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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo: The "Robert Englund For President" Halloween Edition

Image copyright Warner (italy)

Image copyright Warner (italy)

I rarely go more than a few days without missing the horror movie conventions. I’ve been hitting Anime conventions as a staffer for about seven years now. I went to my first one in November 2004, and I added horror movie cons to the dance card in 2006. I had just accepted a staff position with a horror movie website, and they were eager to make a name for themselves by going to one of the big conventions, putting the word out, scoring some interviews, making connections, and just getting the site going in general.

It was exciting work. I had grown up on horror movies. Very few things drove my enthusiasm as a kid more than being scared. I started on horror pretty early in life. I saw A Nightmare on Elm St. 3 when I was about four, which began a minor and still ongoing obsession with Freddy Krueger and Robert Englund, and I tried very hard to read Stephen King’s It when I was about eight years old (I got through a decent chunk of it, but there was a lot of stuff about it that I didn’t quite follow). I was a kid who liked violence in his media diet, so I guess that was part of the appeal. I also just found a lot more interesting ideas, visuals and personalities in horror than I did in a lot of other things (I like science-fiction and fantasy, but they were always distant seconds and thirds to horror). It was through horror that I found my love of dark comedy.

Horror movie actors also tended to have more personality than those who were supposedly too good to identify as such. I still consider people like Lance Henriksen (I always liked Millennium more than The X-Files), Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Dee Wallace and others to be as talented and engaging in their work, as anyone who wouldn’t touch the genre with a forty-foot pole (at least Vincent would probably stick a human head at the end of the pole).

Working for a horror movie site, contributing reviews, interviews, essays, and running the news department (which turned out to be one of the most thankless fucking jobs I’ve ever had, but I’m clearly over what a profound waste of time it was), all of it was a dream come true.  That dream went into the stratosphere when I started covering the horror movie conventions.

I was with the site for a year, during which I kicked in dozens of movie reviews, interviewed people like Henriksen (who can out-drink just about anybody, and is also in possession of several billion incredible stories and jokes), Lloyd Kaufman, Jeffrey Combs, Sid Haig, Tony Todd, George A. Romero, Doug Bradley, Ricou Browning and others, ran the news department, attended two conventions as a professional journalist, and wrote long, rambling pieces on the incredible experiences I accumulated from attending the conventions. I had always been a horror fan, but I truly lived and breathed the genre for the year that I worked at the site. It demanded a constant turnout of material, but I didn’t mind. I believed in the site, I loved what I wrote about, and I was happy to have a chance to get in on the ground floor of something that could lead to even bigger things.

I quit the site over the unfortunate subject of money. There’s a lot of pro-bono work in my career up to this point, a lot of art for the sake for art, and I was okay with that for a long time. I’m still okay with that. I just couldn’t do it for a straight year, all the while feeling like I was the only one who really wanted to see the site succeed. The site has been gone for years now, but I’d still like the 2 or 300 dollars I’m still owed. It’s kind of nice when you get paid for the work you did. I’m certainly a fan.

I went to a Monster Mania in May 2006, and then I covered a Chiller Theater in October 2007 (the highlight of which was probably when I helped hold back Robert Z’Dar from murdering teenagers who had vandalized a hotel room). It would take a series of articles to go through everything that happened during those conventions, the people I met, things like the visit to Manhattan on a freezing night to see the Evil Dead musical. So I won’t go through everything. I’m not sure how interesting it would be to other people.

But it was fantastic for me. I went to one more horror con in May 2007, and it was fun, but I was no longer working for the site by then, so it wasn’t the same. I met great actors like Brad Dourif, caught up with the friends I had made over the previous two conventions, and never knew quite what to do with myself at a convention I wasn’t staffing or covering as a journalist.

The conventions still run to this day, and I’d still give anything to meet Englund, or another one of my heroes, Roddy Piper, but the circumstances just haven’t played out in my favor.

