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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.

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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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02 January, 2010

2009 in Review

Greetings, my frightful fiends, another year has come and gone, and as I sit here amidst the debris of another holiday season (Yes people, Christmas is celebrated in the Crypt—the Unimonster may be a horror-fixated, redhead-obsessed, scotch-drinking, flesh-eating ghoul, but I’m not a heathen), I’m reminded that it’s time to reflect on the good and the bad of 2009. While it’s been a mixed year in Genre film, on the balance there’s been more good than bad, and that’s often the best we can hope for, isn’t it?

It’s definitely been a year of blockbusters, as several high-budget, high-profile films had their release. Most sank faster than a tombstone with an anvil tied to it, but a few notables actually did justice to their absurdly large budgets. Two in particular stood out as excellent entries in their respective franchises: X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE and STAR TREK. While their fans had reason for concern when these films were first announced, both managed the very difficult task of reinventing their franchises without alienating those fans who had loved them from the beginning.

One trend carried over from 2008 is the lack of truly good, original Horror Films. While it’s true that there was no shortage of Horror last year, most was the standard “it’s-been-twenty-years-let’s-remake-blank” variety. A couple of these remakes were better than expected, and we did have DRAG ME TO HELL and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY to enjoy; still, the relative scarcity of something original is keenly felt in the world of Horror. The state of the Horror Film was amply demonstrated by the success of NEW MOON, Horror—for the teenybopper set. If the sight of angst-ridden teen-age vampires and werewolves doing battle over not attacking people sounds like the last dying gasp of classic movie Monsters—well, you just might be right.

The big winner last year was big-budget Science-Fiction and Fantasy, with films such as TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, 2012, STAR TREK, GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, and, just weeks ago AVATAR dominating the theaters. Not every big-budget picture paid dividends, however. TERMINATOR: SALVATION, the prequel to the TERMINATOR franchise starring Christian Bale, flopped like a beached mackerel, proving that however successful Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN franchise has been, it’s not based on Bale’s bankability. Also on the losing end of the spectrum was the big-budget LAND OF THE LOST—evidence that perhaps the movie-going public is smart enough to realize Will Ferrell simply isn’t funny.

Before we go further, I do want to mention two films that came out late in the year, so late that I have not, as yet, seen them. AVATAR is James Cameron’s long-dreamed of project, one that received more hype than any film of the last year, even STAR TREK. Now, I have nothing against Cameron, and the trailers I have seen look good. It’s just that when I see this much hype being floated for a movie, my mind drifts back to such spectacular disasters as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and SNAKES ON A PLANE. Of course they made buckets of cash—we had been told for months that these were the greatest movies since Edison threaded film onto the first projector. The reality, however, was a far different picture.

The other late entry in the field was Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES, premiering on Christmas Day. Frankly, this has none of the promise that AVATAR offers, even with the hype. There are certain things that the Unimonster is a purist about. My scotch must be single-malt, my Stooges must be Larry, Moe and Curly, and my Holmes must be canonical, conforming to the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What I’ve seen, just from the trailers, of Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance is enough to have me crying foul.

So, that being said, let’s sit back, relax, and dissect the winners, losers, best, and worst of 2009.

1.) Theme of the Year
a. “Back to the Beginning”

A new Kirk, a new Spock, Wolverine before he became Wolverine, a new take on Jason Voorhees, and a version of Sherlock Holmes that must have Conan Doyle, Rathbone, and Brett spinning in their respective graves… Is there any doubt what the prevalent theme in Genre film was last year? Reinvention, revision, and revisiting were the latest Hollywood buzzwords, as filmmakers reworked some of our favorite franchises into new shapes, some of which were unrecognizable from what came before. It wasn’t simply that remakes were big this year; that’s been the case since the last original thought in Hollywood died of loneliness. But in 2009 we had complete reinventions of long-established franchises, such as Star Trek and Friday the 13th. Some worked, some didn’t, but they all combined to set the tone for the year that was.

2.) Worst Prequel, Sequel, or Remake
e. SAW… V, VI? Who the Hell cares anymore?

Once upon a time, a far happier, carefree time, Land of the Lost was one of the best examples of that lost art form, the Saturday morning kids show. The story of a father, his son, and daughter, lost in time and possibly space was one of the most original programs ever aimed at children, combining effective science-fiction with characters that you cared about and a continually evolving story arc. The fact that many adults still have fond memories of this series convinced Universal that there was market for a big-budget, big-screen adaptation of it. Two things conspired to prove them wrong: The script, and Will Ferrell.

Someone once told Ferrell that he was funny, and in so doing created a monster far more terrifying than anything that ever crawled from Frankenstein’s slab. It’s not that he can’t, on occasion, be quite funny… he can. It’s just that every character, every film, is played exactly the same. His character from OLD SCHOOL is the same as his character from TALLADEGA NIGHTS is the same as… well, you get where I’m coming from. The same way you get where he’s coming from if you’ve ever seen one of his films, and that’s the mind of your typical 13-year-old boy. There are times that humor works, and works well. LAND OF THE LOST was not one of those times. Nor did the script, by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, help. Designed only to serve as a vehicle for Ferrell’s alleged comedy routine, it destroyed the last vestiges of what had been one of the high-water marks of children’s programming in the ‘70’s.

Another franchise that has been condemned by over-exposure is James Cameron’s Terminator series. The first movie was a brilliant, dark, apocalyptic look at a future that would witness the destruction of mankind. The second was one kick-ass thrill-ride of an action movie. The third… Well, let’s just say the first two films were fantastic and leave it at that. The one thing that the franchise did have going for it was Star Power, in the form of the Ah-Nold, the Governator, the Austrian Hambone—Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. His presence made the first two films what they were, and kept the third from sliding into mediocrity—well, at least kept it from being a complete slide.

However, two recent reinventions of the franchise have glaringly demonstrated the fact that, minus Schwarzenegger’s presence, there’s not much reason to continue. The Sarah Connor Chronicles, on Fox-TV, replaced Arnold with a sexy young Terminator played by Summer Glau, once again tasked with protecting the future leader of mankind, John Connor. Though she’s far more pleasing to the eye than Schwarzenegger, there’s much to be said for his physical ability to dominate a scene.

More destructive to the long-term health of the franchise, however, was TERMINATOR: SALVATION, the big-budget sequel (prequel? How do you define a film in a time-twisted series such as this?) that starred Christian Bale as an adult John Connor. Though the plot was frankly ridiculous, and true fans of the series derided it, it was unfortunately successful enough to assure us of more crappy sequels in the future.

In this era of remakes and sequels, it’s only fitting to have a remake of a sequel. Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2 picks up where he left off, power-sprayer fully loaded with fake blood. Seriously, the mere news that Zombie has another project in the works should send the stock prices of the fake blood manufacturers skyrocketing. Of course, a little blood and gore is never a bad thing—unless they’re used to cover up an amazing lack of substance. It’s not that HALLOWEEN 2 is a bad film—okay, okay, so it is a bad film. It’s Ken-Russell-on-acid bad. If Zombie’s remake of HALLOWEEN was too caught up in revealing every little bit of the mystery that had been Michael Myers, then HALLOWEEN 2 insists on examining every facet of his psyche—and it ain’t pretty! Recently came news that Zombie has another remake on tap for his next project: THE BLOB. Whether this will be a remake of the 1958 original, or the 1988 remake, is as yet unknown. Is Hollywood so bereft of imagination that we need remakes of remakes?

Financially speaking, few Horror producer-directors can compare to Wes Craven in terms of generating Box Office returns. With three highly successful franchises on his resume, Craven’s had the golden touch since the late ‘70’s. But he began his horror career quite modestly, with 1972’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. This utterly brutal, nihilistic story of murder, sadism, and revenge (based upon, at least according to Craven, Ingmar Bergman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING…) shocked and stunned audiences used to Hammer’s stylish horrors and H. G. Lewis’ overblown gore effects. It isn’t an entertaining film to watch, but it is an excellent one.

In contrast, the remake, directed by Dennis Lliadis and produced by Craven, softens the impact of the original, yet the increased sophistication and jaded condition of today’s audiences demand greater shock and horror, not less. The result is an unnecessary remake that falls flat and lifeless.

Some characters are so perfectly captured by a performer that no other actor can compare, and the more iconic the character the more likely it is that one actor’s portrayal shines above all others. Ebenezer Scrooge will, at least in my mind, be forever defined by Alastair Sim’s superb 1951 performance. Dracula is, and always will be, Bela Lugosi. Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest consulting detective, the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, has been blessed to be so perfectly represented twice since his screen debut in 1905, in a performance by Maurice Costello. The first performer to do justice to the character donned the deerstalker cap in 1939’s HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, and continued the role until 1946—he was, course, Basil Rathbone. Four decades later, Jeremy Brett gave us the definitive Holmes in the long-running British television series produced by Granada. Faithful to the Doyle canon, this was easily the best adaptation of the detective’s adventures ever produced.

As is the current trend, however, ‘well enough’ just cannot be left alone. Enter director Guy Ritchie and star Robert Downey, Jr. to do to Sherlock Holmes what Joel Schumacher and George Clooney did to Batman. Trailers for SHERLOCK HOLMES, released on Christmas day, show Downey’s portrayal of a Holmes, slovenly and degenerate, that is unrecognizable for devoted fans of the character. The scene of a naked Holmes, nether region discreetly covered, arms tied to a bedpost, is completely incongruous to those of us who prefer our Holmes to be more traditional—and clothed. As of this writing, I have yet to view this movie, but I doubt that such a characterization of Sherlock Holmes will produce a film that I find in any way entertaining.

