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Saturday, October 25, 2014

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2014-Day 25: LEMORA — A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL (1973)

Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith), the most innocent of the innocent, discovers things the church never warned her about...

Sometimes it's all right there in the title.

13-year-old Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith) is the beautiful daughter of a Prohibition-era gangster, a violent gunman who is a fugitive from the law after committing a double-murder. The girl has been raised in the church by a devout reverend and is as innocent and pure as the driven snow, but she still harbors affection for her criminal father. While on the lam, Lila's dad finds himself in the sinister town of Astaroth, where he is waylaid by a pack of vampires, and soon Lila receives a letter from him, urging her to visit him. Knowing her guardian would not approve, Lila runs away into the night, making her way to a depot where she catches a bus to Astaroth, a journey punctuated with ominous warnings from a creepy driver. As the bus passes through Astaroth's nearby swamp, the vehicle is beset by some especially-bestial roving vampires, causing the bus to crash. Upon awakening, Lila finds herself in the care of Lemora (Lesley Gilb), an imposing woman in black who lives with a number of ever-giggling and menacing kids. Innocent though she is, Lila swiftly becomes aware that Lemora is a queen vampire and that the entire town is overrun with vampires, including what used to be her father. Trapped in the town's perpetual night and surrounded on all sides by undead suckfaces, can Lila's purity and piety guarantee her survival?

Hell is for children.

LEMORA — A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL is exactly what its title proclaims, namely a horror film that operates within a childlike realm of terror. The entire film looks and feels like a kid's fever dream of dark places, ominous grownups, scary children and, of course, vampires (that further mutate into even worse creatures), and to me it comes off like what you might get if you allowed a particularly together eight-year-old to script and helm a horror movie. It's shocks are strictly of the PG-rated variety but the lack of gore and violent action are more than made up for by a pervasive mood of a nightmare being acted out before our eyes. 

Creepy old crone Solange (Maxine Ballantyne), whose eerie a capella song about an old woman — possibly herself — is one of the film's highlights.

The acting is just broad enough to strike the delicate balance between child's-perspective exaggeration that works in the film's favor and over-the-top self-parody, and the performance of exploitation mainstay Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith is letter-perfect for the material. Like I said, it's basically a crazed kiddie film, and there are innumerable children's movies where little girl characters are played by adult women, so Smith natural waifish look made her a natural as Lila. She's clearly around sixteen or seventeen at the time of shooting the movie but she is totally believable playing a few years younger, and she exudes innocence on a collision course with unholy corruption. And speaking of corruption, the film features a strong lesbian subtext as Lemora attempts to seduce Lila to the Dark Side. Though couched as attempts at swaying Lila to willingly submit to becoming Lemora's undead, eternally-beautiful companion, adults will no doubt twig to the predatory sapphic vibe that Lemora puts forth, especially during the sequence where she bathes Lila while slipping her a drugged libation.

Seldom has getting squeaky-clean felt so dirty...

Lemora herself, while a ruling vampire, is far from the most evil examples of her breed. Yes, she's macking on an underage girl, but she's quite pleasant, which serves as an intriguing counterpoint to her chalk-white complexion, black-clad Victorian spinster/librarian look and obvious vampiric presence. Sure, she feeds on children who eventually become her undead, eternally-young minions, but she feels unease at the weird vampires who run rampant in the local wild, a pack whose alarming disfiguring mutations are a direct physical manifestation of the innate evil that lay within them before they were turned. In fact, it seems that her goal in seeking Lila's vampiric transformation has a lot to do with Lila's unabashed innocence, which would allow her to not physically degenerate like the hideous wild suckfaces. We fear Lemora solely because we know what she is and what she is capable of, not due to any truly aggressive nastiness on her part. She consumes human blood solely in order to survive, and she appears to be quite lonely, so she's actually somewhat sympathetic. That aspect really struck a chord in me when I saw the film as a youngster, and I consequently never forgot it.

Who can't relate to the need for companionship.

LEMORA is very much within the same territory as the kid-oriented INVADERS FROM MARS, and the two would make for a cool double-feature for one's children on a rainy afternoon. (I suggest paying attention to your kids' reactions if you opt to run the films, mostly to see the look of "What the fuck?!!?" on their faces when confronted with the films' bizarre, oneiric twist endings.)

Cover art for the DVD release.

Friday, October 24, 2014

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2014-Day 24: MOTHER'S DAY (1980)

There's nothing like backwoods hospitality...and this is NOTHING like backwoods hospitality.

