Teddy Told Me To (2022) – A fluffy bloodbath from Tom Devlin

We are taking an early look at Tom Devlin’s debut at the directing helm of his new feature film, Teddy Told me To. Tom Devlin is no newcomer to the horror genre. He much experience providing the special effects for many movies such as, Freakshow (2007), Someone’s Knocking at the Door (2009), and Puppet Master X (2012) as well as many other Full Moon Feature films. You’ll no doubt recognize Tom from the SyFy series Face Off and his work shows up in the Haunted Attractions Industry all around the country. The writing credits for Teddy Told Me To go to Lola Devlin and Vincent Cusimano.

The film is being released by Devlin’s production company, Plan 10 Pictures. It also unsurprisingly features effects from Devlin’s 1313FX.

Plot Synopsis

Teddy Told Me To begins the film with a person recording what seems to be a live stream of himself in an abandoned Haunted attraction in Boulder City, Nevada. He states that this place holds stories that go back all the way to the 1990s (Tom, thank you for making me feel old…). Will this social media star make it to the conclusion of his video or will something or someone be waiting in the old haunt?

The action shifts to two people were watching this video on their phone. Danny (Topher Hansson, 60 Seconds to Die) and Zoe (Kamarra Cole, Times Up) roll up to the front of said Haunted attraction with the intent to purchase it. Their middling realtor, Jan(Lisa Wilcox, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4&5), greets our two characters and says a few not so reassuring things. Danny falls in love with the building, but Zoe eventually falls in line. Of course they love it. Who wouldn’t?  They purchase the property and start the process of starting up their own haunted attraction.

That should be easy enough, right?

Teddy Told Me To (2022) - Tabitha Stevens gets some impromptu plastic surgery
Tabitha Stevens gets a cheekectomy

Welcome to Boulder City

At this point in the film some who have visited Boulder City will start to recognize a few things! Tom shot this movie on location. As Zoe starts visiting different locations in the city to post flyers for auditions to work at the Haunted House. It warms my heart because I live only 45 minutes away and I spend a lot of time in Boulder City. I should add that Tom Devlin’s Monster Museum also resides in Boulder City and Devlin makes a shrewd move shooting his first film in his backyard.

Back on Task

Shortly after we see another familiar face from the horror genre, C.J. Graham. He is mostly known for his role as Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). Graham plays the “Ralph, or rather harbinger of doom. His character, the groundskeeper Ron, is introduced as a nice man who has been with the property since the beginning. He sheds light to the new property owners about the horrible murders that were rumored to have happened at the haunt. The stage is set.

Later, Ron’s brother finishes the origin story of Teddy and his horrible crimes at a pre-open campfire…

A former haunt employee named Teddy received a stuffed Teddy Bear in 1985 (a banner year for horror) from his mother (Felissa Rose, Sleepaway Camp – 1983). That bear would become his only friend. In an appropriately wonderfully ridiculous string of events, Teddy’s father Theo becomes more and more distant from Teddy and his mother. This eventually boils over into Theo committing Teddy Bear mutilation just before cheating on his wife with a woman named Ali (Tabitha Stevens, Vampire Sex Diaries). Tensions continue to rise until one fateful day when Teddy loses everything… 

As Danny and Zoe launch their haunted attraction, an old friend would return to the haunt to terrorize the team.

Teddy Told Me To (2022) - Nothing's scarier than a homicidal Teddy Bear
Nothing’s scarier than a homicidal Teddy Bear

A Horror Film Directed by the Ultimate Horror Fan

One thing rings out for absolute certain in Teddy Told Me To, Tom Devlin is true horror fan and his passion for the art infects almost every frame of the film. He and the writers let no classic trope go unused. This trust building maneuver comforts the viewer with an assurance that they will get exactly what they came for. For example, the harbinger of doom trope plays out not only before Zoe and Danny enter the building, but then again at a boilerplate Friday the 13th Standard campfire.

Teddy Told Me To show extreme reverence to the rich history of slashers that precedes it. The examples are almost too many to mention, but a clear shout out to not only Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) with a direct reference it’s awesome sound design. Then he references its 1986 sequel and a sweet little horror gem Motel Hell (1980) in ways I’ll occlude for spoilers sake. The dayglo fluorescent color invoke the work of another horror fan and master director, Rob Zombie. More importantly, Devlin and his team integrate enough original ideas around it that it never feels derivative. Instead, it shows the utmost respect for what came before while simultaneously moving the genre forward.

They say in music that one must know the rules before they break the rules… and the best art is made by breaking the rules. Tom Devlin clearly understands not only the genre, but a very specific style of horror that came to prominence in the 80’s. His depth of understanding of what works and what doesn’t allows him to push the limits.

Teddy Told Me To (2023) - The birth of a new horror icon
The birth of a new horror icon

Brilliant Technical Execution

Great horror begins with the cinematography… and at first I hated the look of Teddy Told Me So. It felt brash and lacked a sense of depth. This type of cinematography seems to plague contemporary films. This type of filming feels bounded and staged as if the action is taking place in box, much like 80’s and 90’s serials. Then something unexpected happened when I realized exactly what was happening. Between the corny jokes, the over-acting, a montage set to a meat grinder version Loverboy’s “Everybody Working for the Weekend”, this approach creates the aura of a blood drenched night at Camp Kiawanka in Disney’s Bunk’d. It’s almost like Saved by the Bell for the sick and twisted. Upon this revelation I was able to completely immerse myself in the approach.

Still this type of shooting could get out of hand over the 89 minute runtime, but once the mayhem begins everything changes. Brilliant film editing by Caleb Emerson and visual effects by Topher Hansson (yeah that Topher Hansson) take center stage. The film shifts from flat and boring to dynamic and disorienting. Possibly, some of the techniques get overused, but not to the detriment of an otherwise remarkable changeup. The original music by John Messari and sound effects by Lola Wallace provide strong connective tissue that holds it all together.

And then comes the gore, in buckets. You may not be surprised that a film from the mind of Tom Devlin and 1313FX goes hard into realm of over the top gore. More than once did I giggle like a school girl as haunt employees get torn up in the most grotesque ways. My only regret is that I can’t speak more about it for fear of spoiling the fun. I can say this, one kill in particular came off as so unique that I am unable to remember seeing anything like it in film.

One kill that I can talk about since it made the trailer is Tabitha Stevens full-frame cheekectomy. It happens in such a ridiculously slow pace as Tabitha utters the longest scream in slasher cinema. It’s absolutely clear that Teddy Told Me So is steeped in satire and the entire filming crew is loving everything they are doing.

Teddy Told Me To (2023) - Papa Shango makes a cameo appearance
Papa Shango makes a cameo appearance

Fantastic Cameos

The production team of Teddy Told Me To filled their film to the brim with kick-ass cameos and throwbacks to time when life was simpler and slashers on needed a butcher knife. I will start by mentioning a horror legend a second time. If there ever was a star that rocked the young minds of 80’s horror fans, it was Felissa Rose in her gender bending role  Sleep Away Camp. I can still hear my mother bellowing in disgust while my friends and I stared speechless at the screen.

Then sprinkle on a heaping helping of adult sexuality with the likes of Tabitha Stevens, Kiki D’Aire and Daisy Ducti. Add a pinch of former Jason Voorhees actors with Warrington Gillette and C.J. Graham. Then stir this melting pot of talent with some professional wrestling in the form of Papa Shango (aka The Soultaker and The Godfather), Wes Logan and Sinn Bohdi. This all adds brilliantly to the satire, nostalgia and mania that is Teddy Told Me To.

Tom and his wife Lola, and daughter Lily play roles in the film as well. I found Lily’s performance to be exceptionally strong considering how critical her role becomes to the story.

Bedtime for Teddy

The smile on my face betrays my ability to be taken seriously as a horror film critic. I loved this film. It checks all the boxes for a fun yet reverent romp in the old world of slasher cinema. Standard horror comedy is hard, and I am not one to gravitate towards it. However, good horror lovingly interpolated with tongue in cheek humor and clever satire works every time. As a lifelong horror fan, I know implicitly when the person feeding me is a true horror fan. Tom Devlin knows exactly what I need because he is as big a fan of horror history as I am. It’s entirely possible that someone not cut of my cloth could miss the punchline, however anyone that grew up with Madman Marz and Mr. Slauson will be smiling ear to ear after watching Teddy Told Me So.

