Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Equinox (1970) The Movie That's So Awesome It Doesn't Care If You See The Strings

Every so often, you hear about or read about or catch a glimpse of a movie that is full of beans and spunk that if it was a living person, you'd want to party with it. And if you told it you could see the strings supporting its special effects, it would belch in your face then win a bar fight with a broken pool cue. The 1970 drive-in classic Equinox is just such a film. It doesn't care that you can practically taste the stop-motion on the animation. It scoffs at the fact that you can see the strings in special effects shots. When you nervously chuckle that it looks as though it was made like a student film, it suggests you pull its finger.

Truth be told, your assessment of it as a student film wouldn't be far off. Much of the film was originally made in 1967 as a short film project by Dennis Muren (Star Wars fans might recognize his name - he won his first of six Oscars with one), and only cost around $6500. Once it was picked up, film editor Jack Woods (who also plays Officer Asmodeus in the film) was credited with directing the additional parts. It played in drive-ins and on late-night TV for years. It's been said that it has inspired, in part anyway, much of the Evil Dead franchise, and it's not hard to spot the similarities. Finally released in 2006 as part of the Criterion Collection, you now can hold the magic in your hands and lovingly gaze upon it with your own eyes.

Equinox is told mostly in flashback, as four college kids head into the woods for a picnic, and to meet one of their professors, Dr. Watermann (sci-fi author Fritz Leiber). There's a bit of a prologue that shows one survivor scurrying in fear onto a highway before being run down by a driverless car. Before that, it was Dave (Edward Connell), Susan (Barbara Hewitt), Vicki (Robin Christopher), and Jim (Frank Boers, Jr.). You might know Frank Boers, Jr. under a different name: Frank Bonner. You might know Frank Bonner better as this guy:

That's right. Herb. Freakin'. Tarlek. You know, WKRP In Cincinnati.

While wandering around the woods, they find Watermann's cabin demolished and empty. They also see a strange castle on a cliff in the distance, cliffs that are "too steep for the girls to climb" according to Dave. They find a cave and hear distant cackling inside. Eventually running into a bizarre old man, they're put off by his apparent good-natured insanity until he hands them an ancient book. As strange as finding an old cave, a mysterious castle, a skeleton, and a goofy old codger might seem to the rest of us, our brave students take it all in stride by having their picnic. Upon investigating the book, they find that Dr. Watermann has tampered with the forces of evil, engaging in the occult version of "I'll just try a little bit, just to see if I like it." This is part of the reason his cabin is such a mess.

Never let Cthulu borrow your summer place.

Dr. Watermann suddenly appears and tries to steal the book back before falling into a small creek and dying. His body disappears, leaving the students wondering what weirdness will occur next. Not to mention the devil's own Smokey the Bear, Officer Asmodeus, is popping up once in a while with PSA's about clean campsites and not seeing anything unusual.

Things get curiouser and curiouser as Officer Asmodeus attacks Susan with an Evil Make-Out Session, but is chased off by the cross she wears. Knowing certain symbols of good might protect them as they're pursued by the forces of evil who want the book, the four set out to see if they can solve the mystery of this weird tome. Before too long, they meet this guy:

Cloverfield + Dr. Zaius = the Equinox Beast-Ape-Thing

In a surprising upset, they manage to kill the thing before splitting up so they can prepare to leave, and to maybe gather some proof that something weird is going on. Susan loses her cross and starts with the possessed attitude, being all "c'mere, Vicki, I'm going to get evil all over you." Another symbol of good knocks her to her senses and they figure they'd better act fast.

Asmodeus tries to step in where he can, even offering a deal to Jim - all the women, money, and southern Ohio radio sales he can imagine. Okay, maybe not that last thing, but Jim does resist and tries to reunite with the others to make an escape. Dave wants to keep the book to help cure Susan, but Jim wants to leave the book behind. On an open plain where the dimensions cross - the Equinox - they battle a

In this corner, Andre the Giant meets Grape Ape.