But the hands down worst offender in this category must be SAW VI—yet another entry in the interminable SAW franchise. This annual assault on good taste long ago gave up on any pretense of originality, happy just to repackage the same tired plot and overused gore effects. Die-hard aficionados of Torture-porn may keep this series afloat for several more years, but for this Unimonster, it’s long since jumped the shark.

3.) Best Prequel, Sequel, or Remake

Just as there were bad remakes and sequels this past year, so too were there good ones. One of the best of these premiered just two weeks into the New Year: MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D.

The original, released in 1981 on the crest of the “theme-day Slasher” wave, was one of the better examples of that genre. A Canadian production, it did very well in its theatrical release, and has become a cult favorite through several home video and DVD releases. As a fan of the original, I must acknowledge I was prepared to dislike the remake simply on principle. However, as difficult as it might be to admit, the remake is a damn good movie. The basic plot is unchanged from the first film, only updated and fleshed out. The script is well-constructed, and the gore is used to support and enhance the story, not to replace it. While the remake lacks some of the low-budget charm (dare I say… “Heart?”) of the original, it’s an excellent example of the post-modern Slasher film.

As I’ve mentioned before in this column, while I’m a life-long collector of Comic Books, I was always a fan of DC’s line of comics, rather than of Marvel’s. Spidey, Hulk, Thor and the Fantastic Four just couldn’t compare to the Flash, Superman, the Green Lantern, and Batman—at least not as far as I was concerned. Consequently, the recent onslaught of Marvel heroes on the big screen has failed to make an impact on me to any great degree. I enjoyed them yes; but none have risen to the level of consideration for MotY. One of the franchises that has impressed me the least was the X-MEN films. Perhaps it was my unfamiliarity with the characters, perhaps it was as simple as my childhood prejudice against all things Marvel; but whatever the reason, I just was not a fan.

As a result, I was not expecting much when I took in the latest X-MEN movie earlier this year. To be entertained, yes. Impressed—probably not. However, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE was the best of the series so far, and seemed perfectly suited for one without much prior knowledge of the Marvel universe. I can’t speak to how faithful it was or was not to the comic book history of the character, but I can definitely say that it satisfied and entertained me.

I was far too old to be a fan of the original Transformers cartoon series back in the ‘80’s, and while I did enjoy the first movie, it didn’t impress me enough to consider it for an award. Nor did I expect much from the sequel, other than an entertaining, fun popcorn film. TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN is that, but it’s also that rarest of creatures, a sequel that actually improves upon its predecessor. Not a great movie, but it definitely gets the job done. And apparently, I’m not alone in that opinion, as it was the highest-grossing genre film of the year, with over $400 million in ticket sales. While Box-Office results aren’t a big consideration in this column, they can’t be ignored, either.

Whether it was the kick-ass special effects, the kick-ass storyline that improved upon that of the first, the kick-ass body on Megan Fox, or a combination of all three, the second Transformers movie was definitely a winner!

One franchise that has consistently improved upon itself since it began is the saga of the boy wizard, Harry Potter. As it nears its conclusion, the continuing growth of both the characters and the storyline means that each episode is better than what came before, and just as eagerly anticipated by fans. That was definitely the case with HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, this past summer’s installment of the story. Voldemort’s return in 2007’s HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX marked the beginning of the war that burst forth fully in this film, even spilling over to the muggle world. The death of Sirius Black in the last film, and the betrayal of Snape and his murder of Dumbledore in this one, has torn the last vestiges of childhood from our characters, setting the scene for the two-part finale to come. I for one can’t wait!

However, there was only one winner in this category—at least, only one for the Unimonster. STAR TREK, J. J. Abrams reinvention of the Trek franchise, had the potential to be a disaster of biblical proportions had he failed to satisfy the old-school Trekkers who are the core of the fan base. Fortunately, the movie proved the fears of many Trekkers, myself included, groundless. Not only did it keep the hard-core fans happy, it fulfilled the desire of the director to push the series into uncharted territory. Without a doubt, it was the best sequel, prequel, or remake of 2009.

4.) The Second Annual Induction to the Crypt of the Unimonster’s Catacomb of Distinction
a. Alfred Hitchcock
b. Bram Stoker
c. Edward D. Wood, Jr.
d. Eiji Tsuburaya
e. F. W. Murnau
f. Fritz Lang
g. Gene Roddenberry
h. Mario Bava
i. Richard Matheson
j. William Castle

This year’s class of inductees is certainly a diverse group, ranging from the author of the greatest Horror novel of all time, to the man who fathered the King of all Monsters, to a modern-day master of Made-for-TV Horror, to the “Great Bird of the Galaxy” himself. It includes the two greatest directors of the German ‘Expressionist’ movement of the 1920’s, and two of the greatest filmmakers ever. This class also includes a man who, despite a lack of talent, money, and resources, still managed to make his movies his way, and a man who always kept an audience entertained, despite the quality of the movie they were watching.

These ten inductees may not have made the charter group of members, but certainly not because they don’t deserve inclusion in my own personal hall of fame. These are some of the greatest names of Horror and Science-Fiction, and they deserve both our respect and appreciation. Witches and Warlocks, Boils and Ghouls, faithful readers of the Unimonster’s Crypt all—I give you the Crypt of the Unimonster’s Catacomb of Distinction class of 2010.

5.) Best Convention
a. Wonderfest—Louisville, KY
b. HorrorHound—Indianapolis, IN
c. Monster Bash—Butler, PA

The Unimonster’s not someone who gets out of the Crypt much, except during Drive-In season. Still, on those rare occasions when the moon and stars line-up just right, and I can successfully dig my way out, I love to attend Horror and Sci-Fi Conventions. I’ve attended many in my day, from Star Trek conventions in Florida, to Horrorfind in Baltimore, to Wonderfest in Louisville, and never tire of meeting people who share my love of Horror and Sci-Fi.

One of the best that I’ve attended in some time, as well as being one of the newest, is the HorrorHound convention each year in Indianapolis. March of 2009 was my third trip to this convention, having attended the July ‘07 and March ‘08 gatherings, and I must say that the convention has improved each year. This one was certainly no exception, with the guest list including John Saxon, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Savini, Doug Bradley, and Corey Haim. The convention also played host to the HMA MaskFest, a chance for artists and manufacturers to show off their monstrous wares, many of which were truly spectacular.

The reason people attend conventions, no matter the subject, is to gather with like-minded individuals, people who ‘get’ you. Family and friends may tolerate our love of the monsters, but they seldom understand it. However, at conventions, we’re surrounded by people who share our interests, our passions. They not only understand us—they are us.

If you’ve not availed yourself of the opportunity to attend a convention, then you owe it to yourself to go to at least one. Wonderfest is great, especially if you’re into models. Monster Bash is always a great time. But for my money, HorrorHound was the one to beat this year, and I plan to be right there again this coming spring, communing with others who share a love of ghosties, ghoulies, the occasional long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night. Hope to see you there!

6.) Horror-Host of the Year
a. Dr. Gangrene (Nashville, TN)
b. Count Gore De Vol (Internet)
c. Svengoolie (Chicago, IL)
d. Penny Dreadful (New Bedford, MA)

Okay, let’s be honest. If you’re anywhere near my age, then the time you grew up in seems like an ancient, bygone age. If we were lucky, we had maybe five channels on our TVs—the control of which was exercised by our parents. In my house, there were two televisions, and we might get the use of one of them, but only if there weren’t two football games on at the same time. In that case, one TV set was placed on top of the other so my Dad could watch both.

When we watched Horror Films, it wasn’t on one of 500 satellite networks, or a Blu-Ray disc or streaming webcast. It wasn’t on a 52-inch, 1080p, LED HDTV. It was on a 13-inch black & white screen, rabbit-ear antenna adjusted so that the picture was almost (but never quite) perfect. And when we watched it was in the company of a Horror-Host, someone who, with a scary persona and comedic nature entertained us along with the movie—often more than the movie.

Though Cinematicus Horror Hostus may be an endangered species, they are by no means extinct, at least not yet. Many are still active, carrying on a tradition that began when television was live and what you saw was what you got. The best of the traditional breed of Horror-hosts, and one of the few still working who began during the heyday of hosts, is Chicago’s Svengoolie.

Beginning in 1979 as the Son of Svengoolie, Rich Koz assumed the mantle of Jerry G. Bishop, the original Svengoolie, continuing until 1986. In 1995, when his program was brought back by WCIU-26, he dropped the “Son of—” from his name, and has been going strong ever since.
Koz is one of the few hosts that still do it the old-fashioned way—a commercially viable show broadcast on an over-the-air station. This year, Koz finally received some of the recognition he so richly deserves, winning the Horror-host Rondo at Wonderfest. I can only hope that it’s just the first of many for Berwyn’s most lovable ghoul.

Another host who’s kickin’ it old-school is Nashville, Tennessee’s Dr. Gangrene. Gangrene’s program, the CW58 Creature Feature, has been broadcast on WNAB-58 for the last four years. The creation of Larry Underwood, Gangrene, the self-styled ‘Physician of Fright’, began in 1999 on Public Access cable with the Chiller Cinema show. Underwood’s character, designed as an homage to Sir Cecil Creape, the legendary Nashville Horror-host, broadcasts from his “… secret hidden laboratory on the mysterious Shackle Island.”