Down and Out in Vampire Hills (2022) – A Charming Horror Comedy Short

We just got our hands on a horror short titled Down and Out in Vampire Hills (2022) directed by Craig Railsback (Dark Classics) and written by Heather Joseph-Witham (Vampires in the Big Easy) This one is currently making the rounds (and clocking major awards) at several film festivals and we wanted to give it a look. To date, we have reviewed any shorts, in then in the span of a single weekend we got three of the in quick succession. The title says it all, this is a comedy horror film.

Down and Out in Vampire Hills (2022) - Dawna Lee Heising as the opulent and outmoded Penelope
Dawna Lee Heising as the formerly opulent and currently outmoded Penelope

Down and Out in Vampire Hills

The film takes a spin on the standard fish out of water trope that it not only tried but true, but never seems to waver in its infinite potential as a plot device. Penelope, The Vampire Queen (Dawna Lee Heising) finds herself on skid-row living in a homeless encampment. Not one to settle for second class, she and her intellectual familiar Harold (Ken May) break out and see the world. Penelope, one for gaudy high-fashion, channels the spirt of Eva Gabor in Green acres as she embodies the international blood-thirsty debutant that finds herself living below her means.

It could happen to anyone, really. All it takes is an ill-advised investment in a Montana Alpaca farm or going long on Dogecoin.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Penelope wears undead class sunscreen (SPF 2700?) that allows her to walk dogs, wash cars and pick trash. Little does she know that Ivan the Vampire Hunter (Bill Housekeeper – Sawyer Massacre).

Will Penelope and Harold survive in tent city? Can Vampire hold down a regular 9-5? Can Penelope stop eating long enough to keep a job?

Down and Out in Vampire Hills (2022) - Penelope and Harold collect trash in the park... somebody gets hurt
Penelope and Harold collect trash in the park… somebody gets hurt

Making the Grade

On a normal day, I like my horror comedy a bit more subversive, but I certainly understand the love for this type of horror fun. Growing up in the days of Saturday the 14th (1981) and Transylvania 6-5000 (1985), Down and out in Vampire Hills fills that little horror parody void that seems to have been abandoned by Hollywood. Railsback and Joseph-Witham sneak in enough humor with deep roots in horror lore. Subtle references to other Horror families (The Munstersand even Bram Stokers work make their way into the film.

The film is shot beautifully on-location in Huntington Beach, California. Being one of my favorite haunts, it was lovely to see it unabashedly referenced on film. We especially loved the special effects. A keen eye will call out several digital tricks from spurting blood to refacing cellphones and store fronts. In grand the scheme, these tricks must have saved a ton of time and complexity that could be spent much better places. We love how technology enables modern indie horror.

Dawna Lee Heising embodies everything that Penelope is and her presence in the film evokes everything that a good fish out of water story needs. I also really enjoyed the performance of LeJon as Boris, former dog lover, reckless coffee drinker and recently converted vampire. Ken May provides the glue to hold all of the performances together with his conceited intellectual mannerisms and random facts and philosophies.

Finally, we would like to call out Bill Housekeeper. He recently played a young Drayton Sawyer in Steve Merlo’s Sawyer Massacre (2022). In this one he puts on his black cowboy hat, Yellowstone style, and hunts Penelope before getting mowed down by a really fashionable smart car.

Finally, no horror comedy should go without a bit of social commentary. The producers make the case that everything evolves. As opposed to the view from Blade that vampires are the superior race and in time will replace humanity, this one suggests that vampires struggle to find their place in the new world (and their hunters), and the modern world threatens them to extinction.

Down and Out in Vampire Hills (2022) - LeJohn as Boris getting staked
Lejon gets staked in the street, but not by Ivan

Wrapping Up

Down and Out in Vampire Hills fills an important niche in the horror community. Considering its current success on the film festival circuit, clearly it fills that niche extremely well. It provides ridiculous laughs set in a horror context and serves both the comedy and horror communities. It’s a cute little film that’s easy to watch. Considering the simplicity of the standard fish out of water trope, one can easily see this idea expanding to feature length or even a serial (Munsters, Mork and Mindy). We’ll see where it goes.

Annabelle (2014) – Conjuring the Mediocre

Overall: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Upon the release of James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013), it seemed pretty clear to anyone with a pulse that its side-story about a demonically possessed doll named Annabelle would make a future appearance. New Line Cinema loves horror franchises, and as soon as the numbers for The Conjuring came in Annabelle (2014) became inevitable. Directed by John R. Leonetti, the second entry attempts to capitalize on previous success. The film released to largely negative reviews, but many of those reviews judged it in the shadow of its predecessor.

However, the film itself may not be so terrible when judged on its own merits.

The Story of Annabelle

John and Mia Form expect their first baby soon. Mia, collects porcelain dolls (a clear indicator that John should file for divorce). John bring home a rare doll that Mia had been coveting for some time. She names it Annabelle. Later that evening, just after going to bed, Mia hears a terrified scream from the next door neighbors. John runs over and finds the neighbors brutally stabbed to death. Unbeknownst to Mia, after killing their neighbors, the murderers hid in her home. The invaders stab Mia just before the male attacker is shot by the police. The other attacker, a woman, slits her own throat while holding the doll.

The Form’s eventually learn that the killers worshipped in a demonic cult. How foreboding?

Annabelle (2014) - The doll looks rather nice when first taken out of the box
The demonic doll looks rather nice when she first comes out of the box

Bumps in the Night

Immediately, the Forms begin experiencing supernatural events. John throws the doll out in hopes that it will help Mia settle down. Unable to overcome the trauma of the home invasions, the couple decide to move out of their house and into an apartment after the birth of their daughter. Inexplicably, John again finds the possessed doll in the moving boxes (yet another opportunity to get divorced and leave). This time Mia stops him from throwing it out again. Unsurprisingly, supernatural occurrences begin almost immediately in their new home. The situation escalates to the point that Mia fears for her and her daughter’s life.

Evelyn and Father Perez

In an interesting departure, this entry does not feature Ed and Lorraine Warren. In a future timeline, The Conjuring details how the Warren’s kept this very same doll locked in a glass case to protect visitors from its evil. Writer Gary Dauberman’s story closes the gap with this film by explaining how the Warren’s come into possession of the doll and suggests the Warren’s presence in the early frames, but they never appear in the film. The Warrens provide an important service to The Conjuring universe and without them, Annabelle lacks a simple plot device for explaining the unexplainable in terms that advance the supernatural goals of the movie. Without the Warrens, Annabelle required another approach to drive the narrative. Her name is Evelyn.

Evelyn lives in the same building as the Form’s. She also owns a bookstore. Together with Mia, they begin to uncover the truth behind the satanic cult that attacked them. The attackers worshipped in The Disciples of Ram and paid tribute to a demon named Malthus. Malthus must take a soul, and he uses any trickery necessary to make that happen. Father Perez presides over the Form’s Catholic church. He informs the Forms that sometimes demons attach themselves to inanimate object in order to provide a channel for achieving their evil goals.

Malthus must take a soul, and he uses any subterfuge necessary to make that happen.

Annabelle (2014) - John and Mia form recollect the night of the attack with a detective
John and Mia form recollect the events that occurred during the attack in their home

Lacking, but Still Scary

Annabelle occasionally lands some pretty scary moments, but in the end it mostly leave the audience wanting for James Wan. While James Wan shows up in the producer list, his absence behind the camera shows. John R. Leonetti’s major triumph comes from a scene that places Mia in the dark basement of the apartment complex. Clearly something sinister hides in the darkness. She runs for the elevator, but the doors of the elevator keep opening to the basement.

She must face her fears and run into the darkness and up the dark stairs. During this pursuit, one of the most frightening scenes occurs when Mia looks down the stairs that she just traversed and sees Malthus, silent, shrouded in darkness and totally still. Malthus pursues her up the stairs until she narrowly escapes into her apartment.

Apart from that, many of the scares come in the form of simple jump scares. These scares often get the intended effect, but they lack the finesse and the impact that James Wan effortlessly achieves. From a critical perspective, the negative response seems to be born of a gap in expectations rather than a total lack of quality. Despite the poor critical reviews, Annabelle did $257M at the box office on a $6.5 budget. If anything, it scored a massive success for New Line Cinema and their fledgling franchise.