While fighting this big boy, Jim accidentally runs into the barrier separating the worlds of good and evil - yes, that same Equinox - and Dave sprints inside to save his friend. What we know, and what Dave doesn't, is that Jim has already run into Asmodeus and it didn't go well. Dave finds who he thinks is Jim and pulls him out of the parallel world. Jim exhibits strange speech patterns, stiff body language, and bruised eyes, which are apparently signs of evil. Asmodeus reveals himself and beats down Dave before changing into his favorite park ranger persona, then that of a strings-be-damned flying demon:

Soaring onto teens' death metal shirts the world over.

Asmodeus claws his way into Vicki's heart and severely injures Susan before Dave rescues her by forcing a cross into Asmodeus' view. Susan struggles with her dark side as they escape into a cemetery, and take refuge behind a huge cross as Asmodeus explodes against it. Susan apparently dies in the resulting series of supernatural explosions as we now pick up where the prologue started. Dave sees an ominous dark figure that warns him that he'll be dead in "a year and a day." Then, running, driverless car, injured Dave - and we return to the present, back at the loony bin where Dave's been since his brush with the forces of evil.

He loses his cross while having a crazy spell and we find out that it is indeed now exactly a year and a day since Dave was found. The reporter working on the story that required the flashback leaves the screaming Dave behind as another visitor approaches the sanitarium: Susan.

We hear more screaming from Dave as the end title card reminds us that this is "The End...?" Yes, a question mark. Way to punctuate yourself into my heart, movie.

It was like time stopped while watching this movie. I was a kid again, watching old drive-in movies on lazy Saturday summer afternoons. There was no Internet, no message boards, no source of information available to a kid about movies other than a friend saying, "You have to see this, it's AWE-SOME!" It's easy to be influenced by so many sources these days. We've all seen so much, but somewhere along the way - hopefully never lost - is that ability to throw "exacting standards" aside and enjoy something silly and full of hopeful energy.

And that, my friends, is Equinox.

The movie had its little interesting tidbits as well. The Criterion Collection DVD features an introduction by the legendary Forrest J. Ackerman, who is also the voice on the tape recorder interviewing Dave, which leads to the flashbacks. Imagine my surprise when I found that the assistant cameraman was none other than actor, activist, and Spinal Tap drummer, Ed Begley Jr.:

Equinox probably won't be for everyone. It's silly and cheaply-made and absolutely worthy of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. But the filmmakers worked wonderfully with what they had, and the film has that swagger of a friend you know is probably going to get you in trouble but you can't help but love anyway.

Creative spirit, fellow survivors, that's the key. Now go get some popcorn and enjoy.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

[REC] 2 (2009) Yep, Afraid Of The Dark Again

It's no secret I'm a gigantic fan of the masterful Spanish horror film [REC]. Go back and read my review of it to see just how lovingly I spoke of it. When I heard a sequel was in the works, I had one of those rare reactions to news of a continuing story: joy. It wasn't going to be just a sequel with different characters, same story as the first, but with a bigger budget and more "Hollywood-like" promotion. It had some of those traits, but it was more than those. It did have different characters, but in a logical way. The story is only the same because it's a continuation of the first movie. In fact, it starts about 15 minutes after [REC] finishes. It dives in and doesn't look back for one instant. Well...maybe one instant, but that's towards the end of the movie, and I'm not spoiling it here because it's a chiller.

I'll tell you now: this review won't be like most others. There won't be a detailed blow-by-blow here. The entire movie is pretty straightforward and full of spoilers that you really need to see for yourself. So let me give you some of the basics and we'll go from there...

Not long after the first movie ends, a special operations group prepares to enter the quarantined apartment building along with a member of the Ministry of Health in order to get some control of the situation. There's some nostalgia for the viewer upon entering that old building. There's that enormous bloodstain in the lobby along with empty handcuffs attached to the stairs. It's about then you remember something that the new characters don't know: not all of the infected died and you know they're just running around somewhere in this building. Revisiting (well, for us anyway) the penthouse, there's a little reminder of what the characters are dealing with through the pictures, the Evil Dead-like tape recording, and the murky atmosphere.

After some eerie music starts playing in an apartment, one of the special ops team runs afoul of some infected and quickly becomes one himself.

