Archive for April, 2012

THE RAVEN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Edgar Allen Poe, Gore!, Period Pieces, Psychos with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A park in Baltimore in 1849. There’s some snow on the ground, and a mysterious figure sits on a bench, wearing a large hat. L.L. SOARES approaches)

LS: I got a mysterious message to meet someone here. Is that you, Michael?


LS: Then you’re the great Edgar Allan Poe!

MYSTERY MAN: Uh….nope.

LS: Then who the hell are you?

MYSTERY MAN (holds out box): Uh, have one mister. Life is like a box of chocolates!

LS (pushes box away): Get out of here, Gump! I’m supposed to be meeting someone important here!

FORREST GUMP: D’uh, you are a mean person. I was only offering you a candy.

LS (kicks him off bench): Beat it!

GUMP: I’m gonna go tell my mommy on you.

LS: You do that.

(MICHAEL ARRUDA approaches from behind)

MA: What was all that about?

LS: I came here to meet you, so we could review the new movie THE RAVEN, and that damn Forrest Gump character tried to trick me into thinking he was you!

MA: Gump was pretending to be me?  Wow, I’m flattered.

LS: You’re sounding more like Forrest Gump every day.

MA: Real funny. (bends down and picks up the box of chocolates). Hey, he left these.

LS: We’ve got a movie to review!

MA: I’m only going to eat one or two.

(MA sits down on bench and starts eating chocolates)

MA: Why don’t you start? Hey these are delicious! Don’t you want any?

LS: Maybe later.

Okay, so this week’s movie is THE RAVEN, starring John Cusack as the legendary writer, Edgar Allan Poe. As horror writers, Michael and I are both fans of Poe’s pioneering work in the field. It’s pretty safe to say there would be no horror genre if not for Poe.

MA (talks with his mouth full): Yep. Mmmm, these are yummy. You sure you don’t want any?

LS: Nope. So, in THE RAVEN, the police come across violent murders that seem to be patterned after Poe’s story “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” At first, the detective on the case, Inspector Fields (Luke Evans), suspects Poe may have something to do with these grisly goings-on, but soon realizes that whoever the killer is is basing their murders on Poe’s stories. Talk about a “Number One Fan.”

MA (quickly finishing the chocolate he was eating):  All right, get these away from me. (pushes box away). Yeah, I thought Fields and the police dismissed Poe as a suspect too quickly. They have these murders based on Poe’s stories, and they have Poe, who’s about as far away from a well-balanced fellow as you can get, plus one of the victims is a fellow critic hated by Poe, and yet the police quickly dismiss Poe as a suspect and then welcome him into their investigation. Honestly, this seemed like a forced plot point to me, just to have the movie, THE RAVEN. These are police officers. Wouldn’t they be highly suspicious of Poe?

LS:  Poe aids Fields and the police in trying to guess the killers next move. Meanwhile, at a masked ball, Poe’s fiancée, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) is kidnapped during some confusion (having to do with Poe’s story “The Masque of Red Death”). This scene kind of bugged me. In one scene, Poe is standing right beside Emily, then in the next she has been kidnapped and Emily’s father, Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) reads a note from the criminal. If she was standing right next to Poe, when did someone have the chance to snatch her?

MA:  I’m with you. It was an odd scene, and I found myself asking the same question.

LS:  It really annoyed me! Because there is no way Poe would be standing next to Emily and let anyone take her away. He would have fought tooth and nail.

And there’s another scene, later on, when Poe kicks over a heavy table that has a lantern on it, yet the lantern doesn’t smash or start a fire. In the next scene, he’s carrying it down into some catacombs. Did they really have Plexiglas in the 1800s?

Sloppy writing. Anyway, poor Emily is soon buried alive in some mysterious location. While they try to track her down, Poe is informed that, unless he writes a new story each night in the paper, Emily will die. So, at the end of each frustrating day that they can’t find her, Poe must spend the whole night writing. Luckily the paper he normally writes for agrees to go along with this, since Poe has been writing for the editor, Maddux (Kevin McNally) for the last 10 years.

MA:  I didn’t really like this plot point, but more on that later.

LS:  Will Poe find Emily in time, before her air runs out? Who is the mysterious murderer and kidnapper who seems so obsessed with Poe’s life and work? These questions and more are answered in THE RAVEN.

Well, first off, why call it THE RAVEN? We’ve already had a few movies with this title already. According to, there have been 23 movies with this title. Including the excellent 1935 film, starring Bela Lugosi as a sadistic plastic surgeon with an obsession with Poe, and Boris Karloff as a criminal on the run whom Lugosi torments. And the more humorous 1963 version, where Karloff and Vincent Price play dueling sorcerers, while poor Peter Lorre gets turned into a raven. Couldn’t the people who made this new movie come up with a more original title?

MA: I agree.  I certainly wouldn’t have named it after one of Poe’s poems or stories, because it’s not one of his stories but an entirely new tale.  I would have gone with something simpler like POE.  But that’s just off the cuff.  I’m sure there are a host of better titles.

LS: I have to admit, the concept of this movie seemed an awful lot like the recent SHERLOCK HOLMES movies where Robert Downey Jr. plays Holmes as something of an action star. And the comparison is kind of apt. In THE RAVEN, Edgar Allan Poe, at a point in his life when he was ravaged by alcoholism, somehow finds the energy to search for Emily, match wits with a madman, shoot guns, dig up graves and ride on horseback. It’s all pretty impressive, but not very believable.

MA:  You’re right. It’s not very believable, and as a result for me, not all that impressive.

LS:  John Cusack is okay as Poe, but not great. At first I thought he was really miscast. There are, however, a few scenes that worked for me, like when Cusack would look at Alice Eve lovingly, or when he takes action, then Cusack is tolerable. In other scenes, where he reads Poe’s poetry or goes off on a rant, he just sounded silly, and I found myself wishing they had cast Jeffrey Combs instead. Combs has played Poe on television (on the “Black Cat” episode of the Showtime series, “Masters Of Horror” in 2007) and on the stage, and he just seems more physically believable as Poe. He also can read Poe’s poetry without sounding goofy. And Cusack just seems way too healthy for the role. It’s impossible to look at him and believe this is a guy battling deep inner demons and an addiction to booze and drugs. I just had a really hard time buying Cusack in the role for most of the film’s running time. However, I realize that  Cusack’s name on the marquee probably sells a lot more tickets to mainstream America than Combs’s would.

MA:  I didn’t have a problem with Cusack. I thought he made for a dark and brooding Poe, and I didn’t think he sounded all that silly when he read Poe’s poetry. And he looked sufficiently under the weather. He didn’t project images of good health, let’s put it that way. I thought he looked like he was suffering from a head cold throughout the movie, so I didn’t have a problem with him seeming too healthy.

LS: A head cold? The man is weeks away from death! He should have looked a lot worse off than that! I didn’t find this believable at all.

(A man walks by sneezing and coughing, looking as pale as a corpse.)

MA:  Is that a better representation of how Poe should have looked?

LS: Nope. Not sick enough.

MA:  How about him?  (points to a figure staggering in the distance, with maggots crawling out of his eyes, rotting teeth, his left arm missing below the elbow, wearing bloodstained clothes and a knife in his skull.)

LS:  Now you’re talking!

MA: However, I did have a problem with his being a hero in the movie. I liked Cusack A LOT early on in the movie, in his scenes in bars and listening to a group of women read their amateur poetry to him, but as soon as he gets involved in the murder plot, I thought his character became much less enjoyable. Poe is a dark and haunted character, but he’s not Sherlock Holmes, and so he’s not the most entertaining hero.

LS: But you can understand why Poe is sucked into this mystery. He did write the first detective story, after all, and created the fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin!

MA:  And that’s exactly why I expected him to be more of a detective in this movie. I didn’t find this angle exploited enough.

(Three men show up. Two of them take off their jackets and begin bare-knuckle boxing)

MA: What’s going on here?

MAN WATCHING: It’s Sherlock Holmes and C. Auguste Dupin, determined to find out who is the tougher detective.

HOLMES: I was first!

DUPIN: No, I was!

(The two men knock each other out, and the WATCHING MAN drags them away by their shit collars)

LS: Wow, a real live boxing match. That was exciting!

MA: Didn’t last very long.  Actually, Dupin was first, but no matter.  They’re gone now.

LS: I guess they’re not as tough as they seem in these recent movies.

MA: Back to our review. Cusack’s Poe is sadly lacking charisma, which in and of itself is fine since I don’t expect Poe to be the most charismatic character, but as a lead hero in a horror movie, I found him dull.

I would have preferred to see Cusack play Poe in a straight biography rather than in this silly murder mystery.

LS:  I actually liked Luke Evans a lot as Detective Fields, and found him to be more dynamic and charismatic than Cusack’s Poe was. In fact, there were times when I found myself wishing the movie was Fields’ story, rather than Poe’s. I wanted to know more about Fields.

