Horrorfest 2020 Presents: American Gothic (1988, John Hough)

American Gothic is a dumb, brutal, nasty movie that has a bunch of characters who exist to die horribly. Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo did this movie for the money, and Michael J. Pollard is in this too because why not? Might as well have a trio of distinguished actors stuck in what was mostly likely a low budget production. However, the last act is more interesting than the entire rest of the movie, and Steiger does give a good performance.

Sarah Torgov was a solid final girl, too, and she manages to turn the tables on her captors. I didn’t hate this movie, however it is not a particularly good slasher film. American Gothic is mostly an ok film at best, and I think that seems to be true for way too many movies in general. I sure watch a lot of forgettable movies every year.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Fade To Black (1980, Vernon Zimmerman)

Sometimes people fail to distinguish between fantasy and reality, especially if they spend too much time outside the real world. This is what happens to young Eric, who ends up losing his mind and goes over the edge in the 1980 cult flick Fade To Black, which borrows somewhat from Taxi Driver and even Maniac. However I think that Fade To Black works as it’s own flick for the most part, and it helped to add to the now cliche “Person goes crazy” flick that has been popular over the years.

Eric though has a trouble life, barely holding onto a job and living with his overbearing aunt. He even gets stood up by a nice Marilyn Monroe lookout (her name is even Marilyn!) that he worked up the courage to ask out. Events spiral out of control and soon Eric is committing crimes based on the movies he loves way too much. I felt a little uneasy watching this flick since I love movies too much myself, although certainly not enough to dress up as characters from them. Being able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy is a good thing.

Also I go outside once in a while, something that poor Eric probably should have done more often. Nope he instead loses it completely, changing his name, killing an annoying coworker and attracting the attention of the local police. Maybe in the end the guy was always a bit unstable, and he never had a chance. I think Eric is definitely the kind of guy who people talk about after they’ve gone on a crime or killing spree. The type you see on the news and you wonder what they were thinking.

Sure Fade To Black is cheesy, and the acting isn’t the greatest at times. The film wasn’t exactly high budget, yet I still am thinking about it so the whole thing worked anyways. It helps that Dennis Christopher takes over the film and carries it through the rough parts-you want to keep watching to see what he does next. Perhaps that is enough.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: The Car (1977, Elliot Silverstein)

Elliot Silverstein’s The Car is both a demonic presence movie and a Jaws ripoff all in one marvelous, campy package. The opening death scenes are well done, and the car itself is an evil force bearing down upon the unlucky small town it decided to roll into. James Brolin is the local hero desperately trying to save people from a four wheeled menace that doesn’t have a driver and seems to have the world’s greatest gas mileage.

Kathleen Lloyd and Ronny Cox also star, and I wonder if this movie inspired Stephen King to write Christine. One car kill is both shocking and really well done, and the final act is pretty entertaining. If you are looking for a solid entry in the killer car genre, then The Car is a worthy choice. I can see why this was one of the 1970s horror movies to be restored by Anchor Bay and also by Scream Factory.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Trick or Treats (1982, Gary Graver)

Speaks for itself

Ah, Halloween. My favorite holiday currently, or at least high up there anyways. I love this time of year, and I reflect on how because of horror movies I will never take a baby sitting job as long as I live. Slasher films have taught me that when you watch kids, a maniac wielding a knife always shows up every time. Without fail. Trick or Treats adheres to that formula and never waivers the entire time, which is admirable.

Jackelyn Giroux plays Linda, who gets stuck watching the kid from hell while his step-dad played by David Carradine and his wife leave her with their little brat over the Halloween weekend. Does her psycho ex husband played by Peter Jason show up to try and get his revenge for being committed? You bet! Does the kid drive Linda to the edge of her sanity with evil tricks? Oh yes. This movie more than lives up to its title.

While the death count is a bit low for a slasher movie, the ending was pretty good. Giroux is likable and you root for her to win against a demon child that would be at home in a The Omen sequel. Also not enough horror movies are set on Halloween, although perhaps it is a result of not wanting to be compared to a certain famous franchise starring one famous slasher villain. Too bad.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: The House That Dripped Blood (1971, Peter Duffell)

Even though this movie has a cool title, The House That Dripped Blood is a bit of a lie. Still that’s a title that will grab your attention and make you want to watch it, which is what I did. I liked all of the stories except for one, and while maybe only one or two were really great this is still a very enjoyable Amicus Productions movie from a studio famous for its anthology movies. Oh and of course both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee show up in this one, although believe it or not they weren’t in every British horror movie. Just most of them.

Also Robert Bloch was responsible for all of the stories, which of course surround a giant old mansion that a local real estate agent insists is cursed and ruins people’s lives. The first story is Denholm Elliott thinking he is going insane, and has a wonderful twist that I actually did not see coming. The man supposedly haunting him looks wonderfully creepy. Even though I liked the second tale I expected a bit more from one featuring Peter Cushing, although it does stick the landing.

The Christopher Lee one has a cool title yet I was bored by that one. Easily the weakest of the bunch. Luckily the last tale starring Jon Pertwee and Ingrid Pitt is the best of the bunch, and feels wonderfully meta for an early 1970s horror movie. The wrap around tale is enjoyable and has someone breaking the fourth wall, a bit that is eye rolling these days but was fresh back then. Amicus has done better ones, yet The House That Dripped Blood is an enjoyable and solid effort from a fun studio during the heyday of British horror films.

