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It’s Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus

Halloween is this week, so I’m going to write about my love of a particular Halloween movie. I am not alone in my love for this film. Since its release over 25 years ago, it has become a beloved “cult” classic. The movie is, of course, Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus is not a horror movie, although it does deal with a horrific part of America’s past, the Salem Witch Trails. The Sanderson Sisters also lure children to their cottage to eat their life force, and of course, Winnie brings Billy Butcherson back from the dead as a zombie. It’s all in light-hearted fun.  

This movie, more than a traditional scary Halloween movie, captures the childhood feeling of Halloween. It has all the tropes of the holiday. Kids run amuck, amuck, amuck seeking candy wherever they can find it. Witches roam the streets and night skies. Zombies chase after the living, and black cats cross paths. Every year, I watch the movie, and I remember how it was to go trick or treating and worry about witches behind every dark pine tree. (I grew up in the country so there weren’t street corners.) 

Hocus Pocus gives those of us, who remember it coming out, the first time a moment to reflect on how great childhood was in 1980s and 1990s. It gives us the ability to relive that moment one more time. Like the sugar treats horded in a plastic pumpkin, the movie needs to be taken in moderation. Too much of a good thing can be a major problem. That is why, despite the dozens of airings the movie gets on cable, I watch it only once per year on Halloween night. It’s my Reese’s cup at the bottom of the trick or treat bag. 

 Here’s to the Sanderson’s Sister, to Max and Dani, to Binx the cat, and good, old Billy Butcherson. Happy Halloween

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Marianne Halbert Goes Over the Deep End for the Gillman

Marianne Halbert is a horror writer from Indiana, the scariest state in the Union if you’re trying to get anywhere on the interstate because of the constant construction. Her most recent collection of short stories, Cold Comforts, was released in July. Cold Comforts has been called “a piquant mixture of the whimsical and the terrifying.” In this blog interview, Halbert discusses her favorite classic monster, Gillman from TheCreature from the Black Lagoon.   

Halbert says her favorite horror is the kind that “breaks your heart.” She puts The Creature from the Black Lagoon into this category. For her the Gillman “manifests” longing and loneliness “that will break your heart.” This puts the movie and the monster squarely into the horror that Halbert likes the best.   

For her, the Gillman isn’t a traditional Universal Monster, although he is considered the last of the legendary line of creatures from that studio. Halbert says that he isn’t a creature that started off human, but a natural creature. “He just is and has always been the other,” she says.   

The Gillman is the last of his kind and only becomes violent to protect his habitat. He is an actual creature that has been forgotten by time. Only when he is forced to react to the human invaders into his world does the Gillman become anything close to a monster.   

The true monster of the film is Dr. Mark Williams. While all the other characters seem to have a genuine scientific curiosity or are sympathetic toward the creature, Dr. Williams is exploitive only worrying about “the money and fame.”   

The takeaway from The Creature from the Black Lagoon can be similar to other “monster” stories about natural creatures. The animal is not the inherent monster. Humans provoke the monstrousness out of them. Halbert feels like The Creature from the Black Lagoon is similar to King Kong or even Beauty and the Beast. “To switch it up and make this a Gill Man removes him even more from other beings that we might feel we share a closer genetic link with (like cavemen, apes, and Bigfoot). It also creates an additional element of challenge and suspense when we have to go into his underwater lair where he has the upper fin,” Halbert says. This might be what has made it a classic.  

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Review: “Her Body and Other Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado

Sometimes fiction is like a mangrove swamp, or a log slumping into rich decomposition in a forest: natural, wild, an ecosystem unto itself. Other fiction is like clockwork puzzles, or ornate and jewel-encrusted nesting boxes: they are finicky things, filled with interlocking story logic. Then there are stories – and, indeed, collections of stories – that have a little of the organic to them, and a little bit of whirring clockwork complexity.

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Special Edition: Bullshit Shark Movie Posters

As I have been writing these weekly sharksploitation movie blogs, I have discovered a seething rage percolating in the corners of my mind. With the help of much soul searching and many scented candles, I have become self-aware of my disgust at misleading shark movie posters. I felt it was time to write some little fun-sized blurbs about this. So grab a handful of mini peanut butter cups and let’s have at it, shall we?