MA:  Yeah, Evans was good, and his Detective Fields was slightly more interesting than Poe, and since I didn’t find Cusack’s Poe charismatic, I’d agree with you that Evan’s Fields was the more charismatic character. But as detectives go, he wasn’t the most effective. He kinda fails at everything he does.

LS: Exactly! I thought that was actually pretty inspired. He’s this renowned detective and a vibrant force of nature, and yet, he’s pretty much a failure, despite his reputation.

Alice Eve is good as Emily, and Brendan Gleeson—an always reliable actor—is fine as her father.

MA:  I agree. I liked Eve a lot, and I wish she had been in the movie more. She spends a bulk of the film buried alive while we wait for Poe and the police to rescue her. What a waste!

I really liked Gleeson as Captain Hamilton, a man who would rather shoot Poe dead on sight than have the author marry his daughter. We just saw Gleeson in SAFE HOUSE (2012).

LS: Gleeson was much better in movies like THE GENERAL (1998) and IN BRUGES (2008)

MA: I also liked Kevin McNally as Maddux, the newspaper editor who publishes the stories Poe has to write each night to placate the murderer. McNally played Gibbs in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, and I remember him from the Kenneth Branagh TV-movie SHACKLETON (2002). McNally provides nice support here.

LS: Strangely, McNally was also in a TV-movie called POE in 2011, playing a character named Kyle Kilpatrick. In that movie, Christopher Egan plays a Poe investigating murders in 19th century Boston. Coincidence?

I thought the script was clever at times, and the murders were suitably gruesome (especially one involving the notorious Pit and the Pendulum). Although I have to admit that CGI gore leaves a lot to be desired and cannot take the place of stage blood just yet. It just looks incredibly fake.

MA:  Yes, the murders were gruesome, and I thought the pendulum scene was one of the better parts of the movie. It blows away all the similar pendulum scenes we’ve seen in movies past. Finally, we get to see how truly gruesome and horrible this torture can be.

LS: Not gruesome enough for my tastes. This movie could have tried a little harder to earn its R rating.

MA: On the other hand, the script by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, I didn’t like that much. I liked the premise, that Poe would become involved with a murder investigation, trying to hunt down a murderer who’s basing his crimes on Poe’s stories. But I didn’t like how it played out. I didn’t like Poe’s having to write stories to placate the killer and save the woman he loves. On paper, it sounds pretty good, but it doesn’t make for exciting cinema. Scenes of Poe writing words on a paper just didn’t do much for me. They weren’t that exciting.

I would have rather seen Poe trying to solve the crimes. I expected him to be more of a Sherlock Holmes-type character, which would have been apt, since Poe’s stories influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when he wrote Sherlock Holmes.

So, when the story heats up, and Poe’s feverishly writing his stories for the killer, and he and the police are furiously trying to find the killer, I just wasn’t going along for the ride.

(EDGAR ALLAN POE staggers toward them, looking disheveled)

POE (holding out hand): Some sheckles for a poor sod? I would gladly recite a poem for your edification, for but a sou.

LS: Beat it, ya bum!

MA: No, no, that’s the real Edgar Allan Poe! Of course we would love to hear you recite poetry. Here’s a dollar (hands it to him, and LS does the same)

(POE opens his mouth to speak, but instead, begins vomiting)

POE (wipes his mouth): Maybe later. I seem to be a bit under the weather right now.

LS: Now that’s the Poe I know and love.

(POE runs away to buy booze)

MA: Well that was depressing.

LS: Yeah, he didn’t look like John Cusack at all! And what was with Cusack having a goatee? Poe didn’t have one of those! He just had a mustache. Whatever happened to historical accuracy?

Anyway, the direction by James McTeigue, who previously gave us V FOR VENDETTA (2005), which I actually liked a lot, and 2009’s NINJA ASSASSIN, is adequate here, but everything didn’t seem quite as atmospheric as it should be. For some reason, the movie just didn’t seem to reach its full potential for me.

MA:  I agree that it didn’t reach its full potential, but I don’t think it was because of a lack of atmosphere. I thought this movie looked great. It brought back memories of Hammer’s movies, although this one took place in Baltimore rather than Europe.

But that being said, this movie is lacking, and it’s strange, because it has so much going for it. It has solid acting, strong atmosphere, sufficiently graphic bloody scenes, but I wasn’t into it. Why not?  The answer is the story, which I found surprisingly dull, for reasons I’ve already gone into.

I’ll be honest. I was kinda bored throughout the second half of this movie.

I also was disappointed with the killer in this one. I expected someone much more evil and sinister.

LS: Yes, I agree. The identity of the killer is something of a letdown. And you start to think back to the earlier scenes and the whole thing is just very far-fetched, that this guy would be so successful in everything he does to bait and elude the police. The killer’s motive was kind of cool, but the movie is not very believable.

MA: Another problem with the story is it’s simply not as twisted as one of Poe’s stories. To accomplish this, we would have had to really get inside the head of the killer, and since this movie is a mystery, we don’t meet or know the killer until the end.

LS: Oh, I agree with that, too. This movie is pretty wimpy compared to a real Poe story. Not half as dark as it needed to be to truly feel Poe-inspired. Maybe that’s why I questioned the strength of the movie’s atmosphere.

Overall, I liked THE RAVEN more than I thought I would, based on the trailer. I went in with low expectations, thinking it would be awful. It’s not. There are several things about it that I liked,  and despite the far-fetched plot, it kept me interested throughout. But I don’t think it was a must-see movie. More of a rental. I give it two and a half knives.

What about you, Michael?

MA:  I fully expected to like this movie, and I was very surprised that I didn’t like it. It gets off to a strong start, and really does well at setting the stage for a deliciously macabre murder mystery, but then it drops the ball because later the suspense is sadly lacking when it’s needed most. THE RAVEN isn’t bad, but it’s oddly not that compelling or thrilling, and as a result I give it two knives.

(FORREST GUMP runs up to their bench, laughing)

LS: What’s so funny, Gump?

GUMP: You ate the candy, you ate the candy!

LS: So what?

GUMP: Haha. I put some of that Ex-Lax stuff in it. And you ate it. Gump got you good, you mean man.

LS: Actually, I haven’t had a chance to eat any yet. Thanks for warning me.

MA: What did you say?

GUMP: It was Ex-Lax candy. Gump got you good!

MA:  Oh yeah?  Well, Gumpy boy, I’ve got news for you. You didn’t get me, because there were two boxes of chocolates left here— (aside to camera) how’s that for an unrealistic plot point? —  and I didn’t eat yours. I ate the other one. So, you can take this box and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine!  (shoves box into Gump’s hands.)

GUMP:  You meanie!  (runs away crying)

(A figure is suddenly standing behind them. They turn to see the GRIM REAPER.)

REAPER:  Did you eat my chocolates?

MA:  Er, your chocolates? (to LS) What are the odds he put something stronger than Ex-Lax in his candy?

LS: It was nice knowing you, man!

REAPER:  So, did you eat my chocolates?

MA:  Um, yeah. Am I going to—?

REAPER:  Hope you liked them. I’m a big fan. (Walks away).

LS:  In that case, give me some of those. (helps himself to some chocolate.)

VOICE-OVER NARRATION (sounding sad):  Life is like a box of chocolates. You eat ……..and then you die. (violins play)

LS (stops eating):  Let’s get the hell out of here.

MA:  I’m with you. Let’s go review another movie or something.

(LS and MA run from the park, as a raven flies overhead, cawing)


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE RAVEN ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE RAVEN ~two and a half knives.



Posted in 1930s Horror, 1960s Horror, 2012, Classic Films, Edgar Allen Poe, Quick Cuts, Roger Corman, Vincent Price with tags , , , , , , , on April 27, 2012 by knifefighter

Favorite POE Adaptations

With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Peter Dudar, and Paul McMahon


The great Edgar Allan Poe’s work has a long history of movie adaptations.


MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to another edition of QUICK CUTS.

THE RAVEN opens this Friday, April 27, starring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe, in a tale that pits the author against a murderous psychopath who patterns his crimes after Poe’s stories.

So, with Poe hitting the big screen yet again, it leads us to the subject of today’s QUICK CUTS column:  what’s your favorite movie based upon a story by Poe?

It could be that one which you feel best captured his work, or simply that one that you just happen to like the most.

Pete, since this is your first time here, we’ll start with you.

PETE DUDAR: Thanks, Michael.  And you’re right.  I’m new here to QUICK CUTS.  I’ve been looking forward to my chance to throw in my two cents.

(L.L. SOARES throws a bunch of coins at PETE.)

L.L. SOARES:  Keep the change!

PETE DUDAR (laughing):  Wow.  Real coins!

L.L. SOARES:  What?  Don’t they have real money up there in Maine?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Alright, guys.  Let’s get to some real answers.

PETE DUDAR:  My favorite Poe film has to be Roger Corman’s adaptation of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

L.L. SOARES:  The movie version was called THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) in the U.S.

