About Justin Widerski

I'm a freelance writer, speaker, and GM located in Chicago. I specialize in media/cinema studies and I'm a huge nerd. Obviously. Email address: jwiderski@gmail.com

Hidden Horror- “Mantango: Attack of the Mushroom People”

Matango_1963_posterWhen it comes to legendary Japanese movie company Toho your mind instantly goes to Godzilla, however Toho made several other great films that are often overlooked. “Mantango Attack of the Mushroom People” is the perfect example, gaining a reputation and became a cult classic, though nowhere as popular as the Godzilla franchise.

The film opens on a guy going to a mental hospital to see a psychiatrist who may be crazy, but his story is even crazier. The psychiatrist tells the man what happened to him and it plays out on screen. Some people aboard a yacht run into a bad storm. The storm ends eventually and the people aboard it venture onto an island that seems to have no inhabitants. Their ship is damaged from the storm so they have no choice but to look on the island to search for some food. They discover a huge forest full of large mushrooms. They decide not to eat them as they may be poisonous, although they have no other source of food. They also find that no animals are on the island at all either. And to make matters worse they find the remains of another ship that appears to have crashed there. Eventually the people aboard the ship give into starvation and begin eating the mushrooms and the results are hideous…

Despite the weird title and concept this film is a great flick. Even if the plot sounds kind if campy, it is not as if this film isn’t a dark movie with a serious tone. It is also directed by legendary Toho monster/ Godzilla director Ishiro Honda and it features special effects by Eiji Tsubraya, who was behind all the visual effects of Toho’s classic films from the mid ’50s to late ’60s.

This film is an adaption of a story called “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hogdson. The story has been adapted a few times and this film is by far the best adaption of it. This film gets pretty tense at some moments as the characters begin to get paranoid and angry at each other, and they eventually break down as the film progresses and give into the temptation of the mushrooms.

Lately this film has became hard to find at a reasonable price, but if you do buy this film it is worth the price. It is not very often a film can take a campy/cheesy sounding subject matter like mushroom people and make it a dark and serious film. And this film is just a pretty unique and cool movie. If you want an outside of the box horror film this is for you, or if you love Toho or Godzilla films you will defines love this film.

-Dakota Bailey

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HIDDEN HORROR and TERROR TV: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

Don't_Be_Afraid_of_the_Dark_VHSIn the 70s several made-for-TV horror films came along, such as “How Awful About Allan,” “Trilogy of Terror,” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is from 1973 so obviously it is dated. However this film has a cult following from all the children (now grown adults) who saw it in the 70s and love it for its nostalgia.

The film revolves around a woman named Sally (Kim Darby) and her husband who have inherited a creepy old mansion. While they are having a handy man remodel the home, they come across a sealed brick fireplace. Sally wants the handyman to open it but he refuses to, not giving a reason why. Later Sally opens it for herself and unleashes an evil army of little creatures that intend to transform her into one of them and convince her to “not be afraid of the dark”.

I’ll be honest this film isn’t cutting edge effects-wise. The creatures are made with stop-motion animation like those in Ray Harryhausen films. However the advantages of this film are that it has solid atmosphere, great acting, and a great soundtrack to go along with it. The atmosphere of the old, dark, and serious house is the perfect horror film atmosphere and when it’s accompanied by the perfect movie soundtrack it makes up for the convincing effects film lacks. The creatures in this film are sinister and actually murder a few people. Their whispering of “Sally… Sally…” is memorable too and scared a bunch of kids back in the day when they heard it.

This film has been remade, but fuck the remake watch the original. While the remake has cutting edge effects it does not have the creativity or nostalgia that this film has. There are a lot of horror fans that saw this when they were children and remember it scaring the shit out of them. If you love old school horror: “The Twilight Zone”, “Night Gallery” or any of the made for television horror then you will love this film. This film has also inspired several of the popular modern horror film directors out there today.

-Dakota Bailey

Hidden Horror- Anthropophagus (1980)

anthrophagus-1-1For my last entry I took a look at the Italian horror film “House with the Laughing Windows.” For this entry I will be taking a look at another Italian horror film: 1980’s Anthropophagus. While it is not as unknown as House with the Laughing Windows it is still not as popular as other classic Italian horror films like Zombie 2, or Suspiria. Anthropophagus has gained quite the cult following over the years though. As I have said before, the world of Italian horror is a vast one full of gems and Anthropophagus is a perfect example. The film is directed by Joe D’Amato who is notorious for his sleazy, over the top films. He is a director that has done everything from porn to horror and his style and dirty vibe is all over this film.

