Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Halloween 2015: October 13

Hellgate (1989)

As I mentioned in my write-up of Monster-Mania this year, I instructed the VHSPS guys to find me something “weird and eighties.” Looking at what I came home with, I realize now only one of their recommended titles was actually from the eighties. While “The Witching” and “Nocturna” were both pretty weird in their own ways, neither were exactly what I was looking for. “Hellgate” was the last title they handed me and neither seemed all that enthusiastic about it. This is why I waited until now to watch it. Having seen the flick now, I can say that “Hellgate” is very much on the wavelength of what I was looking for.

Teen girls Pam and Bobby, along with Bobby’s boyfriend Chuck, wait in a cabin for Matt, Pam’s boyfriend. While they wait, the three discuss a local legend. The myth goes that, back in the fifties, a girl was murdered by a biker gang. Her father, who operates a local western ghost town tourist attraction called Hellgate, kills the bikers in revenge. Soon afterwards, it’s said, he discovered a magical glowing rock that could resurrect the dead as bizarre monsters. Naturally, it’s all true. Matt discovers as much when he picks up the man’s daughter, now a ghostly hitchhiker. It’s not too long before all the teens wind up as Hellgate and encounter some very strange things.

As the slasher film’s popularity began to wane in the late eighties, horror directors began to throw all sorts of shit together to make a viable scare flick. Latex monster effects, zombies, ghosts, demons, and teenage characters would frequently be tossed around within the same film. Aside from maybe “Spookies,” I’ve never seen a movie that characterizes this style better then “Hellgate.” The film is an extremely off-beat combination of ghost story, cheesy special effects, horror/comedy, and urban legend. The early scenes of people telling ghost stories or a man picking up a ghostly, female hitchhiker certainly recalls urban myths. There are many oddball creatures. The main villain is a mostly silent old man with steel plates on his face. His ghostly daughter shoots lasers from her hands. The magic crystal transformed a fish into a bloated monster and a stuffed turtle into a snapping zombie. Parts of the film are meant to be funny, I think. It is frequently ridiculous, in both the intentional and unintentional varieties. If nothing else, “Hellgate” provides some incredibly off-beat horror theatrics.

Major movie stars probably weren’t lining up to appear in low budget monster movies like “Hellgate.” The movie does, however, feature a recognizable face. Ron Palillo, Horshack himself, stars as Mark. Palilo certainly can’t pass for a teenager anymore and he seems slightly embarrassed by the material, any time he has to make out with a topless ghost girl or give his girlfriend a naked massage. Still, he brings a decent sense of humor to the part. “Hellgate” has a surprisingly entertaining cast. Joanne Warde as the short-haired Bobby has a certain spunky energy that I liked. I was really hoping she’d be the heroic final girl. Petrea Curran and Evan J. Klisser, who also appeared in some bottom-of-the-barrel action movies like “Space Mutiny” or “American Kickboxer,” are both very goofy as Pam and Chuck. Not all the performances are intentionally amusing. Abigail Wolcott is hilariously monotone as the ghost daughter. The same could be said of Carel Trichardt as the murderous old man.

It’s pretty clear “Hellgate” didn’t have much of a script. The plot tosses together divergent elements. The fifties flashback, with its old-time diner, dirty bikers, and attempted rape, walks an uncomfortable line between gross and campy. As the cast wanders further into Hellgate, the movie strings together many odd set-pieces. A zombie appears in a classic car, while pasty face ghosts wander through town. A clown tells corny jokes before introducing a group of can-can dancers, who hypnotize with their dance moves. There’s a talking decapitated head in a fridge and a haunted player piano. The finale features a car chase, explosions, and a naked woman being shot through a window in slow-motion. There’s even some obvious comedic elements, like the joking redneck cops. From axe murders to spooky cemeteries, “Hellgate” throws everything at the wall.