PETE DUDAR:  Yeah, that one.  In England it was called THE FALL OF...Vincent Price is one of the most beloved Poe character portrayers, and his performance as Roderick Usher is just flat-out creepy.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yeah, Price is pretty creepy as Roderick.

PETE DUDAR:  I’m still on the fence about the new movie THE RAVEN. I feel as if Jeffrey Combs was slighted for the more popular (and better looking) John Cusack. Sometimes, integrity really is more important than box-office draw.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Well, we’ll find out this weekend.

L.L. SOARES:  As a huge fan of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, I really love their Poe-themed movies THE BLACK CAT (1934) and THE RAVEN (1935).

THE BLACK CAT, arguably the best of the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi team-ups of the 1930s.


MICHAEL ARRUDA (groans):  Those are my two favorites too!

L.L. SOARES:  Well, I get to talk about them first.  So, shut up and let me talk about them!

These movies were made when both stars were at the height of their fame, and are very atmospheric (especially The Black Cat). Unfortunately, neither movie was very faithful to Poe’s work, and the only things they had in common with the stories were their titles.

Roger Corman’s series of Poe-inspired movies during the 1960s and 70s weren’t always faithful either, but at least they tried a little harder to be. The best of the bunch would be a tie for me: THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960)—.

PETE DUDAR:  Nice choice!  I’m glad I thought of it for you!

L.L. SOARES:  You didn’t even get the name of the movie right!

THE HOUSE OF USHER, Corman’s first Poe film, features a terrific performance by Vincent Price as Roderick Usher, in a tale of madness and incest in a creepy old house.

But for me, it’s a tie with MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) which also features Price, this time as the decadent Prince Prospero, throwing a lavish masquerade party in his castle while a plague decimates the outside world. MASQUE even manages to include Poe’s story “Hop Frog” into the mix (although here the character is called Hop Toad for some bizarre reason).

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Maybe Corman didn’t like frogs.  Paul, how about you?

PAUL MCMAHON:  I don’t have any problem with frogs.

MICHAEL ARRUDA (laughing):  No.  What’s your favorite Poe adaptation?

PAUL MCMAHON:  My favorite Poe adaptation would have to be Roger Corman’s THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) with Vincent Price. Richard Matheson’s screenplay added a ton of build up—the story was only two pages long, after all—but the movie kept the flavor of Poe throughout. It kept my attention completely, and had a kick-ass ending.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Really?  I always thought the ending was a bit of a letdown.  I wanted that pendulum to do some damage!

PAUL MCMAHON:  I also really enjoyed THE RAVEN (1963). Yeah, it was goofy as hell, but watching Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson tearing it up makes for a fun night. I still plug it in occasionally.


MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yeah, that’s a funny one, but it’s not one of my favorites.

PAUL MCMAHON:  What are some of your favorites?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Like L.L., probably my all-time favorite movie based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe would be the Universal flick THE BLACK CAT (1934) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, although about the only thing this movie has in common with Poe is the title.  It’s really not based on Poe’s story at all.  It’s still a really cool movie though, probably my favorite pairing of Karloff and Lugosi.

L.L. SOARES: Hey! I already said all that. You just copied me!

MICHAEL ARRUDA: I also like THE RAVEN (1935) again starring Lugosi and Karloff.  Once more, this one had little to do with Poe other than Lugosi’s character’s obsession with Poe, especially his instruments of torture, and the film includes a scene with a giant swinging pendulum from THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM.

You also can’t go wrong with the Vincent Price movies based on Poe.  My favorite Price/Poe vehicle is probably THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) based on Poe’s THE CONQUERER WORM, which is the film’s U.S. title.  It’s probably the best made of the Price/Poe movies, and it contains one of Price’s scariest performances.

PETE DUDAR:  No, that would be THE HOUSE OF USHER….

L.L. SOARES:  Hey, he got the title right!

PETE DUDAR:  Shut up, you!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Ironically, THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL is not one of the Poe movies directed by Roger Corman.

L.L. SOARES: Yeah, it’s directed by the great Michael Reeves. I love that one, too!

MICHAEL ARRUDA: I also like THE OBLONG BOX (1969), with Price and Christopher Lee, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964), in which Vincent Price dons dark sunglasses and looks like Johnny Depp’s uncle.

So, there you have it, folks, our picks for our favorite Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.

Will the new movie THE RAVEN join the ranks of favorite Poe movies?  We’ll find out this weekend.

L.L. SOARES:  So be sure to join us this weekend for our CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT column on THE RAVEN.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yes, definitely join us for that!  And thanks Peter and Paul for joining us.

L.L. SOARES:  Yeah, and next time bring Mary!

PETE DUDAR:  It’s been a blast.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Fun as always.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  On behalf of L.L. Soares, Pete Dudar, Paul McMahon, and myself, Michael Arruda, thank you all for joining us.  Good night everybody!


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Peter Dudar and Paul McMahon

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SKATETOWN U.S.A. (1979)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1970s Movies, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Cult Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on April 26, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:


Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

Somewhere between the innocence of roller-skating at a rink and the anarchy of punk rock, a strange new fad corrupted the youth of America.  In the late 1970s, disco was still topping the charts, and roller-skating to dance music seemed like a natural extension of the whole SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) atmosphere of the time.  Thus was born the fad of roller-disco, which lasted for about the same duration as a Britney Spears marriage.   It did, however, inspire the Holy Triumvirate of roller-disco movies.  The so-bad-it’s-fun Olivia Newton-John fiasco, XANADU (1980), and the Linda Blair-starring “Romeo and Juliet on wheels” horror, ROLLER BOOGIE (1979) both emulated the first, and still the best by default, roller disco movie, SKATETOWN U.S.A. (1979).  SKATETOWN U.S.A. is a fascinating and freakish time capsule of a film, full of the music, fashions, and hairstyles of Malibu in the late Seventies.  If a future spaceman was to dig up a VHS copy of this baby, they’d be scratching their heads in confusion and wondering how society didn’t collapse in the early Eighties.  And that is exactly what makes SKATETOWN U.S.A. so fabulous in this jaded new century!

Skatetown Fashions - 1979 Style!

First of all, we must simply list the cast of this monstrosity.  We have top-billed Scott Baio from TV’s JOANIE LOVES CHACHI (1982 – 1983)and teen sex comedy ZAPPED (1982) as the manager of skater Greg Bradford (oddly, also in ZAPPED), whose sister is played by Maureen McCormick (Marcia on THE BRADY BUNCH, from 1969 -1974).  The rink is owned by midget Billy Barty, whose career spanned from 1933’s classic Busby Berkley musical GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, to Sparky the Firefly on THE BUGALOOS (1970 – 1974),  to WILLOW (1988).  Barty’s son runs the place and is played by African-American comedian and perpetual Hollywood Squares guest, Flip Wilson (the TV variety show, FLIP (1970 -1974) and the movie, THE FISH THAT SAVED PITTSBURGH,1978).  Wilson also plays his own mother in the film, sporting showgirl drag and utilizing his old Geraldine shtick.  There is a gang at the rink, the toughest gang ever to wear roller skates and perform roller-ballet with perfectly feathered hair, and they are led by Patrick Swayze in his first film appearance before he went on to fame with DIRTY DANCING (1987) and GHOST (1980).  To watch his perpetually puzzled face, you’d never peg this guy as someone who would one day become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  Other than when he’s skating (and he is quite good), he just looks like he wants to be somewhere else.  Anywhere else.  Also in the gang is ex-sweat hog Ron Palillo [from TV’s WELCOME BACK KOTTER (1974 – 1979), and such ‘classicks’ as HELLGATE (1990) and SNAKE EATER (1989)];  Ruth Buzzi from ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN (1967 – 1973) is a church lady; and Sidney Lassick (ALLIGATOR and THE UNSEEN, both 1980) is her friend.  Joe E. Ross from CAR 54 WHERE ARE YOU? (1961 – 1963) is a rent-a-cop, and Judy Landers, the blonde bimbo from DR ALIEN (1989) and HELLHOLE (1985), is a ticket taker.  Murray Langston appears both as The Unknown Comic (from the popular TV talent show, THE GONG SHOW, 1976 – 1980) with a paper bag on his head, as well as a drunk.  (Soon to be) Murdered Playboy Bunny Dorothy Stratten (she died in 1980) also appears and whines her few lines at the cafeteria— “Can I have my pizza, please?”  You also get cameos from stand-up comedians Bill Kirchenbauer, Vic Dunlap, and Denny Johnston, as the white-afro bewigged disc jockey.