They lock him in a room and the dude from the Ministry of Health drives a knife into the door, then hangs a rosary from it. This actually stops the infected. Yeah, and that guy from the Ministry of Health? Owen is his name, and he's from a ministry, all right, but it's not the one of health. He's an agent of the Vatican with a license to exorcise, and he's kicking ass and taking rosary beads. The other officers aren't too happy about being deceived, and they're even more perturbed when they discover the real reason they entered this death trap: Owen needs to obtain the blood of the first possession victim, NiƱa Medeiros, kept somewhere in the darkened, ruined apartment that was home to a previous Vatican agent who experimented on Medeiros. Oh, and for a glimpse at the Medeiros girl, watch the ending of [REC]. Yeah, that's her. Shiver at your convenience now.

There are several attacks on Owen and the officers, and some by very recognizable faces from the first movie:

Around the confusion of one attack, a seemingly uninfected man is killed and thrown over the guardrail. The agents catch a glimpse of another party of uninfected people before another wave of attacks occur, splitting them up - which is never a good thing, face it. A frantic and revealing skirmish with the little girl from the first movie that ultimately ends the point of view from the agents' lone camera.

The film goes back a bit and starts down a different path as we meet three young pranksters who are high on adventure and daring-do. They think descending into the sewers and coming up into the quarantined building will be a hoot. Not exactly. They meet one of the firemen from the first movie who didn't go inside, and the father of the infected little girl, who are desperately trying to reach their friends and family inside. They find themselves locked - rather, welded - inside the apartment building. From there, it's a parallel story to that of the special operations team until they all meet up in an apartment. That pivotal scene leads to the final, white knuckle, screaming descent of the roller coaster as the ultimate push to either finish the mission (according to Owen) or simply survive begins.

I honestly can't get into the rest of the movie here. I could, and I could spoil everything for you, but I don't want to do that. I want you to go into this movie with the same blank slate I did, knowing what might happen, but feeling that thrill along the way as you discover what actually does happen. The ending is chilling not so much for what you see, but for what you could see if the film hadn't ended. And that's all I'll tell you. Even the lead-up to the ending includes clues and tip-offs that are better left uncovered by you as you watch.

[REC]2 is a brilliant sequel in my eyes not only because it's wild, intense ride, but because it's a logical progression from the first film. You see characters from the first one - logically - because they've been infected and weren't "killed" in the first movie. Scroll back and see that picture with the bald fireman to see what I mean. If you'd seen the first movie, you know who that is.

When you have entries in the "found footage" or "cinema verite" genre, there are inevitable comparisons to The Blair Witch Project, simply because that was the film that made the mainstream audience aware of the style. Makes some sense, but the films are worlds apart. There was one film that the [REC] series compares favorably to, and that's Demoni (Demons) from 1985, and a film that I gushed about in another review. I'm not the only one who saw that similarity, as my friend Jim from Movie Brain Rot mentioned it to me as well in a discussion. A dark setting and rapid infection from a nefarious source, nasty fluids and frantic escape plans - it's a nod and a wink, however intentional, to Lamberto Bava's Demoni.

Without spoiling anything for you, allow me to list a few indelible images and scenes that make [REC]2 so much of a trip

* Revisiting old settings: the lobby, the penthouse, the bloody landing, the fabric store. You definitely should see the first one again to fully appreciate it all.

* The building itself, a character in its own right. It's like a labyrinth, and seems larger on the inside than it does outside. The apartments seem to go on forever, especially in the dark.

* Ah, the dark. The darkness itself is not only a brilliant mood-setter, but much more important of an element than you think. Trust me, you'll see.

* The rocket. I'm sorry, but one scene involving some fireworks made me laugh out loud.

* The continuity. You'll find yourself saying, "ah, so that's where that came from." Not only that, but the camera manages to catch important establishing shots that allow you, the viewer, to figure certain things out. A film that makes you use your brain? *gasp*

* The "interference" that crops up here and there on the film. Watch when it occurs, and it only adds to the chilling air of what's happening.

* There's a scene involving a small pool of water that will give you shivers when you wrap your mind around what happens. See my reference to the "darkness" above.

* The ending. Yeah.

It's safe to say that I love this movie, and that's not just because I watched a pair of stinkers before it. [REC]2 has everything I love in a horror movie: thrills and chills, an enthusiastic air about it, clever use of atmosphere and setting, moments that let you figure out the details, a feeling that you can't control what's happening thanks to a better use of first person than most "found footage" films. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but from what I've seen, the tea table I'm sitting at is crowded.