Recently, Dr. Gangrene has won several awards, and a series of Public Service Announcement’s entitled “Go Green with Dr. Gangrene,” produced in 2008, have earned Emmy nominations and, more importantly (at least for Horror Fans) a Special Rondo—the “Vasaria Public Service” Rondo Award. Here’s hoping that the good Doctor continues to practice his peculiar brand of medicine for many years to come.

One of the few women headlining in this business is Penny Dreadful, the host of Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers, produced by New Bedford, Massachusetts’ NBTV-95 Public Access Cable, and seen throughout New England. The voluptuous witch, accompanied by her werewolf-husband Garou and an erstwhile monster-hunter named Manfred von Bulow, entertain audiences as they screen some of the ‘best of the worst’, Horror films such as Roger Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD or Hammer’s death-knell of gothic horror, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA –aka– COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE. I’m not sure what it is about the combination of cheesy movies, cornball comedy, and curvilicious hostess, but Shilling Shockers is a definite favorite in the Crypt.

But the winner of the Horror-host of the Year in the Unimonster’s Crypt is, ironically enough, the only one of the nominees not currently available on television, either broadcast or cable. Dick Dyszel’s Count Gore De Vol was once a long-running host on Washington, D.C.’s WDCA-20, but now webcasts his Creature Feature: The Weekly Web Program on http://www.countgore.com/.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I must say that not only am I a fan of the Count, I am also a contributor to his web-site. You see, countgore.com is far more than just a place to see a full-length hosted movie—it’s also home to some of the best reviews and analysis of the world of Horror that you can find anywhere on the web, and for the past two years Dyszel has been kind enough to repost many of my columns from this site. This has allowed me to claim kinship with such true Horror notables as The Bone-Jangler, Dr. Sarcofiguy, Prof. Anton Griffin, and of course, Count Gore himself. This association has not only brought new readers here to the Crypt, but has given your favorite Unimonster a higher profile in the fan community.

Still, it’s not the association that earns Dyszel the nod as Horror-host of the year; it’s the fact that, since 1973, Count Gore has worked to spread his love of cheesy Horror and Sci-Fi to an ever-widening audience. As a firm believer in spreading the gospel of Bela, Boris, Lionel, and Lon, I salute Dyszel’s contributions to this effort… and name Count Gore De Vol Horror-host of 2009!

7.) The Golden Hambone Award for Lifetime Achievement in Bad Acting
a. John Carradine
b. Keanu Reeves
c. Tom Cruise

Some actors define the roles they choose, some actors are defined by them. And some actors are defined by the whacked-out nut-ball way they act when the cameras aren’t rolling. Tom Cruise is one of the latter.

In a career that has spanned nearly 30 years since his first role (as Billy in 1981’s ENDLESS LOVE), the actor has appeared in nearly three dozen films, but it’s Cruise’s off-screen antics that has garnered him the most attention. Cruise has appeared in just four genre films—LEGEND, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, MINORITY REPORT, and WAR OF THE WORLDS—and personally speaking, all were bombs, with the possible exception of 2002’s MINORITY REPORT.

While Cruise may seem an unlikely candidate for this award, as he is capable of turning in good, even spectacular performances upon occasion, his genre work has, and I don’t believe I’m overstating this, sucked. Both he and director Steven Spielberg should be haunted by the ghost of George Pal for the atrocious 2005 version of WAR OF THE WORLDS, and Horror fans are still paying for what he and co-star Brad Pitt did to the Vampire genre with 1994’s INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE. That demasculinization of the vampire led to a proliferation of nancy-boy, shaved-chest, silk-and-lace wearing bloodsippers that continues to this day with films such as NEW MOON. That alone warrants his inclusion on this list.

A contemporary of Cruise’s has made in own mark in genre film, also almost universally bad. Keanu Reeves will forever be remembered for having the worst British accent ever, in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of DRACULA. His performance of Jonathan Harker single-handedly transformed what could’ve been the best version of Bram Stoker’s novel since 1958 into a groan-worthy exercise in viewing. Nor was that his only foray into ruining franchises and film history. Several years ago, fans of the DC Comic Book HellBlazer were thrilled to hear that a film version was in the works. That thrill died a quick death when we saw Reeves’ performance as John Constantine, the demon hunter in CONSTANTINE. And as recently as 2008, Reeves was busy offending lovers of classic Sci-Fi with the big-budget remake of 1951’s THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Given the relative youth of both Cruise and Reeves, I’ve no doubt that there is a lifetime of bad genre roles in both their futures.

But the Golden Hambone is intended to honor those who have dedicated their lives to entertaining us despite their bad acting—those who are, like the movies they appear in, so bad they’re good. And for such an award’s inauguration, there is only one actor of sufficient quality and longevity.

Richmond Reed Carradine was born in New York City on the Fifth of February, 1905, and began his genre career with an uncredited part in James Whale’s THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). In 1935, he had a minor role in another of Whale’s films, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. That year, he also took the stage name that would become famous to Monster-fans everywhere—John Carradine.

His film career spanned six decades, with his last film being BURIED ALIVE, released two years after his death. Though not all of his work was in Horror, that is what he is best remembered for—his performances as Dracula, in Universal’s twin monster-fests of the ‘40’s, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA; as Yousef Bey in THE MUMMY’S GHOST; as R. Chetwynd-Hayes in 1980’s Horror-Comedy THE MONSTER CLUB; or in the 1981 Joe Dante film THE HOWLING, as an over-the-hill werewolf named in honor of 1940’s Horror Director Erle C. Kenton.

For a lifetime of entertainment that far outweighed his acting, John Carradine is the first winner of the Unimonster’s Crypt Golden Hambone Award for Lifetime Achievement in Bad Acting.

8.) The Alan Smithee Memorial Award for a Lifetime of Bad Directing
a. Uwe Boll
b. Ray Dennis Steckler
c. Lloyd Kaufman
d. Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Like the previous award category, this is based upon a lifetime’s body of work—a scary thought, when you consider how relatively young the German-born Uwe Boll is. For a director who is a year younger than the Unimonster, he’s amassed quite a pile of crap in his career, a career which includes such notable accomplishments as HOUSE OF THE DEAD, ALONE IN THE DARK, BLOODRAYNE, and IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE. Now, that would be a career’s worth of crap for most directors—for Boll, it was a four-year span!

If it were simply a matter of lack of talent, Boll probably wouldn’t make this list; after all, the video shelves are full of hack directors shoveling out bad movies year after year. But in an industry noted for individuals who’d sell their grandmothers’ false teeth for ten minutes to pitch a script, he distinguishes himself as the lowest of the low.

It is impossible to mention bad movies without discussing a company that both epitomizes bad filmmaking, and endears itself to fans of truly rank cheese—Troma Films. And the chief nut in charge of Troma’s asylum is producer/director/actor Lloyd Kaufman. From the early ‘80’s, movies such as THE TOXIC AVENGER, CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH, TROMEO AND JULIET, and TERROR FIRMER have defined both bad movies and Troma productions for Horror and cheesy-movie fans alike. And the 64-year-old filmmaker is still going strong, having released POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD three years ago, and several films currently in production, including the fifth installment in the long-running TOXIC AVENGER franchise. Yes, Troma films are bad… notoriously so. But they are also fun, and never take themselves seriously. A combination that guarantees fans will keep looking to Kaufman to be entertained.

In the annals of bad filmmaking, few names rise higher than Ray Dennis Steckler. Steckler, who died in 2009 three weeks before his 71st birthday, directed the film with one of the most referenced titles in Horror—THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES. Released in 1964, the movie did reasonable business, with Steckler distributing it himself after it’s initial run. In all probability, both it and Steckler would’ve faded into obscurity—if not for a Cable TV show. Mystery Science Theater 3000 spoofed the film in it’s eighth season, and many fans of bad movies, the series’ core audience, were exposed for the first time to a film they were familiar with only by reputation. Using the pseudonym Cash Flagg, Steckler starred in the film opposite his wife at the time, Carolyn Brandt.

Two years later, Brandt appeared in another of Steckler’s notably bad films, the Super-Hero Comedy RAT PHINK A BOO-BOO [See Junkyardfilms.com’s Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: RAT PHINK A BOO-BOO, 5 September, 2009]. Part Action-Crime drama, part Super-Hero Farce, and all cheese, RAT PHINK A BOO-BOO is a primer on how to make a bad movie.
Steckler may not have been a good director, but he was able to say that his movies were undeniably his own. He had a vision for his films to which, despite all the problems and financial shortfalls, he was able to remain true. That, more than anything, earns him a place on this list.

Another director who always remained true to his vision, no matter how flawed, is the infamous Edward D. Wood, Jr. Director of what many consider the worst movie of all time, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, Wood was one of the most idiosyncratic individuals in an industry noted for idiosyncrasies. A former Marine, he was also a transvestite who claimed that he had gone ashore at Guadalcanal wearing a bra and panties under his fatigues. Fiercely loyal to his friends, he was not above using and manipulating them to achieve his goals.

