Archive for the ‘Nineties’ Category

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Rusty Cundieff is not a name you’d associate with horror as he’s a man primarily known for his work on Chappelle’s Show, but in 1995, Cundieff directed a delightful horror anthology entitled, Tales From the Hood.

Tales From the Hood contains four segments centred around racism, police-brutality, gang violence, and domestic abuse presented in a wraparound story by an eccentric funeral parlour director to three drug-dealers looking to, “score some shit.”
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Despite containing some mature subject matter, Tales From the Hood is a lot of fun, and unlike many of the films we’ve taken a look at this month it delivers its scares via the harsh truths that surround us in society, rather than the things that go bump in the night.

It’s not a particularly easy film to find considering the HBO, DVD has been out of print for years, and Universal Pictures who currently holds the distribution rights has no plans of re-releasing it.

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I love Clive Barker. There’s something about the man’s seamless blend of the morbid, and erotic that I’ve always been attracted to.

Hellraiser was one of the first true horror movies I watched as a child, and I still remember the experience vividly. Sneaking out from my bed, and creeping downstairs. Peeking out from behind the wall that separated the living room from the entryway in my childhood home, and listening to the blood-curdling screams as a leather-bound man with pins embedded in his head summoned chains from the pits of hell to dismember those unfortunate enough to stumble upon the gateway to his realm. I instantly fell in love, and peed a little, but mostly the love.

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It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered Nightbreed, an adaptation of his horror-fantasy novel Cabal that was released in 1990.

The film nightbreed2follows Aaron Boone, a mentally unstable man who dreams of a supernatural world that exists within a cemetery called Midian, and is led to believe by his psychotherapist, (David Cronenberg in a thoroughly terrifying role) to be the serial killer responsible for the murders of several families. After escaping Doctor Philip Decker, (who we soon discover is the serial killer, surprise, surprise) Boone takes refuge in Midian, and discovers its denizens are an ancient race known as the Nightbreed who were driven to near extinction by humans. Once there he must lead the Nightbreed in a defence against Dr. Decker who intends to destroy them all.

Nightbreed is another example of  studio mistreatment, in this case 20th Century Fox. The studio barely promoted the film, and much to Barker’s chagrin, released a handful of misleading posters, and trailers that marketed the film as a slasher, and not the unique horror-fantasy that it was. They also refused to screen it for test-audiences, and critics, arguing that the people who watch horror don’t read reviews, causing the film to be sold to the lowest common denominator.nightbreed3

Unsurprisingly the film tanked, regaining only 8.9 of its 11 million dollar budget, and quickly faded into obscurity, but has since found a new audience thanks to Scream Factory’s release of the director’s cut on bluray.

Nightbreed is quirky, grotesque, and rich with as much homosexual undertones as you’d expect to find in a Clive Barker piece of art, and I love it.

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Do yourselves a favour skiddies, and check out Nightbreed.

Midian awaits you.

 

In my last post dedicated to the Walt Disney adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, I touched briefly on the darker themes present in the company’s back catalogue, whether intentional or from poor judgement on the creator’s behalf, but there was a time when these themes were common place in children’s entertainment, a time I remember fondly that began in the early eighties, and trickled into the nineties, before dying off completely. Back then filmmakers understood a truth that has sadly been forgotten or is outright denied in today’s overprotective, and overly sensitive world. Children like being scared, it’s right there in their DNA from the early days of Peekaboo, and hide and go seek. Fear produces adrenaline, and as we all know, adrenaline does wonderful things to the brain. Think back to your childhood, to the slumber parties you attended, to the camping trips, and weekend travels to the video store. I bet you remember ghost stories being told, urban legends being spread, even begging mom and dad to rent that scary movie all your friends had been bragging about seeing.

There’s a reason why children love Halloween, and it isn’t just because they get to play dress up, and gobble sack-loads of candy.

Every so often though, filmmakers went a little too far, blurring the line between innocent scares and the outright horrifying, and today I’d like to look at a few of these moments.

                                                              Ernest Scared Stupid

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We’ll start off innocently enough, with an entry from the Jim Varney led series of films following the adventures of loveable idiot Ernest P. Worrell.

As the title credits roll we know right away that Ernest Scared Stupid is different from its light-hearted, but mildly racist predecessors.

In a plot that could only exist in the 90’s, adult garbage-man, Ernest and his group of pre-tween friends venture to a secluded fort in the woods, and unwittingly awaken an evil troll. Shit gets even more questionable from there, but nothing more outright terrifying than when a little girl is convinced there’s a monster under her bed. This misdirecting mind-fuck of a scene shows her leaning over the edge of the bed, carefully peeling back the covers, and gazing into the blackness below to find nothing more than her beloved teddy. Relieved, she lays back down for a much-needed snuggle session with her fuzzy friend, rolls over, and BAM comes face to face with a scrote-nosed midget monster.

