What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984)

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“We all have our personal horror stories to tell.

May yours never be as devastating as Miss Helen Black’s.”

Well, as long as I don’t live a repressed life and pick up a random Rick James puppet from a thrift store, I think I’ll be good!

Seriously though, this is another one of those films you hear about on “so bad it’s good” lists or by word of mouth from friends that like oddball, low-budget films. And I can definitely declare that Chester N. Turner’s Black Devil Doll From Hell falls into both categories for me.

Released in 1984 after being filmed over several years on a budget of about $10,000, this felt like a labor of love to me on some levels. In comparison to stuff like Birdemic that is just so bad it’s truly bad, you get the impression that the folks behind this were actually trying to give it their best effort with what they had available. Turner even took a correspondence course on film making before starting this production. Originally intended to be part of an anthology film (Tales From The Quadead Zone, Turner’s only other film), the script ended up being too big to be just a short. So why not whip out the camcorder and the Casio keyboard (what better way to write and perform your own score and soundtrack) and make a feature-length film out of it?

Our story is that of Miss Helen Black, a devout and pure woman saving herself for marriage. One day she enters an antique shop and notices a ventriloquist dummy sporting impressive cornrow braids (which actually were inspired by Rick James). The shopkeeper warns her that the dummy’s original owner was “an East Indian” and that the doll grants the owner’s “most heartfelt desire”. She also tells Helen that she has sold the doll 4 times already, but each time the doll somehow finds its way back to the shop.

After purchasing the doll and getting home with it, Helen takes a shower with the doll sitting on the toilet. That’s when the puppet wakes and uses its apparently telekinetic powers to slowly slide open the shower curtain and get a gander at a wet, soapy, and suddenly aroused Helen!

Confused by these feelings, Helen decides to sleep on it, only to have some rather dark erotic dreams featuring the puppet. After a bit of “How’d you get over there?!?” with the puppet moving around on its own, it jumps her after another shower (just like in the dream!) and knocks her out cold. Waking up later, confused and tied to the bed, Helen is raped by the puppet. The effect this assault has on her is to awaken her repressed sexual desires to the point of her begging to be fucked by the puppet. (Funny outtake: The puppet’s head popped off during the filming of the sex scenes. Talk about getting a little head!)

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“I said, WAKE UP, BITCH!!” – The Puppet

The next day, the puppet is nowhere to be found. Cue a montage of Helen cleaning her house for the next several minutes. Sure, she can clean her house, but she can never clean this stain upon her soul. In wanton desperation to satisfy her new-found lust, she invites in a street hustler she had ignored and rebuked the day before. But even his mighty and sweaty hip action cannot satisfy her. This bit made me think Turner was probably influenced some by the classic adult film The Devil In Miss Jones, where a repressed virgin is introduced to sex and depravity after death and is eventually condemned to a Hell where she cannot get any sexual gratification, no matter how much she pleads or begs. Following the disappointing sex and Helen telling him, “Just finish up, and get the hell out”, we are given the most terrifying moment of the movie: A full-frame close-up of the street hustler giving us his “O” face. **shudder**

As with any possessed doll movie, you know things ain’t gonna end well for Helen. Granted the real life happy ending for Shirley L. Jones, who played Helen, is that she ended up marrying the director after the production was completed.

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Helen has literally fucked with this puppet for the last time . . . 

The cut I watched was just over 90 minutes on Shudder. There is a VHS cut out there that was butchered down to 70 minutes by Hollywood Home Video without Turner’s input after they had picked it up for distribution. Granted, I can see where many things could be trimmed here and there throughout, but it’s still kinda shitty to cut a person’s film without them. There remains the look and feel of having just popped in a much-loved videotape, complete with tracking distortions and warbles throughout. Given the content of the movie, by the end I felt like someone had meant to give me their home movie but accidentally gave me one of their home-made soft core fetish porn tapes instead!

Until next time, Fright Fans, keep it weird and keep watching!

