A swordsman attacks a doll hanging from a string… the motion freezes, stutters and repeats, and the music begins doing the same. A hand-less balding man seated at a table surrounded by inky blackness – his pitcher falls to the floor in a time-locked Brain Candy loop, then appears in a Muybridge time-lapse still, with dark, severe string music. I think we’re inside one of the houses from The Endless.

Librarian and his eagle:

There’s a silly bathtime romp, a scene shot in reverse, a busy library in which all the all the old men are wearing the same old-man mask, the masks and their clockwork motion giving the thing a sense of animation. Naked woman in a wasteland gets trapped in a box. After these unrelated(?) vignettes (DVD description says they’re “all connected by a central staircase”), the last 15 minutes bring something new – all angles and bright lights, TV-static-beings tearing through the screen, revealing perhaps l’titular ange.

Light:

Rotterdam says it “lies on the edge between optical and plastic art, in a gap of constant reinvention.” Bokanowski had another hourlong light-vs-darkness film a few years ago which almost nobody has seen, though those few said it’s great, and he’s been producing shorts regularly since the 70’s.

Bathed Man:

More Light:

Thought it’d be fun to watch an apocalypse movie during an actual apocalypse, but it was not. Early scenes set up a couple families with typical problems (Jimmy’s girl Ruth tells him she’s knocked up) while global news stories play out casually on background televisions and title cards ominously tell us the population of Sheffield. Then – nuclear war!

Jimmy likes birds, and his brother dies in the blast along with the finches. The families are separated and never reunite in the chaos. The movie flashes forward in regular intervals, family members dying of illness and starvation, finally ten years later, Ruth blind and ravaged by fallout. In other news, the producers bought the rights to Johnny B. Goode, and they’re damn sure gonna play it.

Can’t seem to remember if I ever saw this before – 90% sure that I did not, and that I saw the Kiefer Sutherland remake back in the day. I do remember the girlfriend disappearing at a gas station, the boyfriend searching for years, finally meeting the kidnapper and being given the option of finding out exactly what happened to the girl by experiencing it himself, or never knowing… he chooses the former, and is drugged then buried alive.

But it’s a 100+ minute movie and there’s more to it… like a scene at the beginning where the couple runs out of gas in the middle of a tunnel, and he abandons her in the darkness, some nifty foreshadowing. The man having a new woman in the years-later section of the movie is vaguely familiar – she’s tolerant of his continuing search for his ex, to a point. The main thing I’d lost is that the kidnapper has a major role in the movie. We see him deciding to kidnap people, then figuring out who/when/how. He takes notes and keeps time when knocking himself out with ether, ripped off by Piercing. So the moment when he gets a woman at the gas station to come to his car almost feels like a triumph of luck and planning.

Sluizer’s best-known worked ended up being the two Vanishings. He made other features with respectable actors, dunno why they are obscure. Then he was in the middle of filming with River Phoenix when River died, and Sluizer resorted to making Stephen Baldwin movies. Lead actress Johanna ter Steege turned up in Immortal Beloved and a Philippe Garrel movie.

Child’s Play (1988, Tom Holland)

First off, the baddie is known as The Strangler, but he has a getaway driver – what strangler has accomplices? He’s also a powerful satanist, and when cornered by a cop in a poorly staged toy-store shootout, he pours his soul into little Chucky, which our boy Andy’s mom buys from a “peddler” in a back alley (I dunno why I find it funny that they use the word peddler so many times).

Chucky kills mom’s friend the babysitter first, which is investigated by the guy who shot The Strangler – he’s the only cop in town, and doesn’t do a useful thing in the whole movie. Then Chucky takes Andy on some adventures into the city, first to blow up the house of his getaway driver (who escaped from police! the police not coming off great in this film) then to his voodoo guru’s house. Chucky rightly points out that gurus shouldn’t tell their clients where their own voodoo doll is hidden, then kills the doll after getting the vital info that he can only soul-transfer into the first person to whom he revealed his identity, so, Andy. Standoff ensues, finally mom and Andy and the fuckup cops killing the hell out of the killer doll. I’d forgotten how great Chucky looks in these – some real attention paid to the effects.

Holland directed Fright Night, and a Whoopi Goldberg action-comedy that I’ve somehow never heard of, even though in the late 80’s I definitely tried to watch all the Whoopi Goldberg action-comedies. Writer/creator Don Mancini has stayed involved in the whole series. Andy’s mom is Catherine Hicks (whale scientist of Star Trek IV). Brad Dourif, undistinctive as the human killer but next-level as the doll’s voice, has been in a ton of things, always best when he’s playing crazy. The cop had just played the evil prince in Princess Bride, was later the voice of Jack Skellington. Poor Andy would mainly keep playing Andy.

