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Welcome to the Crypt!

Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

Hello fellow Creepies, and welcome back to the Unimonster’s Crypt! August has broken out here, the weather has been unseasonably cool, and the NFL has returned to the land! You know what that means ... Fall is fast approaching, and with it Halloween!!! First however, we have almost two more months of summer, and the upcoming HorrorHound Weekend Indianapolis to look forward to, so let's get cracking with this month's attractions!

Since this month marks the 122nd anniversary of the Lizzie Borden Murder case, Both S.J. Martiene and I are looking at that historic case from differing perspectives. S.J., in a review first published a few years ago, is reviewing the excellent 1975 ABC-TV movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden, starring one of the loveliest ax-murderesses I've ever seen, Elizabeth Montgomery. I take a look at just what happened in Fall River in 1892, and ask the question, "did Lizzie kill her father and stepmother?" The answer may surprise you.

Bobbie also checks in with a fresh pair of reviews, one a major motion picture and blockbuster at the box office; one, definitely not. She viewed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes not once, but twice! Read her thoughts on what just might be her choice for Movie of the Year!

Also, she sat through the year's most lukewarmly awaited sequel-- SHARKNADO 2!!! I think I'm safe in saying that that will NOT be her pick for Movie of the Year! So enjoy the reading, join our Facebook page and let us hear from you, and … STAY SCARY!

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04 August, 2014

“Lizzie Borden took an ax …”: The Fall River Murders and the Woman who got Away with the Crime

In the hot, late morning hours of August 4th, 1892, the sleepy community of Fall River, Massachusetts, fifty-five miles southwest of Boston, was rocked by the murders of one of its leading citizens and his wife. In a large house that still stands at what was 92 Second Street in Fall River (since renumbered to 240 Second St.), seventy-two year-old Andrew Borden and his sixty-five year-old wife Abby were found brutally murdered, literally hacked to death by someone using a heavy, sharp-bladed instrument. Abby died first, in an upstairs bedroom. Andrew was killed some sixty to ninety minutes later, while napping on a sofa in the sitting room. The discovery of Andrew’s body occurred first, and the brutality of his murder was sufficient to guarantee headlines in the local papers; the discovery of Abby Borden’s body lying butchered in the guest room upstairs took those headlines national. However, it was the news, a week later, that Andrew’s thirty-two year-old daughter Lizzie had been arrested for the killings made it the crime of the century.

Lizzie Andrew Borden
One hundred and twenty-two years later, those killings, and their aftermath, still resonate through popular culture. Movies, books, plays, even songs have memorialized the case; the home where Andrew and Abby died is now a quaint bed-and-breakfast; and experts still try to solve the case that children have long ago marked closed:
Lizzie Borden took an ax,
Gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Though the details are slightly off, most people familiar with the case do feel that Lizzie did in fact murder her father and stepmother, despite being acquitted of the crime. To think otherwise would be to admit the incredible—that a stranger, after brutally killing an elderly woman, waited in an occupied home for more than an hour, went downstairs, murdered her dozing husband with equal ferocity, and escaped unseen, taking nothing with him save any evidence of his presence. Robbery clearly wasn't the motive; nothing was missing from the home, and Andrew was found with his silver watch and chain in place, gold ring on his finger, and $85.65, nearly three months wages for most men in 1892, in his pocketsi. The extreme violence of the attack initially led police to speculate that it was the work of, in the parlance of the time, a “fiend,” or in today’s terms, a psychopath. The Fall River Police, acting upon that supposition, did what most 19th Century law enforcement officers would've considered the wisest move: they looked for foreigners to arrest.
Eventually however, certain facts in the case led them to a more reasoned conclusion—that the killer was a member of the household. The longer the investigators looked at the outwardly happy little family, consisting of the Bordens; Andrew’s eldest daughter Emma and youngest daughter Lizzie; John Morse, the brother of Andrew’s first wife Sarah; and Bridget Sullivan (whom the entire household insisted upon calling Maggie), the lone servant in the house, the less happy things appeared to be.

Though Andrew was wealthy, serving on the board of directors of at least four banks, he was also parsimonious to a fault; his household lived in near poverty, forced to scrimp and save every penny possible. Repeatedly Emma and Lizzie had begged their father to sell the cramped, two-story house in the decidedly middle-class part of town and move “up the hill,” to the swankier side of Fall River, where they could live among those of their economic and social strata. The appeals were ignored, perhaps fatally so. As author David Kent explains, “That Andrew would not spend a portion of his considerable wealth for a sumptuous home on the Hill may well have been the linchpin of the murders; certainly the prosecution made it one of the core motives in its case against Lizzie.ii

The morning of the murders, breakfast consisted of three-day-old mutton, mutton broth (both kept in the summer heat without the benefit of refrigeration), johnnycakes (pancakes made with corn meal), cookies, and overripe bananas, all washed down with coffeeiii. The family dined heartily on the unappetizing fare, then began their busy day.

Andrew left shortly after 9:00 to transact some business and stop by the post office. Lizzie returned to her bedroom, still suffering from a bout of nausea that had affected the entire household the previous day. Emma was away visiting friends in Fairhaven, and had been for two weeks. John Morse left earlier, with the understanding that he would return for lunch at noon. Bridget was tasked with washing the windows … all of them, inside and out, while Abby began cleaning upstairs. Sometime after 9:30, Lizzie came back downstairs, dressed for a shopping trip. As she was in the kitchen drinking coffee, her father returned from the post office. Lizzie informed him that Abby had received a note from a friend who was ill; she had left to visit them. Andrew retired to the sitting room to rest before lunch. The time was perhaps 10:55 in the morning. At that time, Abby was certainly lying dead in the guest room, body wedged between dresser and bed. Andrew, just drifting off on the sitting room sofa, had mere minutes left to live. And the whereabouts of his favorite daughter Lizzie during that period of time would become the crux of the most sensational trial of its day, a trial that carried all the notoriety of the O.J. Simpson trial a century later.

