Old (2021) Mini Review

Welp, that’s an hour and a half, or 18 months, of my life on which I’ll never see a return. M.Night Shyamalan is up to his old tricks again in his latest film about one of the most primal fears of all: aging. From the moment we are born, we start to die, and it’s that fear of aging and death that links everyone on earth together. While many horror films feature slashers, ghouls, demons, monsters, the living dead, nature on a rampage, or just your mother-in-law, the chances of you encountering any of those are about as slim as Netflix reviving Santa Clarita Diet–well, except for the mother-in-law; that one is likely. Shyamalan chooses to focus on the one fear we all share: the ravages of aging. And it’s because of this, that virtually every character in the film is relatable on some level (unfortunately that level is quite minimal). Combine the primal fear of the inevitability of aging with the ticking time bomb literary device, and you have the makings of a thrilling plot. That is, if this plot and these characters weren’t written by the cinematic king of head-scratch bizarre endings, huh?, and what the? moments. Since his feature debut of The Sixth Sense in 1999, I am convinced that M.Night is a gifted director. But he should probably work with more talented screenwriters. What we have here is an original premise (as far as I know) with so much potential for intense windup and explosive delivery; moreover, there is even a prime opportunity to have thoughtful commentary on aging, emotionally, physically, and mentally. It’s all there! But sadly, and to my bewilderment, M.Night chooses to simply move the characters around the island aimlessly, with only occasional meaningful conflict that serves a greater purpose than simply the shortest distance between action beats A and B. Other than the mechanics of screenwriting themselves, perhaps the biggest problem is trying to focus on too many main ideas. He should have had one main action plot, and then supported it with emotionally or psychologically-driven subplots that weave together to point back to the central idea he was trying to convey. Unfortunately, OLD is a convoluted collection of ideas, none of which are ever thoughtfully developed and strategically executed.

For my full thoughts, you will need to listen to me on the Reel Spoilers podcast on July 29, 2021.

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Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Sinister Summer: Burnt Offerings (1976) Retrospective Review

A haunting, dreamlike supernatural horror film about a truly hangry house that was ahead of its time. This month’s retrospective review is on Dan Curtis’ only theatrical film,: 1976’s Burnt Offerings. While I have certainly heard and read good things about this film, I had not really made it a priority to watch. A priority in that I would spend the $4 on Amazon to rent it. But the night before writing this, I saw it show up as a featured Shudder offering. With a mediocre IMDb score, I wasn’t convinced to spend my evening watching the two-hour film; however, upon a Google search, I saw that Golden Age screen icon (“fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”) Bette Davis was in a supporting role, as well as Burgess Meredith. Throw in leads Karen Black and Oliver Reed, and you have one stacked cast. But an opportunity to see those Bette Davis Eyes was what swung the pendulum in favor of selecting this more-or-less obscure 70s horror film.

Ben Rolf (Reed), his wife Marian (Black), and their son Davey (Lee Montgomery) visit a country manor up for rent for the summer. They are welcomed by weird siblings Roz Allardyce and Arnold Allardyce (Meredith) who offer the mansion for $900 for the whole summer. Ben is concerned with the upkeep of such a stately place, and the Allardyces state that the house will take care of itself as long as they show it love. The only condition to the siblings’ generous offer is that the Rolfs feed their mother that lives in a plush, cozy attic apartment three times a day by leaving a tray outside of her room. The Rolf family accepts the too-good-to-be-true offer, and move in right away with Ben’s vivacious, eccentric Aunt Elizabeth (Davis). Not long after moving in, Marian begins to become more and more obsessed with Ms. Allardyce and the house. Meanwhile, unsettling things begin happen to the Rolf family, including violent outbursts, and even an untimely death. Ben feels that something sinister is going on with the house, and urges his family to leave. But leaving the estate is not as easy as it seems.