Though Wood has many fans, I daresay none would choose to describe him as a good director. But like Steckler, Wood made the films he wanted to make. Best known for five films made in the 1950’s (GLEN OR GLENDA; JAIL-BAIT; BRIDE OF THE MONSTER; PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE; and NIGHT OF THE GHOULS), Wood’s films are a tribute to determination and making do with what you have. For PLAN 9…, his most famous movie, he had cast Bela Lugosi as one of the reanimated corpses under alien control. Wood had even shot some footage of Lugosi in various outdoor settings. When Lugosi died before principal shooting began, Wood was faced with two choices: Discard the Lugosi footage and move on, or find a way to make it work. He chose the latter option, casting his chiropractor, whom he felt bore a resemblance to Lugosi, to replace the horror icon. To conceal the obvious switch, the good doctor simply held his cape up over his face—for the entire film.

Ed Wood came into his own in a time when making a movie wasn’t something that anyone with a Digital Video Camera and a laptop could do. It took talented teams of people working together, using specialized tools and techniques, and all that required money. What so amazes me about Wood is not that he was able to gather all the necessary resources to make a movie once, it’s that he was able to do it time after time. Despite the obvious lack of talent evident with each successive film, he was able to continue bringing his vision to the screen. For that, we recognize Edward Davis Wood, Jr. as the inaugural recipient of the Alan Smithee Memorial Award for a Lifetime of Bad Directing.

9.) Creature of the Year
a. Scott Essman—for his tireless work to pay homage to Jack Pierce, and all of his Universal Creations
b. Joe Moe—for his devotion to, and care of a beloved "Uncle" to thousands of us, Forry Ackerman
c. Dick Dyzsel—for continuing an honored tradition, and helping to keep the concept of the old-fashioned Horror-Host Alive

There are few things dearer to the Unimonster’s heart than the classic creatures of Universal Horror Films—they are, quite simply, why I am the Unimonster. And for the past decade, no one has worked harder to secure the proper acknowledgment for Jack P. Pierce—the Make-Up artist for Universal who was responsible for the creation of the studio’s greatest icons—than Scott Essman. Essman, the Creative Director at Visionary Media, is the most dedicated advocate of Pierce’s you’ll ever find. He’s created a play based on Pierce’s life featuring recreations of his greatest works, spearheaded a drive to get Pierce his due recognition with a Star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and is currently working in conjunction with Universal Studios Home Video to promote the re-release of 1941’s THE WOLF-MAN in a special Legacy Edition DVD, in advance of the theatrical release of the big-budget remake starring Benicio Del Toro. I’m proud to say that the Unimonster’s Crypt has assisted, in a minor way, with these efforts, and hope everyone reading this column would choose to help Scott in his endeavors to keep the memory of Jack Pierce, and his contributions to the Horror genre, alive.

Every reader of this column is familiar with my love of the old-time Horror-host, that middle-aged man in monster make-up who served our childhood selves as a comedic guide to the Underworld. Some of you might even be fortunate enough to live in an area where the descendants of these pioneers of television still practice the art. We have previously discussed four such practitioners of Horror-hosting, and there are others scattered around this land of ours. There are few, however, that have the national presence that Count Gore De Vol, our Horror-host of the year, can claim.

An early pioneer of webcasting his program over the internet, Count Gore’s brand of horror and hi-jinx can be seen by anyone with a computer and web connection. For more than ten years now, Dick Dyszel, Count Gore’s alter-ego, has worked to keep the Horror-host traditions alive for fans around the world using his www.countgore.com web-site. The days when nearly every television market could boast of at least one Horror-host of its own may be long past, but thanks to the efforts of men and women like Dick, they will not be forgotten.

If you’re a Monster Fan of a certain age, then it’s a safe bet that, at some point in your childhood, your interests in Horror and Science-Fiction were fostered and inspired by a kindly old gentleman in glasses, with a bad pun always at the ready, and an infectious love for the Cinema Fantastica. Forry Ackerman was an icon, he was a hero, but more than that, he was our buddy—like a trusted member of our extended family.

For the last several years of his life, Forry was plagued with health problems, though visitors to his “mini-mansion” wouldn’t have known that, as he continued to welcome all, showing off his remaining treasures as he regaled his guests with tales of the Golden Age of Horror. Those visitors might have noticed a large smiling man in the background, watching protectively over our “Uncle Forry.” That man was Joe Moe, and since the late ‘90’s he had been Forry’s combination valet, bodyguard, secretary, caregiver—and most importantly, friend. He was by Forry’s side through some of his hardest times, and was with him until the end. In many ways, Joe acted in our stead, repaying Forry for the years of groan-worthy puns, great monster memories—and friendship. Thousands of aging MonsterKids couldn’t take turns caring for the Ackermonster, though many of us would willingly have done so. So Joe did it for us. For that, and for the care and kindness he lavished upon Forry, we owe him a debt of gratitude, and his due recognition as the Unimonster’s Crypt Creature of the Year.

10.) Movie-Babe of the Year
a. Zoë Saldana (Uhura - STAR TREK; Neytiri - AVATAR)
b. Rachel Nichols ('Scarlett' - G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA; Gaila - STAR TREK)
c. Alison Lohman (Christine - DRAG ME TO HELL)
e. Betsy Rue (Irene - MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D; Jazlean - HALLOWEEN II)

Even the best movie Monsters need a good-looking woman to menace, a ‘damsel in distress’ to focus and amplify the fear and tension. Such “Scream Queens” have been a staple of genre films since Mary Philbin yanked the mask off Lon Chaney’s grotesque visage, and this year’s crop of films was no different.

One of the best pure Horror Films of 2009 was Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL, a good, old-fashioned demons-and-curses tale told in high style by Raimi, the man who gained his reputation with the EVIL DEAD series of films. Starring as Christine, the heroine of the film who runs afoul of a Gypsy curse, is 30-year-old Alison Lohman. Lohman, whose previous genre work includes 2007’s BEOWULF and 1998’s KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER, is suitably attractive, even when being chased around the house by shadowy demons and psychotic Gypsy witches. Her acting skills may not be quite up to carrying the movie as the lead, but this category isn’t about someone’s acting chops, now is it? She does have one distinction from the other nominees, though—the other four all did double-duty in 2009, appearing in at least two genre films.

The most notable of them is Zoë Saldana, appearing in two of the biggest Science-Fiction films of the year. In May, she turned heads, as well as a Vulcan heart, as Uhura in J. J. Abrams’ STAR TREK. Then, just weeks ago, her second film of the year, James Cameron’s AVATAR, premiered to much hype and hoopla. I can’t say much about her work as Neytiri, the Na’vi heroine in AVATAR, having successfully (to this point) resisted the hype, as well as any urge to see the film.

However, I can speak volumes about her performance in STAR TREK. Like every other member of the lead cast, she was faced with the formidable task of replacing a legend—Nichelle Nichols, the original Lt. Uhura. And like most, (with the exception of Karl Urban as McCoy) she outdid all expectations. Smart, fiery, and without a doubt beautiful, Saldana’s Lt. Uhura is able to back an overly-interested Kirk down, and capture Spock’s affections. She can even speak all three dialects of Romulan!

Her roommate at Starfleet Academy just happens to be our next nominee. Rachel Nichols is memorable as the green-skinned, red-haired Gaila, a native of Orion, who is romantically involved with Kirk. Her role in STAR TREK is minor; her impression, at least on this Unimonster, was not (did I mention the redhead obsession thing?).

A more substantial role for Nichols was as Scarlett, the red-haired hand-to-hand combat expert in the skin-tight battlesuit in G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA. That movie was a pleasant surprise on many levels, and she was definitely one of them.

Another movie that was a pleasant surprise was MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D, the Patrick Lussier-helmed remake of the 1981 Slasher landmark. The original was one of the best of the “theme-day” Slasher films that started with Bob Clark’s 1974 classic BLACK CHRISTMAS, and went into overdrive four years later with HALLOWEEN. I was expecting the typical crappy remake, produced because it’s easier than actually thinking of something new, but it was actually a very enjoyable movie. And one of the moments that made it so pleasurable was when Betsy Rue, as Irene the tramp—au naturel, no less—chased Frank the Trucker out of the motel room where they had just enjoyed a romantic, and rather energetic, tryst. When a very attractive, stark naked woman is chasing a man across a parking lot with a pistol in hand, that tends to get your attention. As do her subsequent efforts to escape the Pickaxe wielding killer. Her role may not be important to the overall plot of the film, and yes, the nudity is gratuitous—so what? What’s a good Slasher film without some gratuitous T&A?

Rue, who’s new to genre film, is breaking into it in a big way. In 2009, she also appeared in episodes of HBO’s vampire soap “True Blood,” ABC’s “Eastwick,” Fox’s “Bones,” and three episodes of Electric Farm’s on-line series “Woke Up Dead.” She also had a brief appearance in Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2. By any measure, 2009 was a breakthrough year in horror for Betsy Rue.

But the Movie-Babe of the Year has been the hottest actress in Hollywood since appearing in 2007’s TRANSFORMERS as Mikaela Banes. I am referring to Megan Fox, of course, and this year she made waves with two star turns. In June TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN was released, with Fox reprising her role as Shia LeBeouf’s love interest. Then in September, she took the lead role in JENNIFER’S BODY, the quirky Diablo Cody-scripted horror film about a demon-possessed cheerleader who quite literally becomes a man-eater. Fox, who routinely graces the pages of Maxim magazine, is one of the most popular of the current crop of Scream Queens, and that, as well as a beautiful face and fantastic body, make her our Movie-Babe of 2009.