The trial lasted fifteen days, from June 5th to June 20th 1893. The verdict, “not guilty,” was the only one possible given the dearth of physical evidence available to the prosecution, a sympathetic press, and the golden oratory of the counsel for the defense, the Honorable George Dexter Robinson, former three-term governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But was it the right one? Did the scale of justice function as intended, or did a guilty woman go free? And what led authorities to fix their suspicions on Lizzie in the first place?

Lizzie made the initial discovery of Andrew Borden’s body; Bridget was in her room resting. Bridget wasn’t present when the note requesting Abby come to the aid of a sick friend, nor when she supposedly left. Only Lizzie bore witness to that. Lizzie claimed that, following her father’s return, she spent fifteen minutes, or maybe twenty … or perhaps thirty, rummaging in the barn looking for bits of metal to use as fishing sinkers, and snacking on pears from the tree in the Borden’s yard. She claimed that, shortly after the city hall clock chimed 11:00, perhaps five or ten minutes past, she returned to the kitchen, then entered the sitting room to discover her father’s bloody corpse in repose on the sofa.

Within minutes, the alarm had been raised, and at precisely 11:15, the first call is received at the City Marshal’s office. That is one fixed point in the day’s timeline; the only other ones are when John Morse left the house at 8:30, and when Andrew began his walk home, at 10:45. For the other points on the timeline, there is only the word of Lizzie and Bridget. One fact is certain, and is the source of much of the suspicion which must rest on Lizzie—Abby Borden died at least an hour, and perhaps as much as an hour-and-a-half, before her husband. To believe that Lizzie, Bridget, or both were ignorant of the crime is to believe that a stranger entered the home, traveled upstairs, through the oddly laid out building (the home had no hallways; it was necessary to move through each room to reach the adjoining rooms), in order to hack a woman to death. He then spent the next ninety minutes concealed in the home until her husband returned, while avoiding the other two women moving in and out of the house … well, the premise strains credulity.

But why would Lizzie Borden want to kill her father and stepmother? Was it as simple as being tired of living so far below their means? A childish resentment of a stepmother taking her late mother’s place? Or, as has been suggested by those who’ve studied the case, a more sordid reason for the crime, one rooted in a forbidden relationship? As noted crime author Ed McBain posited in a 1984 novel entitled Lizzie, a possible motive could have been to cover up a lesbian relationship between Lizzie and Bridget, at a time when mere rumors of such an affair would have ruined the reputation and social standing of the Borden daughter. Others have suggested that the obvious rage visited upon the Bordens was revenge for some manner of abuse Lizzie suffered at their hands as a child, possibly even physical or sexual abuse.

Post-Mortem photograph of Andrew Borden
Some may wonder, in this day of CSIs, when fingerprints and DNA solve crimes every day, how there could be no evidence from such brutal murders. The murders occurred in a far different era, when forensic science was just a dream in the minds of a few criminologists. Some departments in larger cities had begun using the Bertillon system, a complex series of precise measurements of criminals, especially such characteristics as the shape of the ears, the width of the nose, and the distance from one pupil to the other. In 1892, the same year the Borden murders occurred, a detective in Argentina closed the first case using fingerprint evidence, a homicide in the town of Necochea, though the practice wouldn't be introduced in the United States until 1906.
Post-Mortem photograph of Abby Borden

As far as physical evidence in the Borden case, it’s conspicuous in its absence. No trace of the note which supposedly called Abby away to the bedside of a sick friend was ever found, nor were attempts to identify said friend successful. The prosecution made much of a supposed bloodstained skirt, the spot upon which, in the words of expert witness Prof. Wood, “… was the size of a very small pin head …iv” that wasn't blood after all. There was testimony about a blue dress that Lizzie burned in the days following the murders. She stated that it had been spattered with paint. An old, rusty hatchet without a handle was found in a bin in the basement; experts testified that it couldn't have been the murder weapon. In short, there was nothing to prove that Lizzie committed the crime, and nothing to show that anyone else had either. The only proof of the murders was the dead, bloody bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden, and their severed heads, removed by authorities just prior to the funerals and preserved as evidence.

Did Lizzie kill her Father and Stepmother? I believe so. Logically, it’s hard to believe otherwise. It can’t be proven, nor is it possible at this point to assess a motive for the crime. One thing is certain, however … this case will continue to fascinate people for generations, just as it has for more than one-hundred and twenty years.

Kent, David. Forty Whacks: New Evidence in the Life and Legend of Lizzie Borden. Yankee Books, Emmaus, PA. 1992.
Kent, David, with Roberta A. Flynn. The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook. Branden Publishing, Boston. 1992.
i Kent 20
ii Kent 9
iii Kent 13

iv Kent and Flynn 269

Bobbie's Movies to Look For-- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes begins where Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes ends. Only it's been ten years since Caesar and his band of escaping simian brethren escaped across the Golden Gate Bridge into the relative safety of Muir Woods. During that decade, the ape group has grown exponentially and formed a community of families and homes and a form of government lead by Caesar and his friends, Koba and Maurice. One day, while out on a hunting trip, Caesar, Caesar's son and Koba encounter a group of human Simian Flu survivors, lead by Malcolm (Jason Clarke). Caesar, pulling himself to full stature, bellows "GOOOOO!!!!!!!" at the humans and the humans quickly flee in terror.

