Film Data Deep Dive: Night of the Demons (1988)


Considering how saturated the ’80s were in terms of putting our horror movies, it can be hard to decide which ones are worth watching and which ones are just a rehashing of the plot and theme of an earlier, better horror film from that decade.

Where does the both panned and praised Night of the Demons from 1988 fall in watchlist? Let’s break it down


Meridian Productions

Movie: Night of the Demons (1988)

Plot: The “weird” girl at high school Angela and her horny friend Suzanne throw a party on Halloween night at the abandoned remains of the funeral parlor Hull House. When the party-goers conduct a seance in front of a mirror, they unleash a demon from the crematorium that possesses them after killing or making out with them.

Killer: A demon that apparently has been possessing people and turning them into deranged killers since before colonial times if they dared to set foot in its little patch of unhallowed ground.

Critique: The ’80s churned out a ton of horror films, most of them cheesy, blandly formulaic, and light on the blood. Then there were films like Night of the Demons, which were also cheesy, blandly formulaic as far as plot, but at least had the good sense to throw in some craziness to keep its audience on their toes and entertained.

And that’s exactly what Night of the Demons is: entertaining craziness. Whenever the film seems to be getting stale, it throws in a scene to grab your attention, whether it’s an extremely gratuitous dance scene, a lipstick disappearing into a breast, or a gas line being used as a blowtorch. If any of those scenes were left to fend for itself in a horror movie, that film would have been buried in the ’80s coffin. But together, along with an extremely ’80s score, these scenes and others make up a horror movie that may have been born from cheesy ’80s horror, but was reared with the perfect touch of madness.

Meridian Productions

Scene of Awesomeness: After being possessed, Suzanne (played by Linnea Quigley) draws all over her face with lipstick before shoving the lipstick into one of her breasts. It’s not awesome because it’s a big nudity scene (it doesn’t hurt, of course). The scene is strange but not gory, showcasing why Night of the Demons is more than just your average ’80s teen horror. It’s a scene you would expect to be in a David Cronenberg film.

Meridian Productions

Scene of Ridiculousness: After using hanging barbed wire to climb up the exterior wall that has apparently eaten its exit, Rodger tries to help Judy up and falls off wall onto the safe side. A few seconds later, he’s magically back on the wall (with no apparent barbed wire to climb back to the top) in the exact same position to finally help Judy up. It’s as if the editors spliced in the same shot in to hit that 90 minute mark.

Body Count: 9

2 boring deaths by demonic possession

1 tongue bitten off

1 unknown bloody mess. Did Helen fall from the sky? Who knows…

1 eye-gouging

1 neck snapped

1 arm dismemberment by having a coffin lid slammed down on it repeatedly (Awesomely Overkill Award)

Meridian Productions

1 chest impaling

1 bloody choking by razorblade

2 pairs of breasts

Actors/Actresses of Note: Some of the bigger names cast in Night of the Demons is Cathy Podowell, best known for her role in the television series Dallas, and scream queen Linnea Quigley, best known for her roles in Silent Night, Deadly Night, The Return of the Living Dead, and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama. Lance Fenton, playing Jay, was a little less discreet about being a high school slimeball as Kurt Kelly in Heathers. Then there’s Amelia Kinkade, reprising her role as Angela in every Night of the Demons sequel except the remake.

Quote: Oh don’t tell me you’re leaving? Sal wanted to go… but he decided to stick around!” – Angela

Grade: B

Film Data Deep Dive: Hellgate (1989)

Good horror films have the intent to inspire fear, terror, or wincing revulsion (the good kind that only gore can inspire.) Most of the plots are unbelievable, but a good horror film draws you into its world so well that you don’t question the defiance of logic or reason. You strap in for the ride and embrace the adrenaline rush that comes with being scared.

Some horror movies take a more comedic approach by being self-aware of their ridiculousness, dropping bits of comic relief to show the viewers it isn’t taking itself too seriously. It doesn’t make these films bad because, again, they draw you into the story well enough to make you invested in the story.

Then there are horror films like Hellgate (1989) that are so incoherent and non-threatening that you can’t help but keep watching to see if someone tried to tape together the pages of two movie scripts that went through a paper shredder, or if there is some sort of ultra-meta film awareness going on here. With Hellgate (1989), I’m betting on the former.


Distant Horizon

Movie: Hellgate (1989)

Plot: A gang of college students find themselves in the urban legend of a ghostly hitchhiker that dupes unsuspecting drivers to take her home, which is a roadside ghost town attraction, where her protective father kills them and turns them into zombies, or ghosts, or zombie ghosts with the power of a glowing crystal that one of his former handymen found sitting almost in plain sight at the mine attraction of the town. It’s a bit hard to nail down what these creatures are. Let’s call them ghosts and go from there.

Killer: A protective father starts out as the main baddie in this movie, but the real killing power forcing its will on the body count is an evil crystal that looks like it could be bought at the gift shop of any roadside abandoned cave attraction. Maybe it was. Handyman Jonas sure found it pretty easily.

Critique: If you want to watch a horror film that will terrify you, or make you revel in its gore, or make you laugh at its campy production, or at least have coherent plot, theme, or acting, Hellgate is not what you are looking for. Hellgate is everything and nothing at the same time.

Distant Horizon

It’s a horror movie revolving around a mysterious power that reanimates the dead and twists the living into monsters, but it’s never actually scary. It’s a film rife with bits of comic relief, but the bits are so awkwardly out of place that they are never funny. It’s a film that uses both detailed puppetry and gritty make-up effects while filming, and sci-fi lasers in post. It’s a film that will blatantly give the male lead a license plate that reads “THEHERO” but won’t even hint at what is actually going on in the story.