Anthropophagus tells the story of some vacationers that visit a Greek beach town, however no one inhabits the island. It is soon found out that a deformed cannibal serial killer lives on the island, who has already eaten all of its inhabitants and plans to do the same to the vacationers. This film sounds like a normal slasher, though it is anything but. It has all the elements that good Italian horror films have: atmosphere, beautiful cinematography, and over the top gore! The special effects in Anthropophagus are great and realistic, having brought snuff film allegations against it. Those allegations were proved false and this film ended up on the notorious list of “video nasties.” The gore in Anthropophagus rivals Lucio Fulci’s filmography, even The Beyond. There are some pretty gross scenes in this film, so if you are the kind horror fan that doesn’t like gore, do not watch this film, because a lot of its appeal lies in its over-the-top gore and gross factor.

If you are more of a fan of Lucio Fulci’s style Italian horror then Dario Argento’s (like me) then this film will appeal to you and you will love it. Besides Anthropophagus being loaded with gore, it has atmosphere and a unique beach island-like vibe to it, making it the perfect summertime Italian horror film. The cannibal killer is pretty over-the-top as well and he even attacks his victim in the water while they are swimming as if he was a shark! You cannot go wrong with an atmospheric horror film that has a lot of gore, and Anthropophagus has both those elements. So if you love Lucio Fulci you must see this film as fast as you can! You won’t be sorry and it just might be your new favorite film. And it has a pretty gross ending that features some self cannibalism too! You don’t want to miss Anthropophagus.

-Dakota Bailey

HIDDEN HORROR: The House with Laughing Windows (Redux)

I reviewed this film back in February, but I have recently watched again and decided that my previous review did not do justice to this great film.

MV5BMTY5NDMwMzM1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjUzMzAyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_The world of Italian horror and giallo is a vast one, full of incredible gems that not very many people know of and this title is a perfect example of that. The House with Laughing Windows is a 1976 giallo film directed by Pupi Avati. What makes this film so great is that it has a wild plot, atmosphere, dread, mystery, and gore, which together makes this film truly a piece of art. The cinematography work on this film is incredible and the atmosphere this film has rivals any Mario Bava film. It is one of the best Italian/giallo films of all time, and it is criminally unknown.

The film tells the tale of Stephano, an artist, who comes to an island to restore an old painting in a church that depicts several murders. However, the story behind the painting is a grisly one as the artist who created them was said to have actually killed, tortured, and then painted people and their expressions so that his art could be more realistic! The artist behind the paintings is said to be long gone and dead but as Stephano begins to restore the painting, he finds that something or someone does not want him to, and a string of murders begins to occur in the village. As the film progresses Stephano learns the truth about the artist, the painting, and the village’s twisted secret.

Despite this film being atmospheric and a piece of art, it is a brutal film. It features gore, not as much as Lucio Fulci, but enough to make this film brutal and the ending is pretty unsettling as well. This film is kind of like two films in one, some parts being pure giallo/mystery with beautiful cinematography, then other parts being a more traditional and creepy horror/slasher. Speaking of which, the beginning of the film is creepy as hell and so is the painting that Stephano is restoring. The ending is very Psycho-esque to say the least, hitting the viewer like a ton of bricks because they never saw it coming. The dread and tension throughout is comparable to Rosemary’s Baby. The film at times is an uncomfortable watch. It is hard to believe that it’s from 1976, as not many horror films these days can match what this film has. This film is superior to most generic horror films out there today by using the basic elements of originality, mystery, dread creepiness, and brutality- and using them quite well.

Pupi Avati is an incredible director. He did not make very many horror films though and this is a shame because I (and anyone else who has seen this film) think it is one of the greatest horror films ever made. Pupi Avati was like the Mario Bava of the ’70s, but he did not get as much credit as Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento. This film was not officially released in America either. If it had been, it would have probably been as famous as Zombie 2, Suspiria and so on. So if you want a terrific outside the box horror film that is unique, yet artsy and creepy, but still brutal then this film is for you. The House with Laughing Windows is unlike any horror film you have ever seen. It may be one of your future favorites.

-Dakota Bailey

Hidden Horror: American Mary (2012)