Returning to San Francisco, Malcolm tells human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) about the encounter and the fact that apes can talk. Dreyfus wants to kill the apes but Malcolm convinces Dreyfus to allow him to return to talk to Caesar about the human's need to restart a nearby Dam to provide power to the City. Malcolm, with wife and former CDC doctor Ellie (Keri Russell), returns to discuss this matter with Caesar. Ellie cures Caesar's wife of a deadly infection and thus begins an uneasy truce between apes and humans. However, not all apes are comfortable with this idea including Koba, who hates all humans for the torture he underwent as a lab animal, and former SF water worker Carver (Kirk Acevedo) who thinks the only good ape is a dead ape. How long before they all learn that in every ape is something human and in every man, something animal lurks? Who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.

Sure this blockbuster is not without it's faults, including such groan-inducing gaffs such as a hydroelectric Dam that, having sat vacant for over a decade, springs back to life with only some minor tinkering. Video cameras that still function after having been untouched in years. Laptops that power up instantly. Guns and rifles, unused for years, that still fire without blowing up in your face. However, what this movie will be remembered for is the amazing CGI! Especially the amazing stop-motion performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar. Within minutes of the movie, I totally forgot that what I was watching on the screen was special effects thanks, in large part, to Serkis' astounding acting. The apes are among the more intellectually complex characters you're likely to spend time with this summer. The gritty and realistic portrayal of a slowly escalating conflict between apes and humans until the final battle was spectacular, mesmerizing and ultimately  heart-breaking. This movie will make any average viewer forget the improbability of talking apes battling mankind for domination. Andy Serkis should get an Oscar nod for is work in this movie!

One more minor thing I would mention. I first saw Dawn in 3D, and then saw it again in 2D three days later. And in my opinion, 2D is by far the better. I found, especially during the final battle, that the 3D annoyed me. The many and varied items being thrown at the screen made it difficult to figure out who was coming out a victor of that battle. And be sure to sit through the closing credits for a audio hint of what's to come in the sequel!

Trash Palace Dumpster-- Bobbie's Best of the Bad: Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)

As fans of the made-for-TV 2013 surprise hit Sharknado know, this aquatic disaster franchise is meant to be mocked and ridiculed. That's why it came as no surprise that last night's airing of Sharknado 2: The Second One garnered 5.3 million viewers who tweeted 215,000 tweets during it's two-hour running time. Snarks flew like the sharks in the movie with such notables as director Roger Corman tweeting "Do I sate myself? Do I soar? These are the existential questions that a shark in a #Sharknado2TheSecondOne must ask himself. So must we all" and Sharknado star Tara Reid twittering "when something bites us we bite back." So, without further ado, I give you my 6 reasons to love Sharknado 2: The Second One.
  1. Cameos! By the dozens! Seems like everyone wanted to be in this movie! From NBC-TV anchormen Al Roker to Matt Lauer arguing about whether to call it a shark storm or a sharknado before stabbing to death a shark that lands on their desk to Jared Fogel, the Subway Sandwich Shop shill, eating a subway sandwich while waiting for a subway train. In one scene that made me want to sing "Don't Break My Achy-Breaky Shark", songster Billy Ray Cyrus appears as Tara Reid's surgeon. If you've ever yearned to see rapper Sandra "Pepa" Denton gets squashed by a shark while riding a Citibike, this is the movie for you! Or if you've ever wanted to watch Robert Klein chatter with WWE Superstar Kurt Angle while they play the Mayor of New York and the Chief of the FDNY respectively, well, here ya go! Or the guy from Shark Tank get killed by the detached rolling head of The Statue Of Liberty, this one's for you, sicko! Two of the best might be Robert Hays, star of the 1980 film Airplane!, as the pilot of the airliner attacked by flying sharks, and Judd Hirsch, who starred as Alex Reiger on the 1970s series Taxi as, what else, Ben the taxi driver!

    1. It's terrifyingly easy to get access to weapons on The Big Apple. From napalm selling pizzeria owner Biz Markie to random citizens storing pick-axes, saws, machetes and machine guns in their car trunks, it's no wonder that this major metropolis area has such a high crime rate!
    2. Knowing that "during an EF5 sharknado," sharks can come down at a rate of up to "two inches an hour." And that they can do this even while being on fire! On fire while climbing stairs!
    3. In what can only be an homage to Bruce Campbell, Tara Reid's missing lower left arm is replaced with a circular saw she uses to kill the same flying shark that took her arm in the first place! After which, ex-husband Ian
      Ziering retrieves her chewed off arm from the sharks mouth, removes her wedding ring from the dead finger and, with sharks raining down all around him, drops to one knee and proposes to Tara! She says "Yes!", BTW. So, we can have romance in a disaster movie, right!?!
    4. Climate change is real. As blizzard-like conditions move in from the East and meet with tropical storms coming in from the West, it snows in New York City on a clear June day. Al Roker told us this so it must be true and not a flimsy excuse to cover up the fact that it's snowing and we can see the actor's breaths on what's supposed to be a typical Summer's day!
    5. And finally reason #6 … Sharknado 2: The Second One set a network record on Wednesday night with 3.9 million viewers for its premiere telecast. That makes it the most-watched movie in network history. What's more: It nabbed 1 billion Twitter impressions, according to the cable network.  Less than 24 hours later the SyFy channel astounded and surprised no one by announcing the third installment Sharknado 3 has been green-lit for release next year! Keep checking with SyFy.com for further updates. Meanwhile, if you missed it's premier showing July 30, it's showing again Saturday, August 2 at 7 pm. and Sunday, August 3 at 9 pm. (ET/PT).