New Line Cinema thought enough of the films success to launch its own sub-franchise with two additional films: Annabelle Creation (2017) and Annabelle: Comes Home.

Annabelle (2014) - Mia form runs from Malthus in the dark basement of her apartment
Mia Form runs from Malthus in the dark depths of her apartment

Still, a Decent Film

Unquestionably, Annabelle pales in comparison to its forbearer. Its plot stumbles over the clumsy cult trope. It somewhat implausibly stages much of the action in a multi-tenant apartment complex. I mean really, nobody else sees the lights flickering or hears all of the commotion? Finally, it relies on loosely stitching basic scare techniques together with little artistic connective tissue. Yet, Annabelle and her demon, Malthus, make for an unholy dynamic duo and some of jump scares payout, even if they lack the mastery of James Wan behind the camera.

I still feel that this film possesses merit, but it may be best viewed with a generous time spread between it and The Conjuring. Back to back viewing (like I did), made for a disappointing experience. Yet, with my cloak of objectivity, I tried to isolate my emotions from what I saw on screen. What was left still had enough punch to seem worthwhile. Rather than hunt it down for your collection, it might be better to catch it on one of its endless spins on streaming media.

The Leech (2022) – Pious indie horror from Eric Pennycroff

You likely wouldn’t know this about me, probably because I’ve never said it. I have some major beef with religious horror as a subgenre. It usually feels contrived and relies heavily on prosperity gospel as a fear tactic. Normally, I would not have picked a movie like Leech (2023) up.

However, I am a Christmas horror fan, so let me tell you why this movie is a rare exception.

Simply because it was out of pocket as hell.

Leech (2023) - David is a pious man, or so he believes
David is a pious man, or so he believes

Synopsis

Directed by (Eric Pennycoff) this movie is about young priest David (Graham Skipper) who decides to take in a “lost soul,” Terry (Jermy Gardner) after his girlfriend seemingly abandons him. Opening up his home and heart, David feels elated at the prospect of a potential convert. Not so long after Terry’s arrival, his girlfriend Lexi (Taylor Zaudrke) finds her way to David’s doorstep asking for the same slice of generosity. David hesitantly agrees, but the line between hospitality and exploration is one the priest isn’t so keen on acknowledging. At least, not at first.

Boundaries and Transactions

The plot in its bare bones is a game of boundaries and transactions.

There will never be a religious horror dynamic that isn’t set up upon these two ideals. First, there is the relationship between the holy man and the mere man. Right off the bat, the transactional nature of religious-based help is laid out plainly.

David doesn’t necessarily want to take in Terry or Lexi. This is made clear the first night they are with him, when he writes in his personal blog, “this is what God’s people are called to do.” He even outright reminds them multiple times that the will of God is his reason for being so hospitable and their ideal repayment in his eyes, is conversion. religious therapy, sobriety, and modest clothing become some of the base requirements of their new life under his care.

Leech (2023) - Lexi and Terry are not religiously inclined, but they can try
David is a pious man, or so he believes

He isn’t the only one that has to make sacrifices though. Though, admittedly, minimal coaxing he is subdued into drunken nights full of moral ambiguity, threesomes, and confessions. All to gain favor with his new projects.

You could tell that the writers had some actual experience with the ins and outs of church life. Including the pressure, guilt, and shame that come free of charge with your devotion.

Furthering into just how dangerous these parallels can be, the unyielding desire to “dirty” the pure that started as a subplot, becomes the catalyst for the climax. Terry and Lexi spend a solid chunk of the movie trying to find threads within David to unravel the Godly persona he’s presented the world with. David spends most of the movie trying to convince himself and others that he is, in fact, above secular influence.

Spoiler, David does not succeed.

Back to the plot

Leech shows the danger of absolute conversion in its beginning phases. Especially when being nurtured by someone with muddled intentions. Terry expresses his willingness to devote himself to God at a speed David wasn’t prepared for. Unfortunately for everyone involved he quickly goes full throttle into the old testament.

Lexi gets more of the brute end of this than anyone. As a woman, a pregnant woman no less, she is subjected to an unruly amount of building misogyny. Starting subtly with throw-away comments made about women’s sin “beginning in the garden of Eden,” to required modest clothing and forced birth.

She is the antithesis of why a majority of desperate people would rather suffer than fall at the mercy of religious leaders. In the beginning David is gracious with his pushback against her want for abortion. He uses key religious phrases like, “this is God’s gift to you,” and, “the life inside of you is a miracle,” he goes as far as to tell her the baby could be the push she needs to pull
herself out of homelessness.

Leech (2023) - It takes more than swanky clothes to channel the holy spirit
It takes more than swanky clothes to channel the holy spirit

I want to mention that the pacing of Leech is phenomenal. The plot structure was set up to be tense with a slow build over time, despite ending explosively.

Aside from that, the characters weren’t just faces. Everyone had a moment to showcase the structure of their personalities giving pertinent examples of their intentions, reasonings, and resolve. We get details into their past, sex life, and secret desires in throw-away comments and subtle gestures. This is a feat that isn’t easily accomplished in an hour.

From the onslaught, Lexi and Terry seem, albeit pushy, but mostly just desperate for shelter. David on the other hand is in need of a congregation. With no one to proselytize to he is just as lost as the couple and from all sides they see a sort of salvation in each other.

Ick Value and Personal Testimony

From someone who also had strong roots in religion growing up, it was funny to see some of the elements they chose to include. Ex. Rico, the rapper/pianist, (for the lord), and the #sundaysquad and #blessed slang terms used in David’s personal blog. Personally, I think it illustrates well the disconnect between old religion’s continuous strive to win favor with a generation that has little interest in conformity, or the rigidity of spirituality.

Leech also takes on a lot of heavy topics, some of which I found particularly hard to reason with. The aforementioned, anti-abortion rhetoric and misogyny, but also, religious pedophilia, corporal or old testament-like punishments, classism and racism were a few that came up.

Leech (2023) - Terry is going off the chain in his Santa hat
Terry is going off the chain in his Santa hat

These are not uncommon themes and truthfully, if none of them were mentioned I’d have considered the movie unrealistic. That being said, it did come across as a forced amalgamation of religions’ worst qualities for ick value at times.

In the end, it gave you really nothing to root for, but is that a bad thing?

When done well, this can be a very useful plot device. On the one hand, I didn’t care enough about anyone to not enjoy the absolute shit show that erupted in the climax. It was psychedelic, bloody, and jaw-dropping. On the other hand, the last scene before the credits held little resolve for me, because I didn’t find anything to really root for. Lexi walked away exactly where she
began. Pregnant, alone, but with significantly more trauma.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I mostly liked the movie despite the fact that religious horror is typically outside of my range. It was really well made cinematically, it depicted quite realistic relationship dynamics and concluded with a bang. Literally.

Leech is by Arrow Video, purveyors of fine horror cinema. Be sure to also check out their 4K restoration of Profondo Rosso (1975).

Bermuda Island (2023) – Bloodcurdling Lovecraftian monsters abound

We would like to give a big thank you to the folks at Mahal Empire for the opportunity to review a pre-release of their new castaway monster movie Bermuda Island (2023) being release by Gravitas Ventures. From the perspective of fundraising, marketing and releasing high-quality content at an amazing pace, Mahal Empire’s game it real tight. The secret to their success involves keeping it simple and delivering honest horror films that cater to tried and true formulas. One of the shining examples of one of those tropes is the good old fashioned monster movie with a hint of Lovecraftian horror.

In Lovecraftian horror, the focus is on the unknown and the unknowable, often involving powerful, ancient deities or in this case an ancient esoteric tribe of monsters that are indifferent to humanity. The stories often describe characters coming into contact with these beings and being driven to madness by the experience. The settings of these stories are typically dark and oppressive, and there is often a sense of hopelessness and helplessness in the face of the overwhelming power of the entities described.

Bermuda Island (2003) - A towering fly-over shot of the Carolyn and Damon approaching the waterfall

Synopsis

Menagerie of tourists set their sites on traveling to an island paradise in the midst of a brewing storm off-shore. In transit, the plane is struck by lightning causing it to torpedo into the ocean, killing most on board apart from a small band of survivors. The survivors make their way to the shore, but it’s not the paradise that they were looking for. Their trouble begins with infighting amongst themselves.