The "wrong place, wrong time" sub-genre, in which innocent people meet appalling fates when outside of their familiar environment, has yielded some particularly twisted fruit for decades. PSYCHO, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, DELIVERANCE, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, SOUTHERN COMFORT, EDEN LAKE, list goes on and on, but the example of this niche that came as an interesting effort at the dawn of the 1980's slasher era was the indelible MOTHER'S DAY.

Every year, a trio of college friends, Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson), Jackie (Deborah Luce), and Trina (Tiana Pierce), get together for a retreat to some location where they can catch up, reminisce, get high, and reaffirm their deep bond, coming away from the experience knowing full well that while other aspects of their lives may come up lacking, they will always have each other's backs. This time around the women decide to camp out for the weekend in some remote, wooded area of New Jersey, only to unwittingly find themselves in the territory of punk-rock-loving Ike (Holden McGuire) and disco advocate Addley (Billy Ray McQuade), a pair of insane brothers who do unspeakable things to interlopers simply because they can, all with the enthusiastic and supportive approval of their aged mother (Rose Ross). Operating in the middle of nowhere, discovery by the authorities is a virtual impossibility, so if Ike and Addley get you, you're done, and inevitable death is the very least of your worries.

Ike (Holden McGuire) & Addley (Billy Ray McQuade): "Punk sucks!" "Disco's stupid!!!"

Shortly after their arrival at a chosen campsite, the women are kidnapped in the middle of the night and hauled to the ramshackle abode of the sociopathic family, where they are to be systematically brutalized for their captors' amusement. With their sensibilities informed by junk culture, the boys set up role-playing scenarios that humiliate their terrified victims before savage beatings and rape, and Jackie, the group's sad sack, is unlucky enough to be picked as the first "participant." While her bound and gagged friends watch helplessly, Jackie is battered and raped by Addley while Ike merrily snaps Polaroids, after which the boys are allowed to keep her in their room overnight, though their mother cautions them about being too tired the next morning. (*shudder*) On the following day while the boys train, the women manage to escape, dragging the unconscious/in shock Jackie along, but Jackie soon dies from her abuse, so her friends steel themselves for a trip back to the home of their tormentors to grant them the gift of vengeance every bit as savage as that which was inflicted upon them. And then some. Oh, and what about the possible presence of the legendary Queenie, the hairy and bestial sister of Mother?

Mother (Rose Ross) proudly surveys her sons' handiwork.

Opening a mere four months after the genre-defining FRIDAY THE 13th (1980), MOTHER'S DAY was likely already in progress when its more influential contemporary hit the nation's screens, but it would not be impossible for it to have been rushed out in an effort to capitalize. The only real set is the mad family's house, a residence that looks just a little bit more put-together than an actual run-down derelict in the middle of the local woods, and the gore — effective though it certainly is — would not have required more than a few hours of pre-filming preparation, so for all I know MOTHER'S DAY could have been shot over a period of about a week. Anyway, it appeared seemingly overnight in the wake of FRIDAY THE 13th and wielded considerably more mystery to us under-age would-be attendees because instead of a straight MPAA rating it bore one of those warnings that amounted to a self-imposed "X." Not even the slaughterhouse thrills of FRIDAY THE 13th went that far, so MOTHER'S DAY must have been really nasty! Sadly, none of us kids stood a hope in hell of seeing it during first-run, so we had to wait until it hit VHS years after the fact, but it turned out to be worth the wait.

By the time I and my peers finally got to see MOTHER'S DAY, we'd experienced most of the cookie cutter slasher flicks that helped define the zeitgeist of our generation, so we expected just another splattery ninety minutes of farming tool-fodder trotted out to sate our gorehound appetites. After close to a decade of the likes of the turgid HUMONGOUS, a succession of ever-worsening FRIDAY THE 13th sequels, and the unintentional hilarity of NAIL GUN MASSACRE, we had learned not to expect such luxuries as plot or characterization, so MOTHER'S DAY came as something of a surprise. Yeah, the trio of protagonists could pass for escapees from any number of post-collegiate reunion/nostalgia flicks and the villains were like  an even more nightmarish version of characters straight out of a vintage E.C. horror comic (only writ more explicit thanks to a pop-cultural distance of nearly thirty years), but they all had identifiable character that made them interesting and worth spending the film's running time with. Ike and Addley fascinate me because of what we see of their family dynamic when they're not out murdering and raping.

