Author Archives: Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

Recent Additions: July 2020

Psychotronic Review

Each month I seem to focus on a certain kind of film or a particular filmmaker. This month I watched way too many films by one particular director. Even though I like him, I got to hate his work by the end. Or at least it felt like that.

There are a few films here that I think are classics of the genre. I’ll mention them when I come to them.

July 2020 Films

  1. Amityville Island (2020)
  2. The Beastmaster (1982)
  3. Bigfoot vs Zombies (2016)
  4. Black Sabbath (1963)
  5. Bride of the Werewolf (2019)
  6. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  7. Deadly Playthings (2019)
  8. Les Diaboliques (1955)
  9. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
  10. Frozen Sasquatch (2018)
  11. Ghost of Camp Blood (2018)
  12. Hallucinations (1986)
  13. Killer Nerd (1991)
  14. Land Shark (2017)
  15. Little Evil (2017)
  16. Mega Scorpions (2003)
  17. Messiah of Evil (1973)
  18. Monster Movie (2008)
  19. Night Thirst (2002)
  20. Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979)
  21. Peter Rottentail (2004)
  22. Robowar (2018)
  23. Saving Private Perez (2011)
  24. Sharkenstein (2016)
  25. Space Captain: Captain of Space! (2014)
  26. Splatter Farm (1987)
  27. The Toxic Avenger (1984)
  28. Vampyres (1974)
  29. War Raiders (2018)
  30. Zombie (1979)

Mark Polonia

Fully half of all the films were directed or co-directed by Mark Polonia. Along with his late twin brother John, the Polonia Brothers are legends of the micro-budget industry.

That really started with Splatter Farm (co-directed with Todd Michael Smith). This was not their first feature and yet they were still only teens. The film is extremely crude in terms of technique. But it’s also amazing. Effortlessly, the boys create some of the most disturbing film that I’ve ever seen.

Most of the films I watched were made after John died. Polonia’s technique has certainly developed but his budgets haven’t. But he uses digital effects to great effects. Many of them are the sort of thing you see in Birdemic, but used really well to make the films look a lot more expensive than they are.

Polonia also uses digital effects to render creatures. These work less well and many of his films come across as proofs-of-concept more than finished films. But there is no question that the films work. And at times, like in Sharkenstein, they are works of comic genius.

I plan to write a more thorough discussion of Polonia, so you will have to wait for that. But if you have Amazon Prime, check out some of his films.

The Beastmaster

I’m a big Don Coscarelli fan but I’d missed this one because I’m just not that into these kinds of films. But this one works well. Having now seen all of his films, I can see what ties them all together. He makes films about young people surviving. If you remove all the horror from most of his films, you end up with My Side of the Mountain.

Black Sabbath

A very Gothic horror anthology by our friend Mario Bava. It’s not one of my favorites of his, but it’s still a classic.

Dawn of the Dead

Is it okay to not especially like this film? I know why I loved it when it first came out. It’s such a survival fantasy: you fight off the zombie and then you get to play in a shopping mall all by yourself. And the only way to die is by being a total idiot.

I still enjoy it. But it’s much too long. And there are so many other Romero films that don’t get enough attention. But I’ll admit: if people didn’t like this film, I’d be a loud defender. Because there is no question that it’s a hell of a lot of fun!

Les Diaboliques

This is a really good thriller with a clever plot. It’s a lot like a Hitchcock film but with much greater care. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad. At least until the very end. This one is definitely worth watching.

Don’t Torture a Duckling

I’m still obsessing about Lucio Fulci and this is one of his best films. More than in his horror films, this one is rich with themes — especially about sex and morality. And it shows the way that people act like monsters — well on display in many of Fulci’s other films.

Killer Nerd

This film ought to be used to recruit Incels. It’s brilliant — particularly in its use of Toby Radloff. But its misogyny is so extreme, it’s hard not to be troubled by it.

Little Evil

This parody of The Omen is hilarious. And it has an exceptional supporting cast. Sadly, it only seems to be available via Netflix streaming, which is odd given how good this one is.

Mega Scorpions

This is the last film directed by JR Bookwalter. I just revisited it and it’s actually really good. The further I get into the trenches of low-budget filmmakers, the more I’m impressed with his talent.

Messiah of Evil

Directed by noted screenwriting couple Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, this is a very smart and creative zombie film. According to some scholars, this film had an impact on later Italian horror films like Zombie.

Parts: The Clonus Horror

This is a low-budget gem. Forgotten at the time of its release because of similar big-budget films, this one beats them all. It’s a great 1970s-style paranoid mystery. Who can you trust? No one!