When night falls, their situation becomes much more dire. Behind the beautiful tropical backdrop hides an ancient tribe of bloodthirsty monsters.

Fantastic cinematography in fantastic location

The production team shot Bermuda Island on the the island of Viques just off the coast of Puerto Rico. The setting is utterly fabulous and the Director Adam Werth and Director of Photography Michael Su take full advantage of it. It start with what seems to be reoccurring theme in Mahal Empire films, towering fly over shots of vast terrain. One shot in particular creeps over the edge of a waterfall cascading into a pool below while the subject, make their way like tiny little ants.

Bermuda Island (2023) - A cool similarity between Bermuda Island and Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust
This shot from Bermuda Island (left) bears a striking resemblance to one in Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust

Honestly, its more than simple photography of majestic scenery. The night shooting looks fantastic, maintaining the illusion of darkness with the subjects fully illuminated and visible. Furthermore, the use of a cinematic depth of focus draws the eyes to the critical visuals while obfuscating the rest really stands out. One shot brought back serious vibes from Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980). That’s a serious accolade.

Filming at Viques did not come without its challenges. Production of Bermuda Island occurred during the height of the pandemic and strict COVID protocols triggered hazmat suits and impromptu testing. This created serious delays and undue pressure on the budget because of costly reshoots. Fortunately the production team persevered and completed the film.

Bermuda Island (2023) - fantastic night shooting technique
Fantastic night shooting technique

Strong Performances

Adam Werth gets some strong performances in key roles to help carry the film. It begins with Sarah French as the lead female role of Carolyn. Coming off of a strong performances in Death Count (2022) French plays another strong female character that sets the tone very early. Carolyn is a literal ball-buster.

Other strong performances come from Victor V Gelsomino as Damon, a street smart survivor and eventual apple of Carolyn’s eye. He concedes early on that he’s not a survivalist; however, his ability to navigate his environment makes him a strong character. The other is a man named Bruce played by John Wells. The survivors find Bruce already living on the island as a previous castaway. He proves to be the keystone to the plot of the film.

Bermuda Island (2023) - More competent night shooting makes the dark monsters stand out
Competent night shooting makes the darkly colored monsters stand out

The supporting performances range from good enough to pretty damn interesting. It starts with Sherry Davis as the Peggy, the loud and abrasive traveler with resting bitch face. Our only lament is that name “Karen” went to another actress in the film  because she is a “Karen” if I have ever seen one.

Kimberly Lynn Cole utters my favorite dark comedic line as Maleah. She screams, “It’s going to take more than you to fucking take me down” while being attacked… dies 2.5 seconds later. Lest we forget Midnight, the gothic rocker for Baphomet records played by Greg Tally.

My favorite supporting performance comes from Noel Gugliemi as the notorious gun runner, Diego Montalban. For those that know their film history, Gugliemi delivers one of the most terrifying performances while going cold on Ethan Hawke in Training Day (2001). Bermuda island, tugs on some of that street tough personality. Diego provides another outlet for dark comedy. Sadly, Diego doesn’t make to the island, but his short screen presence works really well.

Bermuda Island (2023) - A great look at the monster
Another great shot of Bermuda Island’s monsters

Bringing it all together

Heretofore, I’ve been really high on Bermuda Island, but it’s not without its not with issue. The story feels somewhat fragmented sometimes wanders. For example, as much as we like the Diego Montalban story arc it doesn’t really fit the overall plot other than to provide a clumsy vehicle for getting some FBI agents to the island. But hey, we all know that FBI agents are delicious.

In explicably, Carolyn and Damon decided that after a night of harrowing attack by flesh eating monsters sexy time and a skinny dip alone by the waterfall is a prudent move. Furthermore, the carnivorous beasts starve for flesh, but kindly ignore a herd of wild horses.

At the end of the day, it’s horror movie and these things are not only par for the course, but they are also forgivable.

The writers, do a great job of setting up a MAJOR twist at the end that I did not see coming. That twist resolves some of the wide-open questions concerning Bruce’s strange tale of how he got to the island and how long he had been there, but I was left wanting more. For the sake of spoiling the film, we’ll leave it at that.

Mahal Empire does a great job at making honest monster movies, and Bermuda Island is another fine example of that. We loved the mystery of this monstrous civilization, but would have preferred a bit more resolution; however, Bermuda Island is beautifully shot and provides enough strong performance to keep it all together.

If you are looking for an honest indie horror movie about a lost civilization of Lovecraftian monsters craving human flesh garnished in Hawaiian shirts, Bermuda Island is the film for you.

In one last shout-out, the marketing and design department did a fantastic job with the movie poster for this one. All in one, it tells the story in an abstract enough way to create mystery. It’s both beautiful and horrifying at the same time.

Bermuda Island (2023) - Movie Poster
Kudos to the marketing and design department on the Bermuda Island movie poster

Evil Dead Rise April 2023 – Trailers Released

Evil Dead Rise Trailers Released

The biggest buzz in horror right now is the release of if the Evil Dead Rise trailers. Directed by Lee Cornin, the story at this point is that it took 6500 gallons of the red stuff to make Evil Dead Rise, so expectations are sky high. With a scheduled release date of April 23, 2023 this thing is just around the corner. This new trailer was proceeded by a teaser trailer released just prior. This one made our skin crawl.

From the appearances this one happens in even tighter quarters than the original. A single mother named Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) becomes a Deadite when her meddling kids find an acient tome of evil and inexplicable invoke it. The imagery looks really cool and despite their typical penchant for immediate mayhem, the trailer suggests a slower burn.

The trailer holds an assortment of interesting throwbacks and some new stuff as well. For starters, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis as an updated look, although it mostly sticks to the important details. I will add that the corners look crisp as if this Cornin pulled off the shelves at Barnes and Noble before putting it to work. Possibly more interesting is the heretofore unexplained transfer of the Khandarian incantations from reel to reel tape to sweet 180 gram black vinyl. Hopefully they scored two copies to beat juggle.

Also we see some demonic truck shots reminiscent of every Evil Dead movie created to date. This time, instead of trucking through the Deadite forest, it rolls right up to a swanky corner apartment building. Moving this series out of the woods and into the city might be one of the smartest moves made, although Ash vs. Evil Dead beat them to that by a damn sight. Fans will demand to know how the book and the vinyl got there, but Lee Cornin will be ready for that eventuality… right?

Finally, we all know that no Evil Dead movie would not be complete without a conveniently placed chainsaw… fans will not be disappointed. With no surprise, this chainsaw and the person wielding it are covered in blood.

So far everything that Warner Brothers has offered feels legit. As far as this blogger is concerned, there is some unpaid debt left by the Fede’s 2013 remake (an unpopuiar opinion we’ve been told). We sincerely hope this has all the fun of its best predecessors. For the love of god, give a couple of characters to care about. Based on the trailer, if 6500 gallons of fake blood were used, this trailer doesn’t reveal it, but who knows a storm might be coming.

Nightmare #1 – Malevolent Dave’s Stain of Mind

In this volume, Dave covers the 1981 Video Nasty, Nightmare, the impotent psychological horror of Session 9, Ti West’s ode to the babylonian demon Tom Noonan, Slayer’s nu metal experiement, David Cronenberg’s crimes of the present and the up and coming Evil Dead Rise!

This is editorial on all things dark and horrible. We’ll publish this hodgepodge monthly. Expect quick hits on movie opinions, horror current events and general mayhem. The lunatic is running the asylum and his brought his party hat.

Nightmare (1981)

I got a chance to check out the infamous 80’s film, Nightmare (1981). Some will remember this one as on of the famed UK video nasties. Quit honestly, I found a lot to like about this one. As a cohesive work of art, it struggles a bit, but the sum of its parts actually play very well. Directed by Romana Scavolini, Nightmare tells the story of George Tatum, a man traumatized by terrible events in his youth. This leads to an eventual unraveling that ends in psychopathy and murder.

All in in all, it compares favorable to other films like Maniac (1980) and Pieces (1982). Nightmare delves into the topic of trauma and childhood. It also seems to make clear that while traumatic events often adversely affect people, it doesn’t always make them a sympathetic character when weighed against their heinous acts. While it’s arguable that any film should ever be classified as a “Video Nasty”, if there ever were a film that qualifies, this one should. At least one scene borderlines on outright pornography and the kills assault the senses with their up-close and graphic nature. When coupled with some seriously psychotic episodes and haunting imagery, this one deserves a look.

