You Have to See This! Mayhem (2017)

Samara Weaving is a young actress quickly on the rise to super stardom. She’s not just sexy but can manage to tuck away that sexiness in favor of portraying characters of depth and complexity. In “The Babysitter” she was this very hot Satanic beast, in “Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri,” she was an adorable pixy, and in “Mayhem” she’s a go getter officer drone forced in to a blood soaked battle.

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You Have to See This! Freaked (1993)

I would call “Freaked” a spoof, but a spoof of what?

All I know is that it is something of a cult film and simultaneous antidotal piece of good old fashioned schlock in a decade that took movies very seriously. Even horror was somewhat stern for a long time until Wes Craven injected some humor in to it. “Freaked” feels like something out of 1987 that crept in to 1993 and it still rings as truly one of the more fascinating cult films I’ve ever seen. My memory with “Freaked” goes back to 1994 when my dad rented a copy for me. Little did he know what the hell we were in for, as “Freaked” teeters between completely surreal black comedy and an acid dream splashed on to film.

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You Have to See This! The Midnight Hour (1985)

Only in 1985 could a movie like “The Midnight Hour” have been created. This is the decade of Michael Jackson and music videos. This is the decade of MTV. This is the decade where one of the goofiest Halloween movies ever made has a musical number that breaks the fourth wall because… well, Michael Jackson, and Madonna! Duh. Seriously, it’s a shame that “The Midnight Hour” has been so hard to find and out of print for such a long time, because it’s such a ridiculous eighties gem that I figured people would be watching it during Halloween parties and laughing their asses off.

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You Have to See This! NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell (2007)

“New York wasn’t burning. It was burnt!”

Director Henry Corra’s exploration of what New York was in 1977 is quite fantastic and a surprisingly rare chronicle of the political and economic turmoil that ironically bred timeless art and music. As a born and bred Bronxite, 1977 is a mythical year, and a period of the decade that I’ve heard about very often from elder family members. In particular, the night of the infamous black out of New York, my mom and uncle were stuck in the edge of downtown Manhattan and had to brave their way home during the mass looting and rioting. “NY77” garners a very unique tone that balances out the inherent importance of the year, the depressing living conditions of the city, and the obvious fun that was had by most, who managed to endure poverty with laughs and creativity.

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You Have to See This! Summer School (1987)

As a kid I spent many a day watching movies on television edited for content. I spent most of my time watching WPIX Channel 11 in New York which was then considered “New York’s Number One Movie Station.” Every ad for movies they aired always garnered my attention, save for a select few here and there. A lot of those films became future favorites like “Animal House” and “A Christmas Story.” Like clockwork about every four months the channel would air the television trailer for 1987’s “Summer School”, and every time I avoided it like the plague. It just never seemed all too funny, especially in the light of films like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

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You Have to See This! The Guest (2014)

Adam Wingard is one of my favorite filmmakers working in film today and he almost always works alongside Simon Barrett, a cuttingly funny and witty man who knows how to churn out a damn good script. Wingard and Barrett pull off some amazing feats together, and “The Guest” is another notch in Wingard’s belt that oddly enough doesn’t get as much mention as his banner horror film “You’re Next.” Granted, I love “You’re Next” and have seen it at least two hundred times since it arrived in theaters, but “The Guest” is such a unique horror thriller with a premise that’s very socially relevant without ever being preachy.

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You Have to See This! Waxwork (1988)

Anthony Hickox’s “Waxwork” is a delightful mess. It’s a fun and awfully interesting distraction that gets you to the finish line thanks to its tongue in cheek humor, and in spite of its uneven tone. Sometimes it’s a dark comedy that celebrates horror tropes, and sometimes it’s a stern horror movie with Zach Galligan jumping from douche bag to protagonist over and over. Seriously, his establishing scenes in the movie literally made me think “Is this really the movie’s hero?”

A group of rotten teenagers are invited to a local “Waxwork” wax museum by its mysterious curator David Lincoln. Little do they know that each wax exhibit is a supernatural portal in to another realm composed of monsters and ghouls of many kinds. Before long young Mark and Sarah learn that the curator has sinister plans for the unwilling participants, and it’s now up to them with the help of a wheelchair bound historian to stop him and destroy the gallery of supernatural beings.