This kitchen sink approach to the genre produced an extremely random horror movie. Director William A. Levey previously made “The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington” and “Blackenstein,” showing what an odd career he had. Yet “Hellgate” obviously has a cult following, if its recent Blu-Ray release is any indication. The VHS box art was pretty cool which may be why people remember this goofy, off-beat, shenanigans-filled horror romp. I don’t think you could ever call it good but it’s definitely kind of fun. [6/10]

Kolobos (1999)

“Kolobos” was ahead of its time. Horror in the late nineties was characterized by slick post-modern slashers, low on gore but heavy on attractive teen actors. It would only be a few more years down the line before the explicit likes of “Saw” and “Hostel” would direct the genre in a radically different direction. “Kolobos” is a surreal, gory slasher pic which is obviously influenced by Italian horror films of the seventies. In 1999, it was completely ignored, slipped onto home video with little attention, and sank into obscurity. The film’s mayhem and influences would’ve made it right at home in the post-millennial horror boom. I first saw the movie on Youtube years back and I’ve always considered it something of a hidden gem.

A girl wanders onto the streets, her face covered with cuts. Before loosing consciousness, she utters one word: “Kolobos,” a Greek word meaning mutilated. In the hospital, Kyra relates her story. She answered an open call for an independent film. Along with a former horror starlet, a stand-up comic, and a film theorist, she lived in a home where their every move was recorded and monitored. Soon, the four discovered the home was filled with hidden, deadly traps. A strange killer with a cut-off face stalks the building. Yet Kyra’s history of mental illness makes the other people in the home uncertain they can trust her. Kyra isn’t sure if she can trust herself.

Fans of Italian horror and seventies/eighties slasher flicks will recognize “Kolobos’” influences. The opening music is nearly identical to Goblin’s “Suspiria” score. A hallway full of flashing colors recalls both Argento and Bava. A victim has their face based in on a sink’s ledge, not unlike a scene in “Profondo rosso.” Another murder recalls the antler impalement from “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” (Linnea Quigley’s cameo is another deliberate homage to that film.) One of the housemates, Erica, starred in a series of eighties slasher flicks. The mask she wore is similar to the painted doll mask from “Alice Sweet Alice.” The film filters these ideas through late nineties attributes. The fashion and dialogue immediately links the film to its time period. Tina wears bopped pigtails, flared jeans, and tight T-shirts, a style that was only popular around 1999. The movie’s referential tone and film fanatic characters are not dissimilar to “Scream” and its imitators. The plot, meanwhile, points towards the reality TV genre which was just beginning to take over television at the time. “Kolobos” is basically about a weirdo slasher film invading an episode of “Big Brother.” Many of these elements made it an outlinear in 1999. In retrospect, it was seriously ahead of the curve.

Truly separating “Kolobos” from the pack is its unnerving tone. This is a horror movie that sets out to confuse and unsettle. Its foremost tool in this objective is brutal gore. The home’s booby traps are especially gruesome. Saw blades shoot from the floors and cabinets. Upbeat Tina has her gut sliced open, the girl struggling to push her entrails back in. The film critic awakes in a bathtub, acid spewing from the faucet. A claw emerges from the wall to viciously tear an ankle in two. Traps aren’t the killer’s only methods. He smashes a face into a wall. One victim is impaled, through the eye, on antlers. The sharpened point jabs through her head, brain matter dangling on the other end. Just how disturbed the movie’s killer is obviously in how he looks. Credited as “Faceless,” the murder has slashed his own face off with a straight-razor, leaving disturbing scar tissue behind. All of this is fucked up on its own. The nightmarish way the movie frames the gore makes it even more unnerving. The director team of Daniel Liatowitsch and David Ocvirk have done little since this but they showed a title for visceral horror direction and editing, calibrating each set piece for maximum impact.

