Into the dark / Out of the closet

into the dark midnight kiss 2019


2.5 Stars  2019/89m

“They came to slay.”

Director: Carter Smith / Writer: Erlingur Thoroddsen / Cast: Augustus Prew, Scott Evans, Ayden Mayeri, Lukas Gage, Chester Lockhart, Adam Faison.

Body Count: 4

Into the Dark is a Hulu-produced horror anthology show with different feature-length scary tales each episode. This second stab at a slasher yarn (the first being School Spirit) opted to side-step from the usual bouncy teens set into the lives of a group of gay friends who take the chance to stay in their rich friend’s pad in Palm Springs for New Year’s Eve 2019-2020.

Unfortunately for them, a fetish-masked mystery loon has decided to send them each cryptic notes before slashing and choking them to death, starting with the obligatory shower kill. But wait, the character conventions have been flipped, so we’re in for some equal opportunity objectification and are provided with a hot muscular guy for a change.

Doubtlessly, narrow-minded types threw their remotes in disgust at the ensuing scenes of men kissing other men (though betcha bottom dollar they wouldn’t have objected to excess girl-on-girl) as the guys and their token straight female friend resurrect a NYE game known as Midnight Kiss, where they each must find a stranger to share a consensual tongue-war with, and then all other relationship restrictions are binned for the night.

into the dark midnight kiss 2019

Struggling artist Cameron is slightly out of sorts due to his controlling ex Joel’s over-celebration of his engagement to twinky Logan, who is largely inexperienced. Flamboyant Insta-gay Zachary wants to check out what he thinks will be a better party elsewhere, and Hannah is slowly getting peeved that she is the perpetual hanger-on with few options to pick up guys if they only ever go to gay venues.

Midnight comes and goes and the group go back to the fancy house to wind down, where the killer reappears and chases Cameron around for a while, until the inevitable unmasking, which marks the tripping point for Midnight Kiss, as the motive comes down to little more than the killer’s ego being bruised because one of the group kissed him seven years earlier and, well, that was it.

midnight kiss 2019

While production assets are fine, the episode just suffers from being flaccid, thrill-wise: Hot nude guys can only entertain for so long, and with few murders occurring (though the Sorority Row revisited one is neat), we’re left with a bit too much dialogue and too little action, plus a revelation that ultimately leads nowhere and is unresolved by the time the credits roll. Hellbent did it better.

Don’t You (Forget About Her)

into the dark school spirit 2019INTO THE DARK: SCHOOL SPIRIT

4 Stars  2019/84m

“Kiss goodbye to your class.”

Director/Writer: Mike Gan / Writers: Patrick Casey, Josh Miller / Cast: Annie Q, Corey Fogelmanis, Jessi Case, Julian Works, Jordan Austin Smith, Philip Labes, Hugo Armstrong.

Body Count: 11

Hulu’s horror anthology series gave us this genial little meta teen slasher pic, that pits a group of high schoolers enduring Saturday detention against a sword toting loon dressed as their school mascot.

When Helbrook High’s senior class president and all-round overachiever Erica Yang shows up for detention one week into the school year, everyone is shocked. Everyone who sees her that is, which is a group made up of substance abusers Russell, Lizzie, and Victor, shy try-hard Brett, and seconds-from-boiling-over teacher Mr Armstrong, who tells Erica he’d have seen her expelled if it were up to him. But what did she do? She ain’t about to share.

into the dark school spirit 2019

The pre-credits scene already showed us a couple of no-good-niks done away with when they snuck in the previous week to set up a digital camera in the girls’ locker room showers, and they become the two most recent additions to a growing list of missing kids from Helbrook. Stories float around of a spectral presence, a teacher who died in a prank gone wrong who eliminates all the bad kids. Weird clangs from the vents are attributed to her vengeful ghost.

School Spirit may owe a large debt to The Breakfast Club (are all-day Saturday detentions actually a thing??) by way of a grab-bag of other educational establishment slash ‘em ups, but in 2019 it’s distinguished by nicely written characters who, for a bunch of ‘bad kids’, aren’t just 1D targets for the sharp end of the killer’s weaponry: We learn about their backgrounds to a degree and even begin to care a little about their fate, something that was absent from 90% of teen horror since 2001.

into the dark school spirit 2019

Gruesome demises included a paper guillotine returned to its decapitating origins, axe to the face, screwdriver to the eye, and a cool be-feeting gag for a horny jock. There are also a couple of halfway decent chases down the empty school corridors and a hidden ‘terrible place’ a couple of the luckless detainees discover.

This may also mark the first time we’ve had an Asian final girl in an American production, which, although in the grand scheme of things is a small change, does make a difference, even if it’s to play up to stereotypes of academic excellence. This actually sets up the cheery final twist, that dares toy with the conventions of the final girl at large, but was so wacky and demented I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off.

