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!

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Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail full review

If you’re searching for the most intense local haunt in Central Florida, then you need to head to Plant City to face the terror of Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail. By far, of all the events that I have attended this season, Sir Henry is definitely the scariest out of all of them. From the scareactors wandering about the common areas and queues for the mazes (and yes, I do mean mazes) to the ones within the dark corridors and pathways of the trails, each and every one is uniquely terrifying. Sir Henry, with featured now perennial guest Ominous Decent (whom joined Sir Henry after Hurricane Irma destroyed its original home in Bartow, FL), is made up of three trails, a laser tag arena, and an escape room. Amping up the scare factor, small groups are admitted into the mazes, leaving plenty of space between you and the groups in front and behind. No scares are spoiled like in more conveyer belt type houses. In addition to the attractions, there are shows performed in the presence of the statue of Sir Henry. While resting between mazes and enjoying the food truck offerings, you will be entertained by a group reenacting the Thriller dance and the Lipstick Players performing Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show. So much to do and see at Sir Henry. And with various ticketing options, this haunted attraction is the most scream for your buck. Oh yeah, be on the lookout for Vex. She is a wandering scareactor host who is always happy to answer your questions.

Returning for a second year to Sir Henry is Ominous Decent. New for this year is Twisted Souls, a maze that takes you through the ranch and slaughter house of a family that may just want to serve you up for dinner. Although there are returning set pieces from last year, this year’s maze is reimagined with new twists, turns, dead ends, and haunts. Of all the trails at Sir Henry this year, this is definitely the most frightening of them all. The attention to detail is incredible and nightmare inducing. Each and every trail at Sir Henry has a story posted out front for you to read the background of each and every trail. Although the signage is something that many guests may walk past, take your time to read it. Just like the preface of a book or trailer of a movie sets the tone for the experience, so does this narrative. The general theme of Twisted Souls is hillbilly horror. And within the livestock corals and humble abode of the family, you will encounter unspeakable terror and will wonder if you can escape with your very life.

After narrowly escaping the hillbillies of Twisted Souls,  my friends and I headed for The Carving. Again, there is a great story to read before you ender the terrifying field. From the entrance to the queue to the make itself, there is a noticeable attention to theming. The sinister jack-a-lanterns are incredibly creepy and truly set the tone for what you will encounter in the field. While my friends and I were waiting in the queue, none other then SIR HENRY himself came over to greet us. How many horror attractions have a consistent icon who wanders about, greeting guests? I cannot think of one. I love how Sir Henry walks around greeting his guests. This shows such an attention to the guest experience. Truly adds a personal touch. Instead of a ranch ran by cannibalistic hillbillies, this maze takes you through a field and village of deadly villagers that seek to carve up more than just pumpkins. With only some small candles and the stars to light the way, this is a dark maze. I love how it feels as though you are helpless in the middle of a forest. Because you are actually outside in a field and forest, speckled with foreboding cabins, this maze achieves an intense feeling that no amount of theming in a sound stage can fully replicate. You may even encounter low hanging shrubbery and even thorns. It’s a legit wilderness. Perfectly spaces out and paced, the haunts and scares are terrifyingly effective. Whereas this maze is not quite as scary as Twisted Souls, there are plenty of times that I was scared. And I do not scare easily.

Lastly, before experiencing the laser tag and escape room games, is Silent Walls. What is scarier than an orphanage with a sordid past? Answer, not much. With a serial killer on the loose, do you have what it takes to survive a maze through the house, grounds, and hospital with a murderous boogeyman running around? The entrance of this house is actually a house! You get to enter the orphanage through the front door and enter the dimly lit foyer. Every room is frightening and no amount of psyching yourself out or preparation will protect you from the boogeyman. The boogeyman may be any of the characters you encounter in the house, on the grounds, or in the hospital. Don’t trust anyone. The corridors are narrow and twisted. One wrong turn and you may wind up the next boogeyman victim. Like with the other mazes at Sir Henry, this one also boasts spectacular attention to production design and detail. Not all the scares are jump scares, and that is true of all the mazes at Sir Henry. Some of the frightening imagery is right there in front of you when you enter a room. The combination of jump scares and morbid characters gives this house an extremely strong presence. There is an atmosphere of dread and terror the whole time in the house. This level of fright exists from start to finish.

In addition to the three main attractions, there are two other offerings at Sir Henry this year. Laser Tag and an Escape Room. Both of them are included with the VIP ticket or available as a separate upsell. But you should opt for the VIP ticket since the VIP line access is included. Moore on that in the following paragraph. Providing guests with a break from the macabre, the laser tag setup is team v team in a small arena with cars and barricades. Plenty of places to protect yourself. It’s a lot of fun! I happened to be the highest scorer in my group despite dying 5 times haha. It’s a five minute game, and you will have a blast. Across the common area from laser tag is the escape room. Be prepared to wait for a while. Instead of loading the game with, say 6 people at a time, it’s loaded by party. So, it may take a while to get to your group especially if there are many groups of 3-4 people in front. Won’t talk about the room because that would give away the mystery. But it’s a lot of fun!

Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail has gotten so much right. In fact, their haunts beat out anything that I have experiences this year in terms of the level of scare and (non IP) production design. You DO NOT want to miss this season of Sir Henry. You will have a great time! Now, for some areas of improvement as this attraction continues to grow in popularity. The VIP queue needs to actually move faster. The problem with combining the VIP queue access with the ticket package that includes laser tag and the escape room is that most guest get that VIP combo package. So, the VIP line moved just as creepily slowly as the regular (standby) queue. Solution: Have the base ticket (3 trails), a combo ticket (three trails+laser tag+escape room), and make the VIP queue access a separately purchased premium offering. That way, you can add it to the base or combo ticket package. With it being a separate charge, fewer people will opt for it, therefore the VIP queue will actually more more quickly. I also suggest that Sir Henry add another food truck or two that gives guests different options. Lighting for the two shows in front of the statue needs to increase. And Sir Henry needs to work on how to communicate the actor changes with the hosts in the greeting positions so they don’t snd guests through while actors are changing (delaying the experience while IN the attraction). On the topic of hosts, the queues need to have a greeter at the entrance of the queue.

Although I still have a couple more local haunts to hit before calling it a season and switching gears to Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is on track to be my favorite experience this year. Most scare for the buck, definitely. If you live in Orlando or Tampa, you don’t want to miss this Halloween attraction!

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