Saving Private Perez

This Mexican comedy features a lot of great actors and some genuinely funny moments. But I was mostly kind of bored. Maybe I’d like it better if I spoke Spanish.

Space Captain: Captain of Space!

This Rocky Jones, Space Ranger parody is brilliant. I don’t know why these people haven’t done more. If you get a chance, see it!

The Toxic Avenger

Roughly speaking, there are two kinds of Troma films: trashy micro-budget quickies and more substantial and inspired stuff. This is in the latter group. It’s no Poultrygeist, but it’s damned good.

Vampyres

This is the find of the month: a sexy vampire filmed with equal parts sex and violence. In fact, it verges on softcore porn at times. But it is beautifully rendered. A must-see!

Zombie

Lucio Fulci’s seminal zombie film. It drives me crazy that people dismiss it as a rip-off of Dawn of the Dead, when it is so different and, frankly, so much better. If nothing else, go check YouTube for “splinter eye scene.”

See you next month!

The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project

On this day, 30 July, in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was released to the world. It is one of the greatest horror films ever made.

I realize that many people will disagree with me. And those people are wrong. I suspect that when the film was released, those people were part of the overwhelming number of viewers who quite liked it.

But something happened. And I watched that something. It’s summed up by a joke I remember a late-night comedian making. It went something like this, “A new extended cut of The Blair Witch Project has been released with an additional 5 minutes where nothing happens.”

Get it? It’s funny because nothing happens in the film! Except, of course, that lots happens in the film.

Highly Effective Horror

I still remember the visceral terror of the scene where they come out of their tent to piles of rocks around them. It’s true that nothing on screen happened. But it tells a story of this malevolent force that is constantly around them but never seen.

That’s also true of the stick figures scene:

I’ve watched the film again recently just to see if it really is as good as I remember. And even if you ignore all the horror elements of it, it’s still a fascinating look at three young people losing their minds.

Changing Opinions

It would be fascinating to look at the ratings of The Blair Witch Project over time. I think you would find that they go ever downward. That really should happen to all films because over time they lose their context and people can’t see what made them interesting.

Now with so many “found footage” films around, there’s a tendency to blame The Blair Witch Project. I think that’s a shame. For one thing, I rather like the found footage genre.

Like any genre, there are good ones and bad ones. But at their best, they can be very immediate. (Check out Ouija Blood Ritual.) See what Bomberguy and Strucci have to say about The power of VHS.

And for films with a limited budget, “found footage” can be a useful conceit. And I think that also has something to do with the push-back against the genre: big budgets don’t especially help.

Watch This Film

Regardless, if you haven’t seen it for a while, I recommend revisiting The Blair Witch Project with an open mind. You also might check out Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. It was savaged by the film critics but that was clearly just payback for the positive reviews of the first film.


The Blair Witch Project via Amazon under Fair Use.

Gone in 60 Seconds

Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

On this day, 28 July, in 1974, Gone in 60 Seconds was put into wide release in the US. Most people know the remake starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie. But this is the one to watch.

As a point of comparison, the remake cost roughly 200 times as much to make in real dollars. It highlights something that has been much on my mind these last few years: psychotronic film has gone mainstream.

Or has it? Because when films like Gone in 60 Seconds or Parts: The Clonus Horror are remade, they lose their individuality. They become just another blockbuster. That doesn’t make them bad. But it does mean that there is a certain sameness to them that is the result of getting the full blockbuster treatment.

Gone in 60 Seconds

Gone in 60 Seconds was created by HB Halicki. He was the son of a towing company family who started his own in southern California. He did some work in and around the independent film scene before he decided to make the film.

With the exception of editor Warner E Leighton, Halicki relied primarily on an inexperienced crew. And yet, the results are exceptional. People mostly talk about the 40-minute car chase that ends the film. But I’m more impressed with the first hour.

One exceptional aspect of the film is all the inside information that it provides — from car theft to police work to the insurance industry. It all comes off like a really exciting documentary.

It’s also beautifully shot. When I first saw it, I figured that Halicki must have hired an experienced camera operator and cinematographer. But no.

Another aspect of it is the dense sound editing. You can’t possibly catch it all on one viewing. It’s as exciting as the action on the screen.

Overall, it’s just a wonderful story that has you hooked from the start. I imagine that Halicki was a great raconteur. There isn’t a lot to the story of Gone in 60 Seconds, but the telling is great.

The film was a big hit at the time. But since then, it’s been neglected and dismissed as just a car-chase film. There is so much more here and if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself.