Four stars is very possibly way too generous, but I was elated watching School Spirit: Back to basics dead-teenager goodness.

into the dark school spirit 2019

Stan 1.0

the fan 1981


3.5 Stars  1981/18/95m

“The final act is murder.”

Director: Edward Bianchi / Writers: Bob Randall (novel), Priscilla Chapman, John Hartwell / Cast: Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Maureen Stapleton, Michael Biehn, Hector Elizondo, Feiga Martinez, Kurt Johnson, Anna Maria Horsford, Dwight Schultz.

Body Count: 5

Fandom can be a dangerous thing: From annoying fan tribes who crowbar whatever artist they’re presently fixated on into every available conversation or Tweet, hijacking any and all news items to remind you how much they love X, to the genuinely frightening fanatics whose love turns deadly.

The Fan came out in May 1981, less than six months after John Lennon was shot and killed by a fan, although it had been in production since the spring of 1980 and was based on a 1977 novel. Naturally, this led to a critical backlash of some degree, in part due to the increased violence in cinema issues present in the era of a-slasher-movie-a-week.

While The Fan has more in common with the late-80s Fatal Attraction-style high-end thrillers than your common or garden Friday the 13th also-ran, it walks long enough in the territory more commonly occupied by stab-and-drip movies to be included here. Bacall is once-huge actress Sally Ross, now approaching 50 and about to debut in a broadway musical. For some time she’s been receiving letters from devoted fan Douglas Breen (Biehn), which become more and more demanding when only Sally’s secretary Belle (Stapleton) replies and upsets him by referring to him as a member of the fan club rather than, well, whatever he considers himself to be.

the fan 1981 lauren bacall

Doug’s fantasy life steps on the feet of his job, which he loses for speaking out against a ‘lazy’ co-worker (played by a young Dana Delany), and he imagines himself to be Sally’s lover – sending a graphic letter detailing just how he will pleasure her, and demanding she reprimand the secretary for her behaviour.

Still no closer to Sally, Doug decides to take disciplinary proceedings into his own hands and slashes Belle in a frenzied attack, blaming this on Sally for not replying personally to him. He then attacks another friend of hers by razoring him down the torso in a pool, again blaming Sally, and eventually forcing her to flee New York for her own safety when the next – which occurs in her own home against her housekeeper – turns fatal.

the fan 1981 michael biehn

The Fan takes an interesting turn at this point, as Douglas wanders into a gay bar and picks up a young guy for a quick hook-up. While ultimately it’s part of a ruse to fake his own death thus luring Sally back out of hiding, it offers up some questions about the type of character we’re dealing with. It’s not a stretch to imagine an over-the-hill female star of musicals being idolized by a gay male, and Doug’s earlier letters promising sexual fulfilment could nod towards a self-loathing, mom-obsessed Norman Bates-type affair. But it’s also problematic, a kind of dis-ownership in deference to blaming any one other than a straight guy for this type of behaviour – homophobia in 1980s America one year after Cruising!?

Anyway, things end after the opening night of Sally’s musical (which was pretty shoddy), when Douglas stabs a couple of hangers-on to get her alone in the theater and finally confronts her. Again, The Fan toys with us a little: Sally doesn’t shriek, she merely faces down her stalker and is able to take advantage of his starstruck position to sashay away. This angers him and he attacks her, but still Sally shows little surface-level fear, instead mocking him and reminding him she doesn’t know him, buying her the time she needs to strike back. A very engaging and diverting ‘final girl’ scene if ever there was, aided by Bacall’s significantly more vast array of acting chop than most twenty-something starlets cast as the heroine. Indeed, the top drawer casting here shows what a huge difference players who can act has on a horror film.

the fan 1981 michael biehn

Even as I typed up this review, on Twitter someone was using hashtags about a plane crash in Asia to talk up K-pop boyband BTS, which illustrates that we haven’t really come so far in almost 40 years, with ‘stan’ culture, toxic masculinity and all the other not-all-there people who can’t seem to distinguish between love and artistic admiration. But we can hope they’ll grow out of it.

Blurbs-of-interest: Michael Biehn was later in Cherry Falls and Bereavement; Dwight Schultz was in Alone in the Dark. Look out for Griffin Dunne as a production assistant.

Greaserial Mom

psycho beach party 2000


4 Stars  2000/15/89m

“Party till you drop. Dead.”

Director: Robert Lee King / Writer: Charles Busch / Cast: Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendon, Kimberley Davies, Charles Busch, Danni Wheeler, Beth Broderick, Matt Keeslar, Amy Adams, Jenica Bergere, Nick Cornish, Andrew Levitas, Buddy Quaid, Kathleen Robertson, Nathan Bexton.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “In the past I’ve had little use for you head shrinks: Ink-blot tests, ‘I hate my mother’ and all that crap.”