Not cool John Cherry. Not cool.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

rogerrabbit2Whether or not Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a kids film can be debated for days, but one thing that’s undebatable is the sheer terror that is Christopher Lloyd’s, Judge Doom. Practically every scene with this bug-eyed cartoon bastard walking around in a skin suit is pure nightmare fuel, but none so horrible as the steamroller scene. Something about the shrill, blood-curdling shriek he releases while being flattened into a human pancake really sticks with you.

Brave little toaster

bravelittletoasterOn the surface Disney’s Brave little Toaster is an upbeat tale about a handful of cutesy sentient appliances on a journey to find their original master, but in true Disney fashion the group encounters a few horrors along the way. There’s the appliance store full of partially dismantled, and out-dated appliances awaiting the electronics version of an organ transplant, Ernie’s Disposal, the junkyard from hell, and of course the mortifying dream sequence featuring a sadistic clown. I’m pretty sure whoever let this one slip through the editing process without being chopped hated children.

The NeverEnding Story

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Don’t let the eighties new-wave synth-pop theme song deceive you. From the moment the dreamy title credits roll, The NeverEnding Story is out to get you, and pulverize your heart with a meat tenderizer. No one scene in this collection of nightmare fuel aimed at children is more terrifying than the death of Atreyu’s faithful steed, Artax in the Swamps of Sadness.

                                                         Everything by Don Bluth

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During the eighties, and early nineties, Disney had some serious competition from Don Bluth, an ex-animator for the company who went on to release a string of successful animated films after his partnership with Steven Spielberg.

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Now despite being mostly warm tales about anthropomorphic animals, talking dinosaurs, and Russian fairy-tales Bluth was never afraid to shy away from showing children the darker aspects of life. Poverty, and immigration in An American Tale, genetic experimentation, and animal testing in The Secret of NIMH, Hell, and excess in, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and how can anyone forget, what was probably their first encounter with racism, and death in, The Land Before Time.

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What made Bluth’s films all the more terrifying was his religious use of old-school techniques like rotoscoping, and backlight animation to bring his creations to life.

I’m pretty sure Bluth’s life-force has been sustained all these years from devouring the tears of children.

                                         Watership Down. The whole fucking movie.

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Based on the Richard Adams novel of the same name, Watership Down is an exercise in pushing the boundaries of kid-friendly entertainment. The film follows a civilization of rabbits as they escape the destruction of their warren in search of a new environment to settle. Along the way the group faces death, betrayal, and more lupine carnage, and blood-shed than any child should ever have to witness.

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Seriously. Fuck this movie.

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In keeping with the spirit of horror trash started in my previous post concerning Full Moon Entertainment’s cult classic, Demonic Toys, I thought we’d take a look at a film released by another low-budget horror purveyor, the Empire Pictures garbage-fest, Terrorvision.

Before we dissect the film, let us first go back, and study the history of the now defunct Empire International Pictures.

Founded in 1983, by Charles Band as a response to his dissatisfaction with how his films were being distributed while working for major motion picture studios, Empire Pictures gave him the freedom to release a slew of low budget horror, and science fiction titles, most notably the Stuart Gordon cult classics Re-Animator, and From Beyond, Dolls, the infamous Trolls, and of course Terrorvision.

The company would eventually collapse in the fall of 1988, but the following year the garbage Goliath, Full Moon Entertainment would rise from its mostly sawdust, and cheap latex ashes.

Terrorvision tells the story of a ravenous alien creature accidentally beamed to earth via satellite by an extraterrestrial garbage disposal that ends up in a household occupied by three children who must stop it before it escapes, and goes on a rampage.

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The film is surprisingly dark considering its generally light-natured, and goofy aesthetic, and it has a delightfully bleak ending.

The film was a critical, and commercial bomb, being sited as one of the reasons for Empire Picture’s bankruptcy, but has since gone on to achieve cult status after it’s release by Scream Factory on bluray.

Fun fact, the legendary voice actor Frank Welker, (one of my idols) responsible for such pop culture icons as Megatron, Doctor Claw, Nibbler, Slimer, and pretty much every popular cartoon character from the eighties, and nineties not voiced by Jim Cummings, provides the voice of the hungry alien beast.

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Look at all them pretty 80’s colours!

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Full Moon Entertainment, a distribution company headed by B-movie maniac, Charles band are responsible for the majority of sleazy, low budget direct-to-video horror titles that over-saturated video-store shelves in the late eighties, and early nineties, the most well known being the Puppet Master, Subspecies, and Trancers series, as well as the subject of today’s post, Demonic Toys.

