Grab your crucifix, kiddies… it’s #ThrowbackThursday!
This week, we’re hanging on telephone and dreaming a dream of Freddy Krueger! Back in the day, Ol’ Pizzaface had his own telephone hotline (1-900-860-4-Fred; 1-900-909-Fred) where the Dream Weaver himself would tell nightmarish stories to keep you up at night!
But it did cost 2 dollars the first minute and 45 cents for each additional minute… Howl-ever, thanks to the magic of the internet, we’ve got 44 minutes of free, unfiltered Freddy goodness that’ll have screaming like this… Think of it like a bunch of one minute audio Tales from the Crypt or, more appropriately, Freddy’s Nightmares. This macabre morsels of frightening Freddy fables are the perfect thing to get you pumped for the upcoming Halloween season… so, get ready for Freddy and click on the boXXX below:
When The Texas Chainsaw Massacre hit the scene in 1974, it was huge. There was nothing quite like it to say the least. No other horror movie had presented itself in that way, so the imitators were sure to follow, although none of them would really come close. In 1980, Motel Hell would come pretty close, but just misses the mark and not in a bad way. In fact, Tobe Hooper (the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) was originally slated to direct. Whereas TCM is dark and grisly, Motel Hell has a whole lot of charm and is quite a lot of fun… you know, for a movie about kidnapping/abducting, murder and cannibalism. As much as I love TCM, you can’t say the same thing, simply because it’s not meant to be.
Motel Hell actually feels more like a cash-in of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, which wouldn’t happen for another five years. It’s odd that a film that didn’t intend on parodying the original TCM ended up blending horror and comedy decently that TCM2 would later also do. However, I don’t feel that Motel Hell is quite as dark as TCM2, not to take anything away from it still being a good film. In fact, Motel Hell was supposed to be much more dark with more violence and gore and included much more disturbing moments in the film, like a bestiality scene. There’s something the TCM films never had. In the end, the tone was lightened, the gore was used sparingly and what we got was still a fairly humorous and entertaining horror comedy armed with one of the best taglines, “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent fritters!” An obvious nod at the cannibalism in the movie, but a hint at what Farmer Vincent puts in his famous smoked meats, unbeknownst to his customers.
Along with his sister Ida, Farmer Vincent (played by legendary Rory Calhoun) run the Motel Hello – which for fun acts as the title card as the “o” in “Hello” flickers dimly – where they don’t seem to get a whole lot of customers. I guess that’s okay since they are able to keep up their farm and… well now I am just thinking about how weird having a farm and a hotel next to each other is. This is getting into Eaten Alive territory, another Tobe Hooper film. You think all those bills would be stacking up, but it seems like Vincent’s famous smoked meat is so famous, people come around from all over the place just to get a taste of his smoked meat.
For those of you wondering, yes, that pun was intentional.
But what’s in those meats that makes them taste so damn good? Well, nothing but the finest ingredient… people! Vincent and Ida set traps to snare their victims, slicing their vocal cords (so they can no longer scream), plant them up to their chins in soil in a secret garden and feed them nothing but the finest feed, even if they aren’t the finest specimens. Like, would you ever think a balding, doughy health inspector who is nosing around the farm would be tasty? Vincent sure does. How about a drug addled metal group called ‘Ivan and The Terribles,’ one of which happens to be Cheers’ John Ratzenberger? He’s only in a couple scenes and I can’t remember if he even has a line of dialogue, but blink and you could miss him. Or a swinging couple that can’t sense danger when it’s literally tying them up and drugging them. Yeah, farm life is good for Vincent. Nothing quite like waking up and being your own boss, smoking your meat and having others from all over want to savor it.
Okay, I’ll stop with all the meat smoking puns. Anywho, Vincent’s life is about the change (not to make this sound like a wacky romantic comedy, but it kinda is) when a cute victim named Terry survives one of his traps. While being nursed back to health, she understandably has some questions, like “where is my boyfriend?” Vincent informs her along with the Sheriff, Bruce, who just happens to be his dimwitted brother, that he buried the body, so everyone should move on and forget about it. And that’s exactly what happens. Terry just seems to accept it and starts to fall more and more for Vincent while Bruce is falling for Terry. Oh boy, love triangles! Except, this is kinda like a hillbilly one, so you know at some point somebody will be pointing a shotgun at somebody.
Let’s talk about Bruce for a moment. Bruce is the comedic relief in a film that is about half comedy, so needless to say that he’s probably gonna get under your skin at some point. He also comes off as possessive and stalker-ish when it comes to Terry and I know, it’s supposed to be cute and charming, but when he’s forcing himself onto her and trying to make out with her while she screams and begs for him to stop, it’s kinda hard to want to support your lead.
