UNDERRATED GEMS – Dead Clowns

dead-clowns-poster“Dead Clowns” from director/writer Steven Sessions is without a doubt an underrated gem. Never have I seen such an ambitious, delightfully ghoulish, super low-budget indie horror film get so undeservedly shit on by the horror community. Reviewers say the film is boring and cheap, however my response is that they simply did not understand what Sessions was going for.

The film follows several different characters in the Florida harbor town of Port Emmet as a heavy storm is slamming the area. Unbeknownst to the residents the storm has also awoken a group of clowns that died 50 years ago in the deep waters of the bay following an accident. Yes, the movie is about clown zombies and these clowns are out for revenge as the town has tried to erase the accident from history.

One aspect of the film reviewers fail to appreciate is its slow burning, rainy day atmosphere. The mood and atmosphere is constant and you become enthralled in it. While many may disagree with me I also like the pacing of the film. Most zombie films have a “get to this, get to that” kind of pacing. “Dead Clowns” on the other hand takes it time. While this might seem like a weird parallel it reminded me of the “Twilight Zone” episode The Invaders, as there is very little dialogue. There is much more of an emphasis on nightmarish and ghoulish imagery, particularly the scenes with the wheelchair bound Timmy (Eric Spudic) and the scenes with the Night Watchmen (Jeff Dylan Graham).

The clowns themselves are monsters that any horror fan can be proud of. These are not your typical low budget, pale zombies. Rather they are super rotten, ghoulish and remind me of something out of “Tales from the Crypt” or E.C. Comics. Steve Session deserves a lot of credit for going that route. Considering the backstory of the ghosts and the methods used to kill their victims the clowns also remind me of the pirate ghosts from John Carpenter’s “The Fog.”

Lastly, I can’t skip out on telling you horror hungry fiends about the gore in this film. These clowns don’t play nice with their victims. Heads are bashed, arms are chopped off, guts are ripped out, throats are slashed and eyeballs are mutilated in a nice nod to Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie.” All these death scenes are done in a very “Splattery” manner. Have I sold the movie to you yet?

I refer to this film as the perfect rainy day ghouls ’n’ gore fest. If you can forgive the low-budget, shot on DV look of the film and have the attention span. then you should be able to enjoy this one as well. Enjoy.

-James J. Coker

HIDDEN HORROR-Spider Baby

spider_baby_poster_01“Spider Baby” is a 1964 film directed by well-known exploitation filmmaker Jack Hill. It’s a horror film that tends to get overlooked by the horror community and that is a shame as it’s a fantastic film with a great cast, including Lon Chaney Jr., Sid Haig and more.

The film tells the tale of three siblings who live in an old mansion with their chauffeur, played by Lon Chaney Jr.. However the siblings are inbred, crazy and suffer from “Merrye’s Disease,” which causes them to be lunatics and cannibals. They receive news that their mansion is going to be confiscated. However when their cousin and her husband, the two who are taking the home, decided to pay the house a visit, the siblings decide to get their revenge.

Not only is the film very dark and atmospheric but it also has a sense of humor. However by no stretch would I call this a comedy. The humor is simply used as a tool to ease the tension. The movie has a vibe very similar to Tod Browning’s “Freaks.” Hill’s black and white photography is used to such great effect. No gore in this one but the tension and dread Hill creates with his direction will have you on the edge of your seat.

This gem of a movie was created and shot in 1964, but the producer had financial trouble and eventually went bankrupt. It did not see theaters until 1968 and it do not do well at the box office. Then the filmed was re-named on several different occasions, which of course confused audiences. Later the film re-surfaced and became a cult classic, however I think the movie needs some more love.

If you enjoy old school, black and white horror films then you will love this one. A unique, fresh horror film that is totally worth your time.

-Dakota Bailey

HIDDEN HORROR-The Sinful Dwarf

sinfuldwarf4“The Sinful Dwarf” is a 1973 Danish underground horror film directed by Vidal Raski. Without a doubt this is a Hidden Horror as even many people in the horror community are not aware of its existence. It’s a shocking, weird film that serves as the essence of trash cinema, specifically Euro Trash.