Distant Horizon

But through all of the bad acting, storytelling, and special effects, Hellgate is watchable if you understand what you are in for, if only to laugh at how bad it is the whole time. But this isn’t “so bad it’s good” territory, or even “so bad it’s funny.” This is The Room territory, where a film is so bad from the beginning that you can’t help but keep watching to see if it is some sort of practical joke. You won’t get your answer by the end of the film, so you’ll drag other people out for a movie night to watch Hellgate and have a blast critically dissecting this film. Actors will write books about the film’s production, and there will be cult screenings in small theaters where the director will hold awkward Q&A’s after the film’s credits that won’t answer the main question, “Why did you make this?”

Better yet, why did I watch this? And why am I telling you to watch this? The power of the crystal lives…

Scene of Awesomeness: It took a lot of digging into this film to find something that could be remotely considered a scene of awesomeness, but I think the scene where Lucas Carlyle first tests the crystal out on his living goldfish and dead, preserved turtle deserves some recognition. If nothing else, this scene showed off some creative FX design.

Distant Horizon

Scene of Ridiculousness: How do you choose a scene of ridiculousness in a movie that is itself ridiculousness? Well, there are scenes of ridiculousness, and then there are scenes that are so ridiculously built up through the movie that you can’t help but laugh at how anticlimactic they end.

The build up for the scene of ridiculousness has Zonk, the former biker whose gang kidnapped Josie and led her to her death, spending what seems like half the film sharpening up his hatchet and knife in order to raid Hellgate and take out Lucas Carlyle. He finally makes it to the ghost town in a surprise, Hulk-style action hero display, only to be zapped by the crystal and fall down dead. Long, ridiculous build-up, short ridiculous end.

Distant Horizon

Body Count: 6 people, 1 bat, 1 goldfish, 1 turtle confirmed, 3 people unconfirmed

1 hatchet to the head, thrown at least 20 yards

1 crushed by a motorcycle running into a brick wall

1 bat smacked with a shovel

1 monsterized goldfish that explodes from the beam of a magic crystal

1 monsterized turtle that explodes from the beam of a magic crystal

1melting handyman before exploding from the beam of a magic crystal

1 decapitation by store sign followed by the headless body running down the street (Awesomely Overkill Award)

Distant Horizon

1 rope strangling

2 killed by car explosion (not sure if they were zombies, ghosts, or random people driving into the fake town)

1 killed by crystal laser blast

1 potentially killed in a prop house explosion

2 pairs of breasts, 1 pair twice

Actors/Actresses of Note: The only actor that rises to the top of the B-movie talent that makes up this cast is Ron Palillo, best know for his role as Arnold Horshack in the ’70s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter and best known in the horror genre as Tommy Jarvis’s grave-robbing accomplice in the beginning of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.

Quote: Take this, you zombie bitch!” – Pam

Grade: D. It should be an F, but I can’t help but recommend that Hellgate be watched once in your life, so I have to up it a grade.

Bizarre Tortures in the Amazon Prime Dungeon: Howl

I’m both a Bigfoot and a Werewolf movie completist.  And thanks to streaming services, there’s an abundance of both.  Now that’s not to say the majority of them are any good.  Hell, I’m still waiting for a legitimately good Bigfoot movie.  Werewolves are better represented in the cinema, although they usually have some flaws, the main problem being the reliance on crappy CG effects.  Give me a good old Rick Baker hairy body suit and fangs any day.  Can this plucky underdog succeed where others have fallen?  Let’s check it out, shall we? 


Starchild Pictures

Howl (2015)

The Amazon Prime description of the plot of Howl is “Passengers on a night train are harassed by a creature from folklore.”  Hmm, which creature could it be?  Since the title card spells “Howl” with a moon for an ‘O’,  I’m hedging my bets on wolfmen. 

Howl starts out intriguingly.  There’s a guy walking through a darkened train station with ominous music and rain, so I like the atmosphere.  This one is a UK production with British actors, so it’s already more interesting than the standard Netflix/Amazon werewolf movie, namely Werewolves vs. Hillbillies in the Woods with Shotguns.  I’ve seen more than enough of those.  Come to think of it, that’s the standard Netflix/Amazon Bigfoot movie as well. 

I start to doubt my choice when the movie attempts a jump scare with a chihuahua hiding under a chair and a suddenly loud PA system crackling into life.  Those are some sad jump scares.  Luckily it picks up as the train gets rolling.

Starchild Pictures

Our lead is the dweeby ticket taker on the red-eye train.  All of the passengers are jerks to him, for some reason.  There are spooky noises and then the train hits a deer.  Thus begins the train ride from hell.  I don’t recognize any of the actors except for Sean Pertwee, son of a Doctor Who.  And I didn’t even recognize him.  So it’s wide open who dies first, second and tenth in this movie.

My money for First Death was on the sweaty, fat guy eating fries, er, chips.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  I should’ve guessed in this low budget affair the most expensive actor goes out first.  In this case, Son of Doctor Who is taken out by a growling POV camera.  At this point, I’m still not digging the movie.  But thankfully, it gets better.

Pretty quickly, a hairy, growling creature starts offing the cast.  There’s a hilarious bit where the passengers decide to walk back to the last station.  “It can only be about two miles.”  They are immediately chased by the beast and they all run back to the train where the middle-aged lady gets her leg bitten.  Oopsie.  We all know what that means. 

Starchild Pictures

Clearly the filmmakers have seen An American Werewolf in London, as it pays homage to it in its attempts at humor, and the look of the creatures.  And you know what, if you want to be inspired by a movie, why not choose the best one, my apologies to The Howling

So in typical fashion for these kinds of movies, all of the passengers turn against each other and argue.  The Designated Jerkface actively keeps screwing up and double-crossing everybody, at one point literally kicking one werewolf-harassed passenger off the moving train.  Things get bloody really fast.  And the movie rocks.

Some highlights include many of the wolf attacks, which are tense.  The old guy gets a great rah-rah monologue about how “Animals hunt what is easy to catch… So let’s make it harder for the bastard, shall we?”  And then there’s a moment where they discover the wolf creature is wearing a wedding ring and… he’s human. 