Rejecting Bruce and growing closer with Vincent, even Ida begins to grow jealous of her, even going as far as attempting to drown her. She’s saved by Vincent which pretty much guarantees him a ticket to Bone City, but Vincent suggests that they should be married first and she agrees. Clearly this upsets Bruce so much that he actually goes and does actual cop stuff, like investigate the scene of the accident, even though it’s, like, days or weeks later. Hey, better late than never. Meanwhile, Vincent and Ida are immediately drugging Terry so that she passes out, allowing them to get to work. So, do they plan on doing this to her every night, because it’s going to get suspicious sooner or later, right? Luckily, Vincent plans on showing her the ancient art of smoking meat, a skill that is sure to come in handy on their honeymoon. If she doesn’t go along with it, at least they can always cook her too. Unless Bruce can stop them in time and I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t have faith in him.
Look, it all boils down to a gnarly chainsaw fight between Bruce and Farmer Vincent who is wearing a giant pig’s head. The movie is awesome just for this iconic scene alone, but luckily it’s very entertaining throughout the entire movie and Farmer Vincent is a likable character even if he isn’t doing the right thing, even if he believes he is. He’s a well developed enough of a character that you kinda follow along with him, which is a good thing, because this is his movie. You spend some time with the other characters, but not enough to get to know them outside of the single trait they are given. Except Bruce who comes off as a bumbling buffoon pervert.
However, I can’t say the same about the horror aspect. It’s a film about turning people into food and yet it’s not scary. Hell, it seems like it’s barely the trappings. Even films like Blood Diner explore (or in that case, exploit) the idea of cannibalism and make it visceral, somewhat painful and gory. In Motel Hell, the characters kinda mention it here and there, although occasionally some human carcasses or limbs can be seen. I don’t know if they were hoping it would have the same impact that Quint’s speech from Jaws would have, but the horror element in this film seems a little lackluster. Same can be said about most of the humor and being a horror comedy, like Evil Dead 2 and Blood Diner, they could have really explored using the splat-stick angle (after all, we are talking about people becoming smoked meat), but the film shies away from that as well.
I still like the film, quite a bit actually. I think it’s an honest attempt at a horror comedy and although I don’t think it’s the best example nor does it reach its potential in either genre, it still does both well. A few years ago, Scream Factory released a newly restored Blu-ray that looks fantastic and comes with enough special features to cram your meathole, like Audio Commentary with director Kevin Connor, moderated by filmmaker Dave Parker, The Making of MOTEL HELL featuring interviews with director Kevin Connor, producers/writers Robert Jaffe and Steven Charles Jaffe and actor Marc Silver, Ida, Be Thy Name: A look back at MOTEL HELL’s frightful female protagonist Ida Smith, Another Head on the Chopping Block: An interview with actor Paul Linke, From Glamour to Gore: An interview with actress Rosanne Katon, as well as a theatrical trailer and a still gallery. It also was given some great new artwork.
It’s an idea that was fully realized, but once the studio thought it would be too weird, they backed down and what you get is a watered down version of that vision, but at least that still entertaining. Especially that chainsaw fight.
Yesterday, we posted a clas-sick VHS screener promo for Child’s Play featuring Chucky. Well, it turns out that Mr. Fredrick Krueger was in the VHS promo business before Chucky was even packaged! To scare up some profits, Media Home Entertainment brought Freddy out of the dream world and into the TV screens of potential clients with a 7-minute video promo. The video features Robert Englund in full fright gear, hamming it up with the panache of Hulk Hogan. At this point, Freddy was more of a morbid funnyman than an unholy terror. But we like yuks with our yucks, and Freddy knew how to slay ’em! 😉 Once a monster has had at least one truly scary film, I think they’ve earned the right to sell out. In addition to some masterful salesmanship from Freddy, there are clips from The Late Show with Joan Rivers, scenes from the first three films, news footage, and other vintage goodies. If you ever wanted an idea of how big Freddy was in the ’80s, all you have to do is watch this video.
Who doesn’t love dolls? They’re just about the only companion who will stay with you forever… your friend to the end, if you will… Yes, some dolls laugh, some cry, some blink their eyes, and some go tinkle in their pants… but the doll we prefer is a cut above the rest… Of corpse, I’m talkin’ about Chucky, the tiniest tit-an of terror since Peter Lorre! Yikes! Sorry, Mr. Ray!
Anyway, Back in the glory(hole) days of VHS, studios would send VHS screeners of their new releases to video stores to entice them to stock their shelves with those movies. Well, MGM really took it to next level with their screener for 1989’s Child’s Play! They actually got the star of the film to scare ’em straight! In this 6(66) minute video, The Chuckster goes huckster! Brad Dourif voices the killer doll, who brags about his slashing boXXX office success, (g)rave reviews, and even takes time to smack-talk Freddy and Mah Boo… not cool, Chuck!