Now, who wants biscuits?

Until next time, fellow survivors, the rules remain the same: don't get bitten. Now enjoy the trailer for this fine film, [REC]2:

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tooth And Nail (2007) You Lost Me At The Setup

Even the most outlandish post-apocalyptic story needs a believable setup. You can get drawn in by Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later because how does the apocalypse happen? Sickness. The sickness may not really exist, but we as viewers can buy that a disease can spread quickly through bites or bodily fluids. Sometimes war is the reason the world ends. Civil unrest. Natural disaster. Those reasons move forward quickly and leave little room for escape. For the most part, they don't make you scratch your noggin and say, "wait, what?"

In the film Tooth And Nail, the world ends because it runs out of gas. Try to wrap your mind around that. Runs out of gas. It's assumed that the whole world will grab their collective heads and start screaming like escaped lunatics. Running out of gas just seems to me like too slow of a burn to create a dystopian landscape and normal people reverting to wanton cannibalism. Yeah, I know, Dawn of the Dead is cannibal city, but as I said before: it's a sickness that's quickly and logically spread.

I couldn't get past the "no gas" thing. Even with a pretty decent cast and the basically good premise of survival of the fittest, Tooth And Nail couldn't hold my interest for long periods of time. It had its moments, believe me. It wasn't a total lost cause, but it remains largely forgettable. Still, let's jump into the synopsis:

A group of survivors called Foragers chase off a nasty fellow (Vinnie Jones) after discovering him slitting some poor sap's throat. They rescue a woman, Neon (Rachel Miner) and take her back to the abandoned hospital where they've been living with a group led by Professor Darwin (Robert Carradine) who for once was not being pursued by this guy:

No, the Rovers of the movie looked more like Vinnie here:

The Foragers are split on whether they should keep Neon around, but realize they're still human at least. One of the Foragers, a tough guy called Viper (Michael Kelly) storms off. During the night, a Rover sneaks in and slits the throat of the Lambda Lambda Lambda alumnus before dragging him off to an unknown, but likely fire-roasted, fate. The Foragers argue about whether or not Neon had anything to do with it but pretty much decide she didn't.

Meanwhile, outside, Yukon (Zach Robidas) searches for the Professor out on the tennis courts. C'mon, Yukon, you know those nerds don't play tennis! To show him the error of his ways, a gang of Rovers attacks him, wounding him before he gets away and back into the hospital. He doesn't get far before he's hacked up by Jackal (Michael Madsen, who also produced).

The Foragers survive this round, but still aren't the most trusting of Neon. She's met them before, telling her story of escape after the Rovers attacked her group of twenty in a grocery store. The Foragers, now led by Dakota, decide to try and escape during the night. That's all fine and good, but the Rovers are still hungry. See, they're cannibals. They're not just mean guys or members of Alpha Beta. OK, that's the last Revenge of the Nerds reference. I've gone to the well too many times with that one.

Most of the Foragers do a decent job of hiding, except for skinny Max, who is hacked up and dragged off. Jackal almost gets a hold of Dakota, but mute little Nova shoots him and - I think - kills him. I think we're supposed to assume he's dead. I don't know.

Somewhere else, after some naughty action together, Ford (Rider Strong) and Torino (Alexandra Barreto) run afoul of some Rovers before a distant trumpet calls off the hunters. Since when are there rules in an anarchic, post-apocalyptic gang? Oh, well. Maybe it adds to their cruel nature. Ford takes a nasty wound to the leg and has to be fixed up by Dakota.

Dakota and Neon argue about who should be leading the group, and that's when Neon shows her true colors: she's a Rover. Not only that, she's apparently the leader. She clocks Dakota and shoots Torino before taking her rival to Rover headquarters. They lock her away and return to the hospital to fetch the others. Just in time for a rescue is Viper, who shows his bad-ass Hawkeye (of Marvel Comics' Avengers) side a few times before taking a spear in the back during a rescue attempt at the hospital.