Most importantly, the Wolfman costume is actually really good and the use of CGI is disguised by the dark and gloom.  And the movie gets surprisingly gory, which is kind of the point of these things.  When the bitten lady ultimately changes, she’s creepy-looking and I like how the wolfman eyes glow when hit with lights.  That’s unsettling and well done.  So the movie doesn’t break any new ground as far as Werewolf movies are concerned, but on the other hand, it plays its horror beats well and is all around well done.  Bravo. 

Starchild Pictures

THE BOTTOM LINE

Howl is a pretty suspenseful, entertaining little movie that transcends its low budget.  The filmmakers skillfully use strange noises, howling, lighting and music to build suspense.  After a slow start, the movie gets cooking with numerous wolf attacks and man-wolf fighting.  The movie embraces its low budget and uses its lack of extras to its advantage.  This is the exact movie that Midnight Meat Train was hoping to be.  But the filmmakers pulled this one off with a smaller budget and more ambition. 

My only qualms are the reliance on flickering lights during the attacks.  Literally half the movie is strobe-like neon lights and it’s not unsettling, just really annoying and frustrating to watch.   But I’ll forgive that since the rest of the movie is skillfully done and entertaining.  It’s a surprise when these movies are not terrible, so when they’re actually good, I’m impressed.  Definitely check it out if you have Amazon, and a hankering for hairy beasts snacking on obnoxious train passengers.   

SPOILER ALERT

After the sweaty, fat guy survived the initial attack, I then thought he was the wolfman as he disappears from the movie every time there’s a wolf attack.  But no, he dies ignominiously on the toilet.  Because of course he does. 

American Gods S02 Ep08 Deep Breakdown: Moon Shadow

Before we get too deep, and I quite possibly reprise the refrain that has tripped so readily from my typing fingers, let us spare a few words of praise for what is undoubtedly and without hesitation, one of the most playful, batty, innovative opening sequences in American Gods – not just season 2, but series long.  Mr. World speaks to us.  No other god is present, no other actor hears Crispin Glover waxing purple prose, just him, gazing with those beautiful, lunatic eyes directly into our souls, and speaking about the power of our fears, filtered into media.  That they perhaps hammer the message past the point of home, all the way into the basement and back again, doesn’t even matter.  Glover was designed for this.  He plays Rod Serling for us, moving through movie sets, sitting in directors’ chairs, showing up as a scarecrow, never breaking eye contact.   This sequence serves precious little purpose; it posits what most of the thesis statement of the show has been from word go – what you believe is real because you believe it.  And I don’t care.  It’s fucking great.  It genuinely almost doesn’t matter where it goes from here; my good will is secured.  Almost.

STARZ

Well, well… I’m back friends, 40 to a little-bit-more minutes later (I drink a million gallons of water, bathroom breaks are frequent and compulsory) and I’m happy to report that that was a hell of a near hour of television. It wasn’t perfect, and we’ll talk (not at length; let us aim to be concise, we are not negative!) about the shortcomings of the episode, but aside from Wednesday’s mostly solo little jaunt a couple of weeks ago, this was the best episode of the season, and an extremely unearned but highly satisfying season finale.  It also provides a compelling roadmap for how the show should attempt to move forward into a third season.  Let’s get into it.

I will tell you the general plot of the episode, before I dive into the little touches that make it work so effectively.  Basically, Technical Boy, reborn and frankly a little hot since he got rid of the myriad terrible haircuts he had leading up to this point, masterminds in conjunction with New Media, a data dump that causes people to panic.  They also release footage of Shadow and Wednesday in conjunction with the train massacre several weeks past (casual viewers would be forgiven for having forgotten that particular plot point, abandoned as it seemed to have been).  Salim, always our conscience, is concerned, but believes Shadow when he says that it is misinformation and remains with the Djinn, as FBI agents surround the house in Cairo where Shadow, Salim, the Djinn, Ibis, Nancy and Bilquis are all shored up. Shadow finally decides to make good his escape from all of these phenomenal weirdos, but before he can, Wednesday’s tree seems to… eat(?) him, and the next thing we are aware of, Shadow is on a bus and news reports are saying that suspects evaded capture.  Ibis says something cheeky to the Djinn, about to leave with Salim, and the Djinn calls him a smart ass even in death. Which obviously raises some questions.

STARZ

Meanwhile, Laura Moon, finally showing some spark of what made her compelling in the first season, warns Shadow that she intends to kill Wednesday and steals Mad Sweeney’s body.  The episode maintains Laura as something of a stoic, but manages, without openly saying it, to express that there was emotion and feeling between her and everyone’s favorite leprechaun.  Look.  I know it would rob Sweeney’s death of its emotional impact, but Pablo Schreiber’s schedule willing, I would be happy to see him come back.  He and Laura had genuine chemistry, and their arc does not feel fulfilled.

I’ve given you the nutshell version of events, because this episode more than this season at large seemed to realize the magic’s in the details.  And one of those details is that finally, FINALLY, the show realized it is no longer the beautiful, diseased brain child of my beloved Bryan Fuller. We can spend the rest of this digital life mourning for the show he would have given us – and I will, have no doubt about that – but without him and his steady hand to guide it, the moments where it feels like they’re aping his style feel overwrought and obvious.  Bilquis needlessly holding an apple as she talks to Laura?  We get it, temptation, sin, Eve.  It’s lazy symbolism, and Bryan would never. Attempts to follow his cadence of speech feels hollow.  Additionally, there is a moment of extremely unnecessary nudity, where Bilquis is naked for no reason with Shadow.  It’s clearly intentional and also feels really exploitative.  The actress who plays Bilquis is stunningly beautiful and wonderfully talented, and it feels like a really cheap bit of titillation to have her exposed that way.