The Unknown Comic is half in the bag in SKATETOWN USA

As far as the plot goes, well, there isn’t much.  It’s a typical Saturday night in the disco roller palace, SKATETOWN U.S.A.  The neon is lit, the D.J. spins the tunes, and customers swoosh in on a ramp under a dozen mirror balls.  The new guy from Malibu wants to win the disco contest. Swayze’s gang, the West Side Wheelers, also want to win (and let me just say that as a proud and out gay man, this is the GAYEST gang ever!  The extent of their criminality includes sprinkling itching powder on a Frito Bandito wannabe and wearing cute matching outfits.  Oooh, such a scary gang!  THE WARRIORS (also 1979, hmmm) had nothing on these guys).   People come.  People go.  Drugs are taken, and it all ends with a skate-off on the pier with, I kid you not, motorized roller skates.  But this isn’t about a storyline.  SKATETOWN U.S.A. is really only concerned with kitschy guest stars and lots of music.

And, honestly, even though much of the music is from the dreaded disco genre, these are easily many of the best songs from that time.  A quick perusal of the film’s stellar soundtrack gives us BOOGIE WONDERLAND (Earth Wind and Fire), SHAKE YOUR BODY DOWN TO THE GROUND (Michael Jackson), BOOGIE NIGHTS (Heatwave), the utterly awesome BORN TO BE ALIVE (Patrick Hernandez), UNDER MY THUMB (Rolling Stones by way of The Hounds), BABY HOLD ON (Eddie Money),  AIN’T NO STOPPIN’ US NOW (McFadden and Whitehead), I WANT YOU TO WANT ME (Cheap Trick), and ROLLER GIRL (John Sebastion).  In addition, we get a live concert performance from Traffic’s Dave Mason, who performs the title tune as well as the classic FEELIN’ ALRIGHT.  It’s actually quite hard NOT to tap your foot while watching this movie.

Patrick Swayze - coolest disco-roller-skater ever!

A lot of the comedy falls incredibly flat, such as Bill Kirchenbauer’s shell-shocked Vietnam-veteran doctor, but it all zips by in a wave of neon colors and loud music and some pretty great (and a little terrible) skating.  I’d blame the script, if there actually was one.  It’s accredited to Nick Castle, who started his career by playing The Shape behind the Shatner mask in John Carpenter’s classic HALLOWEEN (1978).  Castle went on to direct a few fun flicks like THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984) and TAP (1989) before unleashing the terrible movies MAJOR PAYNE (1995), and the disastrous MR. WRONG (1996), and effectively ending his directing career.  I hear he’s working again with Carpenter on the new ESCAPE FROM NEW JERSEY, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  Probably the main culprit for the failure of the comedy bits to generate any laughs would be the director—William A. Levy.  Why should we expect anything of quality to come from the man who brought us BLACKENSTEIN (1973), WHAM BAM THANK YOU SPACEMAN (1975), and THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES TO WASHINGTON (1977)?  In any case, the atrocious lack of intentional laughter is more than compensated for by the veritable cornucopia of unintentional humor.  How can you not do a spit-take during a romantic scene between munchkin Billy Barty and Flip Wilson in whore-drag?  How can you not break into giggles when Marcia Brady makes out with Arnold Horshack?  How can you stop the chuckles when shirtless Patrick Swayze dances while yanking off his belt and using it like a horse whip during a dance number?  How can you not giggle uncontrollably when the hunky hetero hero does a roller disco routine in white pants and a skin-tight pink tank-top to the Village People’s MACHO MAN, without even a trace of irony?  You can’t.  Maybe, we aren’t supposed to.  Maybe the kitsch is the point.

Maureen McCormack (Marcia Brady herself!) goes wild in SKATETOWN U.S.A.!

Some favorite lines:

“I take home the trophies AND the women!”

“We have delicious tuna milkshakes and buffalo lips on toast that smile at you.”

“I’m celebrating my vasectomy.  Wouldja’ like a drink?”

Is SKATETOWN U.S.A. a good movie?  No, not by any standards known to man.  Is it a great, campy, over-the-top nostalgic piece of kitschy entertainment?  Oh, hell yeah!  Crank up the volume, put on your mood rings, feather your hair, and enjoy the sheer silliness of the whole glorious mess.

I give SKATETOWN U.S.A. three pink tank-tops out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Remote Outpost: SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS (1973)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, 70s Horror, Devil Movies, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Satan, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2012 by knifefighter

The Remote Outpost by Mark Onspaugh

“…this venerable institution has been providing young women with a quality education and an appreciation for the arts for over 300 years. Located on several acres that look deceptively Californian, this Massachusetts landmark features a small lake, treacherous woods and more thunderstorms than the Brazilian rainforest. In addition to private rooms, each student is provided with a flammable and fragile hurricane lamp in case of a power outtage, since a flashlight would be impractical for the third act.

…have been with us for years, perhaps centuries. The headmistress, called “The Dragon Lady”, seems more befuddled than mean. The head of the art department, Mr. Clampett, serves his students large amounts of wine and advises them to “hang loose.” And the professor of psychology, Dr. Delacroix, just may be an escaped Nazi scientist…

Prospective students often ask, “Why is it necessary I be an orphan?”, “Why did the last girl commit suicide?”, and “Is Satan on the faculty?”

– from the brochure for The Salem Academy for Women


SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS is sadly not the name of the academy in this made-for-TV fun fest from Aaron Spelling, who would go on to help create horrors like DYNASTY (1981-1989), BEVERLY HILLS 90210 (1990-2000), MELROSE PLACE (1992-1999), CHARMED (1998-2006) and Tori Spelling. Aaron Spelling, whose house is about the size of Utah, also brought us CHARLIE’S ANGELS (1976-1981), which has a direct bearing on our hellish center of higher learning. (Listing Aaron Spelling’s credits would take most of the day, and there are some hugely successful shows we haven’t mentioned. Did he make a deal with the Devil? Is that why he got the Devil to do a guest spot in this movie? These are questions best left to professionals who aren’t afraid of ending up with a multi-eyed goat chasing them or having their face melt in some demonic weather anomaly… Neither of those things happen in this movie, which is too bad, but they happen with some regularity to those who piss off The Prince of Darkness, so I am going to let that sleeping three-headed-dog lie.)

We do not begin our adventure at the school, but with a pretty young girl named Martha Sayers driving a GM muscle car down a dirt road at a high rate of speed. POV shots show us she is all over the road and the tires squeal in protest. She keeps looking behind her for long beats, making me sure she was going to wrap her car around a tree or maybe one of Satan’s minions. Was this the school’s defensive driving course? Were the girls training to be chauffeurs for foreign potentates or possible GF’s for Jason Statham? The questions pile up as she passes a pay phone outside the standard “gas station in the middle of nowhere.” She stops, considers the phone. “Keep driving, you idiot!” I yell at my screen. She ignores me (they always do) and parks next to the phone. She tries to reach someone, but the party she is calling does not answer. She tells the operator that “Elizabeth” promised to be there. Before the operator can tell her this is not the phone company’s problem, our girl Martha sees a disheveled man lurch toward the phone. She tosses her cigarette and screams, runs to the car and peels out. He picks up the cig and takes a puff, and shakes his head in that world-weary way the TV homeless do.

Terry Lumley is a scream as Martha Sayers in SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.

Martha reaches a lavish house next to a lake, and pounds on the front door… No one is home. She looks through the windows, growing more and more frantic. An old man walks up carrying a sickle. Confirming that Martha is Martha, he tells her her sister had to go out to the grocery store and left the house keys with him… Martha, displaying more courage than sense, moves in close enough to take the keys… Ah, turns out he is old Mr. Red Herring, the caretaker. Martha lets herself in and does not get filleted. The old man shakes his head in that world-weary way that TV caretakers who are not murderers do.

It’s a nice home —just what does her sister do for a living? —and Martha is relieved. She looks out at the lake, thinking everything just might turn out all right… Then, she realizes something is standing behind her. She turns, and her eyes go wide and she screams —the actress, Terry Lumley actually looked crazy, which was unnerving.

NOW Elizabeth comes home. She’s played by Pamela Franklin, who was also in THE INNOCENTS (1961), NECROMANCY (with Orson Welles! 1972) and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973). She finds the caretaker and two cops at her front door. The caretaker heard her sister scream and called the police. Although Elizabeth is standing there, the cops try to break down the door—she pushes past them and unlocks it with her key. But the skimpy chain has been drawn—Elizabeth asks the cop to break in… In one of my favorite moments, he does not slam into the door, but SHOOTS THE CHAIN —had I made this movie, Martha would already have died, but now have a bullet wound, as well. Alas, this does not happen —although we never learn just where that shot went. Everyone barges in and we find that Martha has hanged herself. It’s one of the worst reunions ever.

Elizabeth is sure her sister was murdered, because she was so happy. No one has a clue that she was unhappy… Except the caretaker, who no one bothers to talk to… The little fact that he was the last person to see Martha alive seems to have been forgotten… But when cops are trying to break down doors and using bullets as keys, a lot must get lost in the shuffle.

Elizabeth decides she will find out what happened to her sister. In true 70’s transition, we see a jumbo jet take off and wing eastward. First stop, Martha’s BFF Lucy, played by Gwynne Gilford of BEWARE! THE BLOB (1972) and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987). Lucy serves sherry but keeps trying to get Elizabeth to drink some vodka… It’s a weird bit that never goes anywhere. When Elizabeth decides she will visit the school, Lucy freaks out and begs her not to tell anyone they talked. Elizabeth seems to take this is stride and leaves Lucy and her liquor cabinet for the gentle, rolling hills of Hell U.