I know, I know. It’s motherfucking Jaws. I love it too. But this one really set the standard for all shark movie bait-and-switch posters to follow. It sets the right tone, and an isolated naked woman does get chomped by a leviathan from below. Yet, we wait for a long time to actually see the shark in the movie, and when we do…not this shark. What Speilberg and his team created in a time before CGI was truly astounding. At the time, it was groundbreaking. However, much like the OG Godzilla of the original film, the shark in Jaws turned out to be a little more…goofy. It’s just that no one had anything else to compare it to. It was a pioneering feature dipping its toe into a new sub-genre featuring true scares, featuring a monster based on a real creature. I don’t hate this poster, honestly, I don’t. But I swear on my Jaws lunchbox and everything else I hold dear, that all the shitty movies that came after got permission to bamboozle us because of this poster. Hey if it can work for Jaws…problem is, despite the poster’s dubious suggestions, that movie was pretty fucking amazing. 

If you have read my review of this one, you know how I feel about this filthy, nasty waste of time. It could have been so great! I mean, just look at the poster! Look at it damn you! A shark possessed by the devil? Huzzah! 

Reality check. The shark in the movie looked like a teenager got into their parents’ lude stash and simultaneously discovered how to use an etch-a-sketch. The only thing Satanic about it is its glowing eyes. There is no final confrontation between the mighty man of the cloth and this great big beauty of evil as the poster implies. The ending was a cluster fuck of bad effects and a smoke machine. It’s like someone threw a bucket of pea soup on a copy of the final episode of Lost (still a little bitter about that). I hate you Shark Exorcist. 

I will preface this by saying I really enjoyed House Shark. It was funny as hell and you could tell the guys cut the cloth of this movie from a deep and profound love of this sub-genre. There are two versions of this poster. One has almost the exact problem as Jaws. But now that I think of it, maybe they planned it that way? The movie is basically a parody of the classic. Okay, okay that one might be a stroke of genius. 

The other one, the one with a giant shark eating a house? Yah. That one pisses me off. The shark is the size of a person in the movie. I really mean that. The shark is a guy in a paper mache shark costume. This is a lowest of the low budget, folks. So I don’t care how many fists of increasing girth that dude fits into his mouth, he ain’t gonna stretch it out that big. Also the shark on the poster is a depiction of a great white, not a $49.99 outfit from etsy. 

Here’s another bitch session, this one about the movie I just reviewed last Sunday. Feel free to read it. No, seriously, please read it. 

Where do I begin with this poster? First of all, the movie does not take place in a prison. It revolves around escaped women prisoners but you would not even know that based on their skimpy outfits. In all fairness, you will realize they are women because of the triple D cups all up in your face (is that an actual bra size? I wouldn’t know anything after B). Second, the sharks in the movie, again, look nothing like this. They are spiky and small and stupid. They also can burrow through the earth. Where is that on the poster, huh? One more thing, Traci Lords’ name has a prominent place on the poster. She is actually in it, but she has no impact on the plot. She must be the cousin of one of the film makers or something. Don’t for one second think you’ll see her in those skimpy outfits because those days are behind her. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. 

Okay last one. Seems like we will be treated to a giant white shark attacking a chopper, right? Oh goodie! Once again, hell to the no. There might have been a chopper at one point. Maybe while I passed out from the banality. Say what you will about Sharknado but if there is a shark attacking a chopper on one of the posters, you can bet your mama’s pearly whites that there will be a shark attacking a goddamn chopper. Also, the sharks in Ice Sharks are Greenland sharks, which are a far cry from Great Whites. Google them, I’ll wait. See?? What did I tell you. I have nothing else to say except fuck this movie. 

Bonus Round:

Now for a good poster, a beacon of hope for truth seekers like us. Open Water is a movie about isolation, hopelessness and terror. A couple is lost among the vast, bleak, unforgiving ocean. Doesn’t this poster just scream that at you? There is not even a shark to be seen, although they are there gliding in the deep dark abyss below these pour souls. But the poster keeps that hidden away as a little surprise for the viewer. I want to make out with this poster. 

See ya next time!

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Gasoline – A Texas Chainsaw Massacre Fan Film’ (2019)

Fan boners on display (somewhat literally)…

Yeah, this was a pretty fun fan film. The biggest things I like about this one is that it goes off the tangent universe of the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM), but it still tries to keep the feel of the first. The difference between TCM and TCM2 is that TCM tried, in all of its efforts, to be a serious horror movie, while the second was more of the typical 80s-90s ‘So bad it’s good’ slapstick. However, TMC2, while hardly serious horror, added a layer of almost alien weirdness to the Sawyer family. In the first movie, they were nothing more than backwards, inbred knuckle-draggers. In the second one, there was almost this paradoxical ethos, a ritual of a sorts. The first movie was just a simple attempt to exploit cultured society’s fear of hillbilly yokels, while the second tried to expand on the concept and just went balls out weird.