I don’t have a lot of physical artifacts from those conventions. I have the few autographs I accumulated (including one for Tony Burton, who signed and gave it to me for free, as I was ranting about the horrible day I had been having), and I still keep in touch with two people I met (it’s always worthwhile to harass the lovely, talented writer and actress Barbie Wilde), but I can’t say I have a whole lot to really show for my time at those conventions. I got some great on-the-job training as a journalist though, which is nice considering I haven’t gone to college, and I have stories that those close to me are very, very, very, very tired of hearing.

I was burnt out on horror for a long time after I quit the site, but I still watched things, still appreciated the best of the genre. I don’t watch horror with the same dedication I once did, but I still watch it, and I still love it.

And it was just common sense to me that I focus on horror movies here today. These are all movies I’ve either been meaning to see, meaning to finish, or they’re just titles that caught my eye on Netflix. I guess I’m just happy to be writing about horror again. I’ve missed it. I’d even like to go back to those conventions someday.

The Anime conventions I staff at are great, but those are a whole other thing. 

Black Sabbath (1963): A+

Mario Bava is credited with the invention of the Giallo (horror, eroticism, mystery, murder, and the occasional shot of pure, deranged fantasy) genre, and for crafting some of the most enduring, best-made Italian horror movies of all time. It’s hard to argue with evidence like Black Sabbath, which hasn’t lost much, if any, of its chilling beauty, masterful tension or blunt shock value. Boris Karloff looks like the scariest homeless man in history, narrating and appearing in “The Wurdalak.” Perhaps the best of the three stories featured in this timeless anthology, “The Wurdalak” features a phenomenally unsettling Karloff, as a patriarch who returns home after killing a vampire, but immediately raises the suspicions of those around him that he became a vampire himself.It might be the most well-known in the set, and it is a great example of Bava capturing despair and madness in gorgeously haunting, bleak surroundings, but the other stories are worthy parts of the whole movie, too. “The Telephone” is as suspenseful and well-acted (Michele Mercier hits every note perfectly as a call-girl being stalked by the violent phone calls of an ex-pimp who has just broken out of prison). “The Drop of Water” could be looked at as the weakest of the three, but it still has a nightmarish, fairy tale quality to it, and the road to the climax is as well-paved here as it is in the other two films. Any one of the stories in this film are prime examples of horror in general, but as an anthology, as three stories under the umbrella of a single film, Black Sabbath is a masterpiece of not only horror, but of all cinema.

Inkubus (2011): D+

Robert Englund, William Forsythe, and a supporting cast that tries very hard, are just about the only reasons to even suggest this convoluted, stupid mess of a demon (Englund) wrecking havoc on the officers, prisoners and other people in a run-down police station. Englund could deliver this kind of growling, charismatic evil in his sleep, and Forsythe is a veteran of intensity, but this is nowhere the best work from either man. The only thing I really took from Inkubus’ silly storyline, weak characters and dull pace was a hope that Englund goes back on his promise to never play Freddy Krueger. He’s still got it, and he deserves better than this.

Warlock (1989): C-

Warlock is pretty fucking silly, and I would imagine it was pretty fucking silly when it was released over twenty years ago. It’s considered by some to be a cult classic, and I can actually understand why. For it’s ludicrous, Terminatoresque story of a Warlock (the very effective Julian Sands) battling a witch-hunter (Richard E. Grant) across the 17th and then 20th centuries, for Lori Singer being extremely annoying in every single scene she’s in, and for its disappointing finish, Warlock is oddly likable for the most part. It’s usually insulting when a stupid movie treats itself as seriously as Oscar bait. And although Warlock goes about its ridiculous story with a pretty serious face, the performances and silliness keep a sense of fun going that carries the movie nicely. It’s a good movie to watch with friends who can appreciate a good dated horror movie.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982): C-