Nightmare (1981) - A real Video Nasty
Nightmare (1981) – A real Video Nasty

Session 9 (2001)

This one directed by Brad Anderson perplexed me a bit. More than once, Session 9 has been recommended as a top sleeper pick for extreme psychological horror. It stars David Caruso, which already makes it a bit weird. Not that David Caruso is bad, but unfortunately for him he can’t stop being David Caruso even for a second. This one also stars Peter Mullen, notable for his role as Jacob Snell in Ozark and Josh Lucas doing his best asshole impersonation.

While the film succeeds in creating a creepy atmosphere in a dilapidated mental institution, it fails to tie the past sins of the institution to the current events of the film. Session 9 wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t memorable. Don’t believe the hype.

House of the Devil (2009)

2022 proved to be the year that Ti West became a household name in horror.  Those familiar with the industry have been tracking his contributions to the genre since 2005. Being fully transparent, this film has been beckoning me from the shelf for some time, and I just finally reserved the time for it. The life of a horror blogger is on of ever conflicting priorities. I finally got a chance sit down with the one and immediately noticed Ti West’s inclination to recreate the grainy look and feel of the late 70s.

Ti West presents the audience with a slow burn, slowly ratcheting up the tension and foreshadowing over a long period of time… perhaps too long. Tom Noonan’s adds yet another creep to his resume. While I enjoyed the 70s patina and overall faithful recreation of that era, the film as a whole didn’t really cash all the IOUs it creates. By the time the payoff comes, it feels too little, too late.

Still, House of the Devil should make the late night watch list if shows in your streaming queue for the right price. If anything, I really like the DVD cover art for this one.

Dark Glasses (2022) - Ilena Pastoreli as Argento's new giallo girl
Dark Glasses (2022) – Ilena Pastoreli as Argento’s new giallo girl

Dark Glasses (2022)

Let’s be crystal clear on something, it’s been a dreadfully long time since Dario Argento put a giallo on screen that felt inspired. Some will trumpet the narrative that Dark Glasses represents a return to form, but I assure you that it falls way short. The plot is painfully pedestrian and frankly absurd. A killer stalks a young prostitute named Diana. One evening, in pursuit of her, he causes an accident that causes her to be blind. But this is no Cat ‘o Nine Tails (1972) I assure you. Argento completists, will find something to like. For everyone else, with so much golden age Argento to behold why bother.

So as not to totally eviscerate the film, the cinematography and general professionalism of the photography seems to be a few steps beyond some 2000s stinkers like Mother of Tears (2007) and The Card Player (2004). Gone is the stark digital picture and the boxy soap opera feel of the sets. The gore and special effects also exceed expectations. Who knows, maybe he still has one hiding in recesses of his mind, but this one isn’t it.

Crimes of the Future (2022)

Needless to say, I launched over the moon when he heard that the man, David Cronenberg, would be releasing a new film called Crimes of the Future. Being a huge fan of his work, the thoughts of what madness had been percolating in that man’s head for nearly a decade were fascinating. However, the anticipation proved more compelling than the delivery. Apart from some strong imagery involving a deliberate act of filicide (killing ones own child), the movie begins to flounder almost immediately.

The big problem with this one concerns a strange, but not captivating plot. Additionally, some downright silly depictions of bio-mechanical machines helping Viggo Mortensen digest his food detract from the already weak story. The acting struggles, including that of Viggo and Kristen Stewart. At times, Cronenberg musters enough sexual depravity to make for an interesting scene here or there, but those moments are fleeting. Crime of the Future continues an increasingly long line of lackluster Cronenberger films. Maybe it’s time for the heir apparent to take the reigns.

Changing Topics

I am here to say Slayer Diablous in Musica (1998) is a top-5 Slayer album. That pretty lofty company considering spots 1, 2 and 3 are held by South of Heaven (1988), Seasons in the Abyss (1990) and Reign in Blood (1986)… not necessarily in that order. Every time these guys try something different, the results are fantastic and their fans hate their guts for it. If you are picking up what I am laying down, you know damn well why this article is called “Stain of Mind”. What about that Diablous album cover, amiright?

For a long time, MalevolentDark.com considered including music, the supernatural and the written word. In fact we had a false start with the publishing of “The Life and times of Glen Danzig”. We eventually took those posts down, but maybe, just maybe, we’ll return to the world of dark and evil music. When wishes turn to rainbows, that’s when the unicorns appear.

Evil Dead Rise (2023) - Because we all wanted it
Evil Dead Rise (2023) – Because we all wanted it

Evil Dead Rise – Coming Soon!

Being totally transparent, I panned Evil Dead (2013) pretty hard. It wasn’t so much that it didn’t have any redeeming qualities. In fact, the reality is that it had some fantastic visual effects and RAINING BLOOD (shamless Slayer plug). It really boiled down to this, for a series that created one of the most loved horror icons of all time, the characters in Fede’s remake sucked terribly. To put a pin in it, I accept the contrarian opinion.

That all being said, I watched the new Evil Dead Rise mini-trailer and received the most wonderful shiver up my spine. I’m all in for another round. If your like me, nothing has replaced the hole in your heart left by the demise of Ash vs. the Evil Dead.

Thanks for reading.

Fang (2022) – For the evil rats inside all of us

Written and Directed by Richard Burgin, Fang (2022) really caught us by surprise. In this particular case, the film delivers something significantly outside of initial expectations based on the plot line in IMDB. What we saw seemed to fall more in line with Darren Arnofsky’s work than standard horror fare.

It’s winter in Chicago and Billy Cochran (Dylan LaRay) can’t stop alienating the people around him. His mother Gina (Lynn Lowry) is in and out of the hospital and her mind is breaking down, caught between her glory days as a Southern belle and her current state of decay. One night, Billy gets an unexpected visitor: a rat that springs out of his bathroom and bites him. At first, everything seems okay. Billy comes home, drowsy from the tetanus shot, and bonds with Gina’s lovely new caregiver Myra (Jess Paul). Then the rat fur appears. It grows out of Billy’s skin, then goes away like it was never there. The more Billy looks in the mirror and scratches, the more he’s forced to face the unthinkable: he might be turning into a rat. Billy is plunged into a waking nightmare where he slowly discovers the truth about himself as he unleashes the ferocious depths of the human and rodent soul.

Fang (2022) - Billy Cochran struggles to make it
Billy Cochran (Dylan LaRay) struggles to make everything work

We thought this would be an ode to body horror, or even a throwback to simple days of half-man half-somethings like The Mole People (1956) or The Alligator People (1959). Instead Richard Burgin delivers a descent into madness and psychological horror. While painstakingly detailing the downward spiral of his lead character, Billy Cochran (Dylan LaRay), Burgin manages a parallel narrative on the struggles dementia and declining metal health. More importantly, he unveils a society that lacks empathy for those suffering from catastrophic mental health ailments.

Mental health as a multi-faceted horror plot

The films begins with Billy. Something is not right about Billy. He is emotionally distant and has difficulty navigating the world. His hobby is an obsessive compulsion to document a fantasy world of his own creation through art and illustration. Eventually, Burgin reveals that Billy is autistic. That’s not a spoiler. In fact, its not even extremely relevant to the plot of the movie. Billy’s condition is really just a thread in a much larger tapestry that describes a larger struggle with mental health.

In addition to his own struggles, his mother, Gina Cochran (Lynn Lowery, The Crazies – 1973) suffers from late stage Parkinson’s. Gina’s condition has progressed well beyond the point in which she requires 24/7 care. Billy, can barely take care of himself, much less his mother. Secretly he harbors a deep resentment of her and the burden in which she has become. Billy also works for a narcissistic boss that could care less about his problems or his mothers. Only one person, Gina’s caregiver Myra (Jess Paul), seems to care about Billy and Gina’s situation.

All of this pressure builds and builds on Billy until he finally cracks.

As an aside, Richard mentions in his own bio that his own struggles with mental health help to inform is work. We think that this lends itself to his ability to subtly address Billy’s state of mind without putting a sign around his neck that says autism. This delicate treatment of the matter breaths authenticity into the story.