This fan film marries those two concepts. That is, expanding on the tangent universe of TCM2 as it doesn’t have to be weird if it’s properly tied back to the first. You could almost see this fan film being a bridge between the first and the second. A sort of stepping stone to explain how a straight forward slasher became a story about a strange family’s murderous rituals. The second is only balls out weird, because there’s no progression to explain how that Sawyer family got from TCM to TCM2.

I also really appreciate the adaptation of Bill Moseley’s famous character “DOG WILL HUNT!” Chop-Top Sawyer. I also have to say their choice for Bubba ‘Leatherface’ Sawyer was also a pretty good pick. While he doesn’t have the iconic Leatherface pig grunt quite right, I not sure anyone could as I believe the original was synthesized. It’s just a hard nut to crack.

But the feel was dead on and for a fan film, that’s all that matters. This isn’t about bringing something new to the table, this is about taking TCM canon and giving it your all, with what little you have. And for what little this indie producer had, they did a great job.

Please give that video above a little click. Any fans of the TCM franchise will appreciate this and hardcore Horror Heads should give these people the respect they deserve.

SPOILERS!!!

Are there really spoilers in a TCM short that’s only 35 minutes long? Travelers stop to buy gas. Admiral Akbar “Its a Trap” meme. Cue Leatherface. There’s only two victims, and only one or neither can survive.

And, of course, since we’re following TCM canon, we know it’s likely going to be the lead actress who survives to the end. And of course it’s because Leatherface has a thing for her and tries to maker it a play date.

I fucking love the head nod to the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs. Brilliant use of another movie’s graphic violence on top a franchise known for it’s graphic violence. They just went hand in hand beautifully.

And of course there’s got to be the famous defacing scene followed by ‘Pretty Leatherface’ and dinner with the Sawyers. But I gotta give them this. Their sense of setting, atmosphere, and practical FX are fucking spot on here. Indies tend to really ignore the power of simple camera filters and lighting. And being able to dress up a set on a budget but make it feel like the decrepit Sawyer House is not an easy feat and, surprisingly, really easy to fuck up. Their attention to detail deserves credit. While this is very clearly not the Sawyer House, you could easily believe Leatherface and Chop-Top are chilling in a flop pad they took over together as brothers.

One thing they should’ve used more of was the body cam. The body cam added a nice effect to the inevitable chase scene, but for some reason, they only used it once, and only for a couple seconds, then scrapped it for the rest of the filming. It could have been equipment malfunction or something, but still, I wish they had more of it.

Not going to spoil the twist at the ending, but you’ll likely get a tickle out of it. I know I did.

Thank you for your continued support of Reed Alexander’s Horror Review. If you’d like to support my reviews directly, you can click the following link and add a ‘Tip’ at the top of the page. Or, you can go to the shop and purchase one of many books by me, Reed Alexander!
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Lessons from the Halloween Aisle

Every September it appears like a carnival stealing into town under cover of darkness; the seasonal Halloween aisle at your local supermarket. It’s an explosion of shiny sequins and rubbery red devil horns: face paint, wigs, fake cobwebs, and Styrofoam headstones. It’s a cacophony of moods and flavors, the delight of many children (and not a few adults). That seasonal aisle hides more secrets than most people know. For example, there’s a recent documentary called Halloween in a Box that celebrates the rise of low-cost, store-bought plastic Halloween costumes; a tradition that proudly continues to this day. As the film tells it, trick-or-treating almost went extinct in America, and it was only the efforts of a plucky band of rapacious industrialists that may have salvaged the tradition. I’m glad trick-or-treating survived. It’s always an interesting barometer of where kids’ heads are at and what stories resonate with them.

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A New Podcast

We are now hosting a new podcast called Wandering Monster. On this show, our very own Salt City Sinner (Charles Bernard), Publishing Editor (John Baltisberger) and Poet extraordinaire (Lemons Clemons) take to the mics to discuss their favorite monsters from pop culture and gaming.

A no holds barred experience where every week they choose a new theme, and each come with a single monster to champion, this is not an actual play podcast, but rather a sourcebook that can go with others. This is the Monster Manual of internet radio that ends in a three way brawl for monster supremacy!