A newly married husband and wife move into a boarding house, owned by a weird woman and her very strange dwarf son (Torben Bille). The couple settle into their living space but little do they know that the dwarf is an evil pervert. The dwarf and his mother have their eyes on the wife and a wicked plan in mind for her. 

This film is one of the first shock films, coming out before more well-known shock titles such as “Faces of Death” or the Cannibal horror films. However what makes “The Sinful Dwarf” unique is its lack of violence or gore. The shock value of the film comes from the perverted nature of the evil dwarf. It’s dirty, gritty sleazy and totally a product of the ‘70s exploitation film era. Those who love a good sleaze film should love this one. 

Controversy surrounded the film upon its initial release. Sweden banned it from theaters and the ban clearly prevented the film from getting any traction as in its theatrical run it only sold a couple thousand tickets in its native country of Denmark. I believe that this caused the film to not find its audience and  had the film become more well-known there is no doubt it would have developed a cult following.

It’s a good thing there are blogs like ours that inform audiences of these little-known films.  Severin Films released the movie on DVD in 2009 and you can purchase it from Amazon or any other online store. It makes me happy that a new generation of fans will be able to see this twisted, forgotten gem. 

Not everyone will appreciate this film. However if you love underground horror films, trash films, shock films, Euro trash or movies about evil dwarfs, than this is for you! It does not have its spot in horror history, and perhaps it never will, but it’s a great film and provides more entertainment and shock than most modern horror films. A unique film that deserves a lot more appreciation from horror fans. 

-Dakota Bailey

HIDDEN HORROR-Black Sunday

Black Sunday poster“Black Sunday,” also known as “The Mask of Satan” in Italy, is a legendary horror film directed by Mario Bava. While not known by your average movie goer this is one of the most influential horror films of all time. Even mainstream filmmakers like Tim Burton have been influenced by this film. This is a a fantastic horror film that just so happens to be very artistic as well.

The film opens with a witch being sentenced to death for sorcery by her brother. Before she is burned at the stake she places a curse upon his descendants. A metal mask with sharp spikes on the inside, known as the “Mask of Satan,” is placed on her face and hammered on with a huge mallet. Two centuries later a doctor and his assistant are traveling through the same town where the witch was burned. Their carriage breaks down and while waiting for the coachmen to fix it the two wander into a nearby crypt. They see the witches’ coffin and notice the “Mask of Satan” through a glass panel. One of them breaks the panel by accident when striking at a bat. They remove the mask, one of them cuts their hands on the glass, a drop of blood lands on the face of the corpse and the blood resurrects the witch.

Atmospheric, artsy and creepy are the words I would use to describe this film. Imagine a medieval, fairy tale like setting mixed with a Universal monster movie vibe and that gives you an idea of this film. The use of castles, tombs and more create a great, creepy atmosphere. This film and “Black Sabbath,” which I previously reviewed, serve as the essence of Mario Bava’s filmmaking style.

Quite a graphic horror film for its time as well. In the opening sequence we see the witch being branded and getting the masked hammered on her face.

One of the best horror films ever made. If you haven’t seen it then you must as it is a classic that lives up to its reputation. Even if you have a hard time watching black and white horror films try to get through it because it paved the way for modern horror films and filmmakers.

-Dakota Bailey

HIDDEN HORROR-Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

tales-from-the-darkside-the-movie-movie-poster-1990-1020244031“Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” is a 1990 American anthology horror film directed by John Harrison. It it based on the ‘80s anthology horror TV series of the same name. While known in the horror community it gets overlooked by your average movie goer, and that is a shame because this film is a gem. I first saw it when I was seven and it helped me get hooked on horror, and I’m sure there are other horror fanatics that can say the same.

Since this is an anthology film there are three stories and a framing device. Let’s talk about the framing device first. Blondie’s Debby Harry plays Betty, a suburban housewife and modern day witch who is planning a dinner party. What is she cooking? Human child of course. Earlier in the day she captured a young boy named Timmy. To stall for time Timmy decides to tell her some stories from the book “Tales from the Darkside.”