If there’s any element of “Kolobos” that doesn’t entirely work, it’s the surreal, psychological scenes. Kyra is insane, that’s clear early on. She doodles disturbing pictures in her notebook. She has hallucinations of faceless people attacking her. She hears voices. What exactly is going on, and how it relates to Kyra’s disturbed mind, is never entirely revealed. Even the ending leaves a certain degree of ambiguity. That uncertain quality is confounding at first. On a second viewing you realize that “Kolobos’” disturbing tone is precisely because that surreal atmosphere. Considering Amy Weber has been both a pop singer and a pro-wrestler, she does a surprisingly good job at playing the shy, introverted Kyra. Because the movie is a nightmare, it allows its actors to go to slightly exaggerated places. Promise LaMarco and Nichole Pelerine brushes up against being annoying but somehow don’t cross that line.

“Kolobos” will probably alienate, annoy, and put off some viewers. Its ending is frustratingly non-conclusive. Its performances are intentionally arched. The gore is intense and the tone is arty. If you can shuffle onto its wavelength, you may find yourself intrigued by “Kolobos.” I first saw it in the middle of the night, while half-asleep. Perhaps this is why I was pliable to its unusual ideas. “Kolobos” functions that way, like a fever dream or a strangled nightmare. If you’ve never heard of it or seen it, seek it out and make up your own mind. You may discover something worth discussing. [8/10]

Tales from the Crypt: Surprise Party

“Surprise Party” may be one of the most bare bones episodes of “Tales from the Crypt” that I’ve ever seen. Ray Wells did not have a good relationship with his father. On the man’s death bed, he only talked to him when the issue of an inheritance came up. The old man discouraged Ray from exploring the mountain property that would soon be his. He didn’t listen. The boy discovers a mountain cabin where a seventies-themed retro party is going on. A sexy babe immediately attracts his attention. In the world of “Tales from the Crypt,” things are rarely what they first appear to be.

Stories of scumbags acting in bad ways and being swiftly punished is what “Tales from the Crypt” is built upon. “Surprise Party” does little to shake up this formula. Adam Storke plays Ray as a highly hatable asshole. From the moment he arrives at the party, it’s clear something unusual is up. Clare Hoak is lovely as Josie, in her short skirt and bobby socks. However, the seduction between the two characters takes up too much time. Jake Busey plays her vengeful boyfriend. Despite being the biggest name in the cast, Busey has a very small role. The supernatural reveal features some gnarly gore effects. However, things roll together too quickly. “Surprise Party” feels like it rushes through the episode’s most important parts. That being said, I do like the scene where Ray’s conversation with his dying father is projected on his snowy rain shield. That’s a clever way to give out some exposition and illustrates the character’s memory. There’s not much to “Surprise Party” and it may be the most disposable episode of the series yet. [5/10]

So Weird: Gone Fishin’

I’m really surprised “So Weird” didn’t get to the topic of lake monsters until this late in its existence. Molly needs a break from touring and from the kids, retreating to a secluded mountain cabin. In order to occupy them, Irene takes Annie and Jack out for a fishing trip on the near-by lake. Annie’s not that interested in fishing. She is intrigued by local stories of a monster in the lake. As the cabin’s owner sets out to hunt and kill the monster, Annie finds herself investigating the lake’s history, determining the creature’s identity.

“Gone Fishin’,” aside from that awful title, mostly feels really abbreviated. The lake monster idea is introduced half-way through the episode. It has to rush through the mystery. Annie quickly learns that the lake is man-made, created over a plot of land by a near-by dam. When Jack catches an old key with his fishing lure, she deduces that the previous owner somehow changed into a fish-man to survive the flooding. All of this is dumped on the audience in the last ten minutes of the episode. That’s sloppy. Also, I’m disappointed the monster wasn’t a sea serpent. At least the creature is kept off-screen until the final episode. The reveal is made, the story resolved, and the episode suddenly ends. The moral, about the hunter wanted to exterminate something just because he doesn’t understand, is presented in a very heavy-handed way. The thing I like the most about “Gone Fishin’” is Jack’s banter with Annie and Irene. I also enjoyed Molly's alone time in the cabin. She composes a new song, which plays over the show’s conclusion. It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve seen Molly sing without Annie overshadowing her. That’s nice. The episode is still rushed and unsatisfying. [5/10]

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