Welcome to Wondering Monster, ROLL INITIATIVE!

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Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre: The limburger of movie cheese

Why did I choose that tagline? Well, a character utters the sentence “I’ve been smelling bad crap my whole life and this is the limburger of bad”. Yes, sister. You practically reviewed this movie for me. 

The film opens with frackers blowing shit up. Cut to a bunch of boobilicious bimbos in tight white tank tops and daisy dukes boarding a van at the business end of two prison guards’ guns. Prison issued attire is sure getting skimpy these days. But I guess they’re in a hot, humid swamp so there’s that. 

The explosion opens up a crevasse from which escapes a spiky prehistoric shark who hauls ass into the ridiculously shallow waters. The frackers take a shortcut on the way to Miller time through the haunting abyss of 10 inch deep waters. I don’t even think the water’s deep enough to breach the top of my Doc Martens but yet, the shark swims right up and chomps their asses. 

Traci Lords is the police chief or head detective or something. Her and her partner look through binoculars a lot and crack wise throughout the movie, but they literally have no impact on the plot. None. Having said that, their lack of usefulness is eclipsed by the always likeable Lords who comes off saucy, witty and seems like a really cool boss. They are always three steps behind anything that happens and they never catch up. Never. 

The lady prisoners are taken out to clear some swamp stumps by the guards. What then commences is the most unsexy sexy scene ever. I’m not sure if these actresses are ex-porn stars or what but they seem a little “rode hard and put up wet” and not in a good way (wink). I haven’t seen that much silicone since they misprinted the exit sign to the Google campus. One of the girls gets unsexily eaten in a puddle and the movie really takes off from there. By “takes off”, I mean gets into a stall and plummets into a mountain. Unsexily. 

They get carjacked by a feisty redhead who is the lover of one of the blondes. She brought a change of clothes, thank god, because the tiny tops and shorts virtually screamed prison issue. So they change into other tank tops and shorts. Sigh. They eventually land in a double wide manufactured home in the middle of nowhere. There’s hot tub action, lesbian smooching and more silcone! 

This is a shark movie, so let’s talk about that, shall we? The attacks are frequent but nothing is shown subsequent to the spiny CGI shark launching itself at the victim. The shark ends up becoming six sharks at some point and now they can burrow through land like my spoon through an extra large semi-warm chocolate gelato (man, I’m hungry). 

Enter into the plot two seismologists who are there only to provide the obligatory “scientific” explanation for all this nonsense. The fracking fractured the subterranean shell bed, cracking open a fissure into the immense prehistoric sea that resides underneath the earth’s crust. Thus the sharkasauruses! Oh yah and to explain why there’s more than one shark now, apparently, every year, sharks swarm in numbers up to 1500 to mate and feed! This revelation caused me to run over to my desk, grab my Bachelors degree in Marine Biology and literally slap my television with it so hard my student loans felt it. 

This group of imbeciles makes its way into a cave that looks exactly like the cue for the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disney. This leads us painstakingly slowly toward the climax of the movie, which is about 400 hours (may not be actual time) of watching a raft move back and forth and some predictable and bloodless action. You’d think these ladies would know how to provide a proper climax, if ya know what I mean? HEYO!! Ugh, sorry about that. 

I really liked the head prison guard whose fatherly guidance and headstrong demeanor caused even the most hardened lady prisoner’s implant-adjacent heart to grow..er…augment three sizes bigger by the film’s conclusion. He ends up as kind of the final girl of the movie. And then here comes Traci Lords and her partner who have missed everything. And then the movie mercifully ends. 

I need to go clean up the broken glass from the frame holding my degree before I cut my foot and can’t drive to the gelato place. 

See ya next time!

Director: Jim Wynorski

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Cloverfield’ (2008)

How Kaiju was brought back to horror

As a horror head, one of the most interesting things I ever heard about horror was from my father. When he was a kid, the idea of Godzilla scared the shit out of him. Today, we crave something more out of modern horror. The idea of being scared by Kaiju sounds kinda cute, really. Even with the advent of Shin Godzilla, going back to the roots of the evil king lizard, it’s not what anyone would really consider scary.