Nova hides from a pursuing Mongrel before tricking him into an old walk-in freezer and locking him inside. Dakota finds Torino dead, having bled out from her gunshot wound, and Ford, who's in no condition to go anywhere. She gives him some pain killers and sets out to find Nova. She finds the girl, but Neon shows up to ruin the fun and there's a standoff. Neon leaves Dakota to a fellow Rover, but Dakota gets crazy on the guy and throws acid in his face. Dakota's had enough and joins KISS to get her revenge:

The Rovers are living high on the hog, or rather the cooked carcasses of Ford and Torino, but dinner turns out to be pretty heavy. The Rovers start passing out just as Warrior Dakota shows up and methodically slaughters them all, including a pretty impressive shot to Neon's head:

Turns out Dakota gave Ford some pain killers. Turns out she gave him - and Torino - a BUTTLOAD of pain killers. The Rovers ate Pain Killer Pie, pretty much. Dakota gathers up a still-alive Nova and leaves the city to an uncertain future.

Ah, well. The parts were there, but as a whole, Tooth and Nail just didn't whet my appetite for good post-apocalyptic horror. That premise, the one with the "we just all ran out of gas," didn't hold water at all, and weakened the entire plot from the get-go. The cast was really good and despite some early missteps as to creating sympathetic characters, we do eventually care about a few of them. The gore was appropriately heavy, which will please some gore fans, I'm sure. But on the whole, I'd rather spend time with this "Tooth and Nail":

That's right. Dokken, baby!

Well, dear survivors, at least the only cannibals we have to deal with shuffle and groan at a much slower pace. And aren't led by a guy who might break out into a dance to "Stuck In The Middle With You."

Be safe!

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monster (2008) Surprised They Didn't Call It "Grovershield"

You know, I probably should have known what I was getting into.

Maybe it was because I had devoted nearly all of my brain capacity to studying for the two Praxis tests. Maybe it was the constant groans of the undead finally shutting off my common sense. Maybe I just wanted to poke myself with a stick to see if it would hurt.

It did. But I can look back on it and laugh now.

The Asylum is known for putting out so much cheese, it should be served with wine. Wine from a box. They are the company behind Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus, starring Deborah Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas. I don't make this stuff up, folks. I can totally get behind a movie idea like that, I'm not afraid to say. They're also known for "copying" blockbuster films into lesser versions of themselves - "mockbusters" - like a funhouse mirror that makes you look like a cheap knock-off of yourself. Kind of like if Steve Zahn looked into a mirror and saw me. I can get behind a certain, knowing "wink" to major blockbusters, but they appear to lack originality even in copying other films. Still, it's kind of fun to see what films they pay "tribute" to: Transformers becomes Transmorphers, The Day The Earth Stood Still becomes The Day The Earth Stopped, and so forth. They even did Titanic 2, for crying out loud! Ow, my sides!

Monster is a direct knock-off of Cloverfield, which as you may know, is a "found footage" style telling of a monster invasion as seen through a first-person lens. And when I say "direct knock-off," I am absolutely not kidding. Cloverfield is about a group of young people filming their escape from New York City after a monster invades from the sea. Monster is about two young sisters filming their escape from Tokyo after a monster invades from maybe the sea. The similarities just keep coming...

Mysterious explosion caught on camera to start the carnage? Check.

Lengthy lead-up to instigation of action? Check.

"I think I saw something [in all the smoke/fire]" line of dialogue? Check.

"We have to record this so people will KNOW" line of dialogue? Check.

The monster seems to be around every corner and down every street? Check.

On-camera apologies and goodbyes to parents? Check. Oh, wait, that's The Blair Witch Project. But it's here, too.

There are other wonderful surprises, though, not owing anything to any other movie:

* The deus ex machina American character, Justin, who arrives from the 70's just in time to explain things in English to our main characters.

* The presence of caves in mid-town Tokyo.

* "That's the first time I've ever seen a dead body" - said about a random guy on the street, even though Justin died just a few minutes before that, and apparently right in front of them.

* The "improvised" dialogue with lines like, "This tunnel will take us right to the streets of downtown Tokyo."

* The video cut-outs, which seem really varied and randomly-placed. I didn't know a video camera could cut out in so many ways. I thought it just, you know, cut out.

