The Monster Squad (1987)

Fred Dekker’s “The Monster Squad” is the assembly of many eighties tropes, even conjuring up the aesthetic of a novel series one might have found tucked beside “The Hardy Boys,” and “Babysitters Club.” It’s Amblin, Spielberg, Universal and everything else we loved about the eighties, and while it can in many ways be considered a take off on “The Goonies,” it watches so much better over time. Even better is the script by Shane Black allows for interesting and complex preteen heroes, all of whom have their spotlight, as well as their own personal struggles. Like Spielberg, Black introduces a potentially broken home with main hero Sean, while this extraordinary situation allows his family to re-unite for the fate of him and his little sister.

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Teen Wolf Too (1987): Collector’s Edition [Blu-Ray]

There’s a considerable drop off in quality with “Teen Wolf Too” with what is essentially the same movie with a premise that was cut and pasted. Michael J. Fox opted out of this follow up, setting the stage for the film debut of Jason Bateman, who took the first and last sequel of this oddly popular series. I remember watching this movie as a kid quite often, since the channel I always watched never had the original. Years later, “Teen Wolf Too” isn’t a very good movie, and as a follow up should be watched by fans that are either Jason Bateman fanatics, or absolutely have to watch every sequel of a movie series. Hey, it’s not as bad as any of “The Howling” sequels. That’s about as big an endorsement I’m wiling to give it.

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Teen Wolf (1985): Collector’s Edition [Blu-Ray]

Before it became a homoerotic horror series on MTV, “Teen Wolf” was the epitome of eighties cheese that mixed a teen coming of age comedy with horror tropes. The idea of being a werewolf is of course a metaphor for puberty, as Michael J. Fox takes a baffling but oddly fun turn in his career after the success of “Back to the Future.” The 1985 “Teen Wolf” hasn’t aged very well, but it’s still a fun novelty of the decade where almost nothing was off limits it meant possibly drawing a laugh. Surely, the idea of a werewolf becoming a star basketball player is absurd, but not offensive as a comedy based around a corpse, or a college student wearing black face. But I digress.

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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.

Deadtime Stories (1986): Collector’s Edition [Blu-Ray/DVD]

Pee-yew! You have to appreciate Shout! Factory for restoring what is easily one of the worst anthology movies of the eighties. I admit to being a completely newcomer in regards to “Deadtime Stories,” and upon finishing it, I was not surprised it was such a rarity for so many years. “Deadtime Stories” watches like someone really loved “Creepshow” and decided to make their own version with only a quarter of the budget. Then mid-way when the studio realized how awful the movie was, they decided to turn it in to a comedy at the last minute so horror fans can convince themselves the whole disaster is intentional and a tongue in cheek jab at the anthology crazy of the decade.

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The Werewolf Reborn! (1998)

It’s another episode of “Filmonsters!” and while I appreciate the inherent idea behind Full Moon composing hour long movies with broadly written monsters that vaguely resembled Universal’s staples, this second movie isn’t good. In fact it’s almost the exact same movie as “Frankenstein Reborn!” To evoke emotions in the vein of RL Stine’s “Goosebumps” the producers make a young girl the star of their story. I think if it took off, every “Filmonsters!” would have had young teenagers who realize something about themselves or their families while fighting monsters. I wonder if there would have been a “Gillman Reborn!” with a young girl realizing she’s from a family of ancient lizard people or something.

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Frankenstein The Real Story/The Real Wolfman (DVD)

Halloween has come early this year! Lionsgate has graced horror fans with a ton of really interesting documentaries from the History Channel and A&E Network in America. For folks that always wanted to know the “Real” story behind “Frankenstein” and “The Wolfman,” well this is where you can turn. Truth be told, the entire double disc DVD set garners an array of forty five minute documentaries, with the Frankenstein topic taking center stage. With all three documentaries clocking in at 178 minutes in length, it’s a treasure trove for individuals that love Frankenstein and Mary Shelly. Featured in the first disc is “In Search of the Real Frankenstein,” “Frankenstein,” and “It’s Alive! The True Story of Frankenstein.” Oddly enough while all three documentaries can sometimes become repetitive, they offer up a unique look at Frankenstein with different angles and approaches.

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The Short Films of Ithaca Fantastik 2016 [Ithaca Fantastik 2016]

curveAs only a few short films were seen, here are mini-reviews for each of these titles.

Curve (Australia) (2016)
A young woman wakes up sitting on a curved surface, clinging to it for dear life.  This short is very simple in concept, yet possibly one of the most grim and dark short seen this year.  There is not clear, or unclear, way of the situation this young lady is in and signs are accumulating that others did not have any luck in her position.  Written and directed by Tim Egan, the film has no dialogue and only one character, making the most of its location and the situation the character is in.  The star, Laura Jane Turner, gives a very good performance and keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat as she tries to get in a better situation.  The film is grim and her performance suits it well, showing desperation and a need to survive.

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