remote and soon to be snowbound woods. Not everything is revealed about the kids from the start, but you learn right off the bat that Brian (Tierre Turner) has a delusion of being a military commander and can’t actually tell when people are dead. Seriously, he says, “They’re all dead,” to Moe (Dawn Lyn), Susan (Tia Thompson), and “Sister Hannah” (Gail Smale), only to have David (Leif Garrett) stumble out without a mark on him two minutes later. The doctor who was driving comes crawling out of the wreckage not long after the kids have fled.
As for the victims, I mean other cast of characters, Rick (Taylor Lacher) is a doctor and the boyfriend of Julie (Joan McCall), the daughter of “Papa Doc”(Gene Evans), a gruff asshole who owns several medical facilities, including a new sanitarium that Rick is aiming for the director position of. But Rick has competition from Harvey Beckman (Sorrell Booke), who has a hard time standing up for himself, especially when he keeps getting savagely cut off at the knees by his perpetually drunk wife, Ruth (Shelley Morrison). Pour another glass for Lovely (Carolyn Stellar), Papa Doc’s gold-digging wife, as she spreads her own discontent about the scene as well. The six of them are spending a weekend at Papa Doc’s winter lodge, along with the mentally challenged caretaker, Ralph (John Durren). Ralph even talks to his small herd of rabbits.
Yes. … They went there.
The kids find the lodge and break into the wine cellar. Following their trail through the snow, the doctor finds them, only to be dispatched in a gratuitous slow motion, sepia-toned scene of slaughter that drags out for over 2 minutes. Meanwhile, around that same time, Lovely is trying to bed Ralph, who misses every single hint, no matter how blunt. But when Julie walks in on this stunted attempt at seduction, she and Lovely have an argument that quickly devolves into one of the tamest “cat fights” to come out of ’70s cinema.
The kids are found (or reveal themselves) to the other occupants of the lodge, with most of them taking pity on their plight. From here, it’s a steady progression of the kids getting creepier and the adults getting deader, so I won’t go into those details because I don’t want to spoil some of the better parts of this good-bad film.
But what I will go into is some of the batshit craziness that happened behind the camera! Such as rumors that director Sean MacGregor was having a relationship with under-aged actress Gail Smale during the production, and that the reason her character was dressed as a nun was to conceal her albinism. From there, we have tales of MacGregor and producer Michael Blowitz getting physical with each other. MacGregor reportedly punched Blowitz in the face, and Blowitz threw MacGregor through a plate glass window in reply. Add to that that MacGregor was pulled from the film 2/3 of the way in because his work was deemed unusable, and David Sheldon was brought on to finish the film. To cap off MacGregor’s saga, it’s also reported he was admitted to an actual psychiatric hospital shortly after he left the production.
As for other endearing errors within the film itself, play a drinking game for each time Leif wears a wig because he had had his hair cut short for another film he started working on when he was brought back for reshoots. I would say you could do a drinking game around how often night immediately turns to day (or vice versa) or when the snow levels change outside, but I respect your respective livers far too much to abuse you like that.
Jenny was out with illness (Not COVID!), so Chris and Joe bring to you a slew of streaming recommendations. (Apologies for the quality on this one. Between recording apps and internet issues, we lost a bit of the conversation.)
Letterboxd Companion List: https://boxd.it/aUPu0
Returning with our first episode of 2021, we revisit the “Desert Island Picks” series and choose our five horror sequels we wouldn’t mind being stranded with.
Letterboxd Companion List: https://boxd.it/aPhIi
Hey there, Fright Fans! Our holiday hiatus has ended, and we are returning to your ears shortly. The good news for you? We already have a packed line-up of episodes planned for the remainder of January, starting this Sunday with our next installment in the “Desert Island Picks” series. It’s Jenny’s pick for this month, and she choice movie sequels. Be on the look out for that one to drop on Sunday night or early Monday morning (depending on where you are) next week.
As for the rest of the month, we will be bringing current recommendations for Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, and Shudder with “Streaming Screams”, a Drive-In Double Feature (also Jenny’s pick), and then wrapping things up with our recap of the best of 2020, including our personal top ten horror film picks.
Thanks again for listening, and be sure to check out the “Podcast Macabre 2021 Horror Challenge” over on Letterboxd that is now underway!
Letterboxd Challenge Link: https://boxd.it/94YJU
To wrap up 2020, we wandered into the wilds of early ’80s Wisconsin, with alcohol in hand, to provide a commentary track for the whacky no-budget slasher BLOOD BEAT. Enjoy!
Episode 242 – Mystical Boinging With Moist Squelching
It’s Joe’s pick for this round of Drive-In Double Feature, and he went with the underseen and hard to find picks of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995) and THE UGLY (1997). To help the curious, we made notes of when we start and end the spoiler talk for each. Get crazy!
In The Mouth Of Madness:
Non-Spoiler talk – 28:47
Spoiler talk – 42:00
Non-Spoiler talk – 55:25
Spoiler talk – 1:07:40
The Podcast Macabre 2021 Horror Challenge: https://boxd.it/94YJU
This round of “Desert Island Picks” has us picking our six (not five, get it?) satanic themed films to be stranded with. (Our recording server on Discord lagged on us a few times. We tried our best to clean it up, but apologies for any choppy spots.)