But I’m going to be honest with you, none of that was enough to make me feel like this episode was anything other than a success.  As much as I love Bryan Fuller, I would much rather the show learn a new way to move forward and tell its story than continue to try and fail at imitating his style.  This episode was well paced; stuff actually happened!  It was funny.  It used its characters (except Bilquis.  Give her better material) well and in doing so, managed to actually return a bit to the feel of the show we knew.  There is a lovely, quick moment in the beginning of the episode that shows Laura and Shadow, in their shared life before Wednesday entered their world, talking about her desire for a puppy.  It’s a sweet, lovely, loving scene, that reminds us that these people were in love.  They were happy together.  And that sense has been largely absent from this season.  Why is Laura following Shadow around, killing in his name, fighting to keep him safe?  A less than one minute scene of them on a park bench together, laughing and being joyful, goes further towards explaining that than the entire season has.

STARZ

Even scenes with no immediate narrative importance feel more of this world; Ibis and Nancy cracking wise at each other while they play chess… it doesn’t move the story forward but it’s fun. It’s a fun way to see these characters interact with each other and feels far more organic than the vast quantity of speechifying they’ve been doing in each others’ presence throughout.  Also, the show squeezed in a sweet, romantic little moment for Salim and the Djinn – which should have come 100 percent sooner in the season, as we are to believe that Salim cared so deeply for the Djinn that he gave up his entire life to be with him.  It took 30 seconds, writers room.  30 seconds to remind us that these two characters – portrayed by violently talented actors, with beautiful chemistry – have a spark between them, and that that connection matters.

Shit, guys.  I don’t know where this show is going.  I don’t know if this episode was a fluke.  And I will attest until my throat is raw (or until he gets more screen time, whichever comes first) that Demore Barnes is an untapped resource and Ibis deserves more material, and that Bilquis deserves better material.  But for the first time this season, I saw why this show could warrant a season 3.  See you on the other side. 

Bizarre Tortures in the Amazon Prime Dungeon: The Terror Within

I’ve been finding some crazy movies in the Amazon Prime Dungeon lately.  This one is an obscure post-apocalyptic rubber monster movie from the tail end of the ’80s starring Andrew Stevens, King of the Skinemax Softcore PsychoThrillers, and Academy Award Winner George Kennedy.  Yeah, we need to check this out.


Concorde Pictures

The Terror Within (1989)

This movie was a welcome surprise.  It’s incompetent and self-serious enough to be entertaining, but also self-aware enough to be intentionally funny.  I have to say this is one of Roger Corman’s better films.  Sure, there’s some Drooling Tooth-monster rape, but it’s more tastefully done than in his other films like Galaxy of Terror and Humanoids From the Deep. This one is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi sort of thriller.  End of civilization means it’s cheap to film.  This movie apparently grossed $858,591 so unless the slime and blood budget was out of control, it probably made a profit. 

About 90% of this movie takes place in a bunker underneath Burbank.  Legendary tough guy actor George Kennedy plays the George Kennedy role, the gruff, imposing leader of a scientific team holed up in that bunker.  We are introduced to Andrew Stevens hunting rats with a crossbow.  This movie came out about the same time as Kennedy’s late career renaissance as Ed from the Naked Gun movies.  It’s also right before Andrew Stevens’s career turn as star of about 800 nekkid Fatal Attraction/Basic Instinct rip-offs. 

Concorde Pictures

So they get a distress signal from a Rocky Mountain team that they’re under attack from “gargoyles.”  At this point I’m thinking, “Holy crap, this is a long forgotten gargoyle movie?  Where has this been my entire life?”  And then suspicion started creeping in, “I wonder how they are going to make them fly around?  That must cost a couple bucks, pre-CGI.”  Then I remembered this was a Roger Corman movie, so yeah, no winged gargoyles.  Instead we get an homage/rip-off to the great Slime Monster movies of the ’80s, The Thing and Alien.   

Concorde Pictures

Andrew Stevens arrives too late as the Rocky Mountain team is all dead, but he finds a shell-shocked babe in the Bronson Caves in Griffith Park.  He unwisely takes her to the underground bunker where she promptly gives gross birth to an Alien stomach-burster.  But don’t worry, it will grow into a full-blown Gargoyle in about five minutes of movie running time.  Andrew Stevens plays the ostensible handsome lead, but his character is kind of a cowardly jerk.  I think this was a winking acting choice and I approve.  So we get scenes like when Andrew Stevens and his black buddy argue about who has to climb the ladder to the outside world where the gargoyles are gathering.  Then in another funny bit, Steven raises his periscope to check if the coast is clear above ground and promptly gets it yanked away from him by a Gargoyle and they get into a brief tug of war.

Concorde Pictures

Then we get a good look at the Gargoyle and it’s basically a C.H.U.D. with distended gums and pointy teeth.  It likes to jump out and eat people like an Alien Xenomorph but, you know, slower moving and goofier looking.  As I mentioned before, the C.H.U.D. gets a bit rapey and there’s a brief, completely out of place discussion about abortion.  Then the movie comes out pro-abortion when Andrew Stevens’s girlfriend kills herself and gives birth to a stillborn C.H.U.D-ling.  That was all pretty gross and gratuitous.

From there, it’s a dwindling cast movie as the C.H.U.D. takes out the crew members one at a time.  At one point, they rig up a laser gun to kill the C.H.U.D. They blast it to no effect.  Then the black guy makes the hilarious observation, “That drained a quarter of our power. We only get four chances with this thing.”  Thanks, Captain Math, I couldn’t figure that out myself.  At this point, George Kennedy clearly got bored of this movie as he rushes at the C.H.U.D. and gets himself neck-snapped. 

Concorde Pictures

Andrew Stevens gets injured fighting the C.H.U.D. and so does his dog, Butch.  So in a show of late 1980’s Feminism, cult film actress Terry Treas gets the Sigourney Weaver role and has to go toe to toe with the C.H.U.D. while Andrew Stevens nurses his boo-boo and has to sit in the control room watching cameras and pressing buttons. 