Possibly the only slasher film based on an off-Broadway stage show, enter this one at your own risk, for you’ll either love it or proclaim it’s the worst thing y’ever did see.

Lauren Ambrose, who would shortly after land the role of Claire in Six Feet Under, plays Florence, a plucky smalltown girl who, in the summer of 1962, just wants to learn to surf and hang out with the boys, rather than do boring girly things, like her love-rival Marvel Ann (a pre-stardom Amy Adams). She falls in with a crowd of cool kids in Malibu, led by legendary surfer Kanaka, his protege Starcat (Nick Brendon from Buffy), and their pals, who have names like Yo-Yo and Provoloney and exhibit barely repressed homosexual urges. They reluctantly allow Florence to learn with them, and dub her Chicklet.

psycho beach party 2000 lauren ambrose

Chicklet, however, has multiple personalities, the most powerful of which goes by the name of Ann Bowman, a fearless dominatrix, who may or may not be the mystery fiend who’s been murdering kids with physical imperfections around the area lately: A girl with a cleft lip is killed at the drive-in, one of the surf gang with a skin condition is hacked to pieces, the toxic chick in the wheelchair is beheaded…

Investigating is Captain Monica Stark (played by show’s writer Charles Busch), who notices the action is centered around the surf crowd, and B-movie actress Bettina Barnes, who is hiding out from Hollywood in a beach house, where ‘something bad’ happened, until she is awarded better film roles.

psycho beach party 2000

As kids turn up dead, the surf gang throw themselves a Luau, which includes a great dance-off between groups over a Los Straitjackets jam. Chicklet confides in her dorky friend Berdine that she’s concerned she has schizophrenia, which means she’s either capable of being the Butcher of Malibu Beach, or a target for them. The killer is quite obvious in retrospect, though I was having such a ball with the entire affair it caught me out.

That this was issued on an LGBT film label is relevant; it’s only a slasher flick further down the ladder of homages, waaaay below the campy love letter to goofy 60s surf movies, dripping in their homoeroticism, marrying that with B&W movie schtick, and then finally the slasher trimmings. Think Grease meets Serial Mom, which reminds me I’d love to see a 50s/60s set slasher film one day – Bobby Sox, Hotrods, and a psycho killer.

The cast look like they’re all having a whale of a time, with Ambrose’s comic timing the icing on the cake. Fabaroonie.

psycho beach party 2000 lauren ambrose

“Don’t bet on it, darlings!”

Blurbs-of-interest: Matt Keeslar was in Scream 3; Andrew Levitas was in Hellbent; Nathan Bexton was in Basement Jack.

“…And do I dream again?”

opera 1987


3.5 Stars  1987/18/103m

“Obsession. Murder. Madness.”

A.k.a. Terror at the Opera (UK)

Director/Writer: Dario Argento / Writer: Franco Ferrini / Cast: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Dario Nicoladi, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, William McNamara, Michele Soavi.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “A maniac is after me. I need your advice on what to do.”

In the days before DVD, this one was a bitch to find. Before he realised his version of The Phantom of the Opera, Dario Argento created this giallo homage to it, allegedly also inspired some way by Michele Soavi’s Stagefright, which pitted a group of stage actors against a savage killer in an unsettlingly creepy bird mask. Soavi makes a cameo here as the detective with a bit of chest pain.

Cristina Marsillach is young opera hopeful Betty, who finds herself thrust into the spotlight when the Diva of Verdi’s Macbeth is hit by a car and suffers a broken leg. No sooner does the ingenue begin her run in the role than a psychotic hooded killer begins creeping up on her, tying her up and taping needles under eyes to force her to watch as he shreds through her friends and colleagues. Could this turn of events relate to Betty’s recurring dream about her dead opera-singer mom? Yeah, probs.

opera 1987

Argento’s trademark excesses rule the roost, with lush photography and an intense score to accompany the requisite gruesome murders: One victim gets speared through the chin, another has her neck cut open with scissors, eyes are pecked out by birds, and there’s a stunning slow motion bullet through the eye. As with some of the other Italian blood feasts though, the one-dimensional characters and contrived plotting devices make things get a bit stupid, even by slasher movie standards. Knowing that the killer always creeps up on her, Betty continually wanders off on her own, while other characters linger too long and too close over the supposedly unconscious killer, or state they’ll “be safe here” when it’s clear they really won’t…

As one of Argento’s most successful releases though, if you can suspended your more superego-biased senses for 103 minutes, there’s a lot to lap up here, most of it coated in a thick gloop of grue.

Blurbs-of-interest: Argento’s other more slashery films include Deep RedPhenomenaTenebraeSleepless, and Trauma. Of those, his one-time wife Daria can also be seen in Phenomena and Tenebrae; Michele Soavi directed Stagefright and acted in A Blade in the Dark and has a small appearance as the motorcycle victim in Absurd.

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