Fang (2022) - The Rat King represents Billy's deepest darkest urges
The Rat King represents Billy’s deepest darkest urges

The Rat

When I first heard about Fang, I suspected that I was in for a Kafka-eqe transmutation from a man into a rat. Likewise, I expected a heaping helping of body horror as the transformation takes place. Instead, Fang uses the rat as a metaphor for all the ugliness that people try to lock deep inside themselves while they try to be what society expects them to be. Once, that hidden evil finds a seam in which to escape, it erupts with disastrous consequences.

Richard Burgin does use some body horror to illustrate Billy’s unraveling, the more impactful imagery comes from the visions in his head. These include maggot infested rodents, the ugly facets of his mother and even a personified “King” rat. The psychological window into Billy’s brains feels much more like the work of Darren Arnofsky. In fact, some of the imagery pays homage to Requiem for a Dream (2000). Anyone for a pulsating pus filled boil on the forearm? It also shows reverence to the jarring soundscapes in Arnofsky’s Pi (1998).

Burgin’s departure from the realm of physical horror into the psychological realm makes this film much more impactful than the average low-budget independent film. Brian Cunningham took a similar direction in an indie film called Wretch (2018). Psychological horror provides an infinite landscape in which produce a horror film on limited resources.

Interestingly enough, despite Billy’s obvious struggles with his mind, Richard Burgin carefully ensures that his ailments do not constitute an excuse. At the end of the film, Burgin’s intentional fence sitting allows the audience to consider Billy a victim, but at no point is the audience willing to forgive him of his eventual transgressions.

Fang (2022) - Electric lighting and keen camera work creates chaos
Chaotic dreamscapes created by electric lighting and keen camera work

Technical Execution

Fang does a lot of things really well. Starting with the cinematography, the film begins with an erratic (not so) steady-cam shot that trucks right through the front door and into Billy’s bedroom. The camera work by Jason Kraynek has depth and looks very professional. The scenes seem well choreographed to story boards and they provide a graphic novel style presentation. The production team also make extremely good use of light. In some scenes the lights paints a chaotic background that shows the instability of Billy’s mind.

We would recommend spending a moment with recognizing the crew on the Fang IMDB page. There are simple too many accolades to give out in this short review. Everything from the sound design, visual effects, lighting, practical effects and film editing contribute greatly to the overall quality of the film.

Fang punches way above its weight for an independent horror film. Of course, we could find some things to nitpick, but that seems petty when this team pulled together a very compelling psychological horror movie. If the story doesn’t move you, the the audio and visual landscape will. We strongly recommend Fang, especially for fans of Independent horror film.

We would also like to thank Richard Burgin for reaching out to us directly. Had he not, we might have missed this one. We’ll look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Ash and Bone (2022) – Inbred family horror from Harely Wallen

Ash and Bone (2022), a horror thriller directed by Harley Wallen, chooses to tread familiar territory. At malevolent Dark, we have long held that every plot can’t be 100% unique. Therefore, we’ll causally discuss some of the film’s inspirations while refraining from wallowing in the cliché. While Ash and Bone doesn’t bring a ton of new stuff to the table, it does a lot of little things that make it stand out from the plethora of indie films hitting the streaming market like a blood-drenched tsunami.

The Michigan Pick-Axe Massacre

The film begins with the tried and true unnamed female running from some unknown threat. Plowing through the brush and the bramble, her feet find the soothing firmament of asphalt. For a fleeting moment she feels salvation as headlights rise over the hill. As she approaches the vehicle, her elation turns to horror as the report of a high-powered rifle puts a punctuation mark on the story of her life.

On another thread, a family takes high-tension car ride out of the city of Detroit. Lucas Vanderbilt (Harley Wallen) and his newlywed wife Sarah (Kati Wallen) are escaping to the family home with Harley’s troubled daughter Cassie (Angelina Danielle Cama). Harley wants to forge a bond with his new family, but Cassie will never let Sarah replace her real mother. Shortly after arriving, Cassie ejects herself from the family situation and goes out on her own to find something to do.

Cassie meets a couple of locals at the bar. Tucker (Mason Heidger) and Anna (Jamie Bernadette) tell Cassie of the McKinley’s. Long thought to be a local legend, the McKinley’s are rumored to be up to no good. The pair cite the very real and frequent disappearances around town. Of course Cassie, no stranger to breaking and entering, must see for herself. She convinces Tucker and Anna to take her to the house. In a moment of incredibly poor judgement, Cassie slides open a window and sneaks inside.

Once inside the house, all three learn the horrifying truth of the McKinley’s and barely escape with their lives. Unfortunately for them, this would not be their last brush with them.

Ash and Bone (2022) - Angelina Danielle Cama as the angst ridden Cassie
Angelina Danielle Cama as the angst filled Cassie Vanderbilt

Familiar Territory

As discussed, a lot of horror standard tropes are being thrown around. Most notably, serious Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) vibes emanate from this one. Cue up one inbred family in a American gothic home. The similarities go even deeper than this, but we’ll stay away from the spoilers. Possibly more interesting, some of the imagery in Ash and Bone coincidently feel a lot like Steve Merlo’s The Sawyer Massacre (2022).

Then there is the whole Blair Witch Project thing, but considering Cassie’s goth style sensibilities, we’ll say Blair Witch Project 2.

Finally, we get a sprinkle of Last House on the Left (1972) during a home invasion by the McKinley’s. Interestingly, Wallen switches up some of the roles, especially when it comes to the sexual assault aspects. During the finale, the audience gets a final reminder of the Last House on the Left similarities.

If you’re going to recycle old horror tropes, go hard. These are some pretty solid horror references and we are not mad.

Avoiding the Pitfalls Modern Cinematography

We live in a wonderful age of technological advancement. The cost of putting high-quality content on screen has never been lower. The quality is up, the costs are low. Heck, even high-quality video editing can be done on a laptop fit for my mother. Laptop CGI is simply an eventuality. At no other point in the history of cinema have we been able to do so much with so little. As Uncle Owen once said, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

As of late, we have been reviewing a ton of indie horror flicks. More and more, we encounter the visual brutality of high framerates, high definition and an inexplicable lack of focal awareness. To be honest, we’ve even seen big budget films make the same mistake. Harley Wallen and cinematographer Alex Gasparetto avoid this pitfall and Ash and Bone benefits greatly from it.

Using a shallower depth of field, they draw the focus of the audience to the performances (and there are some good ones). Smart lighting and shot-framing work well to capture the human interactions.

Ash and Bone’s cinematography will not be confused with Dario Argento’s Opera (1987) by any stretch, but Wallen and Gasparetto lean into astute cinematic sensibilities enough to create an engaging experience that does not abrade the senses.

Ash and Bone (2022) - Erika Hoveland as the crazy May McKinley
Erika Hoveland as the crazy May McKinley

Competent Acting

Ash and Bone offers several interesting performances. For starters, Harley Wallen not only directs the film, but plays a fairly significant role as Cassie’s father. Not that I should be surprised that he can act, I simply haven’t seen his work. His performance as a concerned father felt authentic enough to carry the narrative. On the other side of the coin, Angelina Danielle Cama portrayed Cassie’s with convincing angst. More importantly, Cama showed an inner strength of character that later becomes critical to her survival.

On the bad-guy side of the fence, Erika Hoveland plays May with calculated malice. During some of her most heinous acts , it actually invokes a bit of sympathy for the character. Of course, this sympathy because her actions seem to be born of loneliness and circumstance. Hoveland’s eyes effortlessly oscillate between piercing calculation and wide-open crazy.

A Conspicuously Bloodless Affair

Wallen and the production team seem to go out of their way to keep the red stuff off of the screen. For a movie based in an extremely violent premise, Ash and Bone shows very little gore. In fact, it shows so little that I wonder if the decision comes from Wallen’s artistic sensibilities or rather a nod to the past. We found the following quote:

“I wanted to make a film in the style of the mid 2000s horror films such as House of WaxThe Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. l wanted to follow up Agramon’s Gate with a more raw and imposing horror film.”

— Harley Wallen (Secondary soruce, TheMovieWaffler.com)

Most that know their horror history know that Texas Chainsaw Massacre notoriously lacks blood and gore and instead replaces it with mind-numbing psychological terror and shock. Unfortunately, Ash and Bone simply doesn’t have enough of the brutal aura to completely side-step the gore. In fact, a bit more of the red stuff might have served this one very well.