The video also includes clips and the most ’80s theme song to ever ’80s. In short, this Child’s Play screener is Chuck-ing great! 🙂
(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thank you kindly, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)
I’ve always said that I feel Frank Henenlotter is one of the most underrated and overlooked directors of the horror genre. His films would often be a variety of a sub-genre, mainly mixing in science fiction, and not to mention for exorbitantly weird and bizarre, but also managing to have some really interesting creatures of some kind. They were often a blend of violence, gore and comedy, a feat most filmmakers can’t seem to accomplish. He showed us his dark and twisted sense of humor and visuals with Basket Case in 1982 and things only escalated from there. I enjoy all of Henenlotter’s movies, even the later Basket Case sequels, but 1988’s Brain Damage will always stick out to me as not only one of his more darker and serious films, but also his most well made.
Like all of Henelotter’s films before it, Brain Damage is sick, twisted and humorous with a bizarre creature and plenty of gory, absurd deaths that follow. However, it’s not just a sideshow of freaky acts of violence, like the director’s previous films, it has an underlining message; this one being about the dangers of drug addiction. No need to worry though, it’s not heavy handed nor is it a PSA. Although, a PSA created by Frank Henenlotter would be the best PSA ever. The dangers of drugs is not the only subtext sprinkled throughout the film, however, it also includes other exploitation goodies, like sex and rock and rock and roll. With all the combined elements, as well as dropping in good ol’ 42nd Street in New York City, it’s Henenlotter’s sleaziest film and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t get lost in trying to shock you or gross you out (even though in less capable hands it could very well have done that), but rather focuses on its characters and the events that quickly unfold resulting in most of the character’s downfalls.
The central character, Brian (played by Rick Hearst, who is a genuinely nice guy in real life) wakes up one even not feeling quite like himself and blows off his date with his girlfriend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry). Brian’s brother Mike (Gordon MacDonald) substitutes for him and right from his very first gaze upon her, there’s a telling that Mike has an affection Barbara, but more on that later, because Brain Damage wastes no time getting into the weird territory. Brian awakes in time to be feeling rather good and stares at the light on his ceiling. It seems to be breathing gently and suddenly blue water fills the room and encompasses him as he embraces it. Colors and sounds seem to come alive for him and he couldn’t be feeling better. He awakes later and notices that the back of his neck is bleeding and his bathtub is full of water and calls out for the intruder, but he – along with the audience – wasn’t ready for what the intruder would be; a black and blue penis looking monster with big, buggy cartoon eyes, but a rather pleasing and trusting voice as it says, “Hi,” named Aylmer. If you’re wondering why Aylmer sounds so familiar, it’s because that beautiful voice belong to the late John Zacherle, who did a few videos as a memorable horror host and not to mention that he also had a bit part in another Henenlotter film, Frankenhooker, as a TV Weatherman.
The scene fades from that back into Brian’s bedroom where he understandably has a few questions about what the Aylmer is and where he came from and why Brian was tripping some serious balls. Aylmer seems to be dodging the questions, but reassuring him that he is all Brian will ever need and if they go for a walk, he will explain everything. This is your first clue that Aylmer is quite the manipulative little devil with an appetite to boot. While out for their walk, Aylmer open his mouth wide, revealing dozens of wiggling, sharp teeth and injects Brian with the drug, who in turn runs into a junkyard to see and hear the colors. If you think Aylmer was doing this to be a nice guy, or um… thing, you’re dead wrong. With Brian distracted by all the sights and sounds, Aylmer uses this opportunity to devour the brains of a security guard. I’m getting the impression that Aylmer may not have Brian’s best interests in mind.
Aylmer’s drug is highly addicting and it instantly takes over Brian’s life, forcing him to end his relationship with Barbara, quit his job and even place a wedge between him and his brother. This is probably the only missed opportunity of the film, since we never really get to know Brian before he becomes addicted to Aylmer’s drug, aside from the brief moment where he is laying in bed sick. There supposedly was a deleted subplot at the beginning of the film where Brian stuck up for his brother in a bar fight, but it was scraped. Luckily, the supporting cast does a fantastic job of bringing up events from the past or their feelings towards Brian, but don’t beat you over the head with it. It’s more subtle and adds a layer to the dynamics between everyone. Brian has moments of his former self and through the other characters talking about their past relationship with him, you do catch glimpses of what he used to be.
By now, you learned that Aylmer needs to feed on human brains and catches another meal after Brian ditches Barbara at a nightclub where a punk rock chick tries to blow Brian outside. Hey, when you need some dick, you need some dick. Rather than getting a mouthful of peen, she gets a mouthful of Aylmer (he’s basically phallic shaped) who eats her brains through her mouth. This scene is notoriously referred to as the “filatio scene” and was cut from the theatrical and original home video releases for obvious reasons. It’s inserted into all following unrated releases, but even today it’s still kinda shocking and definitely oversexualized. Apparently, the crew walked out during the shooting of this scene! Wow, when you sign on to do a Frank Henenlotter film and even you find something that’s offensive… sheesh.