THE BOTTOM LINE

I know I’ve criticized Drooling Tooth-Monster rape in cheap, tacky sci-fi movies before as it’s pretty exploitative, so I won’t let this film off lightly.  But Drooling Tooth-Monster rape aside, this movie is pretty entertaining.  Sure it’s over-lit and under-acted, but that’s part of its charm.  It moves along pretty quickly, shows a lot of C.H.U.D. attacks and is cheesy good fun. I’d say it’s worth checking out, especially if you are an ’80s monster movie completist.  Apparently Andrew Stevens wrote/directed and starred in The Terror Within 2, which I need to see immediately.

SPOILER ALERT

Terry Treas zaps the C.H.U.D. off a ladder onto a giant industrial fan where he gets Cuisinart-ed into mulch.  I give it about an 8 out of 10 on the Kill-O-Meter for grossness and creativity. 

American Gods S02 Ep07 Deep Breakdown: Treasure of the Sun

Next week we’re going to have a conversation, you and I, friends, and we’re going to figure out what, if anything, the arc of this season of American Gods was, and whether or not its shape and size matters.  There is a version of this show – or more particularly, this season of this show – that is picaresque, a sort of anthology series of self-contained episodes with Shadow and Wednesday capering through as the emcees of a divine cabaret, that I think could be really effective and successful.  That hasn’t been this season, though.

STARZ

I let my hopes get unreasonably high after last week’s gleeful victory lap; it felt like the first season, but also like progressive world building and deepening.  This week, we are back to business as usual, with a slight up-tick in quality from most of the rest of the season.  Credit that, perhaps, to the delicate work of Pablo Schreiber and Omid Abtahi, who provide gentle, human undercurrents to a story about gods.  Maybe it shouldn’t be so unexpected that Salim and Mad Sweeney provide a certain sweetness to the current plot; neither of them are gods, and both have a capacity for deep feeling we haven’t seen particularly demonstrated by any other character.  So when Sweeney comes drunkenly stumbling to Ibis’s funeral home (I assume it’s a funeral home still?  At one point, Bilquis, now inexplicably an erotic Christianity minister, seemed to be giving a vaguely pornographic, free-standing sermon there… what the fuck is going on with this show…) it is in keeping with the world and characters that were established in season one, that gentle, empathetic Salim would show him kindness, and that the two of them might connect simply based on their sort of outsider status in this whole kerfuffle.

But – and I don’t mean to belabor a point here, so if you’re getting tired of my big picture thinking, please feel free to disregard the following paragraph, because it’s goddamn panoramic – what is the kerfuffle at this point?  We have spent an entire fucking season talking about an impending war, and we are experiencing the narrative equivalent of running on a treadmill.  After every episode I feel vaguely winded, as if it is a real effort simply to watch them, but realize afterwards that we have not moved any closer to this alleged war then we had previously been.  It is true that season one, oh mythic, beloved, favorite child of my heart, didn’t necessarily have a lot of forward plot momentum, but where it spun its wheels was in favor of world building.  If last week’s episode didn’t necessarily move the narrative much further forward, it did deepen the world, and established a richer sense of a pivotal character.  Could you argue that this episode attempts to do the same with Sweeney?  Absolutely.

STARZ

We learn in this episode that Sweeney used to be a king with a kingdom and a wife and a child, and was driven to depths of despair.  And to be fair, it’s a pretty good story.  Sweeney, before the Mad part was thrown in there, wanted to protect his lands from colonialist Christian settlers, and after a fight with a bishop, is cursed to go insane.  The most compelling aspect of all of this, in many ways, is the telling, as Sweeney’s memory refines and shifts and he loses threads and re-finds narrative relics.  At one point, he begins telling the story to Salim and ends with the voice of Bilquis (a character who is gorgeously acted and deserves more, better material) pulling him out.

Ibis tells Sweeney even more of his own story, and there are some interesting thematic elements at play about the mutability of truth, about how stories survive and adapt; Sweeney’s own life is a story he’s being told, about strange underground monsters, and how Sweeney Zack Snyder style killed his grandfather after the not so paternal old man gathered up all his grandchildren and attempted to drown them in a lake.  Sweeney doesn’t remember it so; he remembers it as Wednesday.  It seems undeniable that Ibis has a purpose and agenda of his own in lighting that fire in Sweeney’s ass, but it is difficult to know precisely what it is.

STARZ

Meanwhile, Wednesday announces that due to his spear being renewed and his tree blossomed, it is a sign that “the proverbial shit is about to hit the fan”, a statement I could listen to Ian McShane say all day.  He has thrown a dinner with some of his god squad, and Sweeney crashes it, prepared to settle some scores with Wednesday.  Shadow and Sweeney beat the ever living shit out of each other, and Sweeney reveals to Shadow that he caused Laura’s death, on Wednesday’s order, and Shadow accidentally runs Sweeney through with Wednesday’s spear, which a dying Sweeney sends to the horde (presumably).  All that fucking work, for a spear that vanishes in one episode.  And then, one of the show’s most compelling characters is gone.

STARZ

So where does that leave us?  After what was not a great episode but also a better one, we’ve lost both the spear – so presumably that war is once again “happening soon” – and one of the best characters the show had.  Even when I doubted everything else, I trusted in Pablo Schreiber and Mad Sweeney.  There is the potential that him revealing that Wednesday put out the hit on Laura will have some narrative impact, but this is hardly the first time someone’s told Shadow that Wednesday is fuck all in the trust department and it’s had virtually no effect.

We have one more episode to go this season, and we’ll see how they wrap it up, and if it warrants a third season – a third season that god willing and the creek don’t rise, you can bet your sweet ass I want to review, because now I’m in this, be it a victory or a total fucking disaster.  I’m… intrigued.  Not optimistic.  Not pessimistic.  But I will miss the hell out of that beautiful leprechaun.

Completely random observation: Pablo Schreiber is tall as shit. 

Film Data Deep Dive: Critters

I don’t know what was in the water during the ’80s, but I think they have to put it back in. It was a Golden Age for fun films, particularly in the horror and sci-fi genres. One of the sub-genres that came from horror and sci-fi was the little creature feature: films featuring funny, violent creatures that you could hug or run for your life from at the same time, like Gremlins, Munchies, Ghoulies, Troll, The Gate, and Hobgoblins.