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Demonic Toys follows two police officers, who after being involved in a shoot out outside a warehouse take refuge inside, and are stalked by a handful of evil toys… and that’s pretty much it. There’s a subplot involving a demon buried beneath the warehouse, who needs to devour an unborn baby’s soul in order to be reborn, but it’s about as entertaining as you’d suspect. The selling point of a film like this needs to be the creatures in the title, and the demonic toys do not disappoint. There’s a ravenous teddy bear, a robot/ tank hybrid that shoots laser beams from its arms, the most phallic Jack-in-the-box ever, and the star of the whole shebang the foul-mouthed, Baby Oopsy Daisy, who walks, and talks, and can even shit her pants.

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Demonic Toys is beautiful garbage. Unlike many of Full Moon’s other features, which are predominantly barely watchable, low-brow turds, Demonic Toys is thoroughly entertaining, despite its ridiculous premise, no doubt thanks in part to then unknown screenwriter/ director David S. Goyer, the man who’d go on to write The Dark Knight trilogy, Dark City,  and Man of Steel.

If you’re hungry for a little cheese, then check out Demonic Toys, if only so baby Oopsy Daisy can have another special friend.

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Over the last few weeks I’ve focused on horror mainly in film, television, and literature, but today I thought I’d shake things up a bit, and take a look at a medium I’ve always found to be a fertile ground for the genre, video games. There’s something effective about placing people in control of characters surrounded by danger, and terror, and developers have been trying to capture that magic for nearly forty years.

I could talk to death about mainstream titles like Resident Evil, Doom, and Silent Hill, and their impact on horror gaming, but everyone knows them. Instead I’d like to take a gander at a few obscure titles.

Monster party.

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Monster Party is one of the most  brilliantly nutty 8-bit gems on the NES. The game follows Billy, who after being confronted by a sentient gargoyle requesting his help sets off on a quest with his trusty baseball bat to save its world. Along the way Billy battles punk-rock zombies, singing plants, cow hurdling minotaurs, and…floating breaded tempura shrimp, and onion rings? I get the feeling drugs were consumed during development, (Billy transforms into a gargoyle after picking up a pill for Christ sakes!) because the whole game is a gleefully dark, and bat-shit experience. Monster Party is about as scary as you’d expect an 8-bit title to be, (not very) but credit however must be given to the atmospheric soundtrack, and imaginative first stage of the game, which effectively sets an eerie tone right from the get go. Also, the cover art was the stuff of nightmares, guaranteed to mortify any child unlucky enough to stumble upon it while shuffling through the game rack of his local video store during the eighties.

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Just look at this shit. LOOK AT IT!

                                                           Zombies Ate My Neighbours

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Lucasarts made a name for themselves in the late eighties, and early nineties developing point and click adventure games like Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and Day of the Tentacle for the PC, but during the 16-bit era they ventured into the action-adventure realm with a little horror gem called Zombies Ate My Neighbours.

ZAMN as it will be called for the duration of this post, because the title has too many damn letters for me to keep typing, is a top-down, co-op, run-and-gun game that tasks players with rescuing their neighbours in a variety of horror inspired settings while trying to survive an onslaught of horror-movie monsters like werewolves, mutants, giant babies, squid men, blobs, aliens, and of course the titular zombies. To progress through each level players are required to rescue at least one neighbour, and if all of them die, it’s game over. To do so, players have a number of inventive weapons at their disposal, such as dishes, UZI water guns, weed-whackers, Soda-pop grenades, and many more.

ZAMN is a noteworthy title, because of the heavy censorship it received upon release. Nintendo, having a strict policy against excessive violence in their games ordered all depictions of blood, and gore to be replaced with purple ooze, a similar fate that befell the original Mortal Kombat when ported to the SNES. Many European nations censored even more of ZAMN, changing its name to simply, Zombies, and replacing the chainsaw wielding enemies with lumberjacks sporting axes.

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                                                                 The Souls series

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I know I said I was going to avoid mainstream titles for this post, but I couldn’t help myself for the last entry on the list. No series captures what makes a horror game effective so much so as FromSoftware’s Souls titles, Demon’s, Dark, and the most recent, Bloodborne. Each entry contains a dark, and atmospheric world with little reason given as to why you’re there, adaptable monstrosities lurking around every corner, limited resources at your disposal with which to slay them or survive their relentless attacks, and death actually matters, serving as a method of increasing the game’s difficulty.

You are never so close to sheer terror as you are while playing a Souls game, and that’s why it rounds out this list.

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That’s all for today skiddlets. Please feel free to comment, and share some of your favourite horror titles.

I’m always up for a new scare!