By now, Brian has grown suspicious of what Aylmer is up to while he’s high, especially after finding brains and blood all over the fly of his pants. This is when he’s confronted by a husband and wife who had previously lost Aylmer and we learn some of what he is and what he can do and why he ran away; because the older couple was keeping him weak by feeding him animal brains. After seeing the zombie like state of those crazy, old junkies, Brian heads off to a motel for a few days and tries to detox himself from Aylmer’s drug, who only mocks Brian while he increasingly twitches and doubles over in pain, vomiting and dry heaving until he eventually hallucinates blood pouring out of his ear like a fountain. Kudos to Rick Hearst for really selling the painful image of detoxing as he’s curled up in a ball on the floor puking his guts out and crying. Brian eventually gives in to Aylmer and heads home to find that his brother and Barbara just played a round of ‘hide the weiner,’ but it’s hard to tell at this point if he’s too high or too far emotionally gone as he warns them that they need to leave as he storms out. Barbara chases Brian down and follows him to the subway to try and reconcile things with him even though her breath still has the smell of his brother’s dong. I also want to point out that Kevin Van Hentenryck cameos as Duane from Basket Case, which I think is wild. To think that these two movies exist in the same warped world is a far out thought and how would Aylmer and Belial get along?
With Aylmer’s insatiable thirst for human brains and Brian now dangerously addicted and losing everything, he becomes desperate to cling on to what’s left of him, but can’t seem to chose between the drugs or his former self. He may not have much of a choice seeing as that older couple is just as desperate to get back Aylmer at any cost. The ending is dark and imaginative as any Henenlotter film while fitting with the tone of the rest of the movie. It certainly displays the dangers of drug use, only far more out of this world. It’s like something out of an old science fiction comic, but the film has had an overall comic book tone to it, especially the lighting. Henenlotter uses a lot of magenta against blue to make it really pop and create drastic, black shadows that the images look like they are coming to life right out of a comic book and I think that perfectly sums up Henenlotter’s film; comic books come to life.
I am beyond thrilled that Arrow Video has released Brain Damage with all the love and respect it deserves on Blu-ray and it looks marvelous. There is a whole mess of special features to be found on this two disc set, one of the best being a brand new audio commentary from director Frank Henenlotter, because I could listen to him talk about anything. He’s funny and informative and full of fun loving personality. I actually had the pleasure of meeting him not to long ago and he’s everything I described. The man brought an honest smile to my face. Other features include Listen to the Light: The Making ofBrain Damage which is a brand new documentary featuring interviews with actor Rick Herbst, producer Edgar Ievins, editor James Kwei, first assistant director Gregory Lamberson, visual effects supervisor Al Magliochetti and makeup artist Dan Frye.Then there is The Effects ofBrain Damage where FX artist and creator of “Elmer” Gabe Bartalos looks back at his iconic effects work on the film as well as a featurette called Animating Elmer. There’s even a bit that revisits the original shooting locations and I love seeing how places from a film have changed since the past. There are a few more along with trailers and still galleries and the newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck is simply awesome. Oh, there’s even a collector’s book filled with original stills and artwork!
Even if you see only one film by Frank Henenlotter, I have to persuade you to watch Brain Damage. Well, you should check out all of this man’s work and this movie simply because it’s the right amount of far out and sleaze. It’s not overly violent or gory, but the small amount of sex and overall theme of drug use makes this a movie that guaranteed to make you feel like you’re coated in a layer of filth. I’m sure some of you may need a bath after viewing it, but make sure nobody – or nothing – is in there with you.
The PG-13 rating seems to carry around a certain stigma with it these days. In the last decade whenever a new movie is released and it’s rated PG-13, it more often than not means that it’s been watered down and stripped of anything that could make it rough or edge just to sell more tickets, but given it the illusion it’s not a childish PG rated film. I’m not speaking against films that are rated PG-13 themselves, but there are instances when a movie is softened to the point of having no impact. However, that wasn’t always the case. It used to mean it actually contained content that’s more for a young adult audience, perhaps to rough for a teen audience. They contained swearing, nudity, blood and even the tones were much darker.
1986’s The Gate was only rated PG-13 and it’s pretty damn scary in both tone and some of the imagery. When I recently revisited the film on Blu-ray from Vestron Video, I was still blown away by some of the content in the movie. It’s safe to say that it was definitely way darker than I remembered. When I was a kid, it always freaked me out. I remember my stepbrother would bring it over and we would wait until after midnight to watch it, as if we were daring our senses to not get scared and rewatching it now, those feelings came rushing back. Not only that, but I realized why it had such an effect on me; it works as both a teenage adventure in the vein of something like Monster Squad or The Goonies and also as a horror film. Not something that can easily be done, but you throw in some likable characters and some killer creature effects and you have yourself a sure winner.