American-Mary-2

For those who don’t know, I frequently attend anime conventions, spreading the Gospel of Geek Juice/Hidden Horrors through the handful of panels I do. One of my more popular ones panels is “Japanese Horror: Anime vs Film” where, as the title suggests, I discuss horror anime, or the lack thereof, and the tropes and history of J-horror in general. Inevitably I’m asked questions about my thoughts on Movie A or if I’ve seen Movie B, but there’s one question in particular I love to get asked: “What are your thoughts on modern horror and the state of the industry?” It always provokes great discussion, but no matter the path that discussion takes the conclusion is usually “Indy horror is where it’s at.” However, if you asked me to name a handful of great Indy horror films from the last few years I’d be hard-pressed to think of many. It’s partially because I haven’t seen much, partially because the majority of what’s out there is low quality and derivative, and partially because I rarely even hear names of good horror movies thrown around for me to blindly recommend. In complete contrast to this, American Mary is a title I’ve heard about since its release, and many people I respect have called it an amazing film. Directed by the Soska sisters, American Mary shines brightly as a great example of what Indy horror can and should be, giving me hope for the future of horror.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.44.45 PMAmerican Mary‘s titular Mary Mason is a med student who is severely lacking in funds. In desperation she turns to stripping, but doesn’t even get the chance to do that before her would-be boss Billy whisks her off to save the life of a friend of theirs, of course compensating her $5,000 dollars. Beatress, a… shall we say “unique” individual obsessed with looking like Betty Boop, hears about Mary’s skills and commissions her to perform some body modification on a friend. From here on Mary finds herself teetering on the edge of the wild world of extreme body modification, but isn’t pushed in until she’s drugged and raped by her professor, Dr. Grant. Mary and her world are now forever changed as she sets out to be a successful surgeon in a drastically different way then she had planned.

Ignoring all eloquence on my part, let me simply put that American Mary just works. The premise works. The characters work. The film itself works. The Soskas clearly have an understanding of the technicals of cinema and use various techniques to create effective and unique scenes. At the beginning of the film when Mary saves the life of the criminal, she rushes home, pausing when she enters. After the chaos and fast editing of the surgery sequence, the Soskas give both Mary and the audience a second to take in everything that just happened and in that moment we understand every thought and emotion running through Mary’s head. They take the very weird surgeries that make up body modification and pull them into the realm of horror, not through gore as most would, but by concentrating on the violation done to a body in the process.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.45.42 PMMary herself is the crowning achievement of the film, easily being one of the finest horror protagonists I’ve ever seen. She’s not only more human than almost every character I see in horror films these days, but also far more likeable and realistic than most modern protagonists in Hollywood films. Katherine Isabella brilliantly brings Mary to life, but unfortunately she’s not in good company because while the other actors play their roles just fine, they lack the certain energy that Isabella/Mary have.

The film is fairly well paced, cutting off the fat and showing us the essentials of Mary’s descent. Like in a Scorsese film the scenes feel like episodes that all add up together to create a completed story. Unfortunately, American Mary doesn’t hold up its pacing forever and in its second half stumbles, leaving you with an anti-climatic ending. For some this would ruin the film, but if you keep in mind the Japanese philosophy (going back to the beginning) that the journey is more important than the destination, then you’ll most certainly find the rest of the film worth it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 7.01.49 PMOne may want to push a feminist agenda onto this film due to the creators behind it and its content, but I never once thought about examining this film through that lens while I was watching it. Plot wise it feels like a standard, albeit improved, rape/revenge film and there are few scenes that provoke further analysis. There has been a notable lack of female directors in horror, but the solution to this problem is not to make feminist horror movies or prove that female directors are better. Rather, we need more movies like this one. Movies that prove nothing more then that the director, who happens to be a woman, can make a damn fine movie.

I may not have seen the largest number of Indy horror films, but I’d wager that American Mary stands out not just from all indy horror, but from all film. It’s cold without losing emotion, clinical without losing passion, and sophisticated without losing the rawness we expect from horror. There has come to be a large difference between the standards we judge modern Indy horror by and the horror classics by, but American Mary holds up against all standards. It’s one of the finest modern horror movies I’ve seen and one I’ll be returning to even when it’s considered a classic. It’s the kind of film I’m proud to bring up in discussion and I hope that inspires more directors to create films in its spirit, eventually leading us into a world where indy horror can stand tall and proclaim that it really is where good horror’s at.

What are your thoughts on American Mary or modern horror, Indy or otherwise? Sound off in the comments below!
This review and others like it can be found over at my internet home Mental Multiverse, for more movie and TV talk head on over to Buck On Stuff, and for all kinds of geeky goodness head over Geek Juice Media– Justin Widerski

HIDDEN HORROR: “How Awful About Allan”

HowAwfulAboutAllen-Edde1Perhaps one of the greatest unknown made-for-TV horror films of the 1970s is the Anthony Perkins feature “How Awful About Allan.” While the film is pretty dated, it is still a bit creepy and should appeal to any old-school horror fan, particularly if they’re fans of films like “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” and so on. This film also has psychological horror elements comparable to films such as “I Bury the Living,” “Magic,” and even “The Twilight Zone.”