Later HB Halicki

Halicki went on to create a few more films that were similar in nature and usually in plot. But during a stunt for Gone in 60 Seconds 2, he was killed at the age of 48.

You can get Gone in 60 Seconds on DVD but the Blu-ray and combo DVD/Blu-ray are both cheaper. The single Blu-ray comes with some interviews. The combo comes with more including a commentary with cinematographer Jack Vacek and editor Leighton. The film is also on Amazon Prime.


Gone in 60 Seconds cover image via Amazon under Fair Use.

Keenan Wynn

Keenan Wynn

Today, 26 July, is Keenan Wynn’s birthday. He was born in 1916 and died just over 70 years later. He continues to be one of my favorite character actors.

His father, Ed Wynn, was arguably more famous: a vaudeville comedian who then became very popular in radio and films. If you watch old comedies, you know him. If nothing else, you probably know him from the second episode of The Twilight Zone, “One for the Angels.”

Keenan’s full name was Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn—you can see why he shortened it.

Personal Life

Because of his father’s fame, Wynn did not live the most exciting of lives. There are no great stories of his rise to fame. He got work. He was good so he continued to get work.

One interesting thing about Wynn is that his first wife, Evie Wynn Johnson, left him for Van Johnson. Kind of. It appears their relationship was crumbling, so the studio got her to marry Johnson to put an end to rumors that Johnson was gay.

Of course, Johnson was gay, although they did manage a child (but who knows). You see how it is with Keenan Wynn? There was always a lot more around Wynn’s life than in it.

Professional Life

Wynn started on Broadway where he worked from the mid-1930s through the beginning of the 1940s. Then he worked in films, doing bit parts into the mid-1950s. From that point on, he did mostly television, but still a fair amount of feature film work.

Most notably, he played the simple-minded Colonel Bat Guano in Dr Strangelove. He was also in a number of those Disney live-action films that I loved as a kid. In the end, IMDb list 374 total credits (that includes 25 episodes of Troubleshooters, 9 episodes of Dallas, and 22 episodes of Call to Glory).

Wynn also starred in a lot of exploitation films later in his career. I want to highlight one of those films here: Parts: The Clonus Horror. It’s one of those films I discovered via MST3K and got annoyed because they wouldn’t shut up.

In 2005, it was effectively remade as The Island. I liked that film although it’s over-long because of endless Michael Bay action sequences. The producers of Parts sued DreamWorks, who settled out of court. The truth is, The Island is just a less-believable version of the film.

Here’s the whole film cued where Wynn shows up. I highly recommend watching the whole thing:

Other Keenan Wynn


Image is in the public domain.

2020 Ozone Blu-ray Review

Ozone (2020) Blu-ray

Over the last few years, Tempe Digital has slowly been releasing their greatest hits on “ultimate” edition Blu-ray releases. In 2017, they released The Dead Next Door. In 2018, it was a beautifully restored (and fixed) Robot Ninja.

This year, Ozone gets the treatment with two different versions. The Standard Edition comes with the Blu-ray. The slightly more expensive Signature Edition also comes with a DVD and (while supplies last) an Ozone refrigerator magnet. Is upgrading to the Blu-ray worth the cost? Read on to find out.

2003 DVD Release

Each time that Tempe comes out with one of these releases, they face a bit of a problem: they’ve already produced excellent DVD releases. Ozone was released in 2003 and it was great. I’ve had it for years and I never thought, “I really wish Tempe would put out a good edition of this film” — as I have for far too many of my favorite films.

More than that, every time there’s a sale, I pick up a few copies of the DVD, which I give out like the micro-budget horror Johnny Appleseed. (I do the same thing with Kingdom of the Vampire.) If you are interested in my thoughts on the film itself, check out Every JR Bookwalter Film Ranked. I think Ozone is Bookwalter’s best film.

My one major complaint about the 2003 DVD release is it is slow. All my players really struggle with moving from selection to selection. Maybe this is due to my playing it on Blu-ray players. Regardless, this isn’t a problem with the new discs.

Audio and Video

I’ve gotten used to the look of Ozone over the years. It was shot on S-VHS-C, which might have been passable for broadcast at the time but certainly isn’t today. And the film is overwhelmingly shot in dark locations. So I figured what I was getting on the original DVD was about all that I could expect.

I was wrong. This Blu-ray version looks distinctly better. And the colors, which are really important in the film, are richer — fuller. I don’t know how to put it other than to say that it looks a whole lot better.

The sound is also better. The dialog is clearer and the music has more depth. It makes the DVD version sound mushy now.

