I can’t deny this was a bit of an indulgent Schlocktober — not a lot of highbrow viewing, but definitely an enjoyable amount of campy horror. This doesn’t include Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities anthology, mostly because I feel like I have more to say about what that series shows about the state of modern horror, but I’ll need to stew on that for a bit.
John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness
I’m a huge fan of the other two films in Carpenter’s Apocalypse trilogy, but this one doesn’t really live up to the other two. The ideas are there, but the execution isn’t. The pacing feels off—there’s no ebb and flow to it, just a steady pulse established by the opening credits. Which could be interesting, as a way to create a feeling of relentlessness and inevitability, but it just feels choppy. There are no real conversations, no real moments, just fragments after fragment.
You can definitely see how it’s meant to be a culmination of themes and styles that Carpenter has explored, how the tension of Assault on Precinct 13 and the inner threat of The Thing and the Donald Pleasance grappling with physical manifestations of evil in Halloween are meant to fuse into something more profound. And I’m here for any film that’s grappling with the fundamental nature of reality—that heady blend of pop science and Christian mysticism and occultism and high strangeness is a place I’d love more movies to end up. But this one feels like it aimed higher than it can achieve—not the worst crime, but it lands with a bit of a thud.
Most effective moments:
The dream broadcasts
Insect-voiced “pray for death”
And Calder’s laughter was 100x more eerie than any special effect
The Blob (1988)
The practical effects in this are incredible; the optical effects a little less so but still pretty effective. The pacing is relentless, exactly what you want out of a popcorn flick, and even the half baked conspiracy plot can’t slow it down.
I know we’re supposed to be down on remakes, but between this, the Fly and the Thing, the ‘80s really showed how to do ’em right—apparently the key is rubber tentacles and biological acid.
The only thing it’s missing is the Bacharach theme.
Lair of the White Worm
Delightfully ridiculous. Amanda Donohoe commits far beyond what the movie deserves, and it pays off every time. Hugh Grant less so—he seems a little embarrassed to be involved—but Peter Capaldi playing bagpipes and pulling a hand grenade out of his kilt more than makes up for it.
Is any of the ridiculous Freudian “sub”text remotely successful? Not really. But I think the movie knows that—it seems pretty likely that Russell is poking fun at the clunkiness of the novel. Is it campy and fun and great late-night viewing? Absolutely.
Terror Train (1980)
An ok but fairly unmemorable slasher, distinguished by a more than reasonable amount of time spent speculating about the role of trains in America’s future intermodal freight systems, and an entirely reasonable amount of David Copperfield doing his thing.
The remake better still use Crime as the house band.
One of those VHS cases that was burned into my mind as a 10-year-old browsing the horror racks at my local video store, but I never got around to seeing it. The films-within-the-film are great in their low-budget campiness, but that same goofiness becomes more grating when it bleeds into the “real” world of the film, especially given the more sinister tone before the big reveal.
I would still 100% go to the gimick-horror marathon in that gorgeous old theatre. The film introduces it like it’s run-down and awful, then take the dust covers off and it’s basically immaculate.
Tales from the Darkside
The gargoyle segment was the only one I remembered from watching it way back when, and it’s also arguably the weakest segment (with the best payoff, those transformation effects are incredible). That’s not much of a criticism though, as this is impressively consistent for a horror anthology. Even the wraparound story is solidly entertaining. Goofy, fun spooky-season viewing.
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight
Casting Dick Miller in anything is already a win, so Demon Knight didn’t need to do much to win me over. Billy Zane is clearly having a blast bouncing off a stacked cast. ’90s HBO does have a feel to it, doesn’t it.
Wendell & Wild
I’m not totally clear who this is aimed at? It has the general feel of a kids movie, but also on-screen murder, a plot that revolves around the for-profit prison industry, and a surprising amount of ska. Plus tardigrades, naive demons, origami theme parks, and proof of the cultural and economic importance of microbreweries. There are a lot of things happening with this movie, is what I’m saying, and as a geriatric millennial third-wave-ska-surviving stop-motion fan, by and large I enjoyed it.