Dourif opens a locked door the way you do in movies: by firing a glancing shot a couple inches from the deadbolt:

Andy’s mom checks out the Mighty Damballa:


Child’s Play 2 (1990, John Lafia)

Chucky’s skull is salvaged by toy company, a great idea! The Mike Pence-like boss wants the thing investigated as part of a relaunch of the doll line, and it’s not a great sign when a chintzy electrocution effect throws a company engineer through the window. Andy’s mom is off recovering in an institution, so the kid is set up with a foster family: two bickering parents and a cool motorcycle chick, while Chucky slaughters the company flunky who took him home (hey, finally some strangling from The Strangler).

Since everyone loves a mass murdering doll, the movie is trying harder to be funny and quippy… Chucky complaining about “women drivers” while the chick is trying to shake him of her car is a low, but foster-home manager dying on a photocopier is cute. This is the one with the memorable ending back in the toy factory, where Andy and the chick kill Chucky in six different ways.

Chucky fashions himself a Terminator 2 knife-hand:

Lafia was a writer on part one, also directed an Ally Sheedy dog horror. Grace Zabriskie (appearing in Twin Peaks at the time) played the foster-home manager. Walkabout star Jenny Agutter is foster mom, Beef from Phantom of the Paradise is foster dad. The motorcycle chick is Christine Elisa, who was in Body Snatchers with Meg Tilly, sister of Bride of Chucky star Jennifer Tilly.

Great scene: three people here know this is a hostage situation, Grace is oblivious:


Child’s Play 3 (1991, Jack Bender)

Years later, we’ve reached the limits of young Andy as an actor, so he’s recast as a teen in military school. At the toy company, Mike Pence is back, arguing with an Ebert-type that the dolls should be rebooted again, and this time the resurrected Chucky kills the boss himself.

Stop putting police and military shit into my killer doll movies. Hardly anything of interest here, the military school providing new friends and enemies for Andy before Chucky leads them off-campus to a carnival. It’s jokier than ever, and goes against its own mythology in a desperate attempt to keep going. Chucky kills a garbage man, the barber, replaces their paintballs with live ammo before a war-game, then waves a gun around inside the carnival haunted house until he’s dropped into a giant fan.

The barber!

Bender would later direct a significant chunk of Lost episodes, and a couple of well-regarded Stephen King TV series. Very happy to see Kirsty’s dad Andrew Robinson making the most of the barber role – he would later be a regular on Deep Space Nine. New Andy is Justin Whalin, soon to be a TV star on Lois and Clark.

Sorry other actors, I only care about the barber:

Glad to see that this holds up. Killer Klowns land in small town and kill almost everybody in extremely circusy ways. Silly, but constantly inventive, with a very high body count and kickass theme song. Looks real good in HD.

The Chiodos have an Alien Xmas special out on streaming this month! Debbie is 80’s horror royalty, also appearing in Return of the Living Dead II and Night of the Creeps. Mike was later in Driving Me Crazy with Billy Dee Williams, and a leprechaun movie from the director of Subspecies. Sympathetic Deputy Dave played DEATHSTALKER in Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell the same year. His shitty, teen-hating cop boss is from Point Blank and Hitchcock’s Topaz. I’m sorry to report that not only did the ice cream truck-driving Terenzi brothers not become major film stars, one of them died this August.

“West killed the corpse.”
“I see how that sounds.”

Academia Horror, an unbelievable horror-comedy that never winks. Even the music is very good, by Richard Band, little brother of Dollman vs. Demonic Toys director Charles.

We’ve got medical school dean Halsey, his student daughter Megan, and her boyfriend Dan… then there’s the boyfriend’s eccentric new roommate Herbert, and his archrival, brain surgeon Dr. Hill. Dan and the Dean (horror royalty Robert Sampson of City of the Living Dead and Netherworld) are fine, but the other three… Barbara Crampton, Jeffrey Combs, and David Gale as Hill… if I was in charge, I’d cast them in every movie.

Opens with Herbert losing his mentor, then Hill losing a patient, and the two face off in the morgue with conflicting beliefs about the nature of life, and I’d forgotten that Hill is also a hypnotist. The autistic West, not great at making friends, gets addicted to his own reagent. The first human he reanimates kills the Dean, so the Dean has to be reanimated – then locked up, since they come back fully mad. As for Hill, West just straight up kills him with a shovel (“plagiarist!”) then reanimates his severed head to prove his methods to the skeptical late doctor, but things… escalate.