Setup

There are a number of significant additions to the setup on the Blu-ray. First up is that Ozone gets subtitles for the first time — in English and Spanish.

This goes along with the standard English audio track in DTS-HD 5.1 and a Castilian Spanish dubbed in Dolby Digital. I seem to be in the minority of people who have no problem with dubbing — as long as it’s done right. And the Spanish dubbing is pretty good — up their with Italian films like Suspiria.

Of course, what’s most interesting about the Spanish audio track is that it allows interested parties to compare the sound designs for the film. For example, when Eddie and Mike are talking in their car, the crickets sound like they are all over in the English track. In the Spanish track, you only hear a solitary cricket now and then.

Commentary Tracks

There are also three commentary tracks included on this disc. First there is the 2003 commentary from the DVD with Bookwalter and James Black. It’s mostly interesting because of the enthusiasm that Black shows for the work. That’s also seen on the commentary track for Galaxy of the Dinosaurs. There are also some interesting story like Black’s concern that the bar extras (who had been drinking) were actually going to do him harm.

There is another track with Bookwalter alone from the 2003 release of the film as Street Zombies. This is a surprisingly good commentary. Not only does Bookwalter cram a lot of information into it, he does it in an amusing way. At times it seems like he is doing a stand-up routine. This commentary was not on the DVD release.

And finally, there is a new commentary with Bookwalter and Ross Snyder of Saturn’s Core Audio & Video. It’s generally the kind of commentary I like best — more or less an interview. If you don’t know much about the making of Ozone, it’s probably the best one to listen to first.

Sadly, the Blu-ray does not include a widescreen version of the film. But I won’t complain — at least as long as Tempe doesn’t release a widescreen version only on iTunes for another ten bucks! (They did that with Robot Ninja.) [See below]

Scenes

The original DVD release subdivided the film into 29 chapters. The Blu-ray subdivides it into 20. The first 5 chapters are the same. After that, the ones on the Blu-ray are kind of arbitrary.

Not that it matters too much but it would be nice to have shorter chapters since Ozone has so many notable scenes you might want to share with friends.

Extras and Special Features

Now things get kind of complicated. Or at least detailed.

Recycled Material

First, we have the stuff that is recycled from the 2003 DVD, although in many cases, it has been updated in some way:

  • Production Gallery: 5-minute video using all the production and artwork images.
  • Promotional Gallery: 6-minute video using all the promotional images (mostly shorts of magazine and newspaper articles).
  • Paying for Your Past Sins: 30-minute documentary about the making of Ozone.
  • Into the Black: 8-minute documentary about James Black. It’s odd though. There’s very little interviewing of Black in it.
  • 2003 Location Tour: 5-minute documentary with James L Edwards. Edwards is charming and it’s interesting to see the locations as they actually exist in context with each other.
  • Behind the Scenes: 7-minute behind-the-scenes documentary. In this version, you can choose to listen to Bookwalter’s discussion or just music.
  • Early Test Footage: 13-minutes of the footage that David Wagner shot before Bookwalter came onboard.

New Material

The following stuff was not on the original DVD:

  • Bloopers: This is 30 minutes of material. Normally, I hate this kind of thing. But it works as a kind of behind-the-scenes documentary.
  • 1993 TV News: 3-minute segment from local news on Tempe Video and Riot Pictures. (They misspell Mark Basko’s name.)
  • 1993 NewTalk Interview: 19-minute local talk show featuring Bookwalter and the Riot Picture guys, Bosko and Wayne Harold. It focuses on Riot more than Tempe.

Trailers

The Blu-ray comes with fewer trailers than the original DVD (there are more on the DVD that comes with the Signature Edition). It presents trailers that are currently available from Makeflix: Ozone, Robot Ninja, The Dead Next Door, Platoon of the Dead, and Poison Sweethearts.

Signature Edition DVD

The DVD features the original VHS version of Ozone. I don’t actually see any difference between it and the original DVD version. But to be honest, I haven’t looked in detail.

It too comes with English and Spanish subtitles. There is a Dolby Digital 2.0, production, and isolated music tracks. The production track seems to be the basis for the Spanish language dub on the Blu-ray. That is: it doesn’t sound as good.

The highlight of the disc is a commentary track with Doug Tilley and Moe Porne of No-Budget Nightmares — one of the few listenable film podcasts. They manage to be funny and informative. They are also highly opinionated in a way that doesn’t make me want to turn them off.

The film is divided into the same 20 chapters as on the Blu-ray.

Extras

The extras are all on the original DVD:

  • Ozone: Droga Mortal: 12 minutes of the film with