The first true segment is “Lot 249”, which is inspired by the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short story “Lot No. 249.” Steve Buscemi plays a graduate student and antique collector who gets his hands on a mummy. He brings it back to life, by using a scroll found in the mummy’s sarcophagus, and uses it to get revenge on some fellow students who have wronged him. Imagine Boris Karloff’s “The Mummy” mixed with a Lucio Fulci film and this is what you get. A very gory and very entertaining segment. Horror fans will love it.

Next segment is “Cat from Hell,” which is written by George Romero and based off the Stephen King story of the same name. This one is dark, brutal but intelligent at the same time. A hit man, played by David Johansen of the New York Dolls, is hired by a wealthy, wheelchair bound old man, played by William Hickey. However the old man does not want him to kill a person, but rather a black cat. According to the old man the cat just showed up at his mansion one day and his other family members that lived there started dying of mysterious circumstance. The old man was once the owner of a pharmaceutical company that tested its products on cats, killing thousands in the process. He believes the cat is some sort of supernatural being that is there to punish him for what he had done.

The hit man thinks the old man is crazy but he kills the cat anyways, only to be taught a brutal and powerful lesson. A very brutal, very gory tale that goes to show what goes around comes around. The ending is very powerful and has stuck with me since I first saw this movie as a child. Only Stephen King could have come up with a story like this. However it is interesting to note that King’s story ends differently than this one does.

Last is the best and most powerful segment “Lovers Vow.” It tells the story of a down-on-his luck New York City artist named Preston, played by James Remar. One day Preston looses everything and goes to a bar to drink his trouble’s away. The bar closes and he and the bartender go outback to lock up for the night. Suddenly, a gargoyle comes out and brutally murders the bartender. The gargoyle spares Preston’s life and says that if Preston ever tells anybody about what he saw, he will come back and kill him. Present then meets a mysterious woman, his luck begins to turn around and he becomes extremely successful. I don’t want to go into any more details about the story but I will say the ending will haunt you as it is powerful and quite sad.

The special effects in this segment are great. The gargoyle looks very life like, slimy and hideous. There is also plenty of atmosphere, creepy moments and lots and lots of gore.

A fantastic movie and one that I can’t recommend enough. You just have to watch it to see how great it truly is. While it shares the same name as the anthology series the movie is quite different from the show in terms of the content. The show was creepy but never violent or gory. The movie on the other hand has a lot of gore, making it more similar to another anthology film “Creepshow.”

Speaking of “Creepshow,” according to Tom Savini this is the real “Creepshow 3,” not that piece of crap movie that has nothing to do with George Romero or Stephen King. “Creepshow 3” is a piece of shit and all copies of it should be burned.

Mainstream critics seem not to like this film and that is messed up as it is a great fucking movie. What I like about the film is that you can watch as it either three R-rated “Tales from the Darkside” episodes or you can watch it as the true “Creepshow 3.” I believe this film deserves a spot in the collection of any horror enthusiasts. I have had it in my collection forever and everyone in a while I pop it out and give it a watch. Chances are, you will too after watching it.

-Dakota Bailey

HIDDEN HORROR- I Bury the Living

d9e80047ac485766dc9cb2f7ad1ef2fb“I Bury the Living” is a 1958 American film directed by Albert Band, father of Charles Band from Full Moon Features. Horror fans seem to overlook this great film and that is a shame. It may seem like a typical ‘50s B-Movie but it comes highly recommended as it has an interesting plot that makes the viewer think.

The film tells the story of a man named Robert Kraft, who becomes the chairman of a very large cemetery. In the office there is a map of the cemetery grounds, which is dotted with black and white pushpins to mark the different plots. Ones with black pins contain a body while those marked with a white pin do not. Robert fucks around and puts a black pin in one of the white pin spots. He thinks nothing of it until he learns the person who owns the plot he struck with the black pin has died. Out of curiosity he tries it again and another person dies. Robert begins to breakdown and wonder if he really has the supernatural power to bury the living.

If you enjoy black and white, old school horror films you will love this one. The black and white photography combined with the large cemetery makes for a perfect atmosphere. This film relies completely on atmosphere, suspense and character development. Sorry but there is no gore to be found here.