[Film Review] CARGO (2018)

By Joe Meyers

Directed by: Ben Howling, and Yolanda Ramke
Written by: Yolanda Ramke

Starring:
Martin Freeman
Anthony Hayes
Caren Pistorius
David Gulpilil
Susie Porter
Kris McQuade
Bruce R. Carter
Natasha Wanganeen
Simone Landers

Release Date: 5/18/2018, Netflix

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In 2013, Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke gave us their exceptional short film CARGO, written by Ramke, about a father trying to find a safe place for his infant daughter, while he was in the midst of turning into a zombie. It premiered at the Tropfest short film festival, becoming a finalist, before going viral on YouTube. On May 18th, 2018 Howling and Ramke’s feature length version of this story, starring Martin Freeman, premiered on Netflix. Expanding a short film idea into a feature can be tricky. We’ve seen it done fairly well in recent years by the likes of LIGHTS OUT, and THE BABADOOK. I’m happy to say CARGO joins those movies as one that works, as Howling and Ramke manage to give us a film that’s equally good as a zombie movie, infection outbreak movie, a post-apocalyptic movie, and a drama.

The film begins as Andy (Martin Freeman), Kay (Susie Porter), and their infant daughter Rosie are surviving the zombie outbreak by living on a houseboat and traveling down a river in Australia hoping to find a safe and secure area. Without going into a full on exposition about the reason for the rise of the zombies, we discover the outbreak has been going on for some time, once infected via a bite you only have 48 hours before you die and turn, and world’s scientists weren’t able to come up with a cure. They did, however, manufacture medical kits for the pandemic that included a digital watch to count down your remaining 48 hours, and a cylinder that has a pneumatic spike for piercing the skull and killing the brain, among other items. Unfortunate events lead to Kay turning into a zombie, and Andy being bitten by her. He spends his next 48 hours trying to find a new, safe home for Rosie before he succumbs to the virus. In another plot running parallel to Andy and Rosie’s adventures, an Aboriginal girl named Thoomi, played wonderfully by newcomer Simone Landers, is trying to protect her zombiefied father. She believes that his spirit/soul can be returned to his body and he would be cured. Her father escapes the area she kept him in and this is the catalyst for Andy and Thoomi to meet, pushing events to their climax as Andy’s 48 hours run out.

I thought the film’s version of zombies was very well done. The way they move is creepy, it seems like they tried to make it grounded in a real world kind of way, and the way the virus works as it turns someone is unsettling. One scene in particular that occurs while Andy is nearing the end of his 48 hours stuck with me since my viewing of CARGO last week. However, I will warn you the zombies are used sparingly throughout the movie. Being set in the Australian outback, Andy and Thoomi aren’t dealing with a densely populated area teeming with the undead.

At its heart, CARGO is about family trying to protect its own in the midst of trying to cope in a world undergoing a total, societal breakdown. A great premise, spot on acting, a good script, and a wonderful job by two first time, feature film directors makes CARGO worth the time investment for a viewing. It’s a slow burn, zombie drama that feels like the offspring of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, and THE DEAD, a 2010 zombie film directed by the Ford Brothers. CARGO is a great addition to the genre, like recent zombie films THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, and TRAIN TO BUSAIN.

Episode 138 – Deadly Decades: The Thrilling Thirties

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We give our individual top ten horror film flicks from the 1930’s in this installment of “Deadly Decades”. Enjoy!

Episode 138 – Deadly Decades: The Thrilling Thirties

Edit: As promised, here’s the Letterboxd list of all of our picks.
Episode 138 – Deadly Decades: The Thrilling Thirties (The Letterboxd List)

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Evils Of The Night (1985)

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(Be warned, dear readers. Ahead there be plenty of spoilers.)

The short and sweet premise for this slice of aged cheddar written and directed by Mohammed “Mardi” Rustam out of the glorious 1980’s is a group of aliens are kidnapping teens and co-eds between the ages of 16 and 24 to harvest their platelets to use in a scheme for maintaining their immortality. So I guess Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce wasn’t the only “space vampire” movie to come out in ’85, eh?

Admittedly, the poster for this one caught my attention while perusing the listings on Amazon Prime in preparation for our latest Streaming Screams episode. The one shared above is actually toned down when compared to the others that have her nipples standing out like thimbles. Then I read the cast list, and it sounded like the casting director was playing one of the weirdest games of Mad Libs ever. Check this list out:

  • John Carridine (aged film legend of many a horror and sci-fi film)
  • Julie Newmar (Cat Woman herself!)
  • Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan’s Island)
  • Neville Brand (Sadly, his last film role. I always loved him in Tora!Tora!Tora!. He was also in Mohammed “Mardi” Rustam’s Eaten Alive! in 1976.)
  • Aldo Ray (A talented character actor I remember best as Sgt. Muldoon in John Wayne’s The Green Berets.)
  • Tony O’Dell (One of the Cobra Kai members in The Karate Kid)

But even after this incredibly odd list, one name truly caught my attention: Amber Lynn.