It’s all too easy to see hues of The Shining, Poltergeist, and even The Haunting and The Skeleton Key in this film, but remember that Burnt Offerings came out four years before The Shining and six years before Poltergeist. So if the plot feels a little predictable at times, it’s not because William F Nolan’s screenplay borrowed heavily from those tentpole heavy-hitters, but because those two iconic films perhaps took a little inspiration from it. Where Curtis may have taken inspiration was from Carnival of Souls because it feels like there is a nod or two to that film. Curtis has pacing down to a science! He demonstrates command of the emotional and psychological journeys of the characters and audience. Those who watch this film without reading up on it will scarcely have the leisure to ask why the Rolf family isn’t more observant and curious about their grand dwelling. At the time this film was released, horror was increasingly concerned and even obsessed with supernatural villains and primal fears take that place in otherwise innocent settings, such as an innocent little girl in The Exorcist or an innocent palatial estate in Burnt Offerings. In the case of the latter, the supernatural monster/entity is the house itself, which manifests its sinister desires in very much the same way a vampire does. It’s romantic, alluring, feeding on and sustaining itself with violence and death. This monster is capable of menace, vengeance, outrage, and even murder.

Instead of a shaky handheld camera, promiscuous teens/college students, and poor pacing that lacks a true windup or never pays off at all, comes a film that was ahead of its time in haunted house storytelling. This film feels far more polished and meticulously executed than most present-day haunted house movies. You won’t find jump scares or haphazard pacing here; this film comes from a time when the slow burn was both the norm and it was strategically utilized to setup a brilliant, shocking payoff that is ultimately among the most effective and memorable horror film endings of all time. In terms of its alluring aesthetic, Burnt Offerings harkens back to the days of Gothic horror in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe and the first and second generation of Universal Pictures Horror. Particularly Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher feels heavily channeled in this otherworldly, unsettling horror film. The film location itself comes completely with a sordid past. The estate in the film is the Dunsmuir Estate in Oakland, CA, which was used in every scene according to Curtis (so sound stages). It was built by coal fortune heir Alexander Dunsmuir in 1899. Dunsmuir intended the house to be a wedding gift for his new bride; but in horror movie fashion, he didn’t get to live in it with her because he fell ill and died while on his honeymoon in New York City. His new bride returned to live in the house but died soon after in 1901. What better haunted house location than a location, which may be truly haunted?!?

Burnt Offerings was one of many horror films in the 1970s and early 1980s that commented on the rising negative societal effects of middle-class life, including viral consumerism and obsession with single-family-house ownership, the family is destroyed by a house they otherwise dreamed of. Furthermore, it also provides an exploration of the perceived breakdown of the nuclear family, following the civil rights and sexual revolution movements. Closely reading the major themes in Burnt Offerings leads me to posit the idea that perhaps the most effective way to critically analyze this film is to interpret it as a supernatural parable on the risks of being controlled by one’s possessions. That said, contrary to how the Biblical proverb is so often misquoted; money is NOT the root of all evil; it’s the LOVE OF money that is at the root of all evil. And here, we can replace money with possessions (more specifically, the obsession with possessions). This is shown through Marian’s obsession with the Allardyces estate and possessions therein, Ben’s sexual obsession with his wife (as an object to possess), and the house’s evil energy possessing and draining the family. Anyone who’s ever owned a car, a house, or any kind of property can relate to what this family is going through. We know it as viral consumerism, or the toxic desire to acquire material objects (in today’s language, we can include experiences), which can begin to dominate one’s life. Furthermore, we’ve all been there, experiencing that feeling that repairs to, taxes on, and upkeep of property (be it cars, houses, or anything really) can become a burden that is figuratively unbearable. Ostensibly, the property and experiences we sought to possess, in an ironic twist of fate, now possess us.