* The lack of any payoff shots of the monster, which seems to be a series of tentacles flailing through the air and a distant roar that sounds like someone trying to start a conversation, "uuuhhhhmmmm!"

* The beautiful instance of bustling people just milling about the streets despite the fact an omnipresent octopus trying to get a word in edgewise is destroying their city. In one scene, they do start running, but it isn't until one of those yawning roars sounds off. Why weren't they already in a mad dash for the hills?

* The ending. Well, it is an ending because it just stops.

So many things. So, so many things. In my head, I was hearing the angelic voices of these guys:

My heroes.

If only they could've swooped in and rescued me, but I suppose hearing their jabs and barbs in my head was good enough. Hey, they can even make a poor cat in a wedding dress seem less sad.

Was Monster a complete bomb? I can't speak for anyone else, and since it's my opinion, I'd say it's as close to a complete bomb as I've seen in quite a while. Still, it's no Hardly Working*. The two leads, Sarah Lynch and Erin Sullivan, weren't all that bad and genuinely seemed to be trying. I can't fault them for that. I also ate a really good soft pretzel during the viewing, so there was that.

* My best buddy in college and I would always use this insanely bad Jerry Lewis movie as a measuring stick for movies that were the opposite of good.

I get that sometimes there needs to be "ironic tributes" to modern blockbusters. I can get behind doing a tongue-in-cheek near-parody of a film, but I think this movie is not that. There's a hope that the novice film-renter will pick it up because it either looks like the real thing, or "looks close enough." It's the film equivalent of that relative who knew you wanted the Mr. Spock doll for your birthday, but got you the Mr. Rock doll instead.

"Live many years and thrive."

Ah, well.

Still, I don't feel angry about the experience. Every so often, it's fun to have a go at a film that just cries out for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. Or, as The Asylum might call it, Mystery Science Moviehouse 2500.

Never stop doing what you do, Asylum. Please.

Until next time, fellow survivors, don't let the unseen octopus get YOU down.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Trilogy of Terror (1975) Bonus Roots of Personal Horror

Not only is this a movie review, but it's also another in my series of blogs about how certain things have affected me throughout my life in terms of horror - my Roots of Personal Horror entries. There's only been one other entry so far, but hey, now it's a series.

It's March, 1975. I'm in first grade, and I'll be eight in July. It's a northern Michigan twilight between winter and spring. I'm at my buddy Todd's house for a sleepover when I catch a glimpse of something in a TV Guide. It's something horrible, something wretchedly terrifying to a kid. It's this handsome fellow:

Yeah, that's right. The Zuni fetish doll from the 1975 cult classic TV movie, Trilogy of Terror. My little brain, despite the presence of superheroes and dinosaurs, was absolutely sure this toothy little guy was going to sneak into where I was sleeping at Todd's house and start stabbing me. I was positive that's what was going to happen. I couldn't sleep and when I dozed, there he was, whirling through my half-awake dreams. I did the only thing I thought I could do: I screamed like a banshee-in-training. Still a blur, but I think I calmed down eventually but I would have nothing to do with that little Zuni joker. I refused to look at picture of it for years. Even now, about 36 years later, I still hear the ghost of my seven-year-old self whimpering when I see a freeze-frame of "He Who Kills."

It occurred to me that I had never actually watched Trilogy of Terror. I should have by now. I mean, the trailer for Dawn of the Dead frightened me in 1978, and I faced that (obviously). The voice of little possessed Regan in The Exorcist made me cold with terror when it aired on broadcast TV, but I eventually faced that one down, too. Yet Trilogy of Terror eluded me.

No longer, dear readers. I pushed this baby to the top of my Netflix queue and it is now viewing history. And allow me to say this: it was worth the wait.

You know when a movie starts off with a title card over the actual film itself, it's scoring points in my book. Barely a few minutes into it, and the movie is already in the plus column. Did I mention that the three stories are based on the writings of the legendary Richard Matheson? Oh, and did I mention that the top star of each piece of the trilogy is the beautiful and talented Karen Black? And, oh, did I mention that Trilogy of Terror is directed by Dan Curtis, who helped bring the iconic gothic soap Dark Shadows to the viewing public, and who introduced us to the wily Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) in The Night Stalker, AND who directed the cult classic Burnt Offerings? Yeah...seriously winning points with me here.