The only sin that director and writer Tommy Lee Wallace is really guilty of with Halloween III, as far as I’m concerned, is the sin of not having Michael Myers. Quite frankly, Halloween III, which is not without some pretty noticeable flaws (the story has a Invasion of the Body Snatchers quality to it, but the ending lacks even a passing resemblance to the unforgettable conclusion of Body Snatchers), is a hell of a lot creepier, and just better overall, than most of the sequels that featured The Shape. Tom Atkins has always had a “Sleaziest Man in the History of the 1980’s” quality to him (I think it’s the mustache), but he’s good here, as a doctor who uncovers a plot a by genocidal toymaker (the wonderful Dan O’Herlihy) to murder millions of children, with Halloween Masks powered by pieces of Stonehenge (makes sense). Stacey Nelkin is fine, as the woman whose murdered father is what gets the whole thing going in the first place. Halloween III has an interesting premise that gets dumb sometimes. But the creepy score (composed by Halloween director John Carpenter, and Alan Howarth), some nice gore effects, and a genuinely unsettling concept (I like horror movies that aren’t afraid to kill children, because at least then I know I’m watching something where no one is safe) go a long way. It’s a film worthy of surprising people with its good points.

Equinox (1970): C

Equinox was made on a budget of 6500 dollars. And it shows. Equinox consists of amateurish acting, special effects that looked crude even in its day, and a weird story of four college kids running afoul of Satan while visiting their professor in a cabin in the woods. It might strike someone as great Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder. It could be, but as Rifftrax has proven, any movie can supply those guys with material. There is down-to-the-bone charm about this film, featuring simple-but-appealing stop-motion animation, that just makes it more enjoyable than you might think. I’m not surprised Forrest J. Ackerman lent his voice in a cameo. This is pure Famous Monsters of Filmland silliness, and the movie gets a lot of good stuff out of its performances, story, clever camera tricks and economic-yet-effective special effects. I’m also not surprised this movie is able on the Criterion label. It definitely qualifies as culturally significant, and it’s a wonderful example of creativity and energy overriding budget.

Demons (1985): B-

Demons is another good example of a movie that’s really pretty stupid when you get right down to it, but this Italian blood and guts fest, produced and co-written by the legendary Dario Argento, packs so much violence, over-the-top personalities, 80’s heavy metal and bizarre flashes of humor into its extremely simple plot involving demons running amok on a movie theater full of idiots. You’re not going to get the suspense you get with Argento’s best films, but you are going to get something that’s intense, unrelenting and a lot of really ugly fun. Fido (2006): B+ I grew up on zombie movies, and I still love the ones that drove that affection for so long, but I’ve come to be pretty damn sick of the genre. New stuff has a hard time catching my attention, and I’ve even gotten to a point where I’m wary of zombie films that shoot for comedy (fuck you, Zombie Strippers). I liked the trailer I saw for Andrew Currie’s (he also co-wrote the screenplay), but I just wasn’t eager to see a zombie movie the way I used to be. I put off seeing Fido for ages, and I wish I hadn’t. Currie could have gone in any number of directions with this alternate universe, one in which America has built a series of idyllic, small, Leave it to Beaver-like towns around the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, and where the zombies are utilized as servants and companions (the endlessly fantastic Tim Blake Nelson steals everything to do with this movie as a scientist who gave up his career for a zombie wife). The movie could have drowned in satire, or it could have taken the “1950’s Americana, but with zombies!” joke and looped it to the point of nausea. Instead, he keeps the satire to a minimum, plays the story with a cheerfully-absurd-and-yet-somehow-serious tone, and lets great actors like Dylan Baker, Billy Connolly (playing the title zombie, and proving yet again that he is an extremely diverse and brilliant comedic actor), Carrie-Anne Moss and K’Sun Ray (who has since gone on to be arrested for attempted burglary) give performances that hit all the right notes to make that tone and story work. Fido is the kind of horror-comedy that I wish wasn’t so hard to come by. It works as beautifully as a fun fix for zombie geeks as it does for everyone else.