Movie Review: The Legend of Lizzie Borden by S. J. Martiene

On a steamy August day in 1893, Fall River, Massachusetts earned its spot in the annals of unsolved mysteries when two of its citizens, Andrew and Abbey Borden were brutally murdered. The story has always intrigued me (as do many stories of this type). The Borden’s youngest daughter, Lizzie Andrew Borden, was convicted, tried, and found NOT GUILTY of the crime. The real killer was never found.
On February 10th, 1975, ABC aired THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN as their Movie of the Week. I had just turned 14 and thereafter I could never forget Elizabeth Montgomery’s haunting performance, the wicked music score, and the fact that I would never, EVER want to eat mutton broth. The movie was in the exceptional, pure '70’s style and went on to win two Emmy Awards (Outstanding Achievements in Costume Design and Art Direction). Montgomery’s performance was nominated; however, she lost to Katharine Hepburn in LOVE AMONG THE RUINS. Despite Hepburn’s stalwart reputation, I still believe Montgomery should have won, particularly since it was such a stunning contrast to the role she was most famous for: Samantha Stevens, the bubbly good witch, in BEWITCHED (which ended its 8 year TV run in 1972).
The movie opens with the murder having already been committed. When Lizzie’s sister, Emma (played by SOAP’s Katherine Helmond), arrives home, she confronts Lizzie with a question, “Did you kill father?” A vacant-eyed Lizzie replies, “No, Emma, I did not.” Lizzie is quickly brought to trial, and the bulk of the movie is filled with the inquest, Lizzie’s imprisonment, and subsequent trial. One of the scenes that stayed with me since it first aired was the meal of rancid mutton and broth. Their housekeeper didn’t want to serve it, but Mr. Borden insisted. We get to see Mr. and Mrs. Borden eat away and grunt like pigs at the fly-ridden broth as Lizzie watches over in disgust. Watching the movie 37 years later does not lessen its foul-factor. YUCK!!
Right away, Lizzie is depicted as having some sociopathic tendencies, and loyal Emma remains at her side, even though she is a victim of Lizzie’s bullying. Emma brings Lizzie a beautiful hat (with ensemble) to wear at the trial and Lizzie goes off on her because she brought the wrong gloves. “Sometimes I actually believe you want to see me hang!” During an interview from a journalist (I DREAM OF JEANNIE’S Hayden Rourke) she portrays her father as a very generous and kind man, although they didn't even have the convenience of an inside bathroom.
The Borden home today, now a Bed-and-breakfast
Public sentiment is on Lizzie’s side, much to the chagrin of prosecuting attorney, Hosea Knowlton (Ed Flanders). “I guess it is to be expected. They haven’t had a good witch hunt in this area since Salem.” After much hub-bub, the trial gets started with testimony from Bridget Sullivan (the Borden housekeeper). She portrays the Borden home as a peaceful place to live and work, the flashbacks in Lizzie’s head beg to differ. Quarrels between Abbey, Andrew, and Lizzie were the norm. Accusations of theft, greed, miserliness, and physical threats abound as a matter of course. The trial continues into questions of the dress Lizzie was wearing and the amount of drugs that Lizzie was given. It has been said that all of the dialogue from the trial was taken from the actual court transcripts. I feel this lends to the movie’s authenticity. The contrast between the testimonies of witnesses and the “flashbacks” in Lizzie’s head are indeed some of the highlights. In the flashback during the questioning regarding the ax, Lizzie is at a general store, buys some poison, and shoplifts the ax. Another customer (played by TITANIC’s Gloria Stuart) brings it to the manager’s attention, but is told that “Old Man Borden always pays.” Evidently, Lizzie has a Five-Finger-Discount habit. The prosecution is frustrated when there is no sign of the victim’s blood or hair on the ax or on the dress Lizzie was wearing. As Lizzie thinks back, she remembers another time when Abbey Borden insisted the will be changed so she is not left penniless in the event of Andrew’s death. Lizzie is filled with rage.
At the Knowlton home, the trial is discussed and Hosea is not happy that Lizzie gets to hide behind her femininity to gain sympathy. Knowlton’s wife also begins to feel empathy for Lizzie, and recites one of the great lines from the movie. It simply illustrates how life was for women in the mid-1800’s.
You have no idea how unbearably heavy these skirts can be at times.” Even today, that line resonates.
Back to the trial, Emma takes the stand and Lizzie thinks back to her relationship with her father. We’ll just say it is creepy, to say the least. As the trial closes, Lizzie maintains her innocence and now it is time for the verdict. While we wait for the foreman, the “truth” is shown through Lizzie’s eyes. If you have never seen the movie, then I will not spoil it for you. Let’s just say for TV in the 1970’s, it was pretty bold and gruesome. The foreman proclaims her innocence and she goes to the Borden home where Emma is waiting. Once again, she asks (and for the last time), “Lizzie, did you kill father?” This time the viewer is left with no answer; only the chilling refrain of children singing the oft-heard Lizzie Borden rhyme. And yes, I had nightmares after I saw it.
There have been many movies, documentaries, books, and even songs written about Lizzie Borden. In 1961, The Chad Mitchell Trio released an album with the song, LIZZIE BORDEN, on it. You can listen to it here: Lizzie Borden . There were also radio shows of what happened in Fall River and one that re-imagines the story. The re-imagining, titled THE OLDER SISTER was featured on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.
Emma and Lizzie Borden died within 10 days of each other in 1927. Their story continues to fascinate me.

09 July, 2014

DVD Review: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT Unrated Collector’s Edition

Title:  THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT Unrated Collector’s Edition

Year of Release—Film:  1972

Year of Release—DVD:  2008

DVD Label:  M-G-M / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Recently, critics have been guilty of overusing the term “Grindhouse”, referencing any film about which they wish to convey a sense of excessive gore or violence.  In the 1960’s and ‘70’s, however, there were films that earned that appellation honestly; indeed films that made the Grindhouse theaters a necessity.  Perhaps the most famous such film was Wes Craven’s 1972 thriller THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.  Filmed on the cheap by Craven and friend Sean Cunningham, their stated goal was to shock the audience with over-the-top gore and violence, as realistically as possible.  They accomplished that goal.