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You see, Miss Lynn is an adult film star who played a prominent role in my adolescent development. To put it another way: She was the star of one of the first porn films I ever saw. And Evils Of The Night was made during the prime of her very active career. Along with Miss Lynn, there are a few other adult film actors and actresses who appear. Trust me: Watch the movie, and you can spot them. Or just cheat and use IMDb. The rest of the cast is a bunch of actors who only did one or two things, if any, after this. But back to discussing the film . . .

Within the first 10 minutes, you know exactly what you will be getting with this one. You have a space ship landing and two couples making out in the woods somewhere, oblivious to anything but gettin’ it on and smoking the devil’s weed. The more amorous of the two couples (who also happen be played by two of the aforementioned adult film stars) quickly strip down and get down. While the guy is standing with his back to a tree and has his girl bent over and facing the other way, a rope is wrapped around his neck. It’s kind like auto-erotic asphyxiation, but there is no auto or erotic to it.

At first you may believe that both couples have been killed off, but wait! They have only been incapacitated by Kurt (Brand) and Fred (Ray), the guys from the local gas station that have been recruited by the aliens to kidnap specimens for them.

Cut to Dr. Kozmar (Carridine), Dr. Zarma (Newmar), and Cora (Louise), the alien scientists, standing around one of the young bodies being drained of platelets as Dr. Kozmar gives a wonderful bit of brief exposition that felt like it was lifted straight from a classic sci-fi film of the 50’s. Nearly reminded me of some of the bits from Plan 9 From Outer Space but done better.

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Billy (O’Dell) makes for an escape but gets blasted by one of the high-heeled guards using a ray-gun ring. One the same guards that we just saw groping at each other for no discernible reason in the hall after taking one of the gurneys from Kurt and Fred. The outfits on the guards really are impressive.

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Wishing I found a better picture for the full effect. This is when the thigh groping is going on.

Without further ado, we jump to the next day and a beach party full of co-eds, various levels of clothing, and generic 80’s synth pop/rock music. The hair, the make-up, the music, the clothes, all of it cements what decade this film is in. Another product of that era that somehow slipped my mind is a term I haven’t used in years: Preppies. Every guy in this falls firmly into that little category.

As the night falls, some think of camping out while most of them head off for making out. The song made for the following scene felt like a total rip-off of any popular duet love song of the era, but the use of it felt even stranger as they cut back and forth between Ron and Nancy, the engaged and tender couple, and Eddie and Joyce (Lynn), rutting like dogs in heat in an abandoned house. Seriously about the dog part. Eddie gives Joyce one of the most gratuitous tongue baths you’ll ever see.

Some of them are kidnapped by good old Kurt and Fred, and this leads to one of the more laughable moments for me. After Ron wakes up half-dressed in the back of Kurt and Fred’s truck, he stands up, looks at them coming at him, and calmly asks “Hey. What’s going on?” right before they try to grab him and he finally gets a clue to run!

During that same night, the remaining trio of Heather, Connie, and Brian, are all kidnapped in one way or another as well. Connie did try to escape during her abduction. An escape attempt that included some of the most polite terrorized door knocking I’ve ever seen. Sadly for her she was knocking on Cora’s door.

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Connie, Brian, and Heather are in a bit of a pickle.

Nancy works on her own escape from the hospital the aliens are using as a base, and the trio are tied up in the basement of Kurt and Fred’s gas station. As Heather gets free of her bonds, Kurt comes down with plans to molest Connie before handing them over to the aliens. During her struggle to get out of the basement, Heather and Kurt end up doing a tag team reenactment of Driller Killer with Heather on the losing end. Connie then manages to get free and clocks Kurt with a wrench. You know, the wrench you see her grab when she sits on the floor and then has to reach behind and pick up again even though she hadn’t dropped it?

Connie gets up stairs and takes out Kurt with a car from the lift, crushing him, but Fred returns and beats her and ties her up for killing his best friend. Nancy arrives just in time to save Connie from a coup de grace by blasting an air hose in Fred’s right ear. A blast so strong that blood sprays out his left ear. …. Yeah.

Anywho, while Fred runs after an escaping Heather for several more minutes, the aliens decide to cut their losses and leave, and Brian finally gets his shit together and gets out his bonds and the basement. As Brian battles with Fred to save himself and Nancy, the departing alien ship blasts Fred with a laser to tie up a loose end. Credits.