A really young Stephen Dorff, the man who is better known as “the guy who almost consistently has a career,” plays Glen, your average kid who likes to build model rockets and any trouble he gets into is incidental. Before leaving for whatever reason for a few days (just long enough for evil shenanigans to happen) Glen’s parents are digging a large tree out of the yard and it leaves behind a noticeably large hole that seems to contain geodes, so he invites his nerdy, metal friend Terry to help dig some up. Man, there’s something that dates the film; people having an interest in geodes. I should also mention that Glen gets a splinter covered in blood and drops it into the whole, because as we all know, anything involving demons needs blood put into something. Believing to find the mother of all geodes, possibly being a whopping hundred bucks, the two manage to crack it open. Meanwhile, Glen’s cute sister, AJ, is throwing a party downstairs and it’s getting out of hand! There’s all kinds of tomfoolery, like witchcraft and they even manage to levitate Glen, which freaks him out and sends him crying to his room. Luckily, AJ is a good sister and lets Terry spend the night. This is where things start to get freaky.
Believing that he was seeing his dead mother in the middle of the night, Terry finds Glen’s dog dead, but things start to escalate. The next day, AJ’s crush, Eric, gets tasked with taking the dog to be disposed of properly, but the place that does that just so happens to be closed… at like, sometime in the early afternoon. Maybe the keep odd hours. Well, seeing as how there’s a dead dog and a giant hole, Eric just tosses the poor mutt’s body down there and wipes his hands clean. Literally, there is a shot of him cleaning his hands. What harm could come out of unknowingly throwing a corpse down a demonic hole?
Rocking out alone in his bedroom, as ‘80s kids were prone to do seeing as there was no internet, Terry realizes that his heavy metal record seems to be speaking of a recent similar experience involving demons and a gate. It’s a good thing for Terry and Glen that the band decided to use the an entire album as a chronicling of the demons; who they are, where they come from, how to stop them, ya know, plot convenient stuff. They immediately tell Al and the three of them head out into the backyard to investigate the hole and, to their surprise, it’s covered up, so they believe whatever they did sealed away the evil, unbeknownst to them it was covered up by Eric while burying the dog. Now that the gate has a sacrifice, the real party can begin.
Everything is seemingly back to normal and while Glen and Terry have their respective company over, little demons stop by to crash the party. These demons are amazingly well done with a mix of very impressive stop motion and force perspective cinematography of actors in demon suits, so it looks like they are right there with the actors. The stop motion is so good that you can even see the demons’ chests.moving up and down, to simulate their breathing, but that begs the question why do demons need oxygen? I’m taking a jab, it’s not even a nitpick. In fact, it breathes life into the practical effects (no pun intended… okay, a little intended). The three struggle to fight off the little monsters and if that’s not enough, a zombie, the dead body of a fabled construction worker that was buried within Glen’s walls, crashes through the wall and begins taking them all away until Glen is left alone to defend himself against the evil and stopping them from taking over the world. If Stephen Dorff couldn’t stop Blade, I don’t know how he plans on stopping this thing.
The Gate is a such a wonderful movie that works well on all aspects, it doesn’t matter what it was rated. The bit of comedy works and the characters are likable and sympathetic. Terry’s backstory is hinted at here and there and although he’s given the cliched trope of ‘dead mother and father is too busy with work,’ you still feel for the poor kid. He’s comes across as troubled and he’s very aggressive toward anyone but Glen. You get the feeling that if he continues down this path, he could very well end up doing something terrible to others and himself. Of course, this film isn’t about him or his life story, but he’s developed that well. Glen and AJ have a bit of a damaged relationship now that she’s getting older and wants to be accepted by the cool crowd, so she dismisses her younger brother, but you get the notion she feels awful about it. Glen clearly is feeling the separation from his family seeing as nobody seems to want to spend time with him and his only friend, Terry, is slowly slipping away. I think the film is about regaining your relationships with others just as much as it is about demons from Hell.
And of course you have the demons, the little imps, who don’t make an appearance until the final act of the film and it’s actually better that way. I know most films now need to show something in the first five minutes out of fear of losing the audience, but with The Gate you are more engaged with the characters and just to tease you, there are hints of freaky things happening around the house. I was never bored spending time with these characters, in fact I would love to see the further adventures of (yes, I know there is a sequel that follows Terry). It’s well paced and builds up to the moment the demons arrive and when it does, it goes full out and doesn’t let up until the end. As the film goes on and spookier things begin to happen, the lighting changes dramatically. Bright blues and magentas are used in place of normal colors and the black shadows become heavier. It doesn’t reach comic book-esque levels of lighting, but it changes enough to let you know that something from another world is coming. Among some other effects aside from your minor cuts and bruises is the zombie who rather than looking like a gory, goopy Romero zombie looks instead like he’s covered in dust and decayed. Ya know, as if he were hidden in a wall, so it works. The film does shy away from a few gory shots, like when a character is stabbed in the eye with a Barbie doll leg and another’s face caves in. There are obvious quick edits around it, but it’s forgiving.