But there is one little creature feature franchise that did it the longest, and even had a mini-binge series on the horror streaming service Shudder: Critters: A New Binge. Today we begin our quest to see if this franchise was deserving of that streaming series with the original Critters.


New Line Cinema

Movie: Critters (1986)

Plot: A gang of carnivorous space hedgehogs escape an intergalactic prison. With a pair of faceless, leather-wearing bounty hunters hot on their quills, the Crites land in Kansas and attempt to eat anything, and anyone in sight.

Killer: Crites, aka Critters, aka bloodthirsty space hedgehogs.

Critique: I don’t kid myself when I get to talk about Critters: it’s not a great movie. The story is formulaic for a science fiction “aliens land and wreck havoc on Earth” film, the acting is good enough to not be ridiculed too much, and the film sticks in as many pop culture references as it can. References, ripoffs, call them what you will. We have an opening ripped clear out of Return of the Jedi, complete with Warden Zanti looking like a cross between Jabba the Hutt and Bib Fortuna, a Gremlins-like trash party, a Crite mixed in with stuffed animals like E.T. (and if that wasn’t enough, a cameo of an E.T. doll to really drive it home), Crites in the toilet like Ghoulies, a Porsche 944, men being lifted off their feet, and space monsters speaking in jibberish while we read subtitles. The whole movie is almost a collection of cliches from the ’80s.

New Line Cinema

But even with all of that, I love Critters. It’s just a fun monster flick that has the perfect blend of action and comedy with a science fiction premise. It doesn’t try to be much else. It’s rated PG-13, so it’s build-ups are more thrilling than scary or bloody, but I can live with that in this film, like I do with Killer Klowns from Outer Space. If a film is entertaining enough, if doesn’t have to tread through the “would have been better if they went balls out for an R-rating” critiques that I sometimes toss in when I want a horror or sci-fi film to do more. Critters gets a pass on that sort of critique, and I’m comfortable saying that.

New Line Cinema

Scene of Awesomeness: The progression of the bounty hunters learning to drive a police car makes me laugh every time of the, probably, thousands of times that I’ve watched Critters. First they’re fumbling around trying to get the car started until they finally figure out how to drive… in reverse. They crash into the church in reverse, but as they are leaving, the driver looks behind him and the car drives forward. It’s the little things that get me sometimes.

New Line Cinema

Scene of Ridiculousness: There’s a lot of awesome ridiculousness, but as far as bad ridiculousness, the Browns’ house flying back together at the push of a button of a space transmitter is some pretty bad ridiculousness. The end scene was supposed to just be the Brown house in shambles, but I guess a PG-13 rating calls for a happier ending.

New Line Cinema

Body Count: 2 plus a cow and countless chickens

1 cow eaten alive off-screen

1 under-the-car devouring

1 stomach eaten out (Awesomely Overkill Award only because it’s Billy Zane.)

Countless chickens eaten alive in the shadows

No breasts. What do you expect from a PG-13 movie?

New Line Cinema

Actors/Actresses of Note: Critters has almost an entire cast that’s notable, leading up to their roles in this film or after. It has Billy Zane fresh out of his role as backup bully in Back to the Future, Dee Wallace following the sort of Mom roles she had in E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Cujo, and The Hills Have Eyes, Lin Shaye, who’s been in pretty much everything, M. Emmet Walsh of Blade Runner, The Jerk, and Blood Simple fame, and Hollywood “I know that guy” actor Ethan Phillips. Nadine Van der Velde followed up Critters with Munchies… okay, they weren’t all winners. But Scott Grimes went on to voice Steve Smith in Seth MacFarlane’s American Dad!, so that’s something.

Quote: Fooood!” – Crite

Grade: A

American Gods S02 Ep06 Deep Breakdown: Donar the Great

Hail Wednesday, full of grace, if the most recent episode of American Gods isn’t an all time great, at least it’s fucking fun, a claim I haven’t been able to make in quite some time.  I am full of genuine, absolute glee to write about this one; I’m not going to argue that the show has course corrected completely.  There is still a slight sense that the writers have run out of story and are spinning their wheels a bit, creating side adventures and filler until the finale, but when it is as ecstatically fun to watch as this week’s episode, who could possibly care? Not I, friends.  Certainly not I.

This chapter benefits greatly from streamlining its characters and stories.  There are, fundamentally, only two main stories this week, and both of them function as spotlight tales for Wednesday – a potent argument in favor of just winding up Ian McShane and letting him cut loose, because he is absolutely fucking majestic.  Let’s go chronologically, shall we?

STARZ

In the past, slightly pre-dating War War II, Wednesday moonlights as a cabaret emcee named Al (in what I have to assume is a wink and a nod to those of us who miss and adore Deadwood).  His headlining act is a strong man named Donar, who we learn is also his son.  A fledgling Technical Boy is present at the club on the same night that a representative of the American Nazi Party approaches Wednesday about sponsoring Donar – they’ll put money and might behind him, as he makes his way through strongman competitions.  Wednesday assures Donar that this is a good path to worship, and though his lady love, a goddess named Columbia, has real reservations about him sidling up with Nazis (smart girl), Donar ultimately accepts.  He does a lot of winning, until the Nazis ask him to throw a competition with a German rival.  Mr. Nancy, who is managing a goddess who dances burlesque at Wednesday’s establishment, cautions him against winning the competition; he suggests that being manipulated by men in either direction will have deleterious effects for Donar.  Donar takes heed and asks Columbia to run away with him that night to California.  She accepts, but one of Wednesday’s crow-spies (thought we’d seen the last of them?  I’m happy to report we have not!) overhears, and Wednesday goes into high gear.  He brings Technical Boy back to Columbia’s dressing room with him, where they make her on offer; become the face of the American War effort in the impending conflict, and receive all the worship.  Because Wednesday is a consummate con man, he also assures her that Donar has already left with the Germans, and he, instead goes to meet Donar outside the theater, telling him that Columbia is not going with him.  Donar chooses to walk away regardless, and in a brief spar between father and son, Donar uses his hammer to break Wednesday’s spear, which quelle surprise, actually manages to tie the two plots of this week together pretty neatly (more on that in another paragraph, see you soon). Several years later, Donar commits suicide in Philadelphia.