Though not as relentlessly abusive to the viewer as Meir Zarchi’s similar-themed I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), it’s far from a pleasant film to watch.  The plot is simple:  A group of criminals, led by Krug Stillo, (David Hess) takes two young girls captive and heads out into the woods.  Their car breaks down, and they decide it’s a good spot to finish off their hostages and dump the bodies.  After the girls are tortured, raped and murdered, the killers seek shelter at the home of the Collingwoods, the only house in the area.  What the Stillo gang doesn’t know, to their detriment, is that it’s the home of Mari, one of the young girls they just viciously slaughtered.  When the parents of the murdered girl discover what has happened, and who was responsible, they go on a rampage of violence, one that makes the murder of the two girls pale in comparison.

Given the meager budget Craven was working with, and the absolute lack of name talent associated with the film, the accomplishment is notable.  The story is direct, engaging, and original… at least, it was when Ingmar Bergman filmed THE VIRGIN SPRING in 1959.  Craven lifted the bones of the plot from the far more literate and artistic Swedish film, gave them an update, and tossed in a full measure of ultra-realistic violence and a few quarts of fake blood.  The result was a qualified success.  It certainly met Craven’s goal of a film that would shock audiences, though that task was demonstrably easier in 1972.  Where Craven failed, though perhaps that’s too strong a word, is in creating a film that works as entertainment.  The film is too graphic, too gritty, and has far too much of a Cinema Verite feel to be truly entertaining.  But it is skillfully constructed; even at this early date, Craven’s potential is obvious.  The only note that rings false is the comedy relief Sheriff and Deputy.  Comic relief has no place in a film of this type; either remain true to the darkness of the film’s subject, or lighten it up overall.

It is pleasing to this reviewer that the distributors used a very nice looking print for this release.  Those who are familiar with this film primarily from aging VHS tapes will appreciate the improved quality.  Still, when you begin with what is essentially a no-budget student film, no amount of restoration will transform it into a thing of beauty.  The biggest improvement over the VHS release, at least, the copy in the Unimonster’s collection, is the sound.  Muddy and distorted on VHS, it’s actually understandable on this DVD.

Included on this release are several special features worth noting.  Extra footage has been included in the film itself, which is the reason for the “Unrated” status.  Nothing that really alters the film, just serves to lengthen and intensify the violence… as though it needed that.  Two features that are needed, and are very interesting, are a pair of documentaries featuring director Wes Craven.  Craven, who in the decades following the release of LAST HOUSE… has become the most influential horror director extant, discusses both the making of the original and the 2009 remake, directed by Dennis Iliadis.  Also included is an unfinished short film by Craven, TALES THAT WILL TEAR YOUR HEART OUT.

While this will never be the first film I’ll take off the shelf for a relaxing evening’s viewing, it is an important film that every Horror fan should be familiar with, and every Craven fan should own.  I suggest a definite rental if you’re the former; a buy if the latter.

Bobbie's Movies to Look For: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN


Year of Release—Film:  2011

An aging, scruffy and anonymous hobo (Rutger Hauer) climbs down from a freight train at the out-skirts of Hope City (renamed Scum City by its residents) looking for a fresh start in a new town.  What he finds instead is a terrified town helplessly trapped in the grips of a psychopath named The Drake (Brian Downey) and his two equally evil and sadistic sons Ivan and Slick (Nick Bateman and Gregory Smith).  With sickened eyes, the hobo stands helplessly by as The Drake has his own brother beheaded with barbed wire in front of the terrified citizens.  Prostitution, vice and drugs are rampant, person-on-person violence is an everyday occurrence and the streets of this mean town, including its police department, clearly are in the iron fist of The Drake and his two obnoxious sons!  Still, the hobo holds on to his dream of one day owning a lawnmower and opening a lawn care service.

He saves a golden-hearted hooker Abby (Molly Dunsworth) from Slick who has rape and murder on his mind and is carved up for his troubles.  Grateful Abby allows the hobo to spend the night at her apartment and in the morning finds him gone.  The hobo earns his lawnmower money by eating glass while being filmed by a deranged filmmaker but as he enters the pawnshop to buy his dream, he’s confronted by a hold-up in progress.  The ski-masked robbers threaten to kill a baby if the terrified storeowner doesn’t give them more cash.  Grabbing a shotgun from a display, the hobo blasts the bad guys and become a HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN!  Delivering justice one shell at a time!

Outraged that this down-on-his-luck drifter is cramping his style and threatening his authority, Drake sends his two sons out to burn up a busload of children.  When the local TV news begins its report on the tragedy, Slick and Ivan break in and, killing the TV reporter, tell their stunned audience that if the townsfolk don’t want their children killed in a similar way, they need to kill all the homeless people!  Mass carnage ensues as the homeless are burned, shot and smashed flat with backhoes!  The hobo is now the hunted as he tries to clean up a town that wants him dead!

First-time filmmaker Jason Eisener has clearly studied exploitation films and with HOBO breathes new life into a genre that has grown moribund.  In 2007, Eisener entered and won an internet contest to create a fake trailer similar to the ones found on Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double-feature.  The HOBO trailer went viral and put Eisener on the fast -track to turning his $120 trailer into a feature-length feature.  But, for some reason, would-be investors didn’t think cinematic viewers would go for the scene with the bus-load of burning children so it took much haggling and two long years for Eisener to come up with the capital.  HOBO splashed it’s blood-soaked way across limited screens giving the audience everything from a pedophile Santa Clause to some unexplained tentacled creatures who seemed to have wandered in from another movie.  Did I say blood-soaked?  This movie is awash in blood, guts and gore!  Definitely not for the squeamish!