Someone has to clean that up…

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Subspecies (1991, Ted Nicolaou)

Knowing Full Moon Features more than I did before this Horrorfest, I went into Subspecies with some low expectations. Yet I ended up liking this film even though it’s budget limitations were obvious. However I liked the cast and the acting was much better than your average director to video movie. Oh and having a vampire movie set in Transylvanian and shot in Romania is pretty wicked.

A group of American college students end up in the middle of one those ancient wars between a good and evil pair of siblings that is a staple of many a horror or fantasy movie. Does this lead to some really weird moments involving a blood stone and little monster creatures? Yes. Is there a sword fight later on? Absolutely. I liked that an old guy decided to load a shotgun with rosemary beads.

Once again I watched another movie that was turned into a franchise, which seems to happen with horror movies a lot. I doubt I’ll watch the sequels, but Subspecies did have a nice love subplot that is better than anything in Twilight. That’s for sure. I finally realized last year that all the direct to video movies end up on RedBox or streaming services these days, and so thanks to Tubi I can enjoy tons of Full Moon Features online instead of via the video rental store.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Maniac Cop (1988, William Lustig)

Eventually the 1980s would feature an undead cop who wasn’t really dead. Maniac Cop is more Frankenstein’s monster anyways, as the titular police offer seeks revenge against the system that put him away for being a psycho. Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, Richard Roundtree, Robert Z’Dar and Laurene Landon headline a really good cast that elevates what is basically a trashy slasher flick with a cop as the killer.

The movie doesn’t really try to hide that aspect, even though it obscures the full truth from its main characters. The kills are brutal enough and the final act is really entertaining. Maniac Cop is not as interesting as William Lustig or Larry Cohen’s other films, and I don’t think it really deserved to be a franchise. Still I liked it well enough, and once again the 1980s shows a part of New York City I never got to experience.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)

The legendary Francis Ford Coppola drags the vampire genre into the modern era with his stylish and very gothic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Even though Keanu Reeves was miscast, the rest of the group is fantastic and spot on. I loved Gary Oldman as the count, Winona Ryder as Mina, and Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing. Plus Cary Elwes, Bill Campbell and Richard E. Grant. Tom Waits and Sadie Frost have lesser parts, but add to the film’s appeal. I also liked how faithful the movie is to the book, as the character of Quincey Morris is finally included this time. Multiple parts of the book are included here and are mostly creepy, particularly poor Jonathan’s stay at Dracula’s castle.

The costume design in this movie is very on point, and I loved how Oldman’s Dracula is very 1890s stream punk. Him and Ryder have fantastic chemistry together, and Hopkins spends time chewing scenery. This film also gets high marks for its stunning cinematography and use of practical effects. Too bad Reeves is a waste, since I like him as an actor. His accent slips as often as Kevin Costner’s did in Robin Hood, and I wonder how things would have fared better had someone else played the part.

Still I refuse to hold it completely against the movie, and I willingly give Coppola’s lush epic a 9/10. Once in a while Hollywood is convinced to do a big budget horror film with talented casts and a quality director involved, and we should enjoy those more often. They are quite rare indeed.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Intruder (1989, Scott Spiegel)

Perhaps I have worked in retail far too long so I liked Intruder more than most probably do. Also it helps that this is a fairly well made slasher film that tries to rise above the fairly low standards of the genre. Although I wonder if that was due to it being made at the end of the decade, when the slasher genre had begun to fade in popularity. Regardless this film has a likable bunch of characters and is well paced.

Oh and the kills are pretty wicked, although that is helped by the grocery store setting. The list of possible suspects is limited so I kind of guessed who the killer was, which is ok and did not ruin my enjoyment of the film. Intruder has a couple good comedy moments that I can’t elaborate on further due to them being spoilers, yet I will say that if you work in retail you can appreciate them like I did. Hurray for that random Bruce Campbell cameo, I guess.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995, Bill Condon)

Woof that title is a mouthful. I loved the 1992 Candyman and so I decided to check out the sequel before it expired on Tubi. While the sequel is not as good as the first classic flick, Tony Todd remains creepy and menacing as ever in the title role. Also the New Orleans’ location is a nice eerie setting for the film’s events. Does Todd utter poetic lines full of death and despair still? Yep. Is the main female lead destined to watch loved ones get slaughtered right in front of her? Absolutely. Roll film.

Annie (Kelly Rowan) ends up investigating the Candyman legend because of her brother and her deceased father. Trying to uncover the truth she of course ends up summoning Candyman because no one in these movies believes he exists until it’s too late. Cue more gore and bees showing up. We even get a historical flashback thrown in for good measure. I’m a sucker for those.

I’m not sure if I care to watch the third film, however I am excited about the upcoming remake, which could breathe new life into the franchise. These movies are very 1990s which is both a good and a bad thing. Oh and I liked seeing veterans Veronica Cartwright and Bill Nunn popping up in the movie. One thing I’ve learned and which this move leans heavily on is that kids are always creepy no matter what in a horror movie. Even if they are on your side.

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