Before jumping in, I'll warn you of spoiler material and black out the revealing sentences - highlight them if you want to take a sneaky peek.

The first story in Trilogy of Terror is "Julie," and if you look at the title card picture above, you'll see the characters Chad (the "douche") and Eddie (the "you'd-better-not-do-that sensible friend"). Chad is a privileged horndog who bets his friend he can bed their stuffy literature teacher, the titular Julie Eldrich. Chad makes advances and invites Julie to a drive-in to catch a horror film (actually clips of Night Stalker). He drugs her and brings her to a motel, where he takes provocative and - it's suggested - overtly sexual pictures of the unconscious teacher. Chad blackmails Julie into a dominant relationship that reeks of his misogynistic, douchebaggish stink. He even has a sneer. Perfect casting. I mean, Robert Burton (Black's real-life husband at the time) really nailed it.

It doesn't turn out well for Chad, though. SPOILER: Turns out Julie had been manipulating him the whole time, and she may or may not be a witch who derives pleasure from her own fear of the men in her life. When she no longer feels fear, she gets bored, and the boys get dead. She poisons Chad (great choking scene, too, by the way) and burns down his house. When the segments ends, she's meeting a new, handsome young man (Gregory Harrison in a small role) who just glows with the aura of a soon-to-be-dead-meat fellow.

The second story is called "Millicent and Therese." Black plays polar opposites in twin sisters, the prudish Millicent and the vivacious Therese. Millicent hates her twin, sure that she seduced their father and caused their mother's death. She's positive that Therese is a devil-worshipper and sex freak, and she may be right. Millicent keeps a diary of her observations, and she fears she may have to kill Therese at some point. Therese tries to seduce Dr. Ramsey (George Gaynes of the Police Academy movies), but he resists somehow. Millicent decides to kill Therese with her own black magic, and is successful in a way because...SPOILER: Millicent and Therese are one and the same, as Millicent suffers from dual personality syndrome.

The third segment, "Amelia," is the drawing power of Trilogy of Terror. Amelia, who's subletting a high-rise apartment, tries to have a social life despite being under the thumb of her domineering mother. She buys a gift for her anthropologist boyfriend: a Zuni fetish doll called "He Who Kills." You know what he looks like. I don't need to describe him. But beware, because if that gold chain is removed from his body, he'll come to life and...uh-oh, it just fell off and Amelia didn't notice.

Amelia hears little noises here and there, and sees no sign of He Who Kills, until she experiences a slight stabbing around her ankles. There's the little guy, poking her feet with a kitchen knife. He Who Kills is like a homicidal blend of the Tasmanian Devil and a Gremlin, frenetically chasing Amelia around the apartment, stabbing and cutting through everything. She tries drowning him and trapping him, to no avail.

After HWK gets all bitey, Amelia manages to throw him into an already-on oven, burning him to a wildly flailing little crisp. Amelia opens the oven to investigate the burning-Zuni-doll progress and freaks out. She apparently calms down enough to call her mother and invite her over. Amelia then crouches down - and you know it ain't good - and begins stabbing the carpet over and over before smiling...SPOILER: revealing a mouthful of thin, sharp teeth, just like that of the Zuni doll.


I made it through without screaming, but damn if I didn't feel that little crawl in the back of my neck, that slight shiver in the spine. It was 1975 all over again, only this time, I loved it.

Trilogy of Terror wasn't as hokey as I'd expected, and that's OK. Karen Black is tremendous, showing great range as each lead character. They're rich characters as well, and we get decent backstories for most of everyone who has a speaking part. The weakest segment for me was the middle one. It had an ending you could see a mile away, but it was still enjoyable. Of course, my favorite segment is the one that gave me nightmares oh, so long ago. It's taut and terrifying, and the relentless image of that doll shaking and flailing in murderous rage is unforgettable and scary as hell, even in this jaded day and age.

As for He Who Kills, who knew that one day, I could purchase him for myself years later if I'd wanted at Chiller Theater.

I didn't buy him, of course. I was too scared.

Until next time, fellow survivors, don't remove any gold chains from your kids' dolls. You know, just to be safe.

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