A nutritious breakfast with Addley and Ike.

They're like any other rough-and-tumble brothers; childish, ever-bickering and blame-casting,
engaging in an amusing perpetual debate over the relative merits of punk as opposed to disco, with only their physical age and grown-up bestial lusts belying their seeming pre-adolescence, and only their equally-warped mother wielding control over their borderline-feral wildness. They are true cases of arrested development, a state ensured by their controlling and needy mom, and their state is not at all helped by what appears to be a certain degree of mental retardation or the results of heavy-duty in-breeding. In short, they are man-child animals of the worst, most dangerous order; vile, all-too-human forest-dwelling bogeymen who know every inch of their backwoods home, and it is their non-supernatural humanity at its most base and lawless that makes them prime nightmare fuel. Their mother is certainly no slouch in the creepiness department, but her doting offspring make her look like a paragon of compassion and gentility.

MOTHER'S DAY is nasty, mean-spirited, and downright reprehensible in many ways, but I'll be damned if I don't find its every frame to be compelling stuff. It's my favorite of the many "city slickers vs. rednecks" movies and I recommend it to those who can handle its unsavory charms. All others are advised to stay out of the woods.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2014-Day 23: INVADERS FROM MARS (1953)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: A horror story is a horror story, no matter what genre trappings it may be disguised in. Be it a musical, a western, a comedy, or what have you, the impulse of fear still remains. That aspect has most often been put to the test in films that are ostensibly science-fiction efforts, but look at movies like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956 or 1978) and ALIEN (1979) and try to convince yourself that they aren't straight-up horror. Another excellent case in point is the original INVADERS FROM MARS — the less said about the ill-advised remake, the better — which is at first glance a standard alien invasion flick from the flying saucer-crazed 1950's, but is in actuality a story of sheer, nightmarish terror told from the point of view of a child.

The waking nightmare begins in the wee hours when young David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt), an aspiring astronomer, witnesses a glowing green flying saucer land behind a hill near his house, settling in a large sand pit. David's father (Leif Erickson), himself a scientist, goes to check out his son's claims and disappears for a few hours, only to return bearing a face that reveals little or no emotion and a mean, angry demeanor that is the polar opposite of his established persona. In short order, David's mother, a neighboring little girl, and some of the local authorities also disappear into the sand pit, to the accompaniment of an eerie almost-choral sound, only to return as blank-faced, emotionless drones, each bearing a strange penetration mark on the back of their necks. The adults are clearly not to be trusted, so David seeks help at the local police station, where he meets Dr. Pat Blake (Helena carter), a health department professional who, thankfully believes the lad's story. Also on hand to believe and lend assistance is Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz), an astronomer who knows David and now does work for the military. Kelston surmises that the alien presence is only the first wave of an invasion from Mars and that their point of arrival was strategically located near the site of a nearby experimental rocket base, so he alerts the military to what's going on. Things only escalate from there, with more alien takeovers of Earthlings (and the deaths by cerebral hemorrhage of those who are in danger of being caught), the active involvement of the military, and descent into the subterranean saucer where the descriptor "alien" doesn't do the environment justice. It's a close encounter of the most dire kind when our heroes meet the Martian intelligence and the hulking "mu-tants" it controls,  so what hope does mankind have against malevolent intent and super-science from across the stars?

Two of the Martian "mu-tants"...

...and the intelligence they serve.

If INVADERS FROM MARS was intended as a mere matinee time-filler for Fifties kiddies, I honestly wonder if the filmmakers realized they'd unleashed a film so unabashedly terrifying upon the audience of just over six decades ago. Looked at from an adult perspective it's still pretty good, but to really get the film's impact one either has to be a child when first encountering it or be able to look at it from a kid's perspective. The altering f mom and dad and other trusted, security-assuring authority figures is bad enough, but the film visually renders its proceedings with the look and feel of a particularly vivid nightmare one might have while majorly whacked-out on cheap Jamaican cough syrup. Familiar interior sets tend to be starkly designed and accented with the kind of bright lighting one finds in hospitals — a location and aesthetic that can trigger a response of dread — and what's supposed to be an all-natural hill and sand pit surmounted with a picket fence resembles something out of a German expressionistic painting. The interior of the Martian vessel is lit in greens and stark white, with smooth and virtually featureless surfaces, somehow simultaneously generating a feeling of open space and claustrophobia, perhaps in an attempt to convey an un-human sense of dimension. If Dr. Seuss had eschewed whimsy and embraced a Chesley Bonestell sensibility fused with Gahan Wilson's queasiness, the saucer's confines are what you'd get.