Having the film restored on Blu-ray from Vestron is worth it alone, but there are enough bonus features on the disc fill a hole in your backyard with. Not one, but two audio commentaries are present, including one with Director Tibor Takacs, Writer Michael Nankin, and Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook and another with Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Craig Reardon, Special Effects Artist Frank Carere, and Matte Photographer Bill Taylor. That’s enough for some replay value, eh? There’s also several featurettes, like The Gate: Unlocked, Minion Maker, From Hell It Came, The Workman Speaks, Made in Canada, From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate, The Gatekeepers and Making of The Gate. Do I need to mention there’s also TV spots, a theatrical and a teaser trailer along with a storyboard gallery and a BTS gallery? Because there are.
The Gate does more than fulfill my nostalgic need for ‘80s adventure and horror; it also makes me incredibly happy. I know that may sound weird about demons coming out of a hole in the ground and terrorizing kids, but there’s something very innocent and honest about the film, while remaining scary. I’m sure because of the lack of gore and swearing it managed to dodge an R rating, even though at one point someone is called a fag. Hey, it was the ‘80s and nobody knew what it really meant. Anyway, when I say there’s something honest about it, I mean that the characters and their relationships or what they are going through is so relatable and I think that’s why it not only ties into how scary the film is, but also of why it’s still reflected upon today positively.
(Submitted by his Goon-y Greatness, Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)
When Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity, I don’t think he would have imagined that it would give people superpowers or even become sentient and go on a killing spree. As we all know, electricity is basically like radioactivity in comic books; you’re pretty much guaranteed super powers. Electricity grants Horace Pinker god like powers in Shocker and can even transform a serial killer into living electricity that can travel through any current in your home, like in Ghost in the Machine. Hell, it even turned regular earthworms into carnivorous killer creatures in Squirm, but what if electricity itself was the killer? No reason, no logic, no remorse, nothing. There would be no way to stop it! Goddamn you, Ben Franklin!
And that’s the idea behind 1988’s Pulse starring Joey Lawrence, the teenage heartthrob from Blossom who would later make “woah!” a catchphrase. Of course, this is a few years before that and he’s almost unrecognizable, but once you see it, there’s no unseeing it. Although to be fair, he actually gives a good performance as a kid visiting his dad in LA when the evil electricity decides to cause mayhem. That’s basically the premise of this PG-13 horror film and I know from what I just said I am making it seem like it may be bad just because it’s PG-13, but it really isn’t all that bad even if there isn’t much going on beyond the one sentence description I gave it. The film nearly relies solely on Joey Lawrence’s performance as he spends a good majority of the film alone in the house leisurely investigating noises and so on, but you never feel like he’s in any real danger.
Joey plays young David, the child of divorced parents, so you know he already has some turmoil. Rather than bog itself down in it, the film omits any of the messy divorce baggage, but you get the idea David and his father Bill’s (Cliff De Young) relationship has weakened a bit, like friends that are growing apart. David doesn’t act out against his dad or his stepmother, Ellen (Roxanne Hart), like you see in most films about a child of divorce. David is actually calm and understanding, making him much more relatable and you kinda root for the kid. Being in LA away from his home, he has no friends or anyone besides his dad and Ellen to talk to and with his dad being too busy with work for the few scenes they attempt to have them interact. It’s a staple of the divorced-kid-visiting-one-of-his-parents kind of movie. Everyone is adjusting to the best of their abilities and it certainly doesn’t help that the neighbor is mysteriously murdered the night before David’s arrival. At least they’ll all have something to talk about right away. No awkward dinner silence.
Who or what could have done it? Nobody seems to have a clue except the good ol’, typical prophet of doom character who, by the way, is only referred to as “Old Man.” He begins spitting off stories about how the electricity is responsible for the murder, as it once tried to kill him. Understandably, everyone thinks he’s crazy. His character adds no weight to anything, not even as a motivation for David. David’s motivation comes from a neighborhood kid named Steve, played by Joey Lawrence’s real life brother, Matthew and this kid… hoo boy, lemme tell ya, this kid here. With his high pitched, scratchy cartoon voice and over the top enthusiasm, he brings a big eyed, charmingly whimsical cartoon like performance to the role, but like with most of the other characters, he has a very minimal screen time. He’s essentially there to try and give David someone about his own age to connect to and to drop some exposition on what happened in his neighbor’s house. Curious, David decides he should explore the house, but it doesn’t amount to anything.