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After yesterday’s post about the Frank Henenlotter sexploitation film, Bad Biology, (and a number of others for that matter) I feel I may have given all you darklings out there the impression that I’m a depraved, gore-crazed lunatic who showers in blood, and eats his liver with fava beans, and a nice chianti while marathoning snuff films. Now, although most of that is true, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a softer side. In fact, I’m actually quite sensitive when you peel back all the layers of murder, monsters, and viscera, and happen to enjoy the occasional bad romantic-comedy as much as the next mildly insane, socially awkward purveyor of fear. One of my favourites being the much maligned 1993 classic, and original Zombiedy, My Boyfriend’s Back.

Directed by sometimes actor, sometimes writer, Bob Balaban, (known for Parents, and Gosford Park) My Boyfriend’s Back follows Johnny Dingle, who, after a foiled attempt to impress his crush, Missy McCloud, is shot and killed during a robbery, only to come back as a zombie. Now a member of the living dead, Johnny must reintegrate with society, struggle with his burgeoning cannibalistic appetite, and anti-zombie discrimination, all while trying to woo his beloved to take her to prom.

My Boyfriend’s Back is a ripe slice of early nineties cheese. The story is cornier than a thanksgiving bowel movement, and the special effects make Plan Nine From Outer Space’s look revolutionary by comparison, but I still love it. Despite its many faults, the film is intoxicatingly charming, held up by surprisingly strong performances from a cast that knew what they were starring in.

Fun fact, My Boyfriend’s Back was the first movie role for Matthew Fox, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Matthew McConaughey, and Renee Zellweger, despite Zellweger’s only scene being cut.

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Freaks all week.

Most kids of my generation, (late eighties/ early nineties) couldn’t wait for Friday nights to come around. It was the start of the weekend, two days school free, one of which was reserved for sitting in front of the idiot box munching Cap’n Crunch, while absorbing Saturday morning cartoons, and the other bumming around with our friends playing Goldeneye, street hockey, and trading comic books. It was also when ABC aired their TGIF lineup, with shows like Boy Meets World, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Step by Step, and Teen Angel, you know the hip, family friendly shit they thought we actually enjoyed.

I was not most kids. Friday night for me meant heading to my grandmother’s house to watch the X-Files, a series that terrified, and fascinated me, and still stands as one of my favourites of all time.

Created by fellow canucklehead Chris Carter, X-Files was the perfect blend of science fiction, camp and horror, and a revolutionary show that launched the careers of many popular names in the industry.

One such name, David Nutter went on to find success directing pilots, and episodes for other popular shows such as Millenium, (another Chris Carter series) Band of Brothers, Supernatural, Arrow, Shameless, The Flash, and probably the most well known, the infamous season three episode of Game of Thrones, The Rains of Castamere.

In 1997, Nutter directed his first Hollywood film, (before then his work in film had been limited to direct-to-video features such as Trancers) the Scott Rosenberg penned, Disturbing Behavior.

The film is essentially the Stepford Wives for the Kevin Williamson generation, and follows high-school senior Steve Clark, who, after moving to the picturesque coastal town of Cradle Bay, discovers the town’s clique, the Blue Ribbons, are mind-controlled teens who’ve taken part in program led by school psychologist Dr. Caldecott, and berserker rage every time they get turned on.

Disturbing Behavior has all the nasty cliches of the late nineties horror film: troubled teens played by a cast of A-list twenty-something’s, (in this case Nick Stahl, James Marsden, and Katie Holmes) consisting of the bad-girl, the intellectual-stoner, and the reluctant hero, an alt-rock soundtrack, and more edginess than Sonic the hedgehog dual-wielding dual-bladed lightsabers.

What makes this movie interesting isn’t the fact that it’s a moving billboard of all that was hilariously wrong with the nineties, but rather it’s troubled history. After submitting a version of the film that Nutter likened to a feature-length Monster-of-the-week episode of the X-Files, MGM basically shredded it like an eight-ball of blow at a Charlie Sheen house-party, reducing it to the 83 minute monstrosity released in theatres that was so bad, Nutter wanted to have his name removed from the credits.

I’ve seen the fan-made cut of the film circulating the interwebs, (which is supposedly closer to Nutter’s original vision) and it’s much better. It’s still more nineties than an Image comic book illustrated by Rob Liefeld, with dialogue written by Will Smith, but most of the issues ascertaining to the plot, and lack of character development are ironed out.

Despite all its flaws there are a few aspects of the film that are enjoyable, namely the eerie, and atmospheric music composed by another legendary X-Files alumni Mark Snow, which is way better than the movie deserves, and a brilliantly hammy performance by the always enjoyable, William Sadler.

As it stands, Disturbing Behavior is a curio that falls into the, so bad it’s good, category of films. It’s a shame we’ll never see Nutter’s director’s cut of the film, because somewhere, hidden beneath all the nostalgic nineties refuse, and Hollywood tampering is what could have been an interesting film.