11.) Movie-Monster of the Year
a. Lorna Raver (Sylvia Ganush - DRAG ME TO HELL)
b. Giant Delta Vegan Snow Beast (STAR TREK)
c. Harry Warden / the Pick-Axe Killer (Rich Walters / Jensen Ackles - MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D)

Remember when Horror Films were full of Monsters—real Monsters, from vampires to mummies to reanimated corpses of every description? Now we get post-pubescent werewolves and an emasculated Michael Myers. Well, we work with what we’ve got, and this is the best of a slim year for movie Monsters.

I’ve already mentioned that MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D was a surprisingly good movie, especially considering it was a remake of one of my favorite Slasher films. Undoubtedly that was to due to a very good script, decent acting, and strong direction. But it also benefited from one of the best Slashers to come along since Rebecca Gayheart carved her way through URBAN LEGEND in 1998. Harry Warden, aka the Pickaxe Killer, played variously by Rich Walters and Jensen Ackles, harkens back to the best of the 80’s Slashers. Silent, methodical, implacable, he moved from kill to kill with a style that most modern Slasher films lack.

Though certainly not a “monster movie,” STAR TREK did boast one fantastic creature that fits the bill. Though I have no idea what the critter’s actual name might be, Giant Delta Vegan Snow Beast seems to fit. I doubt that a young James T. Kirk was concerned about the creature’s name when it was chasing him across the frozen wastes of Delta Vega. Yes, it may have resembled a cross between a chicken and a spider—but it was still cool enough to place in our rankings.

But the best movie Monster of the Year has to be Sylvia Ganush, the pissed-off, about-to-be-homeless Gypsy woman, played by Lorna Raver, who curses Christine Brown in DRAG ME TO HELL. Not only is she one mean old bitch, she puts up an ass-whipping that would do an Ultimate Fighting Champion proud. Not even death slows her down when it comes to Christine, as her corpse manages to attack her twice—and that’s not counting the heavy-duty curse she lays on her. It’s been a while since we’ve had a Horror movie Monster this good at being this bad. That makes ol’ Sylvia the Movie-Monster of 2009.

12.) DVD Release of the Year
a. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON Two-Disc "Full Moon" Edition
c. STAR TREK Amazon.com Exclusive Commemorative Replica Set
d. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) Collector's Edition
e. THE WIZARD OF OZ: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition

This has been very good year for DVD releases, and the number of discs that could’ve made this list but fell just short is impressive indeed. That speaks to both the efforts that producers and distributors are putting into their products, and the quality of the nominees that made the cut.

Frankly, when it comes to DVD’s, I’m a magpie. Put it in a nice shiny package, stuff it full of extras and special features, and I’ve got to have it—the bigger the better. The one DVD on this list that doesn’t fit that description made it simply because the movie inside is so damn good that it doesn’t need extras. Written by Ernest Cline and directed by Kyle Newman, FANBOYS is one of those films that’s hard to classify. Though it’s a comedy, the humor is so narrowly targeted that not even most genre fans will get all of it. But if you’ve ever camped out overnight to see the premiere of a STAR WARS film, or attended a Trek Convention wearing a pair of Vulcan ears, then this film is a love letter to you. If you’ve ever, as ridiculous as it sounds, tried using the Jedi Mind trick to get women, or if the statement, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard since Schumacher put nips on Batman” makes perfect sense to you, then this is a movie that must be in your collection.

One DVD released last year that definitely appeals to my magpie instincts, even though the movie is far from a favorite of mine, is THE WIZARD OF OZ: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition set. Reminiscent of the superb KING KONG (1933) Collectors’ Tin Box set (winner of The Crypt of the Unimonster’s DVD of the Year, 2005), Warner Home Video goes all out with this OZ-fest. Included in the four-disc set is the 1939 classic, of course; the same remastered version in the 2005 DVD release. There is also virtually every silent film version of L. Frank Baum’s Oz adventures, as well as the 1933 animated version, along with a host of documentaries, and the 1990 biopic THE DREAMER OF OZ, about Baum’s life.

But it’s the non-video features that might drive most collectors to this one. Included in the set are: A numbered, collectible 70th Anniversary watch, with genuine crystals; a replica of the film’s original production budget; “Behind the Curtain” an original, 52-page book; and a reproduction of the original 1939 campaign book. This is very similar to the extras included in the KING KONG Tin Box mentioned above, also from Warner. Obviously the company understands that with beloved classic movies, the fans want the best treatment they can get.

More than a decade before he gave the Slasher genre one of it’s most imaginative killers in the person of Freddy Krueger, and twenty-four years before he reinvented Horror with SCREAM, Wes Craven broke into genre filmmaking with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, a film I described in a previous column as, “… the CITIZEN KANE of Grindhouse Cinema” [“Too Much Horror” 30 May, 2009]. With the premiere of the remake early in 2009, M-G-M Home Video wisely, and finally, gave the original groundbreaking film the release it deserves. Included on the disc are several worthwhile extras, most notably a commentary track featuring David Hess, Marc Sheffler, and Fred Lincoln; deleted scenes and outtakes; CELLULOID CRIME OF THE CENTURY, a documentary on the making of the film; and several other features. The movie is not for everyone, and certainly not for those unaware of the raw impact it carries. But for those who are fans of Grindhouse cinema, or for Craven fans, this is a must have.

1981 was, at least as far as Horror Films were concerned, the year of the Werewolf. No fewer than three major Lycanthrope films were released: WOLFEN, which had a great set-up, but a lousy finish; THE HOWLING, Joe Dante’s paean to classic Horror Films; and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, the John Landis-directed homage to Lon Chaney, Jr.’s THE WOLF-MAN. Though the last has had a nice DVD release in the past, Universal recently released it again in a two-disc “Full Moon” Collector’s edition. Though most of what you get is the same as in the previous DVD release of AWIL, one addition is the superb feature-length documentary BEWARE THE MOON, written directed, and hosted by Paul Davis. This documentary alone makes the upgrade worthwhile for fans of the movie, and earns this DVD a place in this list.

However, when you have a Star Trek film coming to DVD, especially in a release that sends my inner magpie into a lustful frenzy, well, there’s simply no contest. When STAR TREK dropped in November, nearly every major retailer had some sort of promotional set to offer. Target offered the 3-disc set packaged in a three-dimensional U.S.S. Enterprise, with the discs encased in the ship’s primary hull. Best Buy offered the set with a complete set of Starfleet insignia pins. Both of these are terrific, and with luck, both will soon find a place of honor in the Crypt.

But Amazon.com outdid everyone with their offering. First, we have the special features on the discs themselves. There’s the obligatory commentary track, featuring director J. J. Abrams, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, producer Damon Lindelof and executive producer Bryan Burk. Disc two contains 10 featurettes on the making of the movie, plus deleted scenes and outtakes. Disc three contains the Digital copy, plus access to special on-line content. But that’s what you get with any of the three-disc sets. It’s the non-video content that wins the prize for this one.

Packaged with the DVD’s is an absolutely spectacular replica of the U.S.S. Enterprise, hand-crafted in solid metal. There’s not a bit of plastic anywhere in this model, produced by Quantum Mechanix Inc. in a limited edition of 5,000, and patterned from the digital effects files used for the film.

Yes, this set is expensive—one look at it tells you that much. But the value you get for your money, especially for my fellow Trekkers, is well worth the cost. This is, unquestionably, the DVD Release of 2009.

13.) DVD Box Set of the Year
a. HELLRAISER Limited Edition Box Set
b. The William Castle Film Collection
c. John Carpenter: Master of Fear Collection
d. “Life on Mars”: The Complete Series

I love big box sets of DVD’s—the bigger the better. As I mentioned above, I am a magpie, and a shiny big box full of movies is my idea of fun—at least, the most fun that I can write about in a family-friendly column. Just as 2009 was a good year for single DVD releases, so it was for Box sets as well, with several making the grade for nomination.

One of the greatest directors working in genre film today is John Carpenter. From his horror debut with the masterpiece of Slasher films, HALLOWEEN, through his terrifyingly good remake THE THING, to his most recent projects, two episodes of the Showtime series “Masters of Horror,” Carpenter’s movies have ranked among the best of modern horror films. Now, four of his films have been released in the John Carpenter: Master of Fear Box Set. Contained within this admittedly sparse offering are: THE THING, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, THEY LIVE, and VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. With the exception of THE THING, these are some of Carpenter’s lesser-known films, though each is worth possessing.

The lack of any special features hurt this set, and frankly, if you’re a fan of John Carpenter then most of these films will already be in your collection. But for those new to the director’s work, or looking to build their collections, this set is a great way to go.

Another director who’s long been a fan favorite is William Castle. While his movies were never the best in terms of quality, they were unmatched in terms of showmanship and ability to entertain an audience. It was Castle who gave us such novelties as the “Ghost Viewer,” which allowed the audience to see the titular ghosts in 13 GHOSTS, or “Percepto,” in which random theater seats would be wired with a device to “tingle” a moviegoer's hindquarters during appropriate moments of THE TINGLER.