Rutger Hauer plays the title role with a road-weariness that makes a believable and even likeable anti-hero.  He appears and acts exactly like a rum-soaked, down-on-his-heels drifter.  Brian Downey as the Drake put on his shtick like some deranged game-show host, playing to his captive audience while killing it’s members.  Gregory Smith plays Slick like a demented Tom Cruise in 1983’s RISKY BUSINESS.  And it was pleasant to see Robb “Ricky” Wells from Trailer Park Boys again, even in the cameo role of the Uncle who is beheaded in the opening scene.  But, it’s Molly Dunsworth as the hooker with the heart of gold that really stands out in this!  Producers should take note of her convincing acting job as Abby and get her agent on the phone before it’s too late!  I sincerely hope that this is only the beginning for Jason Eisener and we gore-hounds can look forward to many more!


Senior Correspondent Bobbie

And Now, A Special Short Review from Senior Correspondent Bobbie!

It will bleed you white with stark, naked terror!

A brilliant film titled THE HUMAN BEE-ING just crossed the Video Vault's threshold and this short film deserves a short introduction and a big pat on the back!  An homage to 1950's big-bug movies, from it's William Castle-like opening speech which warns that anyone in the audience with heart problems, is over the age of 50 or under the age of 25 or suffers from palsy should not watch this film to its clever and comedic ending, it's 45 minutes you're not likely to forget!

Funded by Allen Danasco (Eric Hoffman), who owns a typing firm, mad scientist Dr. Charles Metzenbeamer (Jim Coughlin) has almost perfected a worker bee-human by combining human DNA with worker bee DNA to come up with a tireless typist bee.  No one seems to notice this human bee's rather large head because Dr. Metzenbeamer has cleverly dressed it in a suit, a toupee, slapped a phony mustache on it, and chained it to its desk where it tirelessly and efficiently types all day and all night.  No one that is except co-typist Stacey (Ronit Feinglass Plank) who finds herself strangely drawn to this new Mr. Hives.  Her boyfriend, Joe De Compana (John Varga) hardly noticed his girlfriend's strange obsession even after being warned by Stacey's best friend, Diane (Meredith Weiner).  As Allen Danasco demands more human-bee workers, the human office staff mysteriously begins to disappear!

Extremely smart with quick, dry humor, The Human BEEing is wonderfully acted and brilliantly directed by Tony Shea and co-written by actor Jim Coughlin.  It never spoofs 1950's B-movies but lovingly embraces the genre.  The Human BEEing is one of the best short films I've seen and I truly hope this won't be the last I see of Tony Shea and company!  Kudos!

Senior Correspondent Bobbie

First Impressions, and Second Looks by The Unimonster

As is probably the case with most people these days, when I listen to music it’s usually in the form of mp3s, on my cell phone. For someone whose second album purchase (ten points if you get the significance of that) was the soundtrack of Superman, the Movie on an 8-track tape, things have come a long way. One thing that hasn't changed or at least, I didn't think it had, is my taste in music. I grew up in a house filled with music lovers, though each followed the beat of a different drummer. My eldest sister Wanda Susan loved Motown, our sister Dee Karen was deep into what I still think of as ‘hippie music’, the Beatles, the Doors, Janis Joplin. Our brother David was Southern Rock—Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot. The youngest boy, Mark, was a heavy metal headbanger who loved Def Leppard. Our mother was pure country. And from all of these influences, and others, my rather broad and eclectic musical predilections were formed.
I long ago thought that my musical preferences were set, carved in stone, beyond the point of change. From pure honky-tonk country, to 1950s Doo-Wop, to the symphonic works of Tchaikovsky, music remains one of the great joys of my life, and until recently I was content. However, while talking with a friend, the topic moved to favorite music, and she mentioned a favorite song of hers, one that she loved as a child, one that was on an old cassette of her mother’s. That song was Eric Carmen’s Make Me Lose Control, which topped out at #3 in 1988. My first thought was that I was twenty-four when that song came out, and she was not yet born. My second thought was that I hated Eric Carmen when he was ‘popular’, and then I realized, that very song is on my phone. Not only is it on my phone, but I paid $1.29 to put it there. When in the hell did I start liking Eric Carmen?
But as I pondered that, a more disturbing thought arose. That wasn't the only Carmen song on there, including some of his work when he was lead singer with the Raspberries. I soon realized that there were more songs from artists who I once disliked and who I now enjoy.
Okay, before you regular readers start believing that the Unimonster is now doing a music blog; let me reassure you that this article is about horror movies. It occurred to me, as I was considering the rather surprising turn in my musical affections, that there are movies which I disliked upon first viewing them, and about which my opinions have mellowed, somewhat.
One of these, and the one that might be the most surprising for those readers familiar with my love of the classics, is the 1992 version of Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Though far more faithful to Stoker’s vision than most of the films that preceded it, upon my first viewing of it twenty-two years ago I found it slow-paced, talky, and for the most part uninteresting. My thoughts on it, from the personal notes from my database of Horror films, were, “Overly pretentious version of the Classic vampire tale nearly works, but is finally dragged down by the weight of its own pomposity, as well as Keanu Reeves’ absolutely wretched performance as Jonathan Harker.” Recently however, I bought the Collector’s Edition DVD, released by Sony Home Entertainment in October, 2007. While Reeves’ performance is still just as wretched (seriously, was every other possible choice for Harker tied up at the time?), and the film still comes off as pretentious, I found it far more enjoyable that I did then. The 49-year-old Unimonster was more appreciative of the theme of the film, which is ‘Love, lost yet still eternal’, than the 28-year-old Unimonster had been. I also found the manner in which the historical Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad Dracula, was reconciled with Stoker’s fictional Count very satisfying. It will never be my favorite version of the story, but it’s definitely one I will watch again.
Another that has grown on me with repeated viewings is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This picture has gone from being one that left me cold, to being one of my favorites. My first thoughts on this movie, again from my database: “Though it may rule the midnight movie show, on TV it's just a silly, dated musical. Tim Curry's performance is inspired, but it can't lift this out of mediocrity alone. Without the insanity that is the Audience Participation, it just falls flat.” Boy has my opinion changed! So much so that I’m embarrassed at how wrong I was about this movie. While I've yet to attend a midnight showing of the film, experiencing it the way it was meant to be experienced, I can say that the experience of sitting in your living room, singing along with all the songs as the dog looks at you with a strange mix of concern and, yes, pity, must be similar.
However, the movie that surprised me with how my opinions have changed over the years is one that, if I had to be honest about at this point in time, is in my personal top ten of Horror films, of all-time. That movie is Sam Raimi’s classic The Evil Dead. Now when I watch it, I see one of the most imaginative, innovative horror films of the last half of the 20th Century, a movie that defied conventions, low-budget, and good taste to become one of the most popular films of the Drive-In era. Compare that to my database: “Made on a nothing budget, Sam Raimi’s cult blockbuster has never been a favorite of mine. Still, its popularity can’t be denied … it’s become one of the biggest Horror franchises ever.” Well, I was right … and wrong. Not about the historical significance of Raimi’s movie; but about it not being a favorite of mine. That part is no longer true.