Now, mind you, Elizabeth does not fill out any applications or go to some shady back alley for fake ID, transcripts, etc. She seems to have merely called ahead and is accepted that day for classes. This sort of thing only happens in bad movies and commercials for trade colleges. Elizabeth drives another GM muscle car (can you deduce who provided vehicles for SSFG?) and is met at her parking spot by two angels and a head case. Actually, that would be Roberta (Kate Jackson, an original Charlie’s Angel), Jody (Cheryl Ladd, the “cousin” of Farrah Fawcett’s Angel) and Debbie (Jamie Smith-Jackson), who we know is artistic because she wears a bandana on her head. Various ominous comments are made about the headmistress, who the girls call “The Dragon Lady.” To get Elizabeth ready for her first encounter with this gorgon, they give her a brandy snifter full of chardonnay —this is the sort of glass that serves as a fish tank in romantic comedies, but here it is just filled with wine, albeit, enough wine to get everyone in Hrothgar’s great hall drunk.

Pamela Franklin as Elizabeth and future Charlie's Angel Kate Jackson as Roberta in SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.

Elizabeth goes off to meet the headmistress, Mrs. Williams. She’s played by Jo Van Fleet who was in great films like EAST OF EDEN (1955), GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957), COOL HAND LUKE (1967) and THE TENANT (1976). She welcomes Elizabeth to the school and gives her a schedule of classes that start immediately. I kept yelling at Elizabeth that it was a trap, but it didn’t matter —no one discovers Elizabeth’s subterfuge until she herself admits it much later.

We meet her first teacher, art instructor and department head Dr. Clampett, played by Roy Thinnes, who did a whole slew of roles, but is best remembered by us at the Outpost for his turn as David Vincent on THE INVADERS (1967-1968). Clampett is good-looking and all the girls are gaga over him. He reviews a couple of paintings by the girls, including Debbie’s. Debbie’s painting is of Elizabeth’s sister Martha in an ancient room, looking terrified. Elizabeth makes a mental note to grill the artist later… which is probably what the school founder (hint: horns, tail, pitchfork) is also planning.

Dr. Clampett encourages them to “hang loose,” and reminds the girls he is having a wine party that evening… Can we trust him? He certainly is the sort the magazine was thinking of when they asked “What sort of man reads Playboy?” —he has the groovy clothes and one can only imagine a state-of-the-art stereo and NaugahydeÔ furniture… Probably a GM muscle car, too (maybe a Barracuda or a Road Runner), but we never see anything but his classroom.

Elizabeth questions Debbie in the hall —who was in the painting, why did she paint it, was she influenced by Seurat at all? (Sorry, that last was just me showing off.) Debbie can’t remember much, but is pretty sure she was in that room at some point, which is “down under the building.”

Next, it’s off to Behavioral Psychology… Why they are teaching this course in a fine arts college, I don’t know. It may be that the rats in the class were all they could afford for a “creep factor,” though domesticated rats are pretty low on the spectrum. The instructor here is Dr. Delacroix, played with stern intensity by Lloyd Bochner, who seems to have guested on every TV show ever made, including the role of “The Old Vampire” in THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY (1988-1992), which I must rent immediately, and THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970). Delacroix is teaching rats to run a maze and find food behind a red door. When they master that, he’ll switch to a white door, and then back again—over and over and over. While we puzzle over who is supporting such questionable research (my money is on Monsanto or McDonald’s), he demands the girls explain why he is torturing rodents. Only newcomer Elizabeth knows the answer, to “make them passive.” Delacroix takes this metaphorical ball and runs with it, saying such minds would become pliable and could be made to do anything. He’s like a Bond villain without the budget, and you kind of feel sorry for him.

After class, Debbie starts raving and freaks out, collapsing in the hall and going on about rats and red doors. Do the girls call the nurse? Do they call for a teacher? Nope, and don’t expect one to show up, either. Either the staff is deaf or students go mad with some regularity. It’s off to bed with a cold washcloth on her forehead. Roberta says they’ll watch her —if she’s not better by morning, they’ll tell the Dragon Lady. As if on cue, Debbie rouses and wants to gnaw on… a vegan snack. Or granola.

Clampett’s wine party does not, I am sorry to say, take place in his groovy bachelor pad. Just in the art studio. He is, however, the only adult and the only male. This is the sort of situation that either becomes a sitcom, a Police song or an episode of Law & Order SVU. The girls drink, Clampett leers, and a good time is had by all…

Idyllic campus life is interrupted by the news that alumni Lucy has committed suicide. Debbie remarks, “That’s two of us,” and Elizabeth pumps her for more info. During a storm of epic proportions (thunder like Thor’s hammer, doncha know), Elizabeth steals Debbie’s painting of Martha from the art studio and goes searching for a room that matches it… She goes down into the basement with just her hurricane lamp and the painting, past a room full of creepy theatrical props. Going through an empty wine cellar (no wonder, with the way everyone on campus is swilling the stuff), she finds an ancient-looking door. Beyond that door is the room in the painting. Elizabeth is scanning the room for signs of what killed her sister (cabalistic symbols, demon spoor, a hoof print or two) when she sees someone in the shadows with a straight razor. Not being a fool, Elizabeth hightails it out of there, fast.

Elizabeth goes to Roberta since she seems the most level-headed. She tells Roberta what she has seen and says that Debbie is terrified of the room in the sub-sub-basement. Roberta tells her that’s because a group of girls supposedly hung themselves in a basement room during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. She agrees to help investigate the spooky room with Elizabeth, who is now certain she saw Delacroix with the razor.

The next evening, poor Debbie makes a break for it, running off campus. Later, Elizabeth and Roberta find her in the secret room, strangled with pantyhose. They go to the Dragon Lady, and tells her it looks like Debbie is another suicide… Eh? Dragon Lady mutters she must call the sheriff. She does the old “dialing while I have my finger on the disconnect bit.” She tells the girls to wait. They look for files on the girls who committed suicide —they are missing, including Debbie’s… So is Delacroix’s file. Elizabeth tells Roberta that she is actually Martha’s sister. They search for the missing files in Delacroix’s classroom and find them conveniently placed next to his rat maze. Delacroix confronts them, sure they are in league with you-know-who. He panics at something unseen and jumps out a window.

Enter heroic and handsome Dr. Clampett. He learns Elizabeth’s true identity and tells the girls to stay put. Rather than wait for the sheriff who isn’t coming, he is sure he can talk Delacroix into giving himself up.

Delacroix runs through the woods, tripping over every root, rock and shadow. He then blunders into the lake. In a mildly creepy scene, he is nearly surrounded by girls on the dock and on shore who poke at him with long poles. In case you were wondering, none of the girls is wearing a PETA shirt, since that organization won’t be founded for another seven years.

Clampett goes to the Head Mistress and tells her he wants the school evacuated. While Roberta and Elizabeth wait patiently, all the other girls are being loaded onto buses and a van… Only eight girls are left, but Clampett assures the others he will see to them. Elizabeth, hearing the buses leave, runs out to see what is going on. Seeing that everyone is being evacuated, she goes to her own car, only to have dead and soggy Dr. Delacroix spill out of the driver’s seat.

Elizabeth goes back to Roberta, who lures her back to the secret room. She shoves Elizabeth in, where Clampett (in a black robe) waits with the other girls (all in white). Roberta, of course, is one of his girls. In a rather cool aside, she tells Elizabeth that he is “Malleus Maleficarum,” or “The Witches’ Hammer”—I had to look this up, and it’s a famous medieval treatise on witches designed to help priests and magistrates identify witches. Not sure how Clampett came by the title, but it does sound kind of cool, especially if you don’t know what the Malleus Maleficarum really is.

Clampett then explains that he “lost” his girls a long time ago, and it’s taken him “many years” to find replacements. All I can say is, this particular Son of Darkness is a real underachiever —it’s taken him over 300 years to find the right girls? Dude’s been spending too much time drinking chardonnay and listening to bebop.

Elizabeth now takes her trusty lamp and throws it at the ground. It shatters and flames spread quickly. Elizabeth makes a run for it, and no one stops her. Clampett tells his comely disciples to wait, that soon they will all be together. Elizabeth manages to get Mrs. Williams out and throws another unsafe lantern into Clampett’s path. He smiles, and goes back to the secret room, now an inferno. With no more concern than stepping into a tepid bath, he walks on in…

Elizabeth watches her brief alma mater go up in flames, sure that the guilty have been punished. On a nearby hillside, Clampett watches the fire and smiles, then fades away, leaving a patch of scorched earth with a little wisp of smoke… If you were hoping for even a cheesy devil head or man-in-a-rubber-demon-suit, I am afraid this is the only evidence you get that Clampett was indeed Satan, or, at least, one of his more suave minions.

