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Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead (DVD)

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MOH Dance of the Dead (click for larger image)Reviewed by Debi Moore

Starring Jessica Lowndes, Jonathan Tucker, Marilyn Norry, Ryan McDonald, Robert Englund

Directed by Tobe Hooper

Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment


“Dance of the Dead” was the third Masters of Horror episode to air but is one of the last to be released on DVD. Who knows why — a lot of what Anchor Bay has done with regard to marketing the series, from changing the artwork in midstream to not offering all the episodes as a box set, makes no sense to me — but one thing’s for sure: Good things come to those who wait.

When the Masters series started, it was slow going. Neither of the first two episodes set my world on fire, but “Dance of the Dead” really got to me. The images and message it sent out were creepy, unsettling, and beyond disturbing. But something about Peggy, the main character’s, actions didn’t totally convince me. It took a second viewing some ten months later for her to win me over, but win me over she did. Jessica Lowndes, a young woman with only one IMDB credit prior to “Dance,” turns in a powerful performance as Peggy — no small task considering the range of reactions and emotions the character must relay to the audience in a rather short period of time.

If you haven’t seen “Dance of the Dead’ yet, you’re probably wondering what the cause of Peggy’s woes may be. Oh, nothing much — just World War III. Our way of life is under attack by terrorists who are utilizing a new kind of chemical weapon, something called Blizz, a toxic flesh-eating, death-inducing black ash that falls from the sky. Peggy, her mother Kate, and her older sister Anna escape immediate death, but painful memories haunt Kate (Norry), whose flashbacks of when it all began are used to open up the episode. In the intervening years Peggy’s father was killed in battle; Anna, always the problem child, has become a drug addict and disappeared; and the world as we know it is forever gone. Guys like Jak (Tucker) and Boxx (McDonald) rob people of their blood and then sell it to The M.C. (Englund), who runs a wild club called the Doom Room and uses the fresh plasma to … oops, not just yet … we’ll come back to that part in a minute.

Despite the turmoil and destruction of the world around her, Peggy’s obviously still a “nice” girl, and Kate is terrified of losing her to the immoral, dangerous influences that permeate their post-war society with its brutality and “we’re all gonna die anyway so let’s party!” mindset. It isn’t long before her fears are validated as Jak, Boxx, and their girl friends come into the diner where Kate and Peggy both work. Sparks fly between Jak and Peggy (I can’t remember when I’ve seen a young couple with more soulful and expressive sets of eyes), and before you can say “apocalypse,” they’re making arrangements to secretly meet up later that night. What follows is a truly beautifully filmed, yet absolutely manic car ride with Jak, Peggy, Boxx, and Celia speeding down the road in a convertible, the wind blowing their hair, kissing and rubbing each other and ingesting all sorts of drugs and potions and god only knows what else as they head to Muskeet, home of the Doom Room and site of the final showdown between Peggy’s innocence and the truth of her situation. The car scene is at least five layers deep with anomalous things going on in front of and behind the actors. Even for just the regular, non-motion scenes, Hooper always used a multi-camera setup with the speeds set at different levels and a hand-crank camera as well, filming frontwards and backwards, to get as much coverage as possible. Editing it down to 1,100(!) cuts of no more than a few seconds each gives the film a great look and texture that makes it seem like an Impressionist painting in some places. In others, it is just as flat and bleak as it needs to be to convey the desolation and desecration of the planet by warfare. In his commentary and various interviews, Hooper is highly complimentary of Jon Joffin, the director of photography, and Andrew Cohen, the editor, for their work on the film. It obviously took a great deal of teamwork to achieve the high quality end result of “Dance of the Dead,” and all three men deserve accolades.

Robert Englund - Dance of the Dead (click for larger image)So, what exactly is going on in the Doom Room, and what’s to become of our star-crossed lovers, Peggy and Jak? Considering that early on in the film we’re shown a pair of lowlife types disposing of some naked, twitching bodies by burning them in a dumpster, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that someone’s been perfecting his animating — or rather re-animating — techniques on a few comely corpses. That someone is The M.C., whom Englund and Hooper liken to a post-apocalyptic Joel Grey circa 1972’s Cabaret, but to me he seemed more like a cross between a dissolute Lorne of “Angel” and a crazed Grandpa Munster. Mixing the plasma he gets from Jak with a nerve agent developed by the military to enable dead soldiers to keep fighting the good fight, The M.C. has his own stable of convulsing “Dead” to service his every need — yes, even those of the carnal variety. As for the “Dance” itself, that’s something I almost wish had been left to the imagination. What we see is worse than anything the rational mind could imagine. Hooper, you are one sick fuck. And one of the few true Masters of your craft. Horror is lucky to have you.