STARZ

Ok, so now onto the present tense.  To get the grumpy dwarves to engrave his spear, Wednesday has to get Lou Reed’s jacket for the main etcher.  Yes, this does continue the almost video game formula of “get this to trade for this to trade for this” that the show has been cultivating this season – remember, I said it wasn’t absolute course correction – and it feels like moving to the next level of a video game and getting a new task.  But again, this time it was fun, executed as it was by Shadow and Wednesday pulling an old con, where Wednesday disguises himself as a Bishop who wants to buy the jacket, tries it on as the clerk counts the money, till Shadow comes in, presenting himself as an FBI agent pursuing Wednesday for counterfeit bills, claims the jacket as evidence and takes the money back.  American Gods has been pretty oppressively dour this season, and it’s a delight to watch Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane burn the whole damn thing down and seem like they’re having a fucking blast doing it.  And that’s pretty much it – they get the jacket, give it to the dwarf, and he etches the spear – which we now understand the need for repair of – with fresh runes.

Yes, there is a very slight plot – not even a full plot, honestly, it’s just Crispin Glover saying cryptic nonsense to New Media – about the new gods, but honestly, it feels irrelevant and unnecessary in such an otherwise well designed episode.  Yes, Cripsin Glover does strange and fun things to my ovaries, and yes, I like hearing him say needlessly purple prose.  But I’ll be damned if I saw much purpose to him this episode.

STARZ

To continue to lavish praise, while there is praise to lavish, it would be remiss not to mention again that quality of acting on display.  Orlando Jones is truly great as Nancy, and he does this wonderful thing, where when he is being more intense and more serious, his voice lowers, and he drops the arch southern affectation to adopt the accent of Nancy’s homeland.  It’s subtle but affecting.  I’ve come around on New Media, mostly because (no tea, no shade intended towards the actress, this is a comment on the writing/direction) she has a slightness that reflects well the shallow quality the new, young gods had in the book.  Gillian Anderson is amazing, we all know that, we all agree.  But she was also regal, stony, intense.  She was an old god.  And finally.  This was McShane’s episode, top to bottom, and he is a marvel.  He was born for the cabaret life.  Though we never get to hear him be quite as colorful as Al Swearengen back in the Gem, it’s great to see him back in the role of a smooth talking, charm slinging snake proprietor.  He is the actual best, and if the rest of the show was just him and Ricky Whittle running scams, I’d be here for it.

Alright guys, my hope is cautiously restored.  If they can match this episode… there may be redemption for American Gods yet. I don’t have faith,  but I am open. 

American Gods S02 Ep05 Deep Breakdown: The Ways of the Dead

How much do I love you, seven or so readers of mine? Well, I’m glad you asked.  American Gods airs exclusively on the Starz network, a station that – in addition to being spelled in a needlessly stupid way – requires a certain sum of money to watch it on the monthly.  It’s not a huge amount, mind you, but since the only thing I have used it to watch is American Gods, a show that has become more of a chore than a pleasure, it has bent into a bit of an absurd irony.  I’m paying to watch a show that I’m only watching to write reviews about how much I don’t particularly enjoy it anymore.  And if that seems somewhat tedious to me, I can only imagine how it strikes a reader!

This is where that love I alluded to comes in.  Today I’m going to talk about the things I like.  They’re there; it’s really easy to focus on the lack of, well, focus, and the inability to readily detect the trajectory of this season.  Our disappointments jump out at us, and man, we love to shelter them, coddle them, indulge.  But it’s a purposeless negativity.  The showrunners aren’t reading my reviews.  They’re not going to say, “Oh, let’s right this ship” – and hell, maybe it’s not a question of “right”-ing.  What works for me may not work for everyone, and maybe, maybe there’s a deeper vision to all of this that I’m just not seeing yet.  So let’s talk about it.

STARZ

First, I want to address the Shadow Moon of it all.  I’m still not sure how he fits into this narrative of events, but Ricky Whittle remains an engaging, likable character.  He has a bit of a side adventure this week, where Mr. Ibis explains a sort of local ghost story of a young, black man who was wrongly accused of murdering a white woman, and then viciously  lynched by a delighted crowd who was clearly far more invested in their racist brutality then any semblance of actual justice.  The bitter ghost of Will James seems to take a certain perverse pleasure in haunting young black men.  I don’t know, man.  I’ve got some thoughts about this storyline and how borderline exploitative it feels to me, but at the same time, I recognize that I am a honky.  This is a uniquely black story, and I have neither the experiences nor the perspective to properly address it.  That is the province of those who have lived a life that I can’t even begin to guess at.  So what I will say is that I do appreciate the show’s desire to address the racial inequality our country is built on.  If American Gods is to be a distinctly American show, it is compulsory to look at an ugly, bigoted history, and the vein of racism, institutionalized and otherwise, that still runs in our country.

STARZ

On a more fun basis, though, I’m going to now sing the praises of Wednesday, something I’m sure the old god would enjoy very much.  This week he gets to have a little side adventure with Salim and the Djinn – who remain the show’s most consistently enjoyable pairing – as he continues his pursuit of the perfect weapon (I guess that’s what he’s doing now.  At the risk of dipping my toes back into the negative side of things, it’s really difficult to know what the stakes are in any given episode), Wednesday hops a ride with the erstwhile lovers, who are having a bit of a spat about the nature of faith and belief.  Also pretty fun, to be honest.  The Djinn points out that Salim has now personally met a whole slew of gods, so doesn’t it seem a bit silly to believe that there is no god but Allah?  Salim is steadfast in his faith; he believes in the suffering he witnessed, but he doesn’t believe in the supreme divinity of the gods he has met.  This is a heady conversation, but it’s carried with a deft enough hand… it doesn’t feel oppressive.  And to lighten it further, Wednesday bounces through the interaction like a delighted agent of chaos.  He provides his insightful couples counseling to them, very much not at their request, while also trying to court Salim into maybe switching gods – can I interest you in a little deity named Odin?  Throughout this storyline, there’s a sense of what this show could be – although at this point the canon has completely and entirely diverged from the book, the sense of fun and humor and adventure that is present in Wednesday’s capering feels very authentic to the spirit of the novel.