A few burned matches pretty much covers the effects budget for SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.

For all my carping and sniping, this is not a horrible movie. True, the constraints of television at the time (1973) mean no nudity and almost no gore. Budget constraints were probably the reason we do not get a cool reveal of Thinnes as the Devil—even some modest horns and bad skin would have been fine, but alas… However, the acting is all good across the board, and Pamela Franklin’s Elizabeth is brave, committed and strong —she is proactive and every bit the heroine, never wimping out or seeking help from (the admittedly small pool of) males.

The movie was remade in 2000 with Shannen Doherty, another Spelling favorite. Kate Jackson returned to play the Head Mistress, now called the Dean. It looks like the remake is much more centered around a mini-coven of five witches who want to rule the world. I wanted to compare and contrast the movies, but only snippets of the remake seem available at this time. If I can hunt down a copy we may revisit these not-so-hallowed halls again.

One last note: I am not sure I understand the motivation of Satan finding seven orphan girls only to have them kill themselves—seems like the guy should have plenty of souls by now (almost as many as hamburgers served by McDonald’s). Why not train them to go out and spread misery and malice around the world, corrupting and terrifying the populace—wouldn’t that be more devilish and hellish? I guess when you spend all your time looking cool for teenage girls and finally manifesting your demon side as charred grass and less smoke than a Camel cigarette, our expectations of you as a The Fallen One should be very, very low.

Remote Outpost… out.

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

(Mark Onspaugh is currently editing an anthology entitled The Forsaken with Stoker Award winner Joe McKinney for 23 House. His essay, “Evilution: A Short History of Monsters from Black & White to Blood Red” appears in “Butcher Knives and Body Counts: Essays on the Formula, Frights and Fun of the Slasher Film” edited by Vince A. Liaguno for Dark Scribe Press.)

Me and Lil’ Stevie: APT PUPIL (1998)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2012, Me and Lil' Stevie, Nazis, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by knifefighter

Me and Lil’ Stevie
See Through An
APT PUPIL (1998)


( Establishing shot of a suburban high school at the end of the day, with teens exiting classes for the afternoon.  Camera pans across the campus lawn as the last bell of the day rings in the background.  The school doors are vomiting out happy looking all-American teens with their backpacks slung over their shoulders and carefree looks on their faces.  They all race to the parking lot and jump into their cool cars with their best gals and speed off to do the fun stuff that all teens do.  Camera pans back to the school doors, where one last student is sauntering out.  We zoom in closer to see that it isn’t a student, but a man carrying a ventriloquist dummy in the shape of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Lil’ Stevie:  (Dressed in a tiny Nazi costume) Sieg Heil, mine little comrades!

Peter:   Are you insane?  L.L. will never let this fly!

Lil’ Stevie: Chill out, dumbkoff!  This is legit.  It’s all a part of today’s review.  Guten Nacht, herrs and fraulines.  Ich heissa Stephen King, und…

Peter:    Stop right there, Mein Fuhrer!  Welcome, Constant Viewers, to another edition of ME AND LIL’ STEVIE.  Today we’ll be discussing the 1998 Bryan Singer film APT PUPIL.  Now, most film and comic book geeks will already recognize Singer’s name from his directorial work with the X-MEN films, but would undoubtedly be impressed with the actual number of credits he’s accumulated in his career as a writer/director/producer.  Singer is a very accomplished and talented individual, and definitely proves his merit here in King’s Dominion.

Lil’ Stevie: Which says a lot, seeing that most people tend to avoid Nazi movies like the plague!

Peter:  What the hell are you talking about?  MARATHON MAN (1976), THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978), SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009)…Don’t any of those popular titles ring a bell?

Lil’ Stevie: Oh, whatever!

Peter:   Anyway, King released the novella APT PUPIL in his 1982 collection DIFFERENT SEASONS.  This particular book has the distinction of being King’s first real departure from the horror genre, releasing four novellas that felt more like suspenseful dramas that flourished on literary merit over the blood and guts theatrics of his earlier novels.  Of course, APT PUPIL really is the darkest entry, with its roots planted in the world’s most infamous blight to humanity.

Lil’ Stevie: Now you’re talking MY language!

Peter:   The story centers around Todd Bowden (The late Brad Renfro, who was sixteen when the movie was filmed, and then was cursed to a string of bit parts in films and television until his untimely death in 2008), a straight-A student who, after studying the Holocaust in his history class, discovers that his neighbor Mr. Denker (Ian McKellen, X-MEN, 2000) is actually the Nazi war criminal Kurt Dussander.  Obviously, he…

Lil’ Stevie: In my novella, the story begins with young Todd rapping on Dussander’s door, ready to hear all about the horrors of Nazi Germany!

Peter:   You’re jumping the gun on me, so to speak.  Yeah, the story centers around a bright young and impressionable teenage boy, who happens to discover that the guy down the street is a Nazi.  The premise is far-fetched as hell, but King makes it work in the novella.  And why not?  Most people are fascinated by murder and death and inhumanity, provided that it is as far removed from their own personal lives as possible.  The Holocaust is one of the most significant events of the Twentieth Century.  Its very existence proved to the world that humans are not as civilized and gregarious as we’d like to believe we are.  In fact, it proved that mankind is still full of monsters, even when the monsters are people just following orders to protect their own lives.  We don’t like to admit it, but it is fascinating as hell…especially for high school boys who don’t understand the significance or impact that real evil holds.

Lil’ Stevie: That’s very deep, coming from YOU!

Peter:   So, Todd shows up at Dussander’s door and practically lays it all out on the table.  “I know who you are”…”I had to be sure, so I dusted your mailbox for fingerprints,”…”I’m not going to turn you in unless you do as I say!”  And what young Todd wants is for Dussander to fill in the blanks; to tell him what it was like in the concentration camps, how it felt, what he remembered.  And all under the understanding that Todd has written down everything he knows about Dussander, so if anything happens, the Feds will know what happened and how to find him.

Lil’ Stevie: The classic cat-and-mouse game.  Do you like how I pitted a young, clever high school kid against an old, frail man who happens to be a murderer back in Hitler’s Reich?

Peter:   What happens is that the REAL Stephen King ramps things up.  As Todd’s relationship with Dussander grows over time, he becomes more and more deeply enthralled in the old man’s death stories, to the point where he begins losing sleep and failing all of his classes.  Meanwhile, Dussander begins to find empowerment in reliving his old past.  Todd shows up to his house one afternoon and offers Dussander a gift.  Dussander opens the box and finds a Nazi officer costume inside.  At Todd’s command, Dussander dons the duds and begins performing drill maneuvers at Todd’s whim.  It’s creepy as hell to watch as McKellen clicks his heels with precision while turning and marching, until he throws up his hand in a Nazi salute that even causes Todd to freak out a bit.

Lil’ Stevie: McKellen is marvelous in this role.  His German accent is beyond convincing, and the conviction he gives in his performance should have given him an Oscar nod.  But since it IS a Nazi movie…

Peter:   The story continues to escalate as Dussander begins fighting back over the domination that young Todd is trying to hold over him.  First, he shows up for dinner at the request of Todd’s parents (Todd has told them that he goes to the old man’s house to read for him and do small tasks for the old man), and enthralls the Bowdens with fictitious stories about his past life and a never-ending string of lies that he has based his post-Nazi life around in becoming Mr. Denker.  And when Todd’s high school career is jeopardized by his failing grades, Dussander shows up at Todd’s guidance counselor’s office under the guise of being Todd’s grandfather.  The guidance counselor, Mr. Finch (David Schwimmer, the wimpy guy from TV’s FRIENDS), explains that he can help Todd pass his courses if he aces ALL of his exams.

Lil’ Stevie: And here begins the transition of control from Todd to Dussander, as Dussander suddenly wises up and starts taking away the power that he has given the boy.  He informs Todd that he has taken out a safe deposit box at the local bank, and has written every last detail about his relationship with Todd and placed it safely inside.  Should anything suddenly, accidentally happen to Dussander, the law will step in and take that information, and Todd will suddenly be accountable.  After all, by now Todd has known about Dussander’s secret for months and has done nothing to alert the authorities about his existence.

Peter:   It’s fascinating to watch as Todd, who has kept Dussander as his own personal pet, suddenly understands just how deep he’s gotten himself into his own mess.  Not only does he have to buckle down and make the grades (so that his parents don’t discover that he was actually poised to fail his courses), he has to make sure that Mr. Finch doesn’t catch on that he and Dussander have flat-out lied to him, and he has to make sure that nothing happens to Dussander.

Lil’ Stevie: You don’t mess with an ex-Nazi officer.  You don’t do it!

Peter:   …While in the world of Dussander, you have a frail old man suddenly rediscovering the power he once had in his prior life and letting it fill him with a new sense of purpose and invigoration.  Dussander’s flashbacks will actually lead him to turn on his oven and try to put his cat inside it, and later bring him to leading a homeless man into his house and trying to murder the man in cold blood.