Bringing it Home

All in all, as a independent horror film, Ash and Bone gets the job done. It appears that Wallen might have aspired for it to be something that never really achieves. Yet, it provides interesting performances and cares enough to go the extra miles to make a professionally produced film. Ash and Bone captured out attention and made us curious to see what Harley Wallen does next. Currently, Ash and Bone can be found on Tubi streaming for free. Support independent horror and go check it out!

10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark

As I have often alluded to, I am a child of the 70s. Likewise, my horror journey lead me through many films that would now be considered old-school classics. Others might even feel that some of these movies are cheesy, or that they don’t “hold up”. I can assure you that when viewed through a child’s eyes, these films were ALL mind blowing. I want to take a moment to lay out the 10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark. These are the films that lead to a lifetime of horror fandom.

These films will be placed in no particular order. I simply couldn’t bear choose between my favorite children and rank them. To derive the order of the films I numbered one through ten on a sheet of paper. Their placement in this list will be decided by 1d10.

10 Essential Horror Films - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - Brilliant Work by Daniel Pearl
Brilliant Work by Daniel Pearl

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – The Ultimate in Horror

Many consider, and Malevolent Dark would agree, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) to be the king of kings in horror. Never before had a movie descended headlong into the depths of insanity and cannibalistic depravity. Directed by Tobe Hooper, this film may be the best example of wrenching massive critical success from the jaws of a non-existent budget. My first glance of this film came in a brief snippet in the 1984 horror film documentary Terror in the Aisles (1984). Upon seeing that clip, I could think of nothing else but the brutish monstrosity of a man exploding through the front door of a old farmhouse.

After a few months of begging my parents at the local B.A.C. Video Store, they let me rent this masterpiece on Betamax. It changed me forever.

The film took me on a journey into pure and terrifying psychological horror. Tobe Hooper left me completely shaken. The closing scenes were so harrowing that I could only let out a gasp of relief as a broken and bloody Sally Hardesty laughed manically as she narrowly escaped. How bad was it? It is literally the first movie that gave me anxiety as I contemplated watching it a second time the following day. Fortunately I rose to the challenge, and was able to really take the film the second time.

With The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper created a masterpiece of horror. It demonstrates a style of terror film-making that is both brutal and barbaric, but technically brilliant and beautiful.

House on Haunted Hill (1959) - Annabelle meets her doom
Annabelle meets her doom

House on Haunted Hill (1959) – Where it all Began

I have said before at Malevolent Dark, House on Haunted Hill (1959) was the first film that made me love horror. Up until that point, I had witnessed my share of monster movies. King Kong and Godzilla, or better yet, King Kong vs. Godzilla had occupied much of my time. I had great introductions into horror’s great characters: Dracula, Frankenstein, The MummyThese introduction came via two great horror studios, Universal and Hammer Productions. My point is, by that point in my young life (age 5), I already possessed a pretty strong horror resume.

Something about House on Haunted Hill changed things. This film, directed by William Castle, offered a completely different style of horror. House on Haunted Hill is a story of infidelity and dishonesty. It is a film about greed and revenge. At the end of the film, its not entirely clear that Haunted Hill is in fact Haunted, but actually a victim of the horrible people that insist on filling its halls. House on Haunted Hill is a film about the evil that men and women do.

For black and white film in the late 50’s, the inclusion of fully severed heads blew my mind. Castle also pulled off one of the most wicked jump scares to hit the screen. The marital dynamics between Carol Ohmart and Vincent Price (my hero as a young boy) were clearly profound even for a child. Finally inclusion of fantastic modern architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House provided incredible contrast to the battered cliché of gothic architecture and squeaky wrought iron fences.

House on Haunted Hill is the films that launched a lifelong fascination with horror cinema, and ultimately provides the foundation for Malevolent Dark.

Re-Animator (1985) - Bloody and Guts Fun
Dr. Herbert West must put down one of his creations as he perfects his formula

Re-Animator (1985) – Love and Gore from Miskatonic University

I have mentioned it before, and eventually we will do a complete article on the topic. 1985 was a banner year for horror. everything seemed to be clicking. Fangoria magazine had hit its stride with it 50th issue. Special effects as an artform had reached its pinnacle. The artist behind it (Tom Savini, Rick Baker, Stan Winston, Dick Smith) became a bigger draw for the studio than the directors. Great films just kept coming and coming in 1985. One of my most anticipated films was Re-Animator.

Directed by Stuart Gordon and based on the great work of H.P. Lovecraft, this film seemed to have everything that a 10 year old boy could want in a film. Speaking specifically of Fangoria issue #50, it featured a wonderful pictorial and article titled “Literary Zombies” written by David Everitt. The article had me bubbling with anticipation. I simply could not wait for its arrival at my local video store. When that fateful day arrived, I could not be more pleased with what I found.

Stuart Gordon’s film bubbled with originality. The over the top performance of Jeffery Combs as the modern day Frankenstein, Dr. Herbert West, oozed black humor and self-aggrandizing narcissism. Some of Gordon’s film soared so high that under normal circumstances it could be considered ridiculous. However, the horrific events and substantial gore consistently keeps the film rooted to the ground. I mean, how else could one get away with a re-animated severed head performing cunnilingus on a scream queen Barbara Crampton?

While 1985 was filled with fantastic horror contributions, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator holds a special place in the deep dark recesses of Malevolent Dark. And, Dr. Herbert West’s crimes against nature would undeniably secure a sacred spot as one of the 10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark.

Phantasm (1979) - The silver sphere claims a victim
The silver sphere claims another victim

Phantasm (1979) – Blood and Chrome

This likely won’t be the last time I reference the Saturday Night Shocker. Back in Saint Louis on KPLR channel 11 on Saturday night, the local kids would get treated to a select horror movie at 10PM. Back before our family gained the prestige to own a VCR, this provided my only tether to the world of horror. One of those late night gems was Phantasm (1979), directed by Don Coscarelli. Whoa, what a mind-blowing experieince.

Fortunately for myself, I had never heard of this film prior to it making the Saturday Night Shocker playlist. Coming into this film with literally no understanding and no foreshadowing from trailers that reveal too much. Right from the start Phantasm reached out and held me in it clutches. When the flying sphere of death makes it first appearance, I could only stare at the screen with awe.

But, there is so much more to this film. The obvious bits came in the form squashed re-animated from the recent dead. The The Tall Man played by Agnus Scrimm offered a iconic bad guy. Pan-dimensional portals and a science fiction mystery that refuses to give up the ‘what’ or the ‘why’ leaves the filmgoer befuddled. Underlying all of that fantastic story-telling was a story of profound sadness.

After losing his parents in an un explained tragedy, lead character Mike Pearson loses his only caregiver, his brother Jody. As a youth, the uneasy feeling of loneliness pervades the rest of the film. Yet, he manages to create this loving bond with his brother’s best friend, Reggie. After all of this emotional development and posturing of hope the shocking end kicks you in gut and leaves you with sinking feeling of despair.

Phantasm still stands as one of the most original horror movies of all time and is essential viewing for all horror fans in the eyes of Malevolent Dark.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972) - Winns (1781-1851)
Winns (1781-1851), coming back from the dead

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972) – Ewww, it’s gross

If it weren’t for the practice of jamming trailers at the beginning of video-tapes, this one might have escaped my grasp. The  trailer seemed very strange and off-kilter. It introduces the crazy circumstances of a group of theater students have a jolly good time with rotting corpses that they had unearthed. Was it a comedy? Was it horror? I couldn’t tell for sure, but I had to see it.

What I found in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972), was a fascinating combination of both comedy and horror. Directed by Bob Clark and written by Alan Ormsby, this film proves highly effective and strikingly stylish. In all honesty, it really doesn’t go deep into uncharted territory. By this time, George Romero had already created all of the farmhouse claustrophobia anyone could handle. But Bob Clark’s film does something better. It enshrouds itself in a thick fog of dread and tension.

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things deftly moves from childish antics and lame black comedy to suffocating dread in the confines of a cottage collapsing with the living dead. Due to the prolific careers of its producers, this little-known film would lead me to classics such as Black Christmas (1974), Deathdream (1974), Deranged (1974). Yeah, it appears 1974 was a good year for horror as well!