The horror of Burnt Offerings is portrayed as a manifestation of the family’s inner turmoil. We aren’t given much to go on, as far as the family’s backstory, but clearly the facade of a happy couple is merely a thin veneer covering a very unhappy marriage–one that is using this summer get-away as a means to rectify. Although not specified, Ben is likely a teacher or non-tenure track college professor because his family is there for the summer (I infer this because Marian encourages Ben to work on his doctorate, something I intend to do as soon as I land a full-time staff/faculty position at the university where I’ve taught part-time for over five years). The manifestation of the internal conflict is expressed through the atmosphere and external behavior of the characters, much in the same way we witness this in The Shining, but more effectively witnessed in Rosemary’s Baby. The screenplay by Nolan (and Curtis) grafts this familial dysfunction onto the haunted house conventions to create an eerie sense of tension, both supernaturally and psychologically. As we observe how the Rolf family interacts in public (in front of the Allardyces) and in private (in their vehicle in a Shining-like motif), it’s easy to imagine that perhaps the “right people,” the Allardyces seek for the house, are ones living under a pressure cooker of repressed animosity and barely controlled hostilities.

Lastly, but certainly not least are the overall performances! Everyone in Burnt Offerings delivers a stellar performance. Talk about an award-winning, powerhouse ensemble! From the leads to our supporting cast, you will be delighted at the top shelf quality of the actors and their respective characters. What I appreciate most about each performance is just how authentic they were, no matter if the actor was playing a lead or supporting character. Both Reed and Black completely sell audiences on the stages of the relationship between their two characters as they go from happy to toxic couple, and it all feels so incredibly genuine. Montgomery’s performance as their son is par for the course, but effective and believable enough in this story (albeit he sometimes acts a little older than a 12-year-old would act). Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart simultaneously convince audiences their characters are jolly, eccentric siblings–yet there is a nuance of something creepy underneath. But the performance you really want to know about is the incomparable Bette Davis as Aunt Elizabeth. You get it all: Davis’ trademark sassy personality, witty quips, independence, and her eyes! Yes, those Bette Davis eyes that are a hallmark of cinema. One of the most beautiful faces the silver screen has ever seen, and yet she was adamant that she look like her character should look. Therefore, you eventually get a haggard, makeup-less, decrepit old woman that is the complete 180º from how we commonly see Davis. She delivers a fantastic performance, and you will be left wondering why she didn’t do more horror films to rescue herself from TV movie hell in the latter part of her career, from the golden age until she passed away in 1989.

If you are a fan of 1970s horror, The Shining, Poltergeist, Rosemary’s Baby, or Amityville Horror, I feel confident that you will enjoy this film. While it’s not a great horror film, it is a solidly good one that fans of the genre will likely appreciate. In retrospect, there is so much to unpack in this dreamlike, haunting gothic horror motion picture. Perhaps audiences at the time it was originally released weren’t ready for this methodical haunted house film.

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Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Sinister Summer: ALIEN Retrospective

Alien (1979) - IMDb

This. Is. ALIEN. You are with. Sigourney Weaver. Aboard the spaceship Nostromo. Caution. The area you are en-ter-ing is extremely dan-ger-ous. Something has gone wrong… If you get why I punctuated that the way I did, then you remember the ALIEN scene on the former Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (oh how I miss that attraction). Ridley Scott’s science-fiction horror masterpiece that convinced you that “in space, no one can hear you scream” is still the definitive science-fiction/space horror film. Furthermore, it reinvented the space-horror movies from the 1950/60s. Sitting between Halloween and Friday the 13th, this film came as a surprise for the horror genre because it countered the direction that the horror genre was going by reimagining the emerging slasher genre in a setting that is more terrifying and limiting than a house or town in which a serial killer is slaughtering teenagers. Just 10 years after the Apollo moon landing, this film takes on characteristics of that which is frightening about this new frontier that we are exploring. What if there is a killing machine monster out there? Scary stuff.