Will my taste continue to evolve over time? What will the 60-year-old Unimonster’s opinion be of the movies that his 50-year-old self detested? Some, I’m sure, will have aged well in my eyes, perhaps prompting a similar look back in the 2024 version of the Unimonster’s Crypt, delivered via thought waves directly into the brains of my readers. Does that mean I’ll be sitting through my eighth or ninth viewing of Snakes on a Plane? I wouldn't bet on that.

Monsters Wanted: DVD Review by S. J. Martiene

Monsters Wanted

Review by:  S. J. Martiene

Too early to talk about Halloween, you say? P’shaw, I SAY!!! It is NEVER too early to talk about the second biggest holiday of the year … and even now … preparations are being made to scare the poop out of you, dear reader. Oh yes, plans are being drawn up, and plots are being formed. NO, not the normal plotting that comes from your relatives, but from those hard-working people at your local Haunted Attractions. Do you know that planning has to start in the heat of a summer night? Well, it does, my candy corn chomping friends. Today, we are going to focus on one place. It is a place that exists not too far from where I grew up in Kentucky, but first a little back story.

Long ago, three decades ago or more, your humble servant had a brief stint as a Haunted House Actor. I performed in two separate haunted houses in North Central Kentucky during the early 1980’s. My duties were varied from zombie, to Mad Doctor’s victim, to “screamer”. Though the ones I worked were small-town, and on a much, much smaller scale than detailed in the MONSTERS WANTED documentary, I can empathize with the creators of Asylum Haunts (Louisville, KY). We also had to build our own sets, create our own costumes, do our own make-up, and hope we were not too exhausted at the end to want to do it again the next year.

MONSTERS WANTED is a documentary taking us through the good, bad, and the scary ugly of what it takes to put out a high end haunted theme attraction. The Asylum Haunted Scream Park is NOT just a haunted house….but a 40-acre world borne from the maniacal hard work and creative minds of Richard Treachout and Janel Nash. The time span of the documentary takes us from July 2, 2011 until Closing night October 28, 2011, detailing the openings of Darkness Falls, Zombie City, and Carnivale of Lost Souls.

The viewer is taken through what IS actually a theatrical production. There are stage managers, auditions and fine-tuning auditions. There are production meetings, staff meetings, and problems with logistics, sets, and people. As with any good production, there are always personality clashes, and they were evident here. HOWEVER, it seemed (with one glaring exception – JOE), that most of the people running Asylum Haunts were pretty much trying to stay on the same page despite the pressures of time and money. Oh, and let’s not forget this is an OUTDOORS production so, they had to deal with stuff getting rained on and the heat…and by the end of the movie you could see everyone’s breath when they were speaking. AH, weather in the Ohio Valley!!

As the months pass, we not only get treated to the birth of this HUGE Halloween baby, but we get a peek at several other holiday-oriented events that happened. One is The Transworld Trade Show in St. Louis, Missouri. This show is for proprietors of haunted attractions and premieres the latest and greatest in Halloween gore and more. It’s kind of like a toy trade show for adults. I thought it was pretty fun how Treachout wanted to look at everything and see if they could make it cheaper “with duct tape”. It is fitting that MONSTERS WANTED was shown at the 2013 trade show. Also, I discovered that Asylum Haunts is one of the sponsors of the annual Zombie Walk in Louisville. People get dressed up, there are bands playing, food, and they swarm in on one part of the city each year. I have relatives that go to this each year and have a blast. If I still lived in Kentucky and was about 20 years younger, I probably would attend too, but it does occur on my husband’s birthday each year, so I don’t know if that would work out or not. The documentary also covered other haunted attractions in the Louisville area, such as Baxter Avenue Morgue Haunted House and The Haunted Hotel. There is enough scare to go around for everyone in Jefferson County and the surrounding areas.

As the days closed in on opening night, there was the usual drama one could expect from this type of large-scale event: actors quitting, equipment failing, and the general “idea-in-the-head-not-playing-out-as-well-in-real-life.” It didn’t take long for things to start running fairly well, and everyone was enjoying the job and scaring people, discounting the two concussions of course.

Overall, I really liked this documentary. I thought it was VERY well-done and made me feel good that it was done “back home”. The only parts I didn’t care for was some of the language and getting no warning before a certain artist started stapling and piercing himself. I am probably in the minority on this overall, but if the f-bomb is part of one’s everyday verbiage, allow it to be bleeped so others do not have to hear it. As for the performer, once I realized what the he was doing, I could not watch that part of the documentary … ewww … I mean … ewww …

Aside from those two things, for me, it was wonderful. Richard Treachout, left a well-paying job to focus his entire energy on this project and the fact he and Nash went through their life-savings and were essentially broke after this is not lost on the viewer. They are both incredibly dedicated to this project and I am sure they will have many successful years ahead of them. They have probably created many memories for thousands of people across Kentuckiana and beyond…and not many of us can say we’ve done that in our lives. If you get the chance to see this documentary on DVD, do not hesitate, especially if you love Halloween.