I’ve seen “Waxwork” a thousand times and I’m still not too sure what to make of it, exactly. While “Waxwork II” out and out embraced its horror spoof tone with Bruce Campbell adding spice with his talent for slapstick comedy, “Waxwork” wants to convince you it’s scary, but also doesn’t seem to take its own premise too seriously most of the time. It’s an inherently goofy movie with way too many questions that are put forth but never resolved or logically explained. Even the final scene of a crawling hand makes zero sense, and only seems placed for a gratuitous sequel stinger. As we all know, “Waxwork II” is as much as a follow up to “Waxwork” as “Return of the Living Dead II” was to the original film. Are there other wax museums out there like the one we see in the film? Why did no one catch on to this supernatural trap earlier?

Can you beat the wax works and defeat them somehow or did Larry find an accidental glitch when he’s tossed in to the “Night of the Living Dead” exhibit? And if these attractions kind of appeal to our inner nature, what did the zombie exhibit signify for Larry? And why didn’t Hickox just employ the use of stills or freeze frames rather than simply asking the actors signifying the wax works stand as still as possible? Seriously, if you look closely, every time Hickox cuts to one of the wax exhibits, you can plainly see the actors doing their damndest to be as still as possible. This is supposed to allow the illusion that the wax sculptures are so life like they’re incredibly enticing and alluring, but it ends up coming off as inadvertently goofy.

“Waxwork” mostly works as a fun diversion when it’s not having trouble figuring out its own tone, as the very eighties-centric cast goes up against some of the worst monsters in history. Folks like Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, and Dana Ashbrook lead the charge in what feels a lot like an ode to William Castle films. They’re a small group of privileged douche bags who spend most of their time bickering about their own lives and trying to deceive each other. They arguably get their comeuppance after receiving an invitation from the curator of a mysterious wax museum. Visiting the museum late at night (because that’s what everybody does), each of the friends end up getting sucked in to the wax exhibits which happen to be supernatural portals in to another realm where they’re thrust in to broadly sketched scenarios involving familiar horror tropes.

Friends China and Tony don’t stand a chance when they find themselves stuck in realities they’re incapable of comprehending. Tony finds himself lost in the woods at night and happens upon a cabin where an older man (John Rhys Davies) transforms in to a werewolf and bites him. After witnessing the werewolf murdered by a pair of hunters, he’s rendered a victim of the curse turning in to a werewolf and is murdered. China, on the other hand, meets someone as deadly and sexy as she, as she’s a guest at a party where a group of noblemen and women consume a salty dish of meat and red sauce. Despite her disbelief and resistance, she falls prey to the throes of the castle’s master, Count Dracula.

When the pair go missing and become a part of the museum’s displays, the rest of their group, Mark and Sarah, begin investigating where they disappeared to, and learn that the museum is at play. They just have to find a way to get around the dwarf doorman (Mihaly Meszaros), and violent butler with a tendency for snapping peoples’ necks. Hickox has a lot of exposition to unfold in such a short time, so he enlists Patrick McNee as wheelchair bound Sir Wilfred, who tells the pair about the museum’s large history, the supernatural gallery, and Mark’s unusual connection to the roots of the place, which involves his grandfather and the museum’s villainous curator, as played by David Warner.

There’s so much explaining. Along the way there’s Sarah’s inexplicable obsession with sadism, and Mark getting in to a pretty funny sword fight with the Marquis De Sade. So when they destroy this wax museum does that mean Mark has to fulfill a destiny to destroy all wax museums around the world? And are there copies of these realities he has to commit to ending? David Warner at least has a good time as the villain David Lincoln, who plans to lure eighteen victims to turn their souls over to the former curators. Through this process, the dead will rise and destroy the world because… you know… he’s a bad guy and that’s what bad guys do.

They either take over the world, or destroy it.

“Waxwork” is a novelty from beginning to end that might inspire a hearty giggle every now and then and nothing more. I’d be hard pressed to call it a horror masterpiece, but it’s at least a neat approach at a horror comedy with a good sense of self-awareness.

You Have to See This! The Gate (1987)

There were a lot of movies about suburban unrest and the darkness of the suburbs in the mid to late eighties, and one of the most underrated is “The Gate.” I did not see “The Gate” when it originally appeared in theaters (I did see the sequel though!), but I did finally get to see it when it premiered on network TV in the early nineties. Back in the early nineties my family was much too impoverished to get a luxury like cable, so a lot of my time was spent watching network televised movies. The network I always watched was WPIX Channel 11 in New York, and it was once considered “New York’s Movie Station,” allowing me to see a diverse library of movies made between 1980 and 1991.