Though the movies lose a little of their impact without such gimmicks to depend on, they’re still worth watching—and owning. And this set is guaranteed to please both those who consider themselves fans of Castle, as well as those unfamiliar with him. It includes eight movies (13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS; 13 GHOSTS; HOMICIDAL; STRAIT-JACKET; THE OLD DARK HOUSE; MR. SARDONICUS; THE TINGLER; and ZOTZ!), as well as two episodes of the Castle-produced 1970’s TV series “Ghost Story / Circle of Fear,” featuring cameo appearances by the man himself, and the 2007 documentary SPINE TINGLER!—THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY. Add in various commentaries, making of’s, and other extras and it’s easy to see this set’s worth having.

Though most of those movies already reside in the Crypt’s Movie room, this is a set that’s high on my list of ‘Needful Things’. I’m a huge fan of Castle’s, and this set is just too good to pass up.

Another set that placed high on my want list is the HELLRAISER Limited Edition Box Set. Packed in a custom-made replica of Pinhead’s Lament Configuration puzzle box, this three-disc set includes DVD’s of HELLRAISER and HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, plus the Blu-Ray disc of HELLRAISER. Also included is three hours of bonus materials, making this set well worth the $60 list price, especially for fans of the series or it’s creator, Clive Barker.

But this year marks something of a departure for me in the area of DVD Box Set of the Year. For the first time, a television series has not only been nominated, but won in a landslide. For those who recall the 2008 in Review column [07 February, 2009], it should come as no surprise that the winner of the TV Series of 2008 is the winner of the DVD Box Set of 2009. “Life on Mars,” ABC’s superb Science-Fiction / Police Drama, stars Jason O’Mara as Sam Tyler, “… a NYPD detective, [who] is struck by a hit-and-run driver on a New York City street… in 2008. He awakens 35 years before, in 1973. His clothes are changed, his car is changed, his hairstyle has changed… even his badge and department ID has changed. Only he’s the same person, with the same memories, and the knowledge that he’s out of place… virtually on another world.

“A large part of the attraction of the show lies in Sam’s pursuit of the answer to the mystery of what has happened to him, and in his efforts to both fit in and find some measure of happiness in his new world. Nothing is easy for him… from finding his way around a city that is so similar and yet so different; to conducting investigations without the scientific and forensic tools that are so much a part of the modern police arsenal. Nor are his colleagues easily relatable; theirs is a different era of policing, with different standards of what constitutes acceptable behavior. He is actively encouraged to beat confessions out of suspects when he knows they’re guilty; plant evidence if that’s the only way to get a conviction; and to turn his head if a fellow cop is a little wrong on a bust. His precinct, the ‘1-2-5’, has no black or female detectives, and the precinct’s only policewoman has been nicknamed ‘No-Nuts’ by the male officers.

“Each case, each encounter, has the potential to add another piece to the puzzle of Sam’s existence… and which is his reality, the one wherein he’s living now, or the one in which he believes he belongs? Has he time-shifted? Is this simply a hallucination brought on by the hit-and-run? Could he be part of some alien experiment? Might he even be dead, and trapped in what is his own personal Hell? Each week, backed up by a fine ensemble cast including Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, and Gretchen Mol, he searches for the answer—and for a way to belong.” [2008 in Review, 7 February, 2009] Frankly, I loved this show, and having it available on DVD is terrific. There are special features included, a tour of the set conducted by ‘70’s TV icon Lee Majors among them. But even if these weren’t present, you still would have the complete “Life on Mars” series—and you would still have the DVD Box Set of 2009.

14.) Crapfest of the Year

It should come as no surprise that, of the seven nominees for Crapfest of 2009, five were also nominated for Worst Prequel, Sequel, or Remake of the Year. It certainly is no coincidence that that’s the case, as few things have the crap-potential of a bad remake of a great film.

Though calling it a “great film” might be a slight exaggeration, 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH nevertheless became the archetypal Slasher film, the model for the hundreds that followed it in the decade of the ‘80’s. That number included multiple sequels featuring “the man in the mask,” Jason Voorhees, the killer of Camp Crystal Lake—Camp ‘Blood.’ But as any fan of Slashers knows, Jason wasn’t the first killer to prowl the campground. That honor belonged to his mother, Pamela Voorhees, played by Betsy Palmer. That first FRIDAY was superior to any of its sequels, and as I stated earlier, set the pattern for Slasher films such as PROM NIGHT, THE PROWLER, and GRADUATION DAY.

FRIDAY THE 13TH may not be a great movie, but it certainly is one that did not require a remake. That, unfortunately, did nothing to deter the current king of Horror remakes, Marcus Nispel. Nispel, who made a name for himself with the 2003 remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, is fortunate that he chose that film for his first project, as this remake is of far lesser quality.

The script, by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, is less a remake than a rehash, as though they threw all the preceding films in the franchise into a blender. The result is a distillation of a decade’s worth of FRIDAY THE 13TH films into one movie—one that is completely unsatisfying. This remake fails in its efforts to recapture the best points of the original film, or films as that may be a more accurate way of expressing it. Instead we get a random string of appropriately gruesome murders, a healthy dose of T&A, and no plot whatsoever.

Another film that needed no remake was 1972’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I’ve discussed the original in some detail above; the remake needs little discussion. Directed by Dennis Lliadis from a script by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth, the remake strips out everything that made the original such a shocking, and groundbreaking, film. The motivation of the parents, vengeance for their daughter’s brutal rape and murder, is weakened by the fact that, in this remake, the daughter survives. The rage and thirst for blood, so understandable in the Collingwood’s of Craven’s film, becomes more a fight to survive than a quest for revenge. Without that impact, the movie loses all reason for being.

When a movie’s director has the name of a fast-food sandwich, that does not bode well for the quality of the film. Thus it is for TERMINATOR: SALVATION, directed by “McG.” Following the less-than-kind reviews visited upon the preceding movie in the series, TERMINATOR III: JUDGMENT DAY, I had hoped that the franchise would be allowed to die a dignified death. Such was not to be, much to my sorrow. Christian Bale does nothing to resurrect this franchise the way he did the Batman films, and this movie simply fails to entertain even a long-time Terminator fan such as the Unimonster. That franchise was dependent upon two men for its success: James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Subtract one and you have a bad Terminator film. Subtract both, and it’s not even that.

The one truly original film on this list must, I suppose, be given some credit for not being yet another remake, though it owes much to the 1970 Melvin Van Peebles film WATERMELON MAN. DISTRICT 9, the South African produced, Neill Blomkamp-written-and-directed Apartheid allegory, had the misfortune of being about fifteen years too late for social relevance, assuming I gave a damn about social relevance, which I most emphatically do not. The bigger misfortune which afflicts the film is the fact that it was boring. Not even the fact that I saw this film at the Drive-In, an environment that promotes the enjoyment of bad movies, could help this mess of a film.

As I’ve mentioned above, the original “Land of the Lost” television series was one of my favorite Saturday morning programs, due in large part to the fact that it was damn good Sci-Fi. When news came that Universal had a big-budget redo of the series in the works, I was intrigued—for about three minutes. Of course, that died as soon as the name Will Ferrell entered the conversation.

Ferrell, the comedic “genius” (please note the heavy dose of sarcasm…) behind films such as THE ANCHORMAN and TALLEDEGA NIGHTS, totally ruins what might otherwise be an interesting revisit of a popular cult TV show. The filmmakers, director Brad Silberling and writers Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, threw out everything that made the series special to fans in order to tailor the movie to Ferrell’s style of comedy. Gone was the family relationship between Rick, Holly, and Will; a relationship which made the characters both real and relatable. Instead we see Ferrell’s generic doofus, the same character he plays in every film, and backing him up is a cast of generics, straight from Central Casting. For a significant portion of the year this looked like a lock for Crapfest of the Year, but two movies came along to unseat it from it’s dubious throne.

Rob Zombie was once regarded by many as the future of Horror, with a superb debut, 2003’s HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, and it’s sequel, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. His decision to remake HALLOWEEN was, I felt then and still do, a mistake, and his handling of the character of Michael Myers was completely wrong. His insistence on explaining every facet of Michael’s personality disorder stripped every bit of mystery and suspense from the plot, giving us little more than a how-to-make-a-serial-killer instructional video.

As bad as it was, however, the sequel is far worse. When ten people see the same movie and no two can agree on what happened in it, that’s not good. In an art film, that might be forgivable, but in a Slasher film, never. Whether the events in the movie are actually happening or are imaginary, and if so are they occurring in Michael’s mind or Laurie’s, are quite frankly larger questions than fans of Slasher movies care to deal with in their movies. This movie is simply, horrendously, bad—there can be no other way to say it. My hopes for Zombie aren’t completely dashed yet, but I must confess to a great deal of disappointment. I would hope for better from his next outing, but once more he’ll be traveling the remake road, with a redo of THE BLOB. Whether he’ll remake the 1958 original or the 1988 remake is inconsequential; neither film needs a remake. I find myself almost wishing for yet another visit from the Firefly clan.

But as hard as it was for me to believe, there was a movie so bad that not even HALLOWEEN 2 could keep it from being Crapfest of the Year for 2009. Opening on Christmas Day, SHERLOCK HOLMES, directed by the former Mr. Madonna, Guy Ritchie, and starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes, Jude Law as Watson, and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, referred to by Holmes in the stories as “the Woman,” is that movie.