The film opens up with a house fire that Allan (Anthony Perkins) tries to save his father from, unfortunately failing. Fast forward some time later and Allan is being released from a mental institute because he is unstable because of the fire and his father perished in it. Allan is now blind as well. It is also revealed that Allan unintentionally started the house fire. He returns home with his sister Katherine (who now has an ugly facial scar from the fire) but she begins to worry that they may have let him leave the hospital too soon. At night when Allan tries to sleep a shadowy figure calling his name begins to terrify him. Allan does not know if the shadowy figure is a figment of his mind or if it has something to do with his sister Katherine. Katherine is also renting a room of their house to a mysterious man. So it could be that Catherine holds a grudge Allan because of her ugly scar and because he caused the fire that killed their dad. Allan must reach the conclusion of the mystery and find the truth.

Despite this film’s stupid name it’s a pretty damn good film. It has great acting from all the cast (including Anthony Perkins of course). If you are a gore hound you will be disappointed with this film. Fans of psychological or old school horror will be satisfied with this film. This film depends on dread and atmosphere, kind of like Rosemary’s Baby or I Bury the Living. The shadowy figure calling “Alllaaann” is a little creepy too. While watching this film and seeing Anthony Perkins one cannot help but think about Psycho and his performance as Norman Bates but if you can get over that aspect you will be pleased.

One more interesting aspect of this film is that it was obviously done with a small budget and only shot in 10 days. While watching this feature you cannot tell because of how fine the cast’s performances are and what an enjoyable watch this film is. This film is a pretty quick watch too clocking in at about 70 minutes. Another interesting aspect is that for some reason Anthony Perkins wanted to be nearly blind while shooting this film so he had contact lenses on that he was barely able to see out of! This is a great film to say the least. Don’t let this film’s dumb title or age scare you away. Even if you don’t care for old movies or this film is not your style you should still check it out. An enjoyable film to say the least.

-Dakota Bailey

HIDDEN HORROR: Awakening of the Beast

AWAKENING_OF_THE_BEAST_(2)When it comes to Brazilian filmmaker Jose Mojica Marins or his alter ego as horror icon Coffin Joe, people think of his signature film “At Midnight I’ll Take your Soul.” However, Marins has made other films that are spin-offs of his “Coffin Joe” series, such as 1970’s “Awakening of the Beast.” This film is one of the most unique movies ever and it is quite an underground horror film as well. The best way to think of this film is to imagine “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul” mixed with a lot psychedelic elements. Marins basically decided to make a film about the rise of drug culture and its effects on society.

The movie’s made up of several little segments where people take drugs and start tripping, leaving the viewer to see their psychedelic and horrifying visions. In between some of these segments professors discuss their theories about drugs as well as what kind of impact Coffin Joe’s persona and films have had on the public and on the human mind.

This film is almost unclassifiable. You can call it a horror film, a drug/psychedelic film, or you can call it a Coffin Joe film (not really since Coffin Joe doesn’t technically make an appearance). No matter what you choose though, this film it is still horrific enough that it’s not for everyone, even horror fans. If you want a run of the mill horror film you will not find it here as this is meant to be out of the box and pretty different. If you can overlook its abnormalities, you will love this film. It proves that some of the best horror films out there are extremely unknown and underground.

Like with his other projects Jose Mojica Marins writes, directs and acts in this film.This film also serves as an example that Marins or more than a filmmaker but an artist as well. Another interesting aspect of this film is that it’s so impressive and it was done with a tiny budget. As in “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse,” “Awakening of the Beast” is filmed mostly in black in white except for the acid trip scene which features vivid Technicolor. On another note if you are new to Coffin Joe do not watch this film because. while “Awakening of the Beast” is an incredible film, anyone new to Coffin Joe should watch “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul” and then work their way up.

BONUS MUSIC REVIEW- Immortal: “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism”

235Black metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal that originated through bands like Venom, Celtic Frost, Bathory, Mercy fate and so on in the 80’s. However it wasn’t until the second wave of black metal in the late 80’s to 90’s that that the genre was really defined. The second wave of bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Immortal, brought image, grittiness and a DYI approach to the genre that has lasted till this day.

Scandinavian black metal band Immortal released their debut album “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” in 1992, being one of the several black metal bands to use make-up imagery. While other black metal bands have abandoned it, Immortal continues to use it to this day. An interesting aspect of this first album is that Immortal was not just creating music with their instruments and songs, rather they were also making atmosphere. While listening to songs such as “Call of the Wintermoon” or “A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland” you can just imagine snow covered landscapes and forests that the songs reference.

This album has great guitar, vocal, and drum work. Some of the songs have acoustic guitar intros in them as well, adding to the atmosphere, which is a shame since Immortal quit using acoustic intros after this album. If you want a polished hard rock album you will not find it here since “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” is gritty, with a DYI sound and approach. It takes time for the style to grow on you, but if you are new to extreme metal or black metal give this album a listen. It is an essential black metal album.

-Dakota Bailey