Please check out the links below and show them some support. After checking today, I do not see 2014 dates set, but I’m sure that will be updated soon. And if you happen to be in the Kentuckiana area during the Halloween season and are looking for a scare, visit The Asylum Haunted Scream Park.

01 June, 2014

These are a Few of my Favorite Things (and neither The Sound of Music nor Julie Andrews is on the list) by the Unimonster

When writers spend a great deal of time on one topic, whether it is Horror films, or food, or sports, they tend to focus on things that annoy or upset them.  It’s natural; most people are predisposed to complain, rather than to praise.  Speaking for myself, I often find it easier to make clear what I didn't like about a movie, than to explain what I did.  Ask me what was wrong with the Nicholas Cage version of The Wicker Man, and you’d better have a sizable hole in your schedule.  Ask me why Robin Hardy’s original film was so good, and while I could go on just as long, I can also sum it up in one sentence: “A director’s perfect vision, perfectly executed by the perfect performers for their roles.”

Occasionally however, it is nice to highlight those movies, objects, or people that make Horror and Sci-Fi fandom such an enjoyable hobby.  There’s a reason millions of people go to see the latest slasher films, or buy their eighth copy of Army of Darkness just to make sure they have every video release, or attend Horror conventions to get a treasured poster signed by someone who was essentially an extra in their favorite film.  They, like the Unimonster, love this hobby, and seek their own ways to express that love.  These are some of mine.
1.)  American Horror Story:  While AMC’s The Walking Dead is without a doubt the best Horror series on television, my personal tastes have always leaned more to the supernatural forms of horror.  Yes, gut-munching zombies are fine, and no one does a better job of bringing them to life than Greg Nicotero, but for pure horror on the small screen, the three seasons of AHSMurder House, Asylum, and Coven—are far more effective.
2.)  Horror Hosts:  Though the heyday of the Hosted Horror show is forty years in the past, there are a dedicated groups of fans that refuse to let those days fade completely from the scene, and a corps of corpses (figuratively speaking, of course) who are just as dedicated to carrying on the tradition of visiting us in our homes through the airwaves (well, Wi-Fi at least), and guiding us through the night with classic, and not-so-classic, horror films.  Svengoolie, Karlos Borloff, Penny Dreadful, and Count Gore De Vol are just a few of the many who help us celebrate the memories of days gone by.

3.)  Epic Rap Battles of History:  Okay, I know that this is a weird one, even for me, and some might wonder just what comedic rap battle videos on Youtube have to do with the world of Horror and Science-Fiction.  However, when you have such battles as Back to the Future’s Doc Brown rapping against Doctor Who, Batman vs. Sherlock Holmes, and an epic trilogy featuring Darth Vader taking on Adolf Hitler, well … it’s both genre-related, and hilarious enough to have me rolling on the floor in laughter.  Considering the new ‘season’ just kicked off with Rick Grimes battling Walter White, it seems safe to say that ERB will continue to be one of my favorites.

4.)  Conventions:  While our hobby is usually centered on the glowing phosphors shining out from our living room televisions, there’s much to be said for gathering in large numbers with like-minded people, in the fellowship of Horror / Sci-Fi fandom.  The chance to see old friends, to experience new areas of fandom, and to score new collectibles celebrating your favorite films, all are great reasons to seek out and participate in Horror conventions.  For the Unimonster, it means a time to recharge my batteries, to renew my love of everything Horror.  Oh, and new books and T-shirts … it’s not a successful con unless I leave with at least one new reference book and one new horror tee!

5.)  Kaij├╗:  While I love giant bugs and monsters in general, the Kaij├╗ of Japan’s Toho studios are by far my favorites.  Godzilla, Ghidorah, Rodan, Mothra, and the rest have been friends and companions of the Unimonster almost from infancy.  Near constant exposure during the late ’60s-early ‘70s completely inoculated me with a love of foam rubber monsters stomping miniature Japanese cities to rubble.  Forty years on, that love is still going strong, and with new offerings such as last year’s Pacific Rim and Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla [see review below] scoring huge at the box office, it’s apparent that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

6.)  Comic Book Movies:  Comic books have always been a passion of mine, and the fact that Hollywood is now embracing them as well, combined with the technology that allows filmmakers to convincingly create worlds as diverse as Asgaard, Oa, Krypton, and Sin City, makes this the best era ever for the Comic Book Movie.  And with the upcoming Batman / Superman film set to go head to head against the second Avengers film, things can only get better.

7.)  1970s Exploitation Film Pressbooks:  Collecting ephemera (advertising paper, posters, lobby cards, etc.) from our favorite films can be a great way to celebrate and display your love of movies, but it can be expensive.  An original 1954 one-sheet poster for Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon is worth about $25,000, and a Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man lobby card approximately $10,000.  Pressbooks, however, can generally be had for a fraction of that, around $30-50.  And what, you may ask, are pressbooks?  Pressbooks are the advertising circulars the film distributors sent out to theaters and drive-ins giving them the information they needed to properly promote the films they would be exhibiting.  From the pressbook, they could select which posters and lobby cards to order, select newspaper ads, and order radio and television spots.  They are fascinating documents, a look behind the screen, so to speak, into the world of the motion picture business.  My personal favorites are from the 1970s, the pressbooks of the exploitation films that fed drive-ins and grindhouses with the movies that kept the fans coming back.  My collection may be small, but it’ll continue to grow … without wiping out my meager budget.

There are many more things I could add to this list, but this will do … for now.  At least, until I find something new that becomes a favorite of mine.