The resolution of the story is predictable, yet natural. The world and everyone in it is diseased; every alliance intact at the beginning has been broken and replaced by another. There’s no other way this saga could have ended and been true to what had come before. Writing like this is a gift … and apparently genetic. The teleplay was written by Richard Christian (“RC”) Matheson, son of author Richard Matheson, who penned the short story on which “Dance of the Dead” is based in the 1950’s. RC filled out the original by expanding the world in which the characters find themselves and adding a new twist here and there. He also upped the horror ante a bit. As he explains in his interview on the disc, he understands that because of how jaded we’ve become as an audience due to all the dread and fear to be found in the “real” world, those who work in horror need to eclipse the reality and make their stories and films even more extreme. “Dance of the Dead” definitely fulfills those criteria. The depravity of the crowd at the Doom Room and the loss of humanity by Kate and everyone else around Peggy (save Jak ) were among the most horrific things I saw all season on Masters of Horror. Hooper and Matheson set the bar pretty high for themselves come Season 2 and their next collaboration, “The Damned Thing” (also coincidentally slated to be the third episode), based on Ambrose Bierce’s classic tale.

At this stage of the game do we even need to talk about the extras on the disc? The Masters series wrote the book … broke the mold … set the standard … you name it, for how DVD’s should be packaged. “Dance of the Dead” comes with two vastly different commentaries; separate interviews with Hooper, Matheson, Lowndes, Tucker, and Englund; an homage to Hooper with Gunnar Hansen, Bill Moseley, Steve Railsback, and RC Matheson; the obligatory narration-less behind the scenes that I find to be dull and useless but maybe someone out there appreciates; and the usual stills, trailers, director’s bio, etc., that accompany all the MOH releases (except, curiously, “Imprint”). Come to the think of it, the disc has trailers for all the MOH episodes — except for “Imprint.” I’m beginning to think it’s some sort of conspiracy against the needle industry… But I digress.

Dance of the Dead (click for larger image)Hooper’s commentary is in the form of a Q&A type interview with DVD producer Perry Martin. It starts off a little dry and technical with Hooper sounding stilted and somewhat ill at ease, but after a short while he comes into his own, especially while talking about the perverse nature of the world he created. You can almost see him sitting there grinning and rubbing his hands together in delight! Martin then leads him through his casting and filming processes, and before you know it, the hour is up. Matheson, on the other hand, provides a virtual play-by-play of the action on the screen — and one of the most enjoyable commentaries I’ve listened to in a while. He is analytical, eloquent, and intelligent, all qualities that are in short supply these days — in the horror genre and otherwise. His comments about “concealing exposition” should be emblazoned in every writer’s brain. There’s no way to lose fans faster than by over-explaining everything. Matheson — and Hooper too, thankfully — have no problem letting us fill in a few blanks on our own, all to the betterment of their final product.

Working with a Master is a little heavy on the clips, but all four interviewees furnish entertaining reminiscences about what it was like working with and being influenced by Hooper. They paint him as a brilliant director, one who equally channels the visceral and the chaotic. He himself admits to a preference for shooting out of sequence. All the better to let the film tell its own story in an organic fashion. Jessica and Jonathan come across as nice kids who know how fortunate they are to be surrounded by such talent, and while Jonathan confesses he’s not exactly a horror enthusiast, he does consider working on the project an honor and shows a healthy respect for the genre. Jessica seems to be up for just about anything, and I expect to see a lot more of her in coming years. Jonathan did make sure to mention the production designer, and I have to agree with his sentiments. The sets are pretty incredible considering the budget, the tight shooting schedule, and the constraints of television. Englund is Englund, the same fellow we all know and love for consistently embracing the genre. The M.C. is a real tour de force role for him, and he eats it up without ingesting too much scenery along the way. Not an easy task. He starts off his interview extolling the virtues of horror and its audience and wonders aloud why, with all the other special interests that clog our airwaves, there is still no horror channel. That’s something quite a few of us wonder too, Robert!

With the Masters of Horror DVD releases winding down and the new season gearing up, prioritizing becomes a necessity due to limitations of time and money. If you’re not getting all the episodes individually, I highly recommend that you designate “Dance of the Dead” Priority #1 on your shopping list. With its strong performances, impressive sets and settings, and dark operatic feel (the music by Billy Corgan is another character in and itself), it is one of the series’ biggest successes and a worthy addition to any horror devotee’s collection.

Special Features
Primal Screams: An interview with Tobe Hooper featurette
The Written Word: An interview with Richard Matheson featurette
Working with a Master: Tobe Hooper featurette
On Set: An interview with Jessica Lowndes
On Set: An interview with Jonathan Tucker
On Set: An interview with Robert Englund
Behind the scenes: The making of Dance of the Dead
Audio commentary with director Tobe Hooper
Audio commentary with writer Richard Christian Matheson
Trailers
Still gallery
Storyboard gallery
Tobe Hooper bio
DVD-Rom: Screenplay
DVD-Rom: Screen saver

4 1/2 out of 5

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.25 (12 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.1 (21 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 4 (17 votes)
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