Steam Workshop::Alien (1979) Tour Inside The Nostromo

Until ALIEN, movies and TV shows set in space depicted a clean, optimistic, new world. ALIEN subverts this expectation by delivering a used, broken-in, aged space. The Nostromo was nothing like the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek or the Star Destroyers from Star Wars. The design of the Nostromo communicated a dirty, dingy space that is far less appealing than the world of the United Federation of Planets. The effect of this upon audiences was fantastic because it made the future look far more realistic than anything that had come before it. The world of ALIEN truly felt like a future that was used. Indirectly, this intentional design also shows us that the passengers aren’t heroes, highly intellectual explorers, or uniquely skilled individuals. The rough design of the Nostromo parallels the roughness, lack of refinement in the characters. Again, they feel like real people, a people that we could connect with in ways that we could never connect with the characters from space-horror and monster movies in the past. The future, as illustrated in this film, is relatable. From the design of the Nostromo to the development of the characters themselves, audiences are invited into a world stepped in expressive meaning and emotion.

Beyond taking the horror genre into space and integrating some of the psychological horror and slasher elements outlined in PsychoHalloween, and others, Scott’s Alien also provided horror audiences with a new type of final girl, social commentary on gender roles, heteronormativity, and human sexuality. Much like the Freudian components of Hitchcock’s Psycho, this horror film also explores the deep fears and desires that are often suppressed by the subconscious. Furthermore, the film also explores the fears associated with child birth by “impregnating” men resulting in body horror trauma. The counterarguments to heteronormativity is manifested in Ellen Ripley as an androgynous female who behaves in a very masculine way, the film provides an opportunity to talk about gender roles.

Although Ripley is, for all intents and purposes, not even on our radar for nearly 45mins into the film, following a tragedy, she is thrust into the forefront of this mission. Scott’s Alien dared to challenge the status quo in order to deliver the first female action hero, and place her in center stage. The long and short of it is that Ripley subverts the typical science-fiction hero trope to embody both the feminine and masculine to redefine what a hero is within the sci-fi/horror genre. Breaking gender norms for the time, she was neither arm candy, simply a side kick nor required rescuing by a male character. Her character and actions were not defined by gender. She is our final girl, and so much more. Not only did the character of Ripley contribute significantly to horror, she also broke ground for female heroines in the world of cinema at large. 

I Hope This Awesome ALIEN: COVENANT Movie Connection Rumor is True —  GeekTyrant

Like Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Ridley is also someone who is equal parts female and male. In fact, you could argue that she takes on more masculine characteristics as the narrative plays. This playing with the roles of men, women, and their respective bodies and minds can be realized when viewing the character of the xenomorph as the “monstrous feminine.” The monstrous-feminine is a psychological construction generated by male anxieties about the female body and sexuality. Scott’s Alien depicts the maternal body as monstrous. More specifically, the film repeatedly examines the scene of birth or origin. Interestingly, there are three different representations of the concept of birth in the film. In terms of the production design, Alien can be likened to a gothic horror set in space. Scott’s brilliant design conveys to the audience the extreme isolation and claustrophobia. There is also an fascinating dichotomy in the worlds that are represented in this film by pitting the mechanization and technology of the organization for which our explorers work and the monstrous origin world of the alien, which we learn more about (whether you like the films or not in the prequels).

Your central character need not always be the first or second character we encounter in a screenplay. This is true with Ripley as she emerges as the central character midway through the film. However, we are given hints at her destiny throughout the first act in subtle ways. It was important to the plot to establish her as a woman in order to make her actions later on in the film so kickass and assumption shattering. Had she been seen as “masculine” or strong from the onset, then we would not be as impressed with her actions–we would expect them. Part of her power as a strong female character in horror is taking what we assumed about her (or a female character in general) and subvert our predisposition. Whereas Ripley is not the first female heroic character in a horror film, she is one that never becomes subjected to the male gaze or becomes some fantasy version of a woman. Even though female heroic characters who wear sexy clothes, wield phallic guns, or use their bodies as femme fatals can be strong characters, they are still some heteronormative fantasy for a male screenwriter or director. 