Apparently already having selected its next victim, the electricity begins to torment David by screwing with all the electronics when he’s alone in the house. Lights flicker, the thermostat goes up and there’s an eerie blue light that darts around on the TV like an ECG and, yeah, that’s about it. There’s not much else it can do, so it screws with David’s comfort. Apparently, this is enough for him to call his mother and cry that he wants to go home, because he doesn’t feel safe. This is solidified once Ellen is nearly burned alive by hot water in the shower, leaving David and his father, who is still skeptical at this point, alone in the house. This is when the movie gets really intense and interesting. The electricity has decided it’s had enough fun and it’s time to kill them. David’s father becomes stuck in the house after nearly everything has tried to kill him. It’s up to David to rescue him, and there were moments where I wasn’t sure whether something bad was going to happen to them.
Pulse is a really simple movie with not much going on and at times it can feel like it’s dragging or perhaps a bit underwhelming, but there are other times when that works to the film’s advantage and creates tension, mostly in the final act… if you’ve managed to make it that far in the movie. It’s really not a bad movie, but I think most horror fans will find it boring and probably will have shut it off before the film’s climax. Giving the idea behind the film is somewhat absurd, I hate saying this, but I feel like this is a film that could have benefited from accidentally being unintentionally cheesy. However, some may find Joey Lawrence’s surprisingly great performance worthy of sticking around.
I think where the film suffers the most from is not having more of a relationship between David and his father, since obviously these two are going to be fighting to survive in the climax, depending on each other to make it through it. They only share a few scenes together, and you do get the idea that they are drifting apart. David is desperately trying to connect with his father who is too busy with work. Surprisingly, David builds a stronger relationship with his stepmother that the film touches on more, but again, it could have used a little more work. Roxanne Hart was fantastic as the compassionate stepmother. It seems like she’s never had to deal with kids, but manages to connect with David and is really sweet to him. Plus, she’s really easy on the eyes which isn’t a bad thing. If I were in David’s shoes, all I would be able to think about is all the pornos about your stepmother coming on to and since dad’s not home… well, maybe not at that age, but you get what I mean, right? Moving on.
There isn’t much else to say about Pulse. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, there just isn’t all that much going on, like I said earlier. Obviously, the gorehounds won’t be interested in a film that has but a mere few drops of blood and if you’re looking for a body count movie, you should look elsewhere. The single death scene that claims one victim takes place at the beginning and that’s off screen. The most visceral attack to be shown on screen – or should I say at all – is when Ellen is taking a shower and the electricity somehow manages to lock the shower door (which is not electrically locked, so… how?) and turns the heat up, causing some nasty looking blisters and nearly killing her. Cool plan and all, the effects looked great, but if the electricity really wanted to kill her, why wouldn’t it just send a current through the water? As you may be gathering from my nitpicking, the premise is extremely silly and could easily be defeated by simply unplugging stuff, grounding wires or just using common sense. It’s much like having your character do the stupidest thing imaginable in order to move the plot along, only here it’s with electricity. I found my copy of Pulse for only $6 on Blu-ray from Mill Creek. Yes, the same Mill Creek that puts out all those 50 films on a handful of DVDs released a fairly decent looking copy of this movie and at that price, it’s worth watching. Just don’t expect anything extravagant.
There’s an old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which I would use to describe the slasher boom of the ‘80s. Halloween may not have started it, but it opened the doors and after Friday the 13th, these things were coming out by the dozens. They were cheap, quick and easy to make and movie goers were eating it up so much, studios were guaranteed a profit. It was like printing money. However, like too much of a good thing, people grew tired of it and the slasher genre more or less died, at least in the way it was. Slasher films were still made after the crash, of course, but tried to sprinkle in little unique twists and turns or really developing a more psychological idea. Nothing wrong with adding your own ingredients to a pre-existing recipe. After all, it could still be really good. Maybe.
The Initiation comes to mind as an example. It was sold as a slasher film, but having come out near the end of the boom in 1984, it had more going on for it when filmmakers tried to add a little more spice to their films. It attempted to be very psychological, and wanted to add three dimensional characters you could care about with a twist ending that would shock everyone…Unfortunately, it was bogged down by the slasher formula so much that it couldn’t figure out how to pace those ideas and just dumps them all in at the end and expects it to work. It seems there are a handful of movies from that era that suffered from the same fate, as if the writer and director wanted to do something different to avoid becoming another rip off, or something that would become stale.
The film starts in familiar territory; at a campus with some sexy coeds being initiated into a sorority. Well, looks like they are quite serious with that title. One of the pledges, Kelly Fairchild (Spaceballs’ Princess Vespa herself, Daphne Zuniga), has been having a reoccurring nightmare that she is trying to kill her father while he’s going at it with her mom (Vera Miles) when suddenly another man enters the room and is set on fire. As if that isn’t stressful enough, the sorority decides as part of the initiation, they need to break into a department store that Kelly’s father happens to own. Well, what a happy little coincidence. I guess that kinda defeats the purpose of breaking and entering, but rest assured that there will be plenty of shenanigans from the stock characters and trust me, these are some stock characters. The girls get at least get somewhat of a variety with the virgin, the bitch and the best friend, but all of the dudes… they are just dudes. The kind of dudes that make dick and fart jokes and try to fuck everything. Ya know, dudes.