STARZ

Finally, I feel like I have to acknowledge the Sweeny/Laura storyline.  Which is: Laura meets Sweeney in New Orleans to find a more permanent solution to her little, “oh no, I’m still dead” problem.  Sweeney takes her to meet Baron Samedi, a Voodoo loa who can give Laura her life back.  I’m not particularly invested in their plot at this point, which feels like a truly squandered opportunity – every second of Sweeny-Laura screen time felt like a gift to be treasured in season 1 – but goddamn it, Pablo Schreiber is fun to watch.  I enjoy the shit out of him and his performance, and it remains a high point of the show.

Alright, guys, we did it.  We focused largely on the positive and we made it through!  There aren’t too many more episodes to go, but pretty soon the Amazon Good Omens series will be premiering, and maybe if I smile real pretty, I can get clearance to write about that… either way, we’re going to finish out this season, guys, and maybe, maybe we will be surprised yet.  Hope springs eternal.

Bizarre Tortures in the Amazon Prime Dungeon: Sea Beast

Apparently Corin Nemec, AKA TV’s Parker Lewis, has made a few of these direct-to-video monster attack movies.  I already reviewed Sand Shark, which was mediocre but featured the amusing non-talents of Brooke Hogan.  This one features nobody you’ve heard of.  But hey, it has a Beast eating people.   So it’s got that going for it.


The Sci-Fi Channel (Syfy)

Sea Beast (2008)

Parker Lewis, 20 years later, still has a baby face and still can’t do gravitas.  But he’s trying, for what little screen time he gets.  I’ll give him that.  Here he has long greasy hair and gets to smoke a cigar.  As I mentioned, this is the second monster movie I’ve seen him in, but also the second ocean monster movie he’s been in that doesn’t appear anywhere in the ocean.  Previously it was Sand Sharks, which stayed only under the sand.  This one is Sea Beast, which only likes to turn invisible and jump out and kill people in the jungle.  Seen Predator a couple times, huh, guys?

We start off with some terrible CGI boat effects, as there’s a boat in a storm.  And Parker Lewis sees a dude washed overboard, or did he actually get eaten by an invisible monster?  I’ll leave that question unanswered for added dramatic effect. 

The Sci-Fi Channel (Syfy)

Then pretty quickly the Sea Beast materializes to eat the only black guy in the cast and his girlfriend, who are never mentioned again.  Then the Sea Beast spends the rest of the movie eating people and spitting poisonous snot at them, that makes them hallucinate, and THEN he eats them.  Meanwhile, Parker Lewis slowly puts the pieces to the puzzle of the missing sailor and all the toxic snot he keeps finding together.  Seriously movie, it’s in the damn title.  Do we really have to waste 30 minutes of running time solving a mystery that was spoiled two minutes into the movie?  Yes Parker, you saw a monster.  How come you’re not more suspicious that your black buddy recently disappeared?

The Sci-Fi Channel (Syfy)

The big twist here is that there are several Sea Beasts running around, eating generic cast members.  There’s some attempts at humor but I didn’t laugh once, and the whole plot is pretty generic.  In fact, I pretty much saw this movie last week when it was called Wyvern, only that one had better effects, better humor and a flying monster, which is at least a bit different.  Both movies feature a lot of random dudes wandering into the woods with rifles who are eaten one at a time.  You know what, plot is free, guys.  Feel free to have some. 

The Sci-Fi Channel (Syfy)

About halfway into the movie, characters start speculating on what the Sea Beast is.  They think it’s some kind of angler fish.  I’ll tell you what it’s not.  It’s not some kind of mutant angler fish.  Angler fish are fish in the ocean, and they have little glowing balls over their heads that lure food into their mouths.  The Sea Beasts in this movie have claws, and four legs like a reptile, and have a couple ways of killing you, including teeth and long prehensile tongues that choke people.  This isn’t really how long monster tongues work, by the way.  They would just stick to you while the monster dines on you at his leisure.  There’s also a hilariously bad scene where a baby Beast monster-tongues the dufus boyfriend, then the blond girl drops a rock on the tongue, and the monster, for some reason, is instantly yanked forward by its tongue, smashing his head on the rock.  Once again, that’s not really how long tongues work.  But why am I arguing logic with a movie called Sea Beast and the monster walks, eats and lays eggs on land?  The movie is very predictable.  It’s just a series of monster attacks.  And  we all know where it is going as Parker Lewis, his blonde girlfriend, and his blonde daughter and her dufus boyfriend must face an army of Sea Beasts, and they survive.  Roll credits.

The Sci-Fi Channel (Syfy)

THE BOTTOME LINE

We’re in Syfy Channel Movie territory here.  The whole thing takes place in bright daylight to make sure that nothing the least bit scary is going to happen.  Also, it’s pitched at a frantic level of everybody shouting, so it never threatens to get funny either.  The Sea Beasts kind of look like buck-toothed spirit dogs from Ghostbusters.  The monsters are mostly made up of so-so CGI, but they’re not that interesting and never the least bit scary.  Not funny, not scary, not interesting and not gross enough to hold your attention.  So basically to enjoy this movie, either you’re an avowed Parker Lewis fan, even though he’s barely in this thing.  Or you are really bored, and drunk or high or all three to enjoy this movie.  Oh, and spoiler alert, that poster never comes close to happening in the movie.