Essentially, the aforementioned female characters lack an authentic humanity. Ripley is strong, vulnerable, independent, scared, mortal; these elements that make her believably human. There is so little suspension of disbelief in her character that she could nearly exist in real life. Furthermore, her character is incredibly complex; she exhibits strong intuition and intelligence, chutzpah, is brash, talks about PTSD, outspoken, rigidly wants to go by the book instead of saving a man’s life, has a natural beauty but doesn’t spend much time on hair or makeup. All these traits portray someone who has incredible depth and dimension. She is a survivor. No matter how grizzly, messy, constricting, or frightening her soundings become, she remains steadfast, collected, and brave. As the 1970s saw many changes in censorship, ratings, guidelines, etc., the ability to show gorier, more visceral body horror special effects, and on screen violence allowed Scott to confront the character of Ripley with cinematically innovative ways to test her resilience and survivorship. 

The character of Ellen Ripley is also a strong pillar of the American horror film by virtue of her representation of gender politics. Even before it became popular, in more recent times, to use both male and female characters in motion pictures as a conduit to comment on the state of affairs for a particular group within our society, Ridley Scott crafted a visual masterpiece that did just that. Highly innovative, forward thinking, and progressive. The subtext of the film confronts us with a woman trying her best to fit into a man’s world. In addition to that subtext, research into the screenplay for this film shows that all the characters were written as gender neutral. Interesting stuff, right?!? Another gender-related observation in the character of Ripley, is her both metaphorically and physiologically clothing herself in masculinity all while remaining a women. In one scene, Ripley steps into a space suit. And this space suit can be read as Ripley playing the role of a man while remaining a women at her core in order to challenge the patriarchal system to prove that she is capable of anything that a masculine hero is. 

Ripley is a highly intelligent character, realizes that about herself, and does not allow herself to be patronized or undermined. She does her job aboard the Nostromo like a legit boss. She knows procedure and protocol, and will follow it in order to protect her crew. Figuratively, she is protecting the ship from being willfully penetrated by a foreign object. This could be read as a commentary on rape. She is forcefully overruled, and we all know what happens next. Further commentary depicts male characters “forgetting” that Ripley is the senior officer. But because she is female, they feel they know better. I bet they wish they had followed her orders. Although much of what I’ve written deals with the masculine qualities of Ripley, her character would not have been as powerful a character if it wasn’t for her feminine side as well. When all hell is breaking loose, she soothes the nerves of the crew and offers comfort. Exemplary motherly qualities. Had a man been in her role, then he would most likely have not exhibited such love for the crew. Her success as a hero has as much to do with the touch of a women as it does the chutzpah of a man.

Alien's Chestburster Scene Real Meaning Explained | Screen Rant

Another motherly quality found in Ripley is her persistent urge for the crew to function as a group. Through the brilliant cinematography, we are consistently shown a group that is fractures and continually fails to band together until it is too late. Interestingly, each character meets his or her demise because of a tragic flaw and failure to group together to function as ONE crew instead of self-centered individuals. Had the group functioned as one, then more may have survived. This hypothesis is witnessed in the Ripley in Act 3 because she essentially embodies all the good qualities found in the other characters (think Captain Planet). She combines what everyone did well into one character. That is why she is the final girl. Only by combining all the qualities of the crew was she able to go toe-to-toe with the Xenomorph killing machine. 

John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV: Cult-Movie  Review: Alien (1979)

There are actually three prominent female characters in Alien. Ripley, the Xenomorph, and The Nostromo. Although Ripley is our central character, I would be remiss to not mention the other two that could be analyzed individually themselves. Much like Ripley exhibits both masculine and feminine characteristics, so does the Xenomorph with a mouth that oscillates between vaginal and phallic in nature. And finally, The Nostromo ostensibly gives birth to all the astronauts at the beginning of the film; and therefore could be referred to as the mother ship. Playing around with gender does not stop there. The facegrabber impregnates a male character and he gives birth to the Xenomorph. Underscoring so many elements and conflicts in this film is this idea of subverting gender identity with the intent to horrify by tapping into primal heteronormative fears. And let’s face it, child birth is terrifying.