Another aspect of this film that makes it unique is that it’s a psychological horror film, quite uncommon during the b-movie era. The movie makes you question if Robert really has these supernatural abilities or if it’s all coincidence. There is a great quote at the end of the movie that really sums up what the film is about. I don’t remember it exactly but it goes something like this: “If a man thinks about something hard enough, it might become real.”

“I Bury the Living” is definitely a Hidden Horror and a very unique film. If you want an intelligent, well-acted, atmospheric and creepy horror film that will leave you thinking about it after it’s over, then for sure check out this one. I am still thinking about the movie and it has been a while since I watched it.

-Dakota Bailey

HIDDEN HORROR – Pontypool

Pontypool‘60s experimentalist Andy Warhol garnered his fame by utilizing the repetition of an image or idea until it had lost all meaning. This technique is still used today, though to a lesser extent, and its ideology can still be found in many contemporary forms of media. The film currently under the spotlight being a prime example of such. Based on the novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, Bruce McDonald’s 2008 film “Pontypool” is the minimalist story, and a unique take on one of the most popular sub genre’s in horror, of a talk radio show staff’s gruesome experience as they live through their last day on the air.

Grant Mazzy (Stephan McHattie) is a much, much less sociopathic version of Alex Jones, with a philosophy that pissing off the listeners of his art form is the quickest route to building the strong following such a personality needs to thrive on. This could easily double as the filmmakers own voice being spoken through his on-screen surrogate. His semi-conservative producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) is not too fond of his brutal honesty and fear mongering tangents as he exaggerates every tidbit of information, from gridlock traffic to missing animals in the community. It’s February 14th, Valentine’s Day, and while being fed material to speak about through the news wire by in-studio air receptionist Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly), a dark series of events begins to play out, leading up to what “sounds” to be the start of a zombie apocalypse. However the film takes the extra step as to hold itself back from becoming the regular outbreak film, as only the auditorial sense is given the gift of viral pleasure.

The thing that makes life so interesting is the mystery that engulfs every aspect of it. Therefore, hearing the overwhelmingly detailed step by step descriptions of a zombie apocalypse without seeing the catastrophe dead on (pun intenDEAD) will always add a greater effect. As the radio crew listens in on the events as they play out in real time, we see not only the purest, most recognizable form of fear, but the on-screen representation of a terrified horror movie audience as they attempt to make it through the experience first hand.

As the narrative moves forward the viewer soon learns the cause of this new form of viral outbreak is not spread through the blood or the air, but through the English language. With each person (or at least each person residing in Pontypool) equipped with their own “host word,”  and each world revolving around the aspect of love and affection, the very mention of this unique word will soon send the victim into a jumbled mess of hysteria, eventually leading them to eat your face, Florida style. By being a radio host that everyone in the town listens to it’s quickly understood that Grant could be a major reason for everyone dying. The only successful alternative to this being the silent treatment.

Now this film, like many others before and after it, shares and owes quite a bit of its meaning to the undead films of George A. Romero, due to the fact of it being shrouded in metaphor (and I mean drowning in it!). On the topic of double meanings, trust me, this film has it all; People as slaves to the radio, dependency on the opinion and view of others, the influence people have on each other through powerful language, the positive aspects of a society embracing unfamiliar cultures, the mass acceptance of killing and death in modern civilization, it’s all here folks! Above all however, the film really likes to focus on the meaninglessness of words, that when repeated so often, have no real value underneath their exterior. Or, words that should mean something, but are only shared in the most shallow of ways.

By taking place on the most superficially emotional day of the year this last hidden ideology gains the most drastically powerful representation of them all. However the film does a great job at finding clever ways to disguise its key plot beats that reveal its metaphoric connections to the corporate dollar store novelty that is Valentine’s Day. Thus making it oh so appreciated when one with a questioning or negative view towards the tradition comes in tune with it. Moreover if the existential reinterpretation of vocal meaninglessness is the true star here, then that pay-off of “curing” people of their “zombified” state is next in line. By actually kissing and loving someone as opposed to showing the act of love through a card or box of generic chocolates, the world can be cured of the real problem – That this yearly dogma makes no fucking sense. After all, people only love each other one day out of the year. It’s just science. Much like how you only donate to the poor on Christmas, otherwise, they’re not poor today. Right, bro?

 – Sterling “The Spork Guy” Anno