SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL: Every Day Is Halloween

It’s the return of Scott’s Film Geek Journal. This was an ongoing feature I had over at Film Geek Central, designed to deliver fun size reviews of those films that I still wanted to cover, but had trouble squeezing them in the standard format. After all, no movie deserves to fall through the cracks. Okay, that’s not true. But none of the films covered on moviocrity.com deserve to fall through the cracks.

You may notice a theme in this, the first Journal I’ve written in almost a year. All of these films share a Halloween theme. I watched over forty Halloween flicks during October and there’s still so much I need to talk about. There’s even a few similar films that might end up either as Journal entries or full-length reviews. Besides, when you love the holiday as much as I do, October 31st becomes a state of mind. Halloween forever, baby.

So, here we go. Once more into the breach. The Film Geek Journal returns!

RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA

  • What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals? 
  • In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?

The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.

The-Midnight-Hour_01

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR (1985) – A group of teenagers, including a few in the their mid-20s and early 30s, decide to steal some costumes and an old book of spells for a Halloween prank. They go to the local graveyard and have the descendant of an evil witch recite a curse. Again, for a Halloween prank. Seriously, kids today overthink these things. Just egg a few houses, you can’t beat a classic.

After the kids have all run off to a Halloween party, the dead do in fact rise from the grave, along with all the creatures of Hell. This explains why there are a couple werewolves in the bunch, why our evil witch is suddenly a vampire and why everyone is a rotting ghoul except for one hot blonde girl who died back in the 1950s. Actually, no this doesn’t explain most of that.

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR was recommended by filmmaker Andrew Shearer on a recent episode of The Spoiler Room, and I’m damn glad he did. Back in the 1980s, TV movies were ubiquitous and practically none of them delivered. They all looked the same, followed similar formulas and more often than not, felt like second or third tier entertainment. But what we have here is a TV movie that is far better than most theatrical films released around the same period.

It’s full of energy, humor and atmosphere. And yet, it’s also surprisingly grim and violent without ruining it’s fun spookshow atmosphere. This has stayed off DVD in the United States, probably due to rights issues involving the wall-to-wall soundtrack that features everything from 1960s classics to The Smiths. Highly Recommended.

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SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER (2004) – It may look like just another shot on video flick to those who are scanning through Netflix. But SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER is a pretty original horror satire by none other than Jeff Lieberman, the director of SQUIRM, BLUE SUNSHINE, JUST BEFORE DAWN, REMOTE CONTROL and a bunch more.

Little Doug is obsessed with his video game. The main problem being that in the game, you play Satan as you playfully kill as many innocents as possible before God catches up with you. This seems to be a satire on the state of the video gaming industry which at the time of this film’s release was still reeling from violent snuff simulators like GRAND THEFT AUTO and MANHUNT.

When his sister brings home a new boyfriend for Halloween, Doug feels shut out and throws himself a tantrum. Amongst the trick or treaters, Doug spots what he believes to be Satan. The two go around having fun, as Doug believes everything is make-believe. But Doug’s new friend isn’t playing around, he really is killing and maiming scores of people in the town. And as for that whole thing where Doug thinks he might be Satan? He could be right.

Lieberman wisely keeps things ambiguous, so we’re never sure exactly what the nature of this evil is or how complicit Doug really is in it. The film immediately starts out as a violent and completely inappropriate horror comedy. There’s something about a kid cheering on Satan and wanting to be his favorite, gleefully giggling as he mows pregnant women down with a shopping cart. Things get positively squirm-inducing as the devil puts the moves on Doug’s beloved virginal sister.

Around halfway through the film, just when we’re getting used to its sick sense of humor, SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER does a 180 and becomes a dark, bloody, borderline apocalyptic horror film. The comedy takes a back seat to the terror, without being forgotten entirely. It’s all pretty shocking from beginning to end, and we’re never entirely sure who’s going to make it out of SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER in one piece. Things get grim, perhaps too grim, but this flick is an underappreciated Halloween treat. Highly Recommended.

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HALLOWEEN NIGHT (2006) – This retro slasher starts on a charming note as a kid watches his mother get raped and murdered in front of him. For the icing on the trauma-flavored cake, he also has his face scalded by a steam pipe. He is locked up in the local nut barn as everyone believes he is responsible for his mother’s death. There, he is tormented by the orderlies until years later, he strikes back at his tormenters and makes a bloody escape. Posing as a party guest, he infiltrates a Halloween party being thrown by a notorious prankster. He is able to continue his killing spree, the bodies piling up before anyone realizes what’s going on.

Give director Mark Atkins credit for wanting to deliver a traditional slasher with a bit of nudity and several shots of gore. But it’s hard to care about any of the victims (notable exceptions coming up) and the entire presentation seems a bit shoddy. Atkins would get a good rhythm going with later Asylum productions such as PRINCESS OF MARS and DRAGON CRUSADERS, that last one earning its own episode of the Moviocrity web series. Don’t expect to see HALLOWEEN NIGHT get the same treatment.

Perhaps the only real saving grace of this one was the relationship between two lesbian characters, one of them experienced, the other still closeted and timid but very much in love. These characters were well-written and though there is skin, the approach to the relationship was refreshing. It was a surprising bit of insight and proof that sometimes exploitation explores areas mainstream films don’t. Too bad the rest of the film couldn’t live up to this example. Awful.

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A HALLOWEEN PUPPY (2012) – Adam is a kid who is thrilled by horror movies and aggravated by his mother’s always ingratiating boyfriend (Eric Roberts). He’s not mean, he’s just conservative and far too predictable. There’s some chemistry brewing between Adam and the girl down the street, a fledgling witch. However, the only thing they wind up brewing is a spell that turns Eric Roberts into a bulldog.

A HALLOWEEN PUPPY is one of the many films directed by Mary Crawford. Long story short: there is no Mary Crawford. This is instead one of the many pseudonyms used by director David DeCoteau, a director known for his exploitation work who branches out more than people realize. DeCoteau started out doing some of the best sexploitation jigglefests of the 1980s and it’s a career that continues to this day. But rather than go the softcore route like his colleagues Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski, DeCoteau put his own stamp on horror and fantasy. With his Rapid Heart films, he took many of the same aesthetics he used to please the straights in his audience and added liberal doses of homoeroticism, thus tapping into a market that is still too often neglected.

But like I said, DeCoteau is able to branch out into other genres. One his bigger successes of late has been his series of family films, mostly involving dogs and cats. To be honest, these films… well, they’re not great. But they are surprisingly watchable. Hence, A HALLOWEEN PUPPY isn’t grade-A entertainment. But it does have a certain charm and manages to be entertaining throughout its running time. I didn’t remember much about the film once it had finished, but I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time either. It’s also nice to hear landmarks like Dark Delicacies get name dropped in a family film. Barely Recommended.

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SKELETON FARM’S HALLOWEEN HORRORSHOW (2010) and THE RETURN OF SKELETON FARM’S HALLOWEEN HORRORSHOW (2013) – Sometimes, you just need to get in the spirit of things. Each of these 45 minute videos are mixtapes geared specifically for the Halloween holiday. They can be used as background to your Halloween party or as something you use to get you in the right mood. The presentation is of barely linked pieces of randomness that seem chaotic until you get into the groove.

Assorted clips are assembled featuring everything from old timey cartoons, tongue-in-cheek film clips, graphic mass murder and Laurence Welk, naturally. There isn’t much to say about these films. They aren’t even films in the strictest sense. But they are great entertainment for anyone who loves Halloween as much as I do. The first is a little better than the second, but both are welcome.  Recommended.

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