But if you stop to think about it, the idea should be pretty damn terrifying! This gargantuan thing just rises up out of the water and brings wholesale slaughter to everyone in sight. Not necessarily even from trying, just by moving. Ever step it takes shakes the ground; if its tail so much as brushes a building, the shear weight brings the whole building crashing down. Hell, just the ‘rising up from the water’ part would cause such a sudden tsunami which would wipe out hundreds of people before they could even react—maybe even thousands. There’s no defense against it; all you can really do is run from it, (and hope it doesn’t decide to just start moving in that direction), you can’t even prepare for it. You can’t exactly ‘Godzilla Proof’ a building. So why isn’t Godzilla scary?

The problem is presentation. The audience is on the outside looking in and even on the big screen, Godzilla ain’t that big. Horror heads, especially Godzilla fans, are kinda blood thirsty. We’re just there for the cool looking monsters and the inevitable monster wrestling match. We have no connection to the destruction on the ground level, even when they try to show it.

Enter J. J. Abrams. And as much as I don’t have a ton of respect for him as a director, he saw what was missing from the Kaiju genre and fixed it. Anyone who knows me, knows I hate ‘Shaky Camera.’ There’s almost never an excuse for Hollywood to use it, and even if they do use it, if it’s gratuitous, it fucks the whole movie up and makes it nigh unwatchable. I wrote a review of The Taking of Deborah Logan (TTODL) to illustrate how and why it is completely unacceptable as cinematography. You can see that review below: The Taking of Debora Logan

It’s an earlier review so it’s kinda fast and loose, but rightfully angry. They RUINED what should have otherwise been an amazing horror movie with gratuitous ‘Shaky Camera.’

So what did J. J. get right that TTODL fucked up so bad? First of all, ‘Shaky Camera’ put the audience back where they needed to be in order to recapture the sense of helplessness and total chaos from a Kaiju film; right on the fucking ground. Second, the found footage genre was used in a way that made the fantastic seem more real and relatable. Being on the ground level in almost a mocumentary sense, it felt similar to following the camera guy in an actual war zone on the news. It was the perfect way for the audience to connect with something they’ve actually witnessed in real life. Finally, but most importantly, the character Hud, who was doing the filming, HELD THE FUCKING CAMERA STEADY!!! JESUS-FUCKING-TAP-DANCING-CHRIST!!! Hud manages to get amateur footage that was almost professional quality. They literally wrote into the movie that Hud got a nice camera, with a fucking harness from his buddy’s brother.

In TTODL, the fucking so called PROFESSIONAL camera guy spends more time videotaping his own two fucking feet than he does videotaping the shit happening to Deborah! Hud, a fucking amateur, gets a partial shot of the goddamn monster in the first 20 fucking minutes of the movie! Not even 45 minutes into the movie and Hud’s captured better footage than a news crew. I don’t give a flying fuck if that seems unrealistic, I came to watch a fucking movie, not an hour of some jackass filming himself tripping over his own feet over and fucking over again! Jesus, Hud even manages to get good footage when he does trip over his own two damn feet!

This movie became an instant classic for its cinematography and its re-connection with the Kaiju genre. It’s basically required watching for Horror Heads, unlike the two prequels, of which only 10 Cloverfield Lane is even worth watching. But I can even recommend this to general adult audiences. It’s just that good.

SPOILERS!!!

Only one thing to really bitch about that might constitute a spoiler. Besides the character Rob, dragging his friends to certain death over a girl who basically tossed his ass. At the very end, when Hud, Rob and Ms. Forgettable-Damsel-in-Distress-Trope are all being evacuated by chopper… why the fuck was the rescue chopper following the monster? It was literally flying along side it. I mean, cool footage and all that jazz, but… did J. J. not know how ‘evac’ works? Because it literally means flying away from the danger. Not buzzing it for a cool photo-op. What ‘the cinnamon toast fuck’ is that shit?

I’d like to go full Morbo right now, but technically the character Lily survives.

In any case, it really is an awesome movie. I was so impressed by it, I actually wrote a story that was my idea for a prequel. Frankly, I think mine was better and made more fucking sense. So watch this, and enjoy! Maybe one of these days you’ll figure out which one of my books was supposed to be a prequel.

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FearCon 2019

No matter your interests, Salt Lake City’s metro area regularly hosts enough conferences and conventions that there’s most likely one that’s right up your alley. There is, of course, the LDS Church’s General Conference if that happens to be your bag – but there are also FanX and Salt Lake Comic Con (our biannual pop culture and comic book conventions), Anime Banzai, the Salt Lake City International Tattoo Convention, numerous government and professional meet-ups… and FearCon, a convention devoted to all things horror.

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