The extent to which the special effects still hold up terrifying well in this motion picture is just one of many reasons why CGI can never replicate the way real like bounces off real objects and into the camera lens. Practical effects have literal depth and dimension–nothing simulated or recreated here. Practical effects offer the actors the opportunity to engage and interact with the world in which their respective characters live, work, play, and sometimes die. The single scene that stands out to me, and remains one of the best of all time is the “chestbuster” scene.

What an entrance! In addition to terrifying the audience, it threw the cast for quite the loop too; furthermore, this scene represents the first good look we have at the alien creature, even though it’s in its infant stage. Interestingly, the actors were literally taken by surprise because they had a general idea of how the scene was going to play out, but they were not informed as to specifics. Suddenly, Kane begins thrashing around so violently that everyone has to hold him down on the table, requiring everyone to move in closely to the body (a prosthetic one at this point). Just as the crew is holding onto Kane tightly, the alien BURSTS through Kane’s chest! His innards and blood spew everywhere! The actors’ reactions are grounded in realism, because these are authentic, unrehearsed reactions, which only adds to the gravity of the entire scene. Genuine reactions. You cannot get that with CGI. I mean, how is one supposed to fear for their life when acting next to a tennis ball on the end of a stick or string???

Unfortunately, all the sequels failed to live up to the substantive nature of the original and devolve into a generic futuristic action-adventure series; but the original ALIEN delivered a nightmare-inducing “haunted house” meets Jaws movie set in the far reaches of space where “no one can hear you scream,” and provided us with the breakthrough character of Ellen Ripley.

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Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

SPOOKIES (1986) Horror Review

The criminally underrated obscure schlocky movie that delivers everything you wanted (and even that which you didn’t know you needed) out of a horror B-movie! After the guys at the Cinema Speak Podcast featured a micro-review of Spookies (1986), I knew right then and there that I needed to seek out this movie for both my viewing pleasure and as a horror academic. After seeing a countless number of horror movies, over the years, ranging from junk to masterpieces, I love when a horror movie can surprise me! And that is certainly the case with Spookies. But why?

Does this movie do anything particularly innovative? No.

Does it provide thoughtful commentary on the human condition? No.

Well then, it must deliver underrated performances or a compelling story? Not at all.

What it does provide is an hour and a half of truly mind-blowing creature effects and entertaining kills! Spookies packs a punch in all the right ways, delivering the perfect amount of spookiness one wants to see in a movie that’s ostensibly a surreal combination of Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction, Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead, and even The Isle of Dr. Moreau. You don’t watch this movie for the story, although it is loads of fun; you watch it for the sheer spectacle of a no-holds-barred love of the American horror film.

A 13-year-old boy runs from home because his parents forgot his birthday. Making his way through the woods, he encounters a drifter who is subsequently slashed to death. The boy stumbles upon an old mansion where a room is decorated for a birthday celebration that he (for some bizarro reason) thinks is for him. Like the call of a siren, a group of partiers also stumble across what they think is an abandoned mansion in the middle of nowhere. No one has any idea that it is home to a powerful sorcerer. With the help of other-worldly creatures and a werecat-like sidekick, the sorcerer terrifies and threatens the unwelcome house guests with one horror after another, as he needs sacrifices to give eternal life to his beautiful but dead bride.

Spookies was originally shot by two first-time filmmakers, friends and horror fans Thomas Doran and Brendan Faulkner in 1984, with additional scripting, directing, and editing by Eugenie “Genie” Joseph. Originally titled Twisted Souls, the first incarnation of this film was met with conflict and chaos on and off set. So the long and short of it is, the original director was fired from Twisted Souls, and the movie’s financier gave what had been shot over to Doran and Faulkner, both of whom had a vision of an ethereal movie with a monster a minute that takes place at a haunted mansion! And they couldn’t have asked for a more ideal location. The new directors brought their highly skilled crew to the John Jay Estate, located in Rye, New York. This colonial manner was once the home of one of America’s founding fathers, John Jay, who co-authored the Treaty Of Paris and the Federalist Papers, and was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

As you already know, the horror genre is filled with immense, and often underrated or undervalued talent, imagination, and sheer excellence in craftsmanship that work together to bring our nightmares to life. The proliferation of A and B horror movies in the 1980s resulted in an explosion of creativity on screen that made us laugh and scream. Rarely have I found myself genuinely surprised by a horror movie, but I absolutely loved this one for feeling fresh yet familiar! When I was asked by another podcaster, what about Cinema Speak’s review made me immediately seek it out, I responded with the description of the practical effects as being cheesy and charming as the commentary that inspired me to locate this obscure 1980s gem! Anytime someone highlights the practical effects in (any, but especially in) a horror movie, I am compelled to check it out.