Lil’ Stevie: Which will bring us to the climax of our enchanting little film!

Peter:   While trying to murder the homeless guy, Dussander slips into cardiac arrest.  He dials up young Todd on the telephone and tells him to come over immediately.  It’s imperative, as there is now a possible murder-victim in Dussander’s basement and a damning piece of information about Todd still waiting in the bank’s safe deposit box.  If the boy wants to keep his record clean, he will have to rush over and take care of Dussander’s dirty work and clean up the mess.

Lil’ Stevie: Of course, the homeless guy ISN’T dead…

Peter:   Which means Todd will finally get a taste of murder that he has been so captivated by in all of Dussander’s stories!

Lil’ Stevie: …And you say it isn’t a horror story!

Peter:   It isn’t.  And it is.  It’s hard to distinguish just how one would label this picture.  It’s a suspense thriller, to say the least.  The screenplay by Brandon Boyce follows King’s story near perfectly.

Lil’ Stevie: Not true! Not True!

Peter:   How so?

Lil’ Stevie:  The ending is TOTALLY different.  In the movie, after Dussander’s demise, Todd’s secret is discovered by Mr. French.  French shows up at Todd’s folks’ house to talk to them about Dussander and Todd’s lack of ethics, only to be blackmailed by Todd into keeping his secret.  In MY story, Todd guns down Mr. French, and then heads off to the freeway with a rifle to start picking off random motorists until he, too, is taken down.

Peter:   Wow, that’s really dark.  How do you sleep at night?

Lil’ Stevie: Like a LOG!

Peter:   Well, overall, this really is an impressive adaptation.  Renfro’s Todd Bowden is truly disturbing to watch…how he listens with relish to the old man’s stories and how he empowers himself over Dussander, even though Dussander is a notorious war criminal.  The cat-and-mouse relationship between the two is fraught with brilliant tension, and as Lil’ Stevie pointed out, McKellen is spot-on!

Lil’ Stevie: So how come APT PUPIL doesn’t get the same love as THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) and STAND BY ME (1986)?  These stories all came from DIFFERENT SEASONS

Peter:   Because APT PUPIL isn’t a feel-good movie like the other two are.  It’s not a triumph-of-the-human-spirit film in the slightest.  You don’t get that kind of movie out of Nazi-related material.  Especially when your movie has no clear-cut protagonist.  Both Todd and Dussander are terrible people.  It’s how these two terrible people interact that makes the movie so fascinating.

Lil’ Stevie: But you pointed out SCHINDLER’S LIST and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

Peter:   Yeah, one’s a bio-pic about a guy who worked to save Holocaust victims and one’s a historical revisionist piece filled with absurdist humor and anti-Nazi propaganda.

Lil’ Stevie: Speilberg’s a hack and Tarantino’s a ham!  I am the Fuhrer of Fiction!

The high school’s doors suddenly fly open, and out walk Quentin Tarantino with a machine gun and Steven Speilberg with a baseball bat.

Tarantino:  We’re here to collect some scalps!  Ain’t that right, Jew Bear?

Speilberg:  Let’s get medieval on their asses!

Peter:   Holy crap!  Let’s get out of here!

Lil’ Stevie: Auf Weidersein, folks!  See you next time!

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar

(DISCLAIMER: for those who haven’t seen the movie INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, the name “Jew Bear” refers to Eli Roth’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s film, and it is not meant in any offensive way here).


Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Dystopian Futures, Indie Horror on April 23, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: a lonely desert road. MICHAEL ARRUDA is driving a Cadillac convertible, with L.L. SOARES riding shotgun)

MA: See any vamps skulking about?

LS: Not yet. (looks at watch). Then again, it is noontime. Might be a little early.

MA: You can never be too careful.

LS: I wish you’d find a bar, or at least a Burger King.  So you’re sure the GPS isn’t working?

MA: Yep. We’re lost.

LS: Well, to kill time, I guess we could review a movie.

MA: Good idea.  You start, since I’m driving.

LS: This week’s movie is the apocalyptic vampire story, STAKE LAND.  This one, along with YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010), was a small indie horror film that got a lot of buzz in 2011. It’s on DVD now. But since nothing of interest came out this week in theaters, we figured we’d review this one.

YELLOWBRICKROAD turned out to be a disappointment. But STAKE LAND wasn’t too bad.

MA:  Yep, I would agree with that.  I liked STAKE LAND much better than YELLOWBRICKROAD.

LS:  In it, some “plague” has ravaged the world, turning some people into predatory vampires. As for normal people, there aren’t a whole lot of them left. What few remain have set up little communities where they can protect each other from the vamps. There are also some religious extremist cults scattered about, including one called The Brotherhood.

MA:  Hmm, where have we heard this story before?  I AM LEGEND, anyone?

LS: Yup. Matheson did it first.

MA: In spite of the fact that STAKE LAND tells a story I’ve heard many times before [probably my favorite variation of it is THE OMEGA MAN (1971) starring a machine-gun-toting Charlton Heston], it still works because of the way it tells it, with some good writing and acting.

Let me pull the car over, so I can concentrate on the review. (parks the Cadillac)

LS:  STAKE LAND opens with the parents of Martin (Connor Paolo) getting killed by a vampire. Along comes a mysterious stranger called Mister (Nick Damici) who is adept at killing vamps. He helps Martin exterminate the monstrous creature that killed his parents. Mister also puts Martin’s father out of his misery, before the man can turn into a vampire himself.

Now an orphan, Martin decides to throw his lot in with Mister, and the two travel around, looking for a safe place to live. Along the way, Mister schools Martin on the ways to stake a vampire and the skills of hand-to-hand combat.

At one point, they come upon a nun they call Sister.

MA: I’m surprised Paolo’s character isn’t simply called “Boy.”  While the script is imaginative, that doesn’t mean they put a lot of thought into the characters’ names, I guess.

LS: Not too much. Hey, do you think Martin’s name is a call-back to George Romero’s vampire classic, MARTIN (1976)?

MA: Maybe that’s why he’s not called “Boy.”

LS: Sister is played by Kelly McGillis, looking much older than she did in TOP GUN (1986)—but hell, that was way back in 1986! When we first see her, she’s being pursued by two crazy-looking guys who are trying to rape her. Mister stops the car and kills the two guys, and Sister travels with them for a while.

They’re also being hunted by the Brotherhood, a neo-Nazi cult led by Jebedia Loven (Michael Ceveris), who wants revenge on Mister (one of the rapists Mister killed was his son).

Mister and Martin come across some other small communities on their way to New Eden, a place in Canada which is supposed to be a paradise where people live safely and are free of vampires.

STAKE LAND was directed by Jim Mickle who also directed a decent horror flick from 2006 called, MULBERRY STREET (part of the “After Hours Horrorfest” series). STAKE is also written by Mickle and star Nick Damici (the two of them also wrote MULBERRY STREET, as well). Both men do a decent job here, and the script is compelling.

MA:  Yeah, it is. I thought the writing was one of the better parts of the movie.  I enjoyed the gritty dialogue, the characters were all interesting, and I thought the story moved along at a decent clip.  And it didn’t take me long to get into this movie.  It hooked me within its first few minutes.

(A bat flies down and turns into BELA LUGOSI, dressed as DRACULA, sitting on the hood of the car)

DRACULA: The vampires in STAKE LAND are nothing like my children of the night. Where are the fine clothes? The gracious manners? The funny accents?


DRACULA: They just attack and bite. How barbaric! What is the elegance in that?

LS: I guess the times, they are a changin’, Pops.

DRACULA: Changing for the worse, if you ask me. And STAKE LAND, what kind of title is that? It gives me the creeps. How about something more vampire-friendly, like BLOOD LAND?

MA: It has a nice ring to it.

DRACULA: Excuse me now, I must go sink my fangs into the tender throat of Meee-naaaa.

(He turns back into a bat and flies away)

LS: So I guess not all vampires are happy with this movie.

Anyway, back to the review.

Some viewers might recognize Connor Paolo from the ABC television series REVENGE, where he plays Declan Porter, the younger brother of bartender Jack Porter. Personally, I think his character Declan is annoying. However, in STAKE LAND, Paolo does a good job of making Martin a character you can root for. Martin also does some voice-overs throughout the movie, bringing us up to date on the world’s events. I liked the kid and thought he did a good job.

MA:  I agree.  Paolo does a nice job here.  He doesn’t play Martin as a goofy kid or an annoying teen, but he plays him exactly the way you expect him to be played, as a teenager who witnessed his parents being murdered, and who now attaches himself to and looks up to Mister, a man who makes it his business to kill the vampires, the creatures who killed Martin’s parents.  And as I said earlier, the writing helps here, because a lot of Martin’s voice-overs are well- written, and not in the witty/campy way either.  The script leans more towards the profound.

LS:  Nick Damici is really good as Mister, the stoic, mysterious vampire slayer who takes Martin under his wing. Damici plays the character as a typical tough guy, but his performance works, and I thought he was the best thing in this movie.