For some originality and depth to the plot, the film has Kelly exploring her nightmares with the help of her psychology class graduating assistant, Peter Adams (James Read). Dreams just so happen to be Peter’s area of expertise and the two explore Kelly’s nightmare and amnesia, which happened because of convenient plot device. I don’t believe it’s ever explained, but really, does it need to be? Kelly’s mother forbids her grown ass adult college student daughter from talking with Peter anymore about the nightmare or the amnesia, but do you think she’s gonna listen? Hell no! In fact, the two explore it even more resulting in an odd outcome where Kelly responds to a different last name… wonder if that could mean that her father isn’t her father? Kelly even shacks up with Peter, but this was in the ‘80s when it was okay for faculty to hook up with students. I don’t think it could hurt her grades.
The movie movie actually spends a good amount of time with Kelly and Peter as they explore the depths of what this dream could mean, but elsewhere there is a generic slasher film waiting to rear its head. At a nearby asylum, a burned up caretaker may be responsible for the escape of several inmates and the murder of a nurse. The framing of the scene sure makes it seem that way, but that would be too obvious. Kelly’s parents are contacted and informed about the escape and murder, so what could their connection be? I’m sure things are starting to become obvious, but before a light is further shed on any of this information, we have a smorgasbord of teens to kill!
Kelly and some of the other pledges along with one of the sorority sisters finally get around to breaking into her dad’s department store and this is where the movie becomes a paint by numbers slasher. One thing very notable about these victims is that this is an early example of all of the characters being annoying and stupid, so it’s hard to care what happens to them. It’s almost as if the film is self aware of this and dispatches them quickly and some what unimpressively. A couple of them are shot with a bow or spear gun, maybe a stabbed a few times. The best death happens early on in the film when Kelly’s father (who I forgot to mention was Clu Gulager) who’s stabbed in the throat and decapitated with a machete, although the latter happens off screen. The number of teens dwindles down until Kelly is all alone with only the killer. Meanwhile, Peter is trying to locate Kelly, stopping by to get information from her mother who seems a little off her rocker. It’s the classic race for survival as the identity of the killer is revealed and not to spoil anything here, but it’s quite underwhelming mixed with a questionable, “huh?” It feels like it’s coming from nowhere, as if it were added at the last moment to try and shock the audience even though nothing has built up to it and nothing indicated it prior. It’s what you would call an “ass pull” or described as “assumingly out of left field.”
The Initiation may be overly ambitious with all the ideas it has and trying to connect them all together with the twists and turns, but ultimately the interesting and creative parts take a seat about halfway through the film so it can get to the slasher tropes. Honestly, I think this film would have worked better if it were one or the other, but as it is I don’t think it’s great. I don’t think it’s bad either. In fact, I think it’s better than okay, just not great. Not to take away anything from the actors’ performances, mind you. They all do a pretty decent job, but Daphne Zuniga feels like she’s not quite there yet, with her performance feeling slightly dialed back. (Maybe slightly elevated since her bit part a few years prior in The Dorm That Dripped Blood.) You would have to assume the bar would be raised with Clu Gulager and Vera Miles on the cast, but both seem to be phoning it in and Clu Gulager is barely in the movie before he’s dispatched with. Everyone else plays their stereotyped role pretty decently, but nothing stands out to make it unique or different. Not for lack of trying, though.
At the time, a film about students spending the night in a department store was relatively original, but once Chopping Mall came along a few years later and did the same thing, you kinda forgot about this film. That’s a shame, too. Even though it may not seem like I enjoyed The Initiation, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s not the best slasher, nor is it the most original or boast some great practical effects and gory kills, it doesn’t really need to be. I think it’s fine just the way it is. Everything that could have been improved with it is still pretty good enough to enjoy on its own.
Arrow Video’s release of The Initiation might be one for the collection if you’re looking for an odd, out of the ordinary slasher. The new 2K transfer makes it look really great. Not perfect, but great enough to where it looks new, but still like an ‘80s slasher flick. There are a few extras, maybe somewhat lackluster, like with the audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues Podcast people that sounds as if it were recorded via Skype. There’s also a theatrical trailer along with a deleted scene and some new interviews with writer Charles Pratt Jr. and actors Christopher Bradley and Joy Jones, but no Daphne Zuniga for you fans out there. Not the greatest features for a movie coming Arrow’s library, but I can imagine finding features or people willing to do features for a movie like this may be a little tricky, especially seeing as it’s not nearly as remembered as most of the other slashers. However, that doesn’t mean you should pass this one up. It may not be as gory or crazy as something like Chopping Mall that does a similar premise, but it’s interesting enough to keep you watching and keep you guessing.