So much of this movie’s plot makes absolutely zero sense, but it somehow pulls off the impossible by making that work! From a random, isolated thirteen-year-old boy running around the woods to celebrate his birthday to a group of college-aged young adults hanging out with an older couple to a cat-like love child, the movie defies all screenwriting logic. And you know what? It’s perfectly fine. Because where this movie excels is in the art of the horror experience! You get it all, unlikable characters that you cheer for when they meet their demise, a stupid kid that gets what he deserves, a tragic and twisted love story, and a haunted mansion in the middle of the woods surrounded by a graveyard. Throw in a heaping helping of high-budget ambition on a low-budget wallet, and you get this phantasmagorical movie that will make horror fans gleefully smile at the high degree of entertainment value with heart.

The movie’s technical achievement is outstanding! And not just the monster/creature effects, the cinematography and score are also quite good! While the performances are nothing to particularly write home about, they deliver what you want to see and experience in a schlocky horror movie. But the real stars of this movie are the monsters and ghouls created by the puppeteers, makeup artists, and other technicians. This movie could be read as a love letter to creature effects and to the work of Jack Pierce, Tom Savini, Rick Baker, Stan Winston, and other behind-the-scenes stars of the screen! Every time a new spooky monster was introduced, I was left simultaneously with my mouth agape and hugely smiling at the originality of each and every creature. Sure you have zombies, but the zombies were all designed with the utmost care. Ken Brilliant (The Lost World: Jurassic Park), John Dods (Monsters TV series), Ken Walker (Frankenhooker) and Jon Mathews (The Deadly Spawn) were on the special effects crew, and they did a great job despite the low budget. Nothing was left to chance or hurriedly constructed–well, except for maybe the grim reaper monster costume that is from Spirit Halloween.

Not only are the monsterous creations in the house, but they are outside as well! Literally everywhere you turn, there is a nightmarish entity just waiting to stalk and attack you. This addition of monsters in the yard offers up a clever dynamic that isn’t seen often in these type of horror movies. Usually the monsters or ghosts are contained within the walls of the house. Cinematically, what this does is convey that there is no escape from the claws, teeth, and tentacles of the monsters. This proliferation of monsters actually plays quite well! Clearly the directors knew how to handle this spectacularly because it could’ve so easily been disastrous. The film’s success is attributed to the directors’ talented crew and ability to execute a grand vision on a limited budget. But why does this film succeed at it’s poorly written plot? It wasn’t intended to tell a thoughtful or even coherent story; the intention was to immerse the audience into a surreal nightmarish world of monsters, magic, and mayhem. A world WITH DIMENSION that is so incredibly impressive and entertaining that we forgive the story for not making any sense, because we can see and love the hands of the artisans in each and every scene.

Spookies is one hot mess of a horror movie, but it could quite possibly be the most phenomenal hot mess horror movie ever! Don’t try to make sense of the plot; you will go crazy trying. In a manner of speaking, the movie has to be experienced rather than understood or passively watched. After reading this review, you may be temped to think of this as just another B-movie that only ardent horror fans whom refuse to acknowledge the accomplishments of contemporary horror cinema enjoy; but if you think that way, you will be doing yourself a grave disservice because this movie is fantastic! And at a quickly paced 85-minutes, you will be surprised how much you enjoy it and will want to watch it again to get a better look at the creature effects. This is definitely one of the most insane low-budget horror movies out there. Prepare to witness the monstrous special effects extravaganza of a group of clueless people running around being killed in glorious fashion. So do yourself a favor and gather a group of your friends together with some drinks and popcorn, and turn the volume way up to experience the horror gem that is Spookies (1986). 