The cast is uniformly perfect for this narrative and special props go to Jimmy Hunt as David. His is an wholly-believable performance that never once falls into the kind of nauseating precociousness or cutesy bullshit that I so despise in the majority of kid actors' performances of its era. No tear-jerking, no mugging for the camera to appeal to grannies in the audience, just a boy caught in a fantastic and horrible situation, and he responds as any real kid would.

David (Jimmy Hunt) rages against the master Martian.

If memory serves, I first saw INVADERS FROM MARS when I was around five or six, just the right age for it and during my formative years as an addict for this kind of stuff, and its imagery and kinder-paranoia stuck with me for years afterward. I also saw the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS around that same time, and it was very interesting to absorb two very different takes on the horror of people we love losing their humanity; one from a viewpoint fueled by grownup Cold War nerves, and the other from the most hard-wired sense of childhood security, only to have that parental/authoritative reassurance inexorably shattered. Though rooted in the early 1950's, INVADERS FROM MARS is a timeless exercise in fear and being forced to deal with things that one simply cannot handle, so sit your little ones through it as soon as possible. It's a dark 20th century fairytale that doesn't bullshit its audience, and it was that respect for its young audience that endeared it to me so long ago. Sure, it has an ending that is one of the handful of definers of its particular trope, but just when you're ready to get pissed off, it manages to pull off a double-twist that redeems what would have otherwise been a lame climax. That, dear readers, is what I call artistry, and INVADERS FROM MARS is absolutely a solid work of nightmare art.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

NY COMIC CON 2014-DAY 4

NOTE: Sorry for the delay in posting this final installment of the 2014 NY Comic Con, but life got in the way. Thank you for your patience.

All good things must come to an end, and this, dear Vaulties, was the perfect coda to one of the most fun cons I've ever attended.

I knew it was going to be a good day when I arrived to hear a deejay spinning vintage funk tunes, but I was stopped in my tracks when the theme from BLACK BELT JONES leapt from his speakers. Naturally, I had no choice but to stop what I was doing and dance to the entire tune. (Sadly, no one joined me.)

Gotta love that Ant-Man.


SAGA's Marko and Alanna (and Hazel).

A wee Beatrix Kiddo.

An absolutely perfect Pro shows up to meet her co-creator.

The Pro with her colorist, Paul Mounts.

With her co-creator, Amanda Conner.

An excellent replica of the Pro's emblem.

She even nailed the boots.

It's this kind of personal interaction that endears A.C. to her fans when they meet her at cons.




A spectacularly Amazonian Wonder Woman.


Girliest moment of the weekend: A.C. with the two fans with whom she discussed the merits of Aquanet at length.

Wee Mad Max, whom I initially confused with Kenshiro. (The dog should have been the giveaway.)

A young Harley Quinn fan (with Joker dad) meets with A.C. for an autograph.







Gwendolyn from SAGA.

An awesome cardboard Dino-Bot that actually transformed.


Four of the Endless.



Young Loki.

Another Alanna and Marko (with Hazel).




Oh, if only I had the space for this...





Gender-swapped Danny Phantom.



My favorite of the weekend's Selena Kyle's.



Two very nice fans who came in from New Hampshire to meet A.C.



My college tribesman and Marvel Bullpen brother Eddie Murr, with his exhausted daughter, Lily.


An excellent Ygritte and Jon Snow.

A.C. takes a lunch break.

The Kaiju Queen and her outstanding homemade plush kaiju. Her pattern for crafting this piece of awesomeness can be found here.














I love a preemptive cosplay strike, namely when a cosplayer embodies a character before that character's movie comes out.



A winsome Rogue.



A coincidental western-themed team-up.



With old friend and fellow journalist Kenny Pierce of Piercing Metal.



My favorite of the weekend's many female Thors.

The old school Teen Titans.

With DMC.




Russ Braun and his most hardcore fan.

The con's most popular trends, gender-swapping and BOB'S BURGERS cosplay, represented in one attendee.

(L-R) Jimmy Palmiotti, Michael Golden, and A.C.

At the end of the con, wiped out.

As seen on the way out: an excellent Mojo Jojo.


This year's pass joins my collection of passes from the previous decade.

SEE Y'ALL NEXT YEAR!!!