For those who are devotees of the world’s greatest consulting detective, authenticity is everything in a Holmes movie. If the filmmakers don’t remain true to the canon, the stories and novels actually penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, then they risk offending Holmesian fans such as the Unimonster. This film not only failed the faithfulness test, it damn near spit in Conan Doyle’s eye. Will it succeed at the Box-Office? Undoubtedly, as the general, movie-going public neither knows the canon nor is concerned about it. The Holmes Fans though, myself included, do know better, and we recognize the film for the Crapfest it is.

15.) Movie of the Year

In the five years I’ve done these Year-in-Review pieces, I’ve never had more the five nominees for Movie of the Year—that is, not until this year. There was such a bumper crop of fantastic genre films this year that I had to expand the selection process somewhat to insure I didn’t neglect any worthwhile candidates.

One thing that pleased me greatly is that for the first time, there are three pure Horror Films up for Movie of the Year. The first of these is the proverbial “little engine that could,” the surprise blockbuster of the year, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Shot on a budget of $15,000, it grossed over $107 million by year’s end, breaking THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s reign as most profitable movie ever. At first glance it might appear that this might just be a rehashing of that film, however Oren Peli, the director of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, took it several steps further, both by making it frightening, and making it entertaining. It should be on every Horror fans’ must-see list.

Another must-see is Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL. Featuring our Movie-Monster of 2009, as well as a nominee for Movie-Babe, this one has already been discussed in this Review, but I do want to expand a little on it now. This film marks Raimi’s return to Horror, an older, more mature, more accomplished Raimi than the director who gave us the EVIL DEAD movies. Where once he bludgeoned us with high style and little substance, the new Raimi is more measured. We still see the same Raimi style, only toned down to a level that never ventures into camp, a flaw of the EVIL DEAD films. Add to that the excellent script, by Raimi and older brother Ivan, and you have a solid contender for MotY.

It is rare for a remake to be nominated for MotY, and the three previous times that it has happened, it was more a commentary on the lack of good alternatives rather than on the nominees themselves. Only Peter Jackson’s KING KONG, which won the Movie of the Year for 2005, truly deserved both the nomination and the win. That is not the case for our next nominee, however. MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D, directed by Patrick Lussier, is a good, old-fashioned Slasher flic, one that captures the best of that genre of Horror. A remake of the 1981 classic about a deranged coal miner terrorizing a small Canadian mining town, which was a surprise hit, and one of the best examples of the “Theme-Day” Slashers of the early 1980’s.
The remake keeps the spirit of the original, while updating it in a way that works—very well. Starring Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith and Tom Atkins, it succeeds by doing exactly what HALLOWEEN 2 didn’t. It gives Slasher-fans precisely what they want—Inventive kills, plenty of blood and gore, twists and turns, a silent, mysterious killer, a healthy dose of gratuitous nudity, and an ending that’s the perfect set-up for a sequel. Great filmmaking, no. But it’s exactly want Slasher-fans and Gore-hounds want in a movie, and that’s plenty good enough.

Let’s be honest—while a large budget never hurts, for a horror film it’s not really necessary. Some of the best Horror films in recent memory have had comparatively small budgets with which to work. Movies such as DOG SOLDIERS, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, BUBBA HO-TEP, and SESSION 9 all were shot on small budgets, and all were superior movies.

Science-Fiction and Fantasy, however, are much more dependent upon special effects to create the worlds the writer has imagined, and money is the fuel that drives those effects. Just as Brad Anderson didn’t need $100 million to create the taut psychological horror in SESSION 9, it would be hard to accomplish the effects in most of our remaining nominees with only $100 million to spend. One such movie is Gavin Hood’s X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. With an estimated budget of $150 million, it actually comes of as the cheapest of our four mega-budget nominees. But the producers obviously got full value for their dollars, as this is easily the best of the four X-MEN films to date.

As I explained previously, I have never been a fan of the Marvel Universe, though with continued entries as good as this one that may change. There are several reasons I enjoyed it as much as I did. One, it’s much more accessible to those new to the storylines than the previous films had been. It doesn’t take for granted that the viewer knows everything they need in order to follow along; it gives us all the same information as we go along.

Two, the role of Wolverine may be the only one Hugh Jackman is capable of pulling off, at least to my satisfaction. He may have been adequate in VAN HELSING, but he owns this character, and makes the most of each and every performance.

And three—it may have been a very minor part of the film, but Ryan Reynolds’ appearance as Wade Wilson was a gem. Reynolds, far more adept at comedy than at dramatic roles, can’t help letting his inner class clown out here. Had he been on-screen any longer, he would’ve stolen the show.

Another big-budget blockbuster on our list, and the one that I anticipated the most, is HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. With the end of the series looming, each installment becomes more and more important, as the plotlines begin to converge. The events that transpired in this movie are bringing about the series’ ultimate confrontation, and we are just along for the ride. I for one have enjoyed the ride from the beginning, and can’t wait for it to reach it’s final destination.

I have vague memories of the original Transformers cartoon—I believe that it debuted about the time I started college, and most of my memories of that period are somewhat vague. It certainly wasn’t a show that I was a big fan of, though I do recall watching an episode or two. Nor was I overly impressed by the feature film version released in 2007. Thus my expectations were set understandably low for the sequel, TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. After I saw the movie, however, I can honestly say that it was surprisingly good. The special effects were spectacular, the story was much improved over the previous film, and the battle action was—and I want to express myself clearly and precisely here—Fan-Freakin’-Tastic! It wasn’t quite good enough to capture MotY, but it took two great movies to shoulder it aside.

The runner-up is a little movie that most of you probably haven’t heard of, much less seen. FANBOYS is one of those films that capture you right from the start—if you’re comfortable in that world, the world of fandom. It doesn’t matter what manner of fandom; it’s just happenstance that this involves a hard-core group of STAR WARS fans. It could be a group of die-hard AC/DC fans, Chicago Cubs fans, even, yes, Monster fans. The situations work just as well for any of these. And if you are such a fan, then the humor will hit you right in the gut, and double you over with laughter.

As I described it in my review, “It’s Halloween, 1998, and four twenty-something buddies, Eric, Hutch, Windows, and Linus, are six years out of high school, and for three of them, time has essentially stood still. Hutch still lives in his mother’s garage; he and Windows operate a small comic-book shop; they still hang out with Linus, dressing up as stormtroopers, playing video games, and generally just drifting through life. Eric, who works for his father’s chain of used car dealerships, is the only one who seems to have progressed towards adulthood since high school, and he has grown distant from his former friends, though whether this is the reason for, or a consequence of, his relative maturity is debatable.

“When Eric is informed that his best friend Linus is dying of cancer, and won’t live long enough to see the premiere of the new STAR WARS film, the quartet resurrects a childhood plan to pull off the impossible mission: Sneak into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in order to steal a print of Episode 1, THE PHANTOM MENACE, so that Linus can see it before his death. Along the way, between encounters with terribly misrepresented Trekkers, a pimp, William Shatner, Jay and Silent Bob, and an enraged Harry Knowles, the four discover that friendship, whatever foundation it may be built upon, really can beat the odds.” [DVD Review: FANBOYS, 30 May, 2009]

Though the issues involved with the group’s quest may be serious, the director, Kyle Newman, never lets the movie become weepy or maudlin. It has touching moments, but these don’t overpower the spirit of the movie. It’s truly a shame that more people haven’t seen this movie; if you take one recommendation away from this year’s review, please let it be this one.

However, as has been the case several times in this review, there is only one elephant in the room. STAR TREK, the J. J. Abrams-fathered rebirth of the Trek Franchise, is without a doubt the Movie of the Year for 2009. There’s much I could write about it; there’s much I’ve already written about it. Just see it—I think you’ll agree.

In addition, there’s another winner I need to mention, someone without whose help this article would not have been possible—it’s certain that it would not be as good as it is. For some time now, Bobbie Culbertson has been assisting me with research for the Crypt, everything from compiling lists of movies pertaining to a particular subject to hunting for great images to use to illustrate these words. That assistance has been invaluable, and has helped improve the Crypt in recent months.

Well, there you are… 2009 in review, the best, the worst, and everything in between. It’s been a pretty good year, overall, for genre film, and with luck 2010 will be even better. In a brief two months we’ll have the remake of THE WOLFMAN to look forward to—and the discussion will begin as to whether that will wind up on the “best” side of the ledger or the “worst.” Whichever way it falls, you can rest assured that, a year from now, I’ll be telling you what I think about it. Happy New Year, and Keep on Trekkin’!

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Horror… with a Critical Eye?

Someone recently, no doubt thinking they were flattering me, described me as a “… movie critic.” Not wanting to appear rude, I didn’t bother to correct them, but I certainly don’t consider myself a critic in any sense of the word. I have no formal education in either film history or film as an art form, hate “socially relevant” movies, and, quite frankly, don’t give a damn about the Oscars®. I don’t watch movies to be educated, and I don’t look to them for some politically-correct sense of edification or enlightenment. I simply have a love of movies, especially Horror and Science-Fiction movies. I know what I like and don’t like, and why, and have some small ability to communicate that to others. I don’t try to tell you what you should think about a movie; just what I do. Movies are entertainment to me; that’s why I turn to them to relax and escape the stresses and pressures of the day. And no type of movie does that for me as well as genre films do.