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Aldo Ray (Fred) gets killed by a ray.

I noticed I was getting a bit long-winded in my review here, so I did leave out some of the other gem moments in this. If you are a fan of cheesy, drive-in films, this one should be right up your alley. It felt like it was a beta version of something you’d find on Cinemax now, and I would love to see this done in a kind of “MST3K After Dark” style. That really needs to be a thing.

Until next time, Fright Fans, keep it weird and keep watching!

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Baghead (2008)

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[A quick preface of concept before the real post begins.

I feel that I’m known by my friends, family, and our listeners to be the guy that will watch all sorts of obscure, foreign, and/or indie films. With that in mind, I’m launching a regular series for our web page here where I’ll chat about something I’ve recently watched for the first time that fits the bill. All films discussed in the series will be things off the beaten path for most folks but may be familiar fare for others. Either way, enjoy the ride. Feedback is always welcome, too.

… Let’s begin.]

You know how you scroll through the catalog on a streaming service (Shudder in this case) and add a bunch of stuff to your queue just because it sounds interesting? But then you never get around to watching some of those selections until said streaming service says the movies will be dropping from the site soon? C’mon, we all suffer from this malady. Right?

Anyway, such a notice prompted to finally settle in and watch The Duplass Brothers’ Baghead. Released in 2008, the film made its world premiere at The Sundance Film Festival. The story centers around four friends who want to make their own independent film to make the jump to stardom from their current status of playing extras.

The film opens with Matt (Ross Partridge), Chad (Steve Zissis), Catherine (Elise Muller), and Michelle (Greta Gerwig) sitting through a screening of a rather pretentious art house/indie short film created by a friend of Matt’s, Jett Garner (playing himself). Inspired by Jett’s work or spurred on by jealousy, the quartet retreat to a remote Californian cabin to hammer out a script of their own that they can star in.

The brainstorming session devolves into something similar to any group project I saw in college (complete with note cards!), and ideas are supported or shat upon, depending on who brought it forward and who is trying to sleep with who. I guess I should say at this time that Matt and Catherine have an on-again-off-again history, and Chad has a crush on Michelle. Michelle likes Chad, too . . .  but like a brother. After much alcohol and little progress, the group heads to bed.

Manipulations continue when everyone gets up in the morning, and Matt presents the brilliant idea to do a horror film featuring a killer who wears a paper bag on his head. Simple yet effective. But as the day leads into night, a new mystery arises after someone wearing a bag on their head scares Michelle in her room. Finger pointing ensues, and concerns grow that they may not be alone in the woods after all.

After watching this, I can see some of the foundations being laid for the future films of Mark and Jay Duplass, namely Creep and Creep 2. Besides the cabin used in this reminding me a lot of the one in Creep 2, the documentary/found footage style shown here becomes further refined in those films. Even though Baghead isn’t a documentary or found footage movie, the handheld shooting and incredibly intimate camera work makes it feel almost like a documentary. Add to this the natural, improvised feel of most of the dialogue and interactions and the dark humor, and you definitely have the template The Duplass Brothers evolved the Creep films from.

While I did clue into where the ending was heading (keeping things mostly spoiler-free in these reviews), it still worked for me. I must add, though, that one of the funniest moments in the movie for me involved one of the most epic wanking interruptions ever. Seriously, I almost did a spit-take across my laptop screen!

An added bonus of this film is the “Hey! Isn’t That ______??” component you can get with many indie films. Besides Ross Partridge (Matt), who is now known to most folks as Will Byers’s deadbeat dickhead of a dad, Lenny, on Stranger Things, we also are treated to Greta Gerwig, before Francis Ha. …. Excuse me. I should have said Golden Globe and  Oscar nominee (screenplay and directing) for 2017’s Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig.

All in all, I recommend giving Baghead a viewing if you are a fan of the Creep movies. Or even if you’re not a fan of them. Whatever your bag is, man.

Until next time, Fright Fans, keep it weird and keep watching!

Episode 129 – I Assure You, We’re Open!

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And we are suppose to be here today! After a tech issue imposed hiatus, Chris, Joe, and Jenny have returned with a ton of news items, some talk about the season premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead and mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead, and we give a review of the new Netflix film, The Ritual.

Episode 129 – I Assure You, We’re Open!