MA:  I agree again.  Damici’s Mister was my favorite character in the movie. As you said, he’s the typical tough guy, and so he’s not someone we haven’t seen before, yet the character still works because Damici makes him so realistic.  He’s not over-the-top a la Woody Harrelson in ZOMBIELAND (2009), and when he kills vampires, you believe it.  He’s tough and cool, and he’s the real deal.  It’s a very understated performance on Damici’s part.  He’s more Liam Neeson than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

LS: Yeah, he’s great in it, and he plays it smart. Michael Cerveris, as Jebedia Loven, also does a good job. With the downward facing trident tattooed on the back of his bald head (the trident is the symbol of his cult, The Brotherhood), he looks menacing, and provides a good adversary for Mister and Martin.

MA:  I liked Cerveris too, and I thought he made for a very good villain.  I wish he had been in the movie more.  I’m glad he was in it as much as he was, but the film would have only been better had he received more screen time.

LS:  Kelly McGillis is sympathetic as Sister, although I didn’t even recognize her at first.

MA:  McGillis is great, as long as you forget that she was the hottie in TOP GUN (1986) opposite Tom Cruise.  In a way, it was refreshing to see her looking her age, unlike Tom Cruise who still looks in the movies like he’s 20 years younger.  He can’t really look that good in real life, can he?

LS: Maybe he’s a vampire? He did play Lestat in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE (1994). Maybe he’s seriously into “method.”

MA: Anyway, I thought McGillis made the most of her scenes as Sister, in effect serving as Mister’s conscience for a while.

LS:  Yeah, she could have used some more screen time, too.

Along the way, a couple of other people join up with our heroes, Danielle Harris as Belle, a pregnant girl they find singing in a bar in a frontier town (Harris was also in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of HALLOWEEN, as well as 2010’s HATCHET II). You would think a pregnant woman in this situation would be more of a burden than a help, but Belle fits in just fine, and knows how to shoot a gun when she has to.

MA:  And Harris also starred in two of the HALLOWEEN movies in the original series, HALLOWEEN 4:  THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988) and HALLOWEEN 5 (1989) as the little girl Jamie Lloyd who’s terrorized by Myers in those movies.  She was excellent in those two films, and, other than Donald Pleasance, was the best part of those movies.  She’s very good here as well.

LS:  Yeah, I liked her a lot. There’s also Sean Nelson as Willie, a black Marine who they save from some vampires. He comes in useful as well, although his character could have been fleshed out a little more.

There’s also a cameo by independent director Larry Fessenden [HABIT (1995) and WENDIGO (2001)] as a bartender. Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix was one of the companies that produced STAKE LAND. Good to see Fessenden is still going strong in his support of independent horror.

It seems like the main goal of this movie is to make vampires scary again. After the sparkly, lovelorn vamps of movies like the TWILIGHT series, it’s nice to see bloodsuckers who are a bit more bestial.

(EDWARD CULLEN sticks his head out from behind a tree)

EDWARD: Hey! What’s wrong with sparkly vampires?

MA: Well, for one thing, they suck!

EDWARD: Awww, you guys don’t know nothin’ (his head vanishes)

LS: However, I do have reservations about how vampires are portrayed in STAKE LAND. Here, they’re rather animalistic creatures for the most part, driven by their thirst for blood more than any real consciousness, and they act an awful lot like all those movie zombies we’ve been seeing plenty of lately. They growl and attack and bite (even if their taste does go toward necks and blood rather than eating flesh), but they just seemed a lot more like zombies to me than vampires. The idea of the end of the world with monstrous vampires instead of zombies (who would usually be in a story like this) seems clever in a way, even if Richard Matheson did do it first, but at the same time, it’s not all that original. It’s just making one kind of monster look and act a lot like another, and I had mixed feelings about that.

MA:  The vampires here reminded me a little bit of the vampires in 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007), although I liked the vampires in 30 DAYS better.  They looked better and were a little less animalistic and more vampire-like than the creatures here, and they had a vampire leader.  Like you said, the vampires here are more like animals, which is another reason I wanted to see more of Jebedia.  He could have been that strong central leader the vampire creatures lacked.

(A ZOMBIE comes out of the woods, holding a picket sign that says “Vampires Go Home”)

ZOMBIE: How dare vampires try to cut in on our gig. We’re the ones who attack people at the end of the world, not vampires!

MA: I guess the days of zombies having a monopoly on end-of-the-world stories are over.

ZOMBIE: And they’re even acting like us now! Just wait til the Zombie Union here’s about this! They’re infringing on our turf. Stealing our jobs!

LS: You may have a point there!

ZOMBIE: See you guys later, I’m suddenly very hungry. (ZOMBIE leaves)

MA: He wasn’t too swift.  I mean, he could have eaten us.

LS: Zombies never were very smart. Luckily.

Okay, so the plot is simple enough (survivors of an apocalyptic event trying to stay alive and find a safe haven), and the characters, while mostly satisfying, are not particularly complex. I can see why STAKE LAND has been getting such positive buzz, but I do have to admit that I thought it would be even better than it is.

I give it three knives. Definitely worth checking out. A good, solid film.

What did you think, Michael?

MA: I’m pretty much in complete agreement with you on this one.  I liked it a lot too, but like you, I didn’t love it.

The best part of STAKE LAND is the writing and the acting, both of which I thought were excellent.  They took a simple, unoriginal story and made it compelling, and considering the amount of times I see movies that don’t do this, I’d have to say that making a compelling movie is easier said than done.  So, I was impressed by the actors, writers, and the director of this one.

One thing I did have trouble with, and this might have only been a problem with the DVD, but several key scenes I thought were too dark to see clearly.  I know that in general movies on DVD—or at least my DVD and TV combination— tend to play dark scenes as really dark.  It’s funny, at the movies, most scenes in the dark I can see quite clearly, but when it’s dark on my TV at home, at least on DVDs anyway, it’s often difficult to see.  Such was the case with STAKE LAND.

As a result, even though I thought the vampires looked good, in that they were hideous and scary looking, I never saw them as clearly as I would have liked.

LS: I don’t think I had any problem seeing what was going on. Maybe it’s time you got a new TV?

MA: It’s the DVD player, because I can see the movies on OnDemand and Streaming video clearly.  But a new TV would be nice too!

LS: Don’t look at me. I may have a beard, but I’m not Santa Claus.

MA: Another chink in the armor:  I didn’t think the movie had any memorable shock scenes or creative action sequences.  STAKE LAND is actually a character driven horror movie, and one of the reasons it works so well is it has the cast to back this up.  The actors are all excellent.

STAKE LAND also has an effective music score by Jeff Grace.

LS: I thought the film’s score was really good.

MA: It’s haunting and somber, and as a result really captures the mood of the film. That’s because STAKE LAND is a somber movie that takes its subject matter seriously.  Unlike the comedic over-the-top ZOMBIELAND, which was also a helluva lot of fun, STAKE LAND is anything but, yet it’s still extremely easy to watch because everyone involved is performing at the top of their games.

In terms of gore, what little there was was handled well, although again, key scenes seemed too dark to me.  I also thought the ending could have been stronger.  It was a bit too open-ended and unsatisfying for me.

But ultimately, I really liked STAKE LAND.  The story it had to tell was nothing new, but it told this story with a style and tone that drew me in immediately and kept me interested from beginning to end.  It really is a well-made little horror movie, well worth checking out.

Like L.L., I also give STAKE LAND three knives.

LS:  Excellent! We both liked this one.  Now, can we find a Burger King or some other fast food joint.  I’m starving!

MA:  How about Wendy’s?

LS:  Wendy’s?

MA:  There’s one right over there.  (points to a huge Wendy’s sign, which has been doctored to show Wendy with bloody fangs and a bloodied heart dangling from her teeth.)  On second thought, Burger King sounds much better.  Let’s keep driving.

LS:  Pull into that McDonalds.  (Sign under the golden arches reads “Billions Served Raw.”

MA:  Nah, I don’t think so.

LS:  So, where are we gonna eat?

MA:  Look!  There’s your Burger King.  (They pull into the Drive Thru.)

LS: Hey, too bad we can’t take the car inside and drive up to the counter like that idiot Jay Leno does in the commercial they’ve been playing a lot lately. (to audience) Or we could at least get a paycheck for all this product placement!

MA: So, what are the odds that this place also hasn’t been overrun by vampires?

LS:  I’d say the odds are in our favor.  Look.  (points up to Drive Thru window, where an angry-looking CHARLTON HESTON sits, holding a machine gun.).

CHARLTON HESTON:  May I take your order? (Behind him working in the restaurant are a bunch of apes.  He turns and spies an ape trying to sneak a French fry.). Get your hands off that food, you damn dirty ape!


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives STAKE LAND ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives STAKE LAND~three knives.


Posted in Uncategorized on April 21, 2012 by knifefighter






And more!!