Spookies is available on BluRay from Vinegar Syndrome or by more nefarious means. But if you choose the more nefarious route, you will deprive yourself of the behind the scenes documentary and special featurettes ONLY AVAILABLE on the BluRay.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“FREAKY” Horror Movie Review

Friday the 13th meets Freaky Friday in the no-holds-barred, feel good horror movie of the year! Universal Pictures has certainly gone back to its horror roots in 2020. In February, it gave us The Invisible Man and on Friday the 13th of November, it gives us FREAKY. Writer-director Christopher Landon, who gave us many horror movies including Happy Death Day and Disturbia, delivers a refreshing horror movie filled with inventive kills, a fun plot, and frisky characters. Everything that you love about 80s slashers is here in this love letter to the horror subgenre that still brings friends together today. Funny how horror movies–movies filled with that which would repulse us in real life–have the opposite effect of promoting inclusiveness and community. And it’s that sense of community that separates horror, specifically the slasher, from other film genres. There was a magic in the decade of 80s horror that continues to greatly influence content creators and fans today. Landon knew this, and channeled so much of what made the slasher take the world by storm into this movie. While FREAKY is an entertaining movie regardless, it will be the nods to movies such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Child’s Play that will inevitably bring about the nostalgic thrill ride that Landon carefully crafted! Starting out as a masked killer, Vince Vaughn soon delivers the laughs as he captures every nuance of a mousey, bullied teenage girl trapped in a middle-aged man’s body. Likewise, Kathryn Newton perfectly captures a notorious slasher trapped inside a teenage girl’s body. Perhaps FREAKY is a little lite on the lessons learned from the body swap achieved through a Child’s Play-like mystic ritual, but Newton’s Millie does learn confidence. From the opening, that’s clearly an homage to the shock of SCREAM, through the hijinks and antics to the climactic ending, there is something for everyone in this movie–especially for geeky horror fiends like myself!

A mystical, ancient dagger causes a notorious serial killer to magically switch bodies with a 17-year-old girl. (IMDb)

That’s it. Simple, right? Some of the best movies of all time have simple plots and complex characters. Okay, so FREAKY may not have incredibly complex characters, but what it lacks in dimension, it makes up in a diverse cast plus doubling down on its identity as a genre film. Horror movies have long since been the most progressive of all the genres, and Landon keeps this value alive in his latest movie. Even before mainstream movies began including strong female characters, critiquing toxic jock culture, and including non-parodied LGBT+ characters, horror was a leader in inclusion and diversity. Has it too evolved over the years, of course; but my point is that it’s always been the leader. Using a reimagination of Freaky Friday as a slasher as the foundation, the movie is able to get incredibly creative with the conflict, character dynamics, and the kills! It is unlikely that any of these kills will make Top 10 lists one day, but they are mostly homages to past kills from tentpole horror movies. Is the plot predictable? Yes. But does that take away from the entertaining factor? Definitely not. This movie knows what it is, and delivers the laughs and squeamish winces in spades! Predictable as the plot may be, it is not without its unique twists and turns. I appreciate how those that are killed by either THE Blissfield Butcher or Murder Barbie are bullies in one way or another. Perhaps this movie doesn’t go very deep, but it’s certainly a cautionary tale on the deadly consequences of direct and indirect bullying and assault.

If you go into this movie wanting something completely new, then you’re going in with the wrong attitude. If you want to see a new twist on a foundational part of horror cinema, then you’ve come to the right movie! It’s been quite a while since there has been such an unapologetically fun movie in cinemas, and this is precisely the antidote to uplift the geeky horror spirit!

PS. Can we please stop using the Mystic Falls (Covington, GA) town square from Vampire Diaries in every movie that needs a small town? At least this time, I couldn’t make out the Mystic Grill in the background like I could in Doctor Sleep.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1