Horror is one of the most subjective genres of cinema because our fears are very personal things. Fear, like desire, is an individual, gut reaction. It happens without thought, without reason. When we see our object of either, we don’t need to think about, or force, the emotion to occur; it’s spontaneous, natural… as organic as our heartbeats, and just as easy to control. Just as a buxom redhead is guaranteed to kick-start my motor like the V-Twin on a Harley, sharks, clowns, and ventriloquist’s dummies just as reliably creep me out. You find a way to combine all three, and cast a group of red-haired centerfolds to star, and you’ve got my vote for movie of the year. How can any critic’s review take that into account?

Quite frankly, the more a critic likes a film, then the less inclined I am to watch it. My tastes are, as I’ve indicated, rather unique… the chance that there’s a critic out there whose taste in film parallels mine is roughly equal to the chance that I will win the Lotto on the same day that Jessica Simpson proposes to me. And where Horror Films are concerned, most critics miss the boat entirely… remember the rave reviews handed out for THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT? Critics, at least the mainstream ones, do not get horror, and are unable to fathom just what serious Horror Fans are looking for in a movie. True Horror Fans don’t care about cryptic notions such as social relevance or the cohesiveness of the plot; any plot at all will do, never mind how cohesive it may or may not be. A well-constructed plot is nice, and we certainly appreciate one when we see it. But we function quite well without one, thank you. And so do most of the movies we love.

In the case of films such as HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, FEAST, or SAW, mainstream critics deride the violence and gore as gratuitous or over-the-top, and proclaim the plots amateurish or insipid. They fail to understand what makes these films successful, because they fail to understand the Horror Fan and what he or she wants. Horror fans want films that push the boundaries, and push us beyond our comfort zones. An intelligent script would be a plus, but it’s not required, and we can be pleased without it. A good Horror Film is like an amusement park thrill ride; it’s not necessary for it to go somewhere for it to be great entertainment.

Nor do lavish budgets and big-name casts guarantee that a film will entertain. Take for instance the 2005 remake of WAR OF THE WORLDS. Directed by Steven Spielberg, arguably the greatest living American filmmaker, and starring one of the most bankable (until recently…) actors working, this film was, in this reviewer’s opinion, an utter flop; a failure of a film that couldn’t hold a candle to the 1953 original. Nothing about this pitiful excuse for a movie was satisfying to me, from the annoyingly bad performances by the leads to the ridiculous, syrupy-sweet ending. If I had bothered to waste the time writing a review of it, it would’ve earned one of the most disparaging reviews I’ve ever authored… nearly as scathing as that I gave to DARKNESS FALLS. (Ew, I thought I had repressed the memory of that one…) Conversely, some of the worst reviews I’ve ever read were for films that thoroughly entertained me, movies that I loved… movies such as THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS or 2000 MANIACS.
But that’s just my opinion… one person’s subjective take on a movie. That’s true no matter who the reviewer is… whether it’s a world-famous columnist with his own nationally-syndicated television show, or just a guy who happens to love Horror Films and has a blog. In the end analysis, all they can do is tell you what they thought about a movie, and why. They can’t tell you whether or not you’ll like it.

Don’t get me wrong… please don’t stop reading my reviews. Just remember, you’re the only one who can answer the most important question: How did you like the movie?

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Year of Release—Film: 1971

Year of Release—DVD: 2006

DVD Label: Blue Underground

One of the greatest benefits of the DVD format over the Videotape is the greatly reduced cost of manufacture and distribution. This has enabled distributors to release films that were unobtainable on VHS simply because the limited demand for them would make the costs prohibitive. Several distributors have arisen whose specialty is dealing with these ‘niche’ movies, and one of the best is Blue Underground. Specializing in Eurohorrors and Grindhouse treasures, this company has been responsible for the release of many of my favorite films to DVD, including the spectacular BLIND DEAD Box Set from 2005.

In 2006, Blue Underground released one of the most critically acclaimed Italian mysteries known as Gialli to DVD—Paolo Cavara’s LA TARANTOLA DAL VENTRE NERO ~aka~ THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA. Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, and Catherine Bach, this 1971 murder mystery has all the classic elements of a Giallo… stylish art direction; a masked, mysterious killer; inventive death scenes; a net full of red herrings; a suspenseful climax; and beautiful women in various states of undress. LA TARANTOLA… rises above the average of this sub-genre in two important respects: The performances, especially of Giannini as the troubled Detective in charge of the case, and Stefania Sandrelli, as his lovely wife, are superb, far better than the norm for this type of production; and the incredible bevy of beauties present, including no fewer than three Bond Girls.

The plot for this film is good, nothing extremely original, but well thought-out and constructed. Assigned the investigation of the murder of a wealthy man’s estranged wife, Giannini, a rookie Homicide Detective, is drawn into an expanding web of intrigue that reaches even into his marriage. Other murders soon follow the first, as the police realize they’re dealing with a serial killer—one who has begun targeting them.

The Unimonster has long been a fan of the Giallo as a film genre, and LA TARANTOLA… is certainly no exception to the rule. It’s a well plotted, well made murder mystery, in the best tradition of the Italian cinema. There are some who would complain that such films are convoluted and hard to follow; those who are fans of the genre say rather that that’s part of the appeal of a mystery. The Gialli are similar in form and substance to the film noir of the ‘40’s, or Hitchcock’s stylish thrillers. The best of them, and LA TARANTOLA… must be considered in that company, are every bit as satisfying a mystery as THE MALTESE FALCON, and as effective a thriller as REAR WINDOW.

One caveat to the reader, though. Both the original, Italian release and the edited American release are included on the Blue Underground disc; avoid the American edit. I’ve always been a firm believer in seeing a movie in it’s original state—how it was first seen in theaters. Yes, that means dealing with subtitles in this case—get over it. I want to hear the actual performers act… not some stand-in reading a translated script. Also, the edited version is some nine minutes shorter than the original. Granted, you can pare a minute or two from almost any film… but nine minutes? Almost a tenth of the film, gone? Why not just enjoy the full-length feature the way it was intended to be seen… and heard? My recommendation is to do just that… I say it’s a buy, but whether you buy or rent, you should see LA TARANTOLA… You might find you’re a fan of Gialli as well.

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Year of Release—Film: 1981

Year of Release—DVD: 2003

DVD Label: Blue Underground

The early ‘80’s were the height of the Slasher movie craze, and 1981 was perhaps the high-water mark of the genre, with no fewer than thirteen different Slasher Movies being released. These ran the gamut from the superb—PIECES ~aka~ ONE THOUSAND CRIES HAS THE NIGHT and MY BLOODY VALENTINE, to the average—HALLOWEEN II; HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, to the execrable—HUMONGOUS; HONEYMOON HORROR. And a 17-year-old Unimonster was there in the theaters for most of them. FUNHOUSE, FRIDAY THE 13TH, Part II and HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE were just a few of the movies that I saw that year, by any measure a very good year for Slasher-fans.

But one that escaped my notice until just recently was Joseph Zito’s THE PROWLER, available on DVD from Blue Underground. My introduction to this movie came while viewing the superb documentary on Slasher films, GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER MOVIE [Starz/Thinkfilm]. THE PROWLER was one that the documentarians focused on, including interviews with the director and behind-the-scenes footage of the film’s special effects and make-up creator Tom Savini. What they described was a complete unknown to me, and it intrigued me enough to begin hunting for a copy of this movie.

It’s June 1945, and the war in Europe is over. Hundreds of thousands of GI’s are returning to the States, most to pick up their lives pretty much where they left off. Others however, the thousands of ‘Dear Johns’ dumped by their wives and sweethearts while they fought for freedom, are coming home to piece shattered lives, and in many cases shattered psyches, back together. In Avalon Bay, the former sweetheart of one such ‘Dear John’ is attending her graduation dance with her new beau. They slip out to share a quiet moment alone, only to be brutally murdered, impaled together on a pitchfork by a helmeted, masked killer in combat fatigues.

Thirty-five years later, the school is preparing for it’s first graduation dance since the night of the double murder. The Sheriff (Farley Granger, in what amounts to a brief cameo…) is departing on his annual fishing trip, leaving the town in the hands of his deputy (played competently by Christopher Goutman). He and his girlfriend Pam (the lovely Vicky Dawson, in an underwhelming performance) discover that a killer is once again stalking the graduation dance, and that his next target might be Pam herself.

While the premise is nothing original, borrowing heavily from earlier entries in the Slasher genre, the execution is far better than most. Zito’s direction never lets events wander too far afield, and the pacing is well managed. The script, by Neal Barbera and Glenn Leopold, provides a better than average starting point for that direction, and the cast of unknowns does a decent job with the material they’re given. Though the film features a pair of former stars in cameo roles, (the above-mentioned Granger and Lawrence Tierney as Col. Chatham, father of the girl murdered in 1945…) their contributions are minimal. The true star of the film is the make-up effects of Tom Savini.

From the pitchfork murder of one young woman in her shower, to the swimming pool throat-slitting of another, to the climactic death scene, Savini’s effects work elevates this movie above it’s contemporaries. When it comes to blood and gore exploding across the screen, no one does it better than Savini; it’s a shame that he has apparently forgotten this aspect of his career in order to pursue acting and directing.

The DVD comes with several bonuses that are worth checking out, most notably a behind-the-scenes reel of Savini’s team setting up and performing the effects shots. Tidbits such as that are always fascinating.

THE PROWLER is a movie that escaped my notice the first time around, but I’m pleased to say that I have discovered it at last. For those who enjoy a good, old-fashioned Slasher pic, it’s one that’s hard to beat. I’d call it a definite rental; a buy for fans of the genre.

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