Closeups of a pretty bird, cawing over the credits! Just as I’m thinking the movie’s not gonna get any better than this, Dario proves me right by mistreating the bird the moment his own credit expires, then a horrible bird-hating woman jabbers for ages until she’s hit by a car, yay.

Betty takes over from the accident victim as untested star of a new opera, her young stage manager boyfriend is Stefano (from Texas, has been in 100 movies I’ve never heard of, and also Copycat), and they both have GRAND apartments, real estate in Rome must be super cheap. Some vaguely culty murder stuff starts happening, and soon Betty is tied up, needles taped under her eyes so she can’t blink, and she’s made to watch her boyfriend get stabbed to death. This happens a couple more times, some meathead hard-rock song accompanying all the murders – next victim is Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, an Argento regular also of Demons 2. Unfortunately, the killer also murders some ravens – but the ravens get their revenge, so I’ll allow it.

Betty’s got Purple Rain on VHS:

Appreciate that Betty gets a flower from a fan early on, then chucks it against the wall when she finds out he’s a cop – he will turn out to be the killer. One of his last victims is a fellow cop played by Michele Soavi – this came out the year of his directorial debut Stage Fright.

Argento characters never behaving like actual humans makes the movies more phantasmagorical. The dubbing is atrocious except in the opera singing. This is relatively late Argento, the tail end of his respectable period, made after Phenomena.

Some sequelly repetition here to be sure, but adding the mad doctor and the puzzle girl, then sending Kirsty and the resurrected Julia through the labyrinth with them, all great ideas. Overall made by people in sympathy with the spirit of the original, though that wouldn’t last through many more sequels. Too many flashbacks to the first movie, but in fairness you could never follow it without them. A powerful movie, never truly scary because you don’t quite buy it, but no acting missteps either. Leviathan, Lord of the Labyrinth should’ve played a bigger part in later movies, instead of continuing to obsess over Pinhead’s human origins.

Skinless Julia:

Stolen Skin:

Barker wrote the story, and screenwriter Peter “Martin” Atkins would write the next two, then Wishmaster, before turning to novels. Randel went on to make the haunted-clock Amityville sequel, the famously bad Fist of the North Star, and most recently a kids movie about a telepathic dog.

“Help my daughter”

Julia and Channard:

Poet horror lobotomist Dr. Channard is my dad’s age, was in Prospero’s Books and Hot Fuzz. Julia is in The House of Mirth which I also need to rewatch. Kirsty’s boyfriend Steve flakes off forever and is quickly forgotten, as Nurse Kyle becomes her sympathetic new guy: William Hope went from Aliens to this, then nothing, and twenty years later found his calling as a Thomas the Tank Engine regular. “Get them off me” guy was Oliver Smith – appropriately the same actor who played Skinless Frank.

The Phantom of Regular Size (1986)

Industrial-sounding mayhem, and did I hear a Psychic TV song? Nervous guy is attacked by a Freddy Krueger type in the subway, transforms into a scrap-metal mutant-man who kills his girlfriend with his giant spinning drill cock. A psychically linked rival appears, they face off and travel in stop-motion like The Wizard of Speed and Time. Looks wonderfully cheap and frantic, even the titles are scrawled Brakhage-style in rapid partial title cards.


Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988)

Guy goes to a workshop, cuts his leg open and shoves a metal rod in, but only seems to realize the horror of this after it becomes infected, then he runs down the street until hit by a car. Our new guy, who turns out to have been the driver in that last scene, finds metal in his cheek while shaving, woman next to him on the train station touches metal thing on the floor and it becomes her hand, she chases him down and they battle… he defeats her but his feet turn into rocket shoes.

Between Maniac and Tsukamoto, subway restrooms are gonna be a theme this month. This is also my second movie in a row where the male lead is butt-raped, but this time it’s by a Doctor Octopus lady in a possible dream sequence. It’s a semi-remake of the short, but in this version the girlfriend does stab him a bunch of times with a kitchen knife and burn him with a hot pan before he drills her while unconscious. Tetsuo’s off the hook, if not the filmmaker.

See Also: Haze

Girlfriend (who helped dump the guy from beginning in the woods) is dead in the tub until the metal guy outside infects the house through its pipes and she attacks again, then transmogrifies into him, and they go speed-and-timing through the streets.

I’m sure the director had a good idea of what was happening in the last ten minutes, two metal-encrusted mutants in an extreme stop-motion battle, but I didn’t. Most of the movie is very watchable, which is only surprising since I’ve seen this before on VHS, and remember it bring a spastic, plotless, ear-piercing nightmare. In either event I wouldn’t have pinned this filmmaker to direct a prestige remake of Fires on the Plain, looking forward to that one.