Episode 240 – Desert Island Picks: Satanic Panic
“They’re totally naked! You can see everything!!!”
Yes. To a pubescent boy (that boy being me), this movie was a holy grail back in the video era. You heard about it from older guys or siblings. You saw the magazine up on the top shelf in the supermarket, next to the tattoo periodicals and “naughty” books. And those rumors, suggestions, and even possible exaggerations (who cared!) lead me and my buddies to hunt this film down.
Following its theatrical release in 1981, Heavy Metal was only available on cable channels, once in a blue moon. It was usually HBO or Cinemax that would have it, and we would scour the monthly program guide when it arrived to see if it was in the rotation. Thing was, I did not grow up with cable. I lived in the rural area just outside of town, and this was also a few years before my grandfather got an 8 foot parabolic satellite dish that opened up sooooo many worlds for me. So it fell upon one of my best friends, Doug, who had cable, to help plan for the right night for a sleepover at his place so we could view this elusive creature at last.
By now, it’s at least two to three years since Heavy Metal was in theaters, and it was steadily gaining cult notoriety and might be found on a low quality bootleg as the home VHS market was starting. The soundtrack was released on LP and cassette in 1981, and even that was a hard find. But Doug and I finally found a night to catch this unicorn on late night Cinemax. Cue us staying up until 1:30 AM, sitting close to the TV with the volume down, as the epic opening segment “Soft Landing” begins. . . . Then cue us falling asleep before the end of “Den”.
I know, a less than epic conclusion to that chapter, right?
Now fast forward to 1996. Legal issues with rights holders for the music in the film bogged down any plans for re-releasing anything related to the film in the new media formats of CDs and VHS. But by luck, perseverance, and the work of Kevin Eastman (aka the co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), the soundtrack was released on CD in 1995 and the film officially on VHS in 1996. And you know damn well I got a copy as soon as they hit the stores.
My pre-teen quest was finally finished in my mid-twenties. I had on my shelf the film of my hormonal desires at last. And a part of me is actually glad it took me that long to see it because it gave me time and life experience to appreciate the film for what it is and who helped create it versus just thinking “Boobs!”
The opening segment of “Soft Landing” was based on a comic written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Return of The Living Dead, Dead & Buried). Featuring songs from The Riggs and Sammy Hagar, it was the perfect set up for the feast of hard rock and animation that would continue throughout. The mix of rotoscope style animation and traditional styles came about from hiring the work out to multiple studios to expedite production.
That opener flows seamlessly into “Grimaldi,” the wrap-around tale that introduces us to the unnamed daughter of the astronaut and the McGuffin of the film, The Loc-Nar, voiced by the legendary Percy Rodriguez (think of any film trailer from the 70s and early 80s, and you know his voice).
The first tale the Loc-Nar tells of those who seek its power is “Harry Canyon,” written by Daniel Goldberg and Len Blum, based off The Long Tomorrow by Moebius. In this wonderful future-noir tale, the animators do a fine job of mimicking Moebius’s style. Whenever I here Journey’s “Open Arms,” this segment always pops into my head.
The tales shift from noir to now (or 1981 now) as we meet “Den,” the titular tennage nerd (David Ellis Norman) from Richard Corben’s comic. In a freak storm that involves the Loc-Nar, Den is zapped from our world into another dimension and becomes older and buff as hell in the process while still being voiced by John Candy. This one was hilarious, gory, and just fun in so many ways.
Continuing in the vein of dark humor, we return to space and arrive at the trial of “Captain Strenn.” Loving all things Bernie Wrightson, I’ve always had a lot of love for this one since the character of Captain Lincoln F. Strenn is his creation, and, again, the animators do a decent job of striving towards his style. When Sternn’s chief “character witness” of Hannover Fiste takes the stand, all hell (and the space station) breaks loose. Legend Eugene Levy voices Strenn, and Rodger Bumpass (the voice of Squidward!) is Fiste. Adding Cheap Trick’s “Reach Out and Take It” is just a cherry on the sundae.
Hands down, “B-17” is the best blend of the animation, the story, and the music in the film for me. Maybe I’m just biased because I love World War II stuff, I like reanimated corpses, and Don Felder’s “Take A Ride (Heavy Metal)” is just a damn good song. You be the judge.
“So Beautiful, So Deadly” makes me laugh every time and makes me think they raided the SCTV cast for half of the voice talent in this. John Candy, Eugene Levy, and Harold Ramis all show up in this one. Just remember: Always go for broke with the nyborg, man.
Last but far from least, we are given the the longest segment of the film, “Taarna.” Featuring the last of the Taarakians, Taarna is seen in all her powerful glory on the poster. The sole survivor of a warrior race, she is summoned by an elaborate ritual to help a city under siege, only to find the enter city has been slaughtered by a band of raiders that were empowered and resurrected from a lava flow created by the Loc-Nar. Epic battles and epic tunes ensue (including “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” by Blue Oyster Cult), bringing the saga to a conclusion. . . . Or does it?
Surprises await the viewer and the Loc-Nar in the closing segment of the wrap around, and we exit on a happier, hopeful note.
Is there a film you searched for in your youth? Something you saw on the store shelf but missed out on? Just remember, Fright Fans: Never give up the hunt. Because when you finally find it, and night can be your Friday night at the video store.