That said, my first viewing of “The Gate” is still one of the most thrilling and chilling experiences of my life, as a movie that didn’t just watch like an extended story from “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” but pretty much tackled just about every childhood fear I ever had. I remember first watching “The Gate” and having absolutely no idea what I was getting in to. In the end I was left with a pretty excellent Friday night horror movie that stuck in my brain for years. Tibor Takács horror fantasy has become so appreciated over the years, and for good reason. You have to admire “The Gate” not only for its simplicity, but terror that veers very close to Amblin like wonder that films like “Poltergeist” and “Twilight Zone: The Movie” embraced.

When his parents go away on a trip for the weekend, Glen and his best friend Terry begin experiencing unusual goings on in their backyard, including the discovery of a mysterious geode and a bottomless hole. After accidentally playing a Satanic incantation on one of their favorite heavy metal albums, events spiral out of control, as Glen, Terry, and big sister Al find themselves under siege by relentless demons that plan to drag them back to hell, and infiltrate Earth to invade. With the trio trying to survive the demonic invasion, they decide to fight back before hell opens up and swallows reality.

“The Gate” is a movie about children alone in their home, at the mercy of monsters at every corner, and still grieving the loss of a pet and family while being forced to face this inherent demonic terror. And lest we forget that yet again, we have a seemingly inconspicuous house become the center of truly heinous events. “The Gate” begins innocently enough but like most great horror movies, the puzzle pieces all seem to fall in to place one by one before this trio of children realizes too late that they’re living on top of a portal to hell that promises to suck them in and make them one of its brood. “The Gate” mysteriously enough, feels like two movies, where we’re subjected to something of a classic horror tale of teens being terrorized, and then writer Michael Nankin transforms “The Gate” in to a very personal journey in to the hell dimension that characters Terry and Glen accidentally evoke.

What helps “The Gate” successfully flow as this awe inspiring but insanely menacing trip in to terror is that creation of the demons that are dangerous in their miniature forms and when they’re working together as a unit. When we first see them they are absolutely haunting to gaze at, and director Tibor Takács is very smart about zeroing in on what makes them so absolutely terrifying. Sure they can be taken down by stomping on them, but good luck being able to overcome them as they rush their victims in the dozens. Not to mention when they get together they end up kidnapping one of the key characters in the form of an undead construction worker. The demons are everything we hate and everything we’re scared of.

They’re they boogeymen that creep in to the shadows and understand what we’re scared of and why we’re scared of them. We’re never told how and why they’re capable of getting in to the minds of these kids, we just know they do whatever it takes to play on their weaknesses to prey on them, even if they have to show up as one of the characters’ long dead mother. Not only do they take down these children, but they take them down in the cleverest ways possible, appearing as the mythical undead worker who takes both Terry and Al in to their realm. Despite being released in 1987, “The Gate” still spawns some pretty mesmerizing special effects, all of which are not CGI. Pretty much all of the effects implement stop motion, and forced perspective, as well as amazing editing that allows the monsters a sense of realism that CGI can’t afford.

The scene of the undead construction worker dropping to the floor and breaking in to a dozen small demons is still a beautiful scene, and helps establish the sense of chaos present in the film’s nightmarish narrative. There’s also some commendable rubber suit work with the extras playing the miniature demons doing a convincing job wearing brutally detailed and grotesque monster designs.  And while “The Gate” can definitely be considered a very menacing tale of the supernatural and satanic enemies, there’s also a ton of dark humor, especially in the first half as main character Glen is forced to endure sister Al’s obnoxious best friends. There’s also the classic “You’ve been bad!” antagonizing from the demons involving a very well animated melting phone, and the deliriously creepy fake out involving Glenn’s parents arriving in the middle of the demonic siege.

I’ve always insisted that the climax of the movie was another fake out and that Terry, Glenn and Al lost the battle with the demons. Maybe they were sucked in to hell or maybe the entire Earth is drenched in demons and the satanic, who knows? The climax just always seemed a tad too squeaky clean for my taste, especially when you considered their dog is suddenly revived to celebrate with them. Regardless, “The Gate” has that menace, awe, edge, and adventurousness that puts it in the league of films like “Monster Squad,” “The Goonies,” and “Poltergeist.” It’s perfect gateway horror for younger horror geeks that want a dose of Spielberg, Lovecraft, and Barker.

I envy the kids that get to see “The Gate” for the first time, as it’s one of the many horror movies I’d suggest as a mid-way point between lightweight fodder and the really rough genre fare. “The Gate” has held up shockingly well since 1987 and Tibor Takács takes what is a considerably low budget film and spins a damn good horror tale with kids fighting demons both from hell, and from their own psyche. It’s too bad the sequel never quite lived up to the promise this film delivered.