The foreboding tension of this film somehow overcomes its many flaws and obvious financial limitations. Still, it left an indelible mark, and left me feeling uneasy as the final sequence rolled. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things easily secured a place on The 10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark.

Amityville Horror - The infamous house at 108 Ocean Avenue
The infamous house at 108 Ocean Avenue

The Amityville Horror (1979) – Get Out!!!

The Amityville Horror has a tendency to polarize horror fans. Critics either love it or hate it. Retrospectives of the film love to call it dated and questionably authentic. To be honest, everyone has an opinion, and all opinions can be valid. However, opinions depend on context. I can’t remember exactly when I first saw this film, but I was really young. As far as haunted house films go, this was my post-graduate research after House on Haunted Hill (1959). For an impressionable youth, The Amityville Horror delivered all of the goods.

Back before The Blair Witch Project (1999), this was the closest thing we had to found footage. The movies come packaged with the claim that the events of this film are true. To a child, those claims were indiscernible from reality. From my point of view, this film was as real as the television I watched it on, and that made for a terrifying affair. The simple thought of young man murdering his family in cold blood while they slept horrified me. I came from a loving home. How could I relate to an evil of that magnitude?

The Amityville Horror offers enough scares, and many of the scares were directed at children. First there was Jody, the invisible pig that tormented the Lutz’s youngest daughter. As silly as it sounds today, the red eyes peering from the window frightened me. The children’s babysitter gets locked in the closet as she beats her fists to a bloody pulp trying to escape. One of their sons gets his hand smashed by a windows sash, and nobody in the house has the strength to free it. I could only empathize as George Lutz sped away from the home without the family dog, Harry.

The Amityville Horror traumatized a young mind. Say what you will, but I am a proud apologist for The Amityville HorrorThis film scared me as much any up until that point. Malevolent Dark considers it to be a foundational work.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) - Ken Foree as Peter
Ken Foree would become a staple of great horror movies for decades

Dawn of the Dead (1978) – When Hell Is Full, The Dead Will Walk

Choosing an entry from George Romero created quite a dilemma. Would it be prudent to choose the obvious classic that started it all, Night of the Living Dead (1968)?  Not this time, I went with the one that I have watched at least 50 times, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. In retrospect, as much as I love Night of the Living Dead, this was the right choice all along.

My first indicator that this would one day end up on this list occurred when one night I went to stay at a friends house. We were all amped up for this zombie movie that his older brother rented, but before we could watch it, his mom pulled the plug. “This is the most disgusting piece of garbage I have ever seen!”

I don’t know about disgusting, but Romero’s sequel contains some incredibly bodacious special effects by the master Tom Savini. But it contains much more than that. Dawn of the Dead paint a bleak picture. Decades before The Walking Dead, Romero described what the depth that the world would sink to when a crisis of unimaginable magnitude came upon it. What’s more, he packaged obscure social commentary that would suggest that the zombies were dead long before their heart stopped beating. Romero described a world of walking dead in terms of crass commercialism.

Romero also captured some incredible performances. Roger’s (Scott Reiniger) and Peter’s (Ken Foree) Tango and Cash act went far beyond their individual character. Futhermore, Ken Foree would find a permanent place in horror by reappearing in films by Stuart Gordon and Rob Zombie. Gaylen Ross would also show up in 1982’s slasher Madman. Nevermind the fact that Tom Savini exercises his acting chops as one of the marauding rogues.

The final icing on the cake comes in the form of an incredible soundtrack from frequent Argento collaborators Goblin.

The original Dawn of the Dead stands as a classic horror film. It is one of the best zombie films ever made.

Suspiria (1977) - Argento's use of color is simply brilliant
Dario Argento transforms the most brutal of violence into sensual art

Suspiria (1977) – Dario Argento’s Witchery

To put it quite plainly, Dario Argento’s masterstroke, Suspiria (1977) created a rift in my narrow focus world of horror. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I already had a few Italian horror films under my belt. Lucio Fulci’s Zombie comes to mind. However, no movie that I had seen brought together the mix of color, sound, music and beautifully fantastic gore like Suspiria did. It would trigger the beginning of a journey into international horror cinema that continues to this day.

Suspiria elevated the horror genre into an art form. Right from the beginning as Suzy Bannion receives a cold gust of wind, the soundtrack forebodes and builds tension. It then burns the eyes with brilliant hues of neon pink and electric blue. Just as the audience stumble in awe of the spectacle, Argento bludgeons the senses with extreme violence and gore. Yet, none of this is window dressing. The entire film is built on a foundation of old world evil, and secret covens of ancient witches.

Suspira also introduced me to the magic of Claudio Simonetti and the band that Argento would frequently collaborate with, Goblin. Never before had I experienced an soundtrack so interwoven and aware of the horror occurring around it. Quickly I stitched their relationship together with the Dawn of the Dead soundtrack.

Dario Argento’s film would also serve as my entry point to the rest of the “The Three Mothers” trilogy. More importantly, it set me off to stumble across Argento’s wonderful giallo films. Suspiria is a film that is absolutely required to know Malevolent Dark.

Burnt Offerings (1976) - Oliver Reed sites, frozen in catatonia, as his son drowns before him
Oliver Reed sites, frozen in catatonia, as his son drowns before him

Burnt Offerings (1976) – Oliver Reed, Need I Say More?

Burnt Offerings (1976) is another film that came to me by way of the Saturday Night Shocker on KPLR. Its also another film that I went into with zero knowledge of the movie, the trailer or anything else. What I found in Burnt Offerings (1976) was a very smart haunted house film that terrified me. This house did not torment its residents with slamming doors and rustling chandeliers. Instead it infected the minds and souls of its residents as it rejuvenates itself through the pain and suffering of its tenants.

To put it simply: Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, Bette Davis. What a cast! I had already been introduced to Karen Black through her work in Trilogy of Terror (1975). Then there was the great Oliver Reed, immediately recognizable from his work in Curse of the Werewolf (1961). He would also star prominently in The Brood (1976) and The Devils (1971)This guy was a literal powerhouse with his stage presence and he struggles to not steal every scene he is in.

This film stuck with me for years after first watching it. For one, Burnt Offerings has a scene where Oliver Reed watches  his son drowning while the swimming pool pulls him down. He’s unable to move and can only watch as his son continues to go under. Something about this scene kicked me in the gut. I mentioned this previously, I had no frame of reference for a father that would let his child be hurt. The idea was so foreign and terrifying for me.

Finally, the film ends very poorly for the family. They would not escape with their dog like in Amityville horror. They die and the house consumers their souls. I found the ending to be very guttural and impactful.

Burnt Offerings a great little haunted house movie that challenges some traditional spook-house clichés.

House of 1000 Corpses - More fantastic camera work
Rob Zombie showing skill behind the camera in his debut

House of 1000 Corpses (2003) – A Modern Classic By Rob Zombie

Those paying attention to details may notice that this one is not like the others. Almost exclusively, every selection on this list was filmed prior to 1990. Likewise, many of these foundational films came from my childhood. However, Rob Zombie did something in 2003 that was unexpected. He quite literally saved the horror genre for me, and his film House of 1000 Corpses might be the single biggest reason that I am writing today.

Back in the late 90’s horror films had largely lost their mojo for me. It’s not that there weren’t any good movies. There were good movies, but they all had the shimmering feel of over produced Hollywood films. Jump scares and CGI had replaced the craft of the horror film. Rob Zombie showed me that there was still gas in the horror movie tank. What’s more, Rob Zombie showed me that I was not alone in my love for good old days of horror.

Rob Zombie brought familiar faces to the table like Karen Black and Sid Haig. He showed his love for the local horror show on Saturday night. He introduced new horror icons like Captain Spaulding to the world. Zombie told a fantastically wacky story that nearly falls off the rails with its boldness. Finally he added a stylistic flair that would make Dario Argento proud without also making him feel ripped off.

House of 1000 Corpses revitalized the horror genre and gave hope to old-school horror fans looking for a way forward.

Thank you for reading the 10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark

Hopefully you enjoyed our little trip through memory lane. Obviously, throughout the years hundreds of quality horror films have gone through my fingers. Of those hundreds there are many that I love. In fact, there a few other films that could have made this list if I were just picking favorites. This was about picking the ones that made a real and lasting impact. These are the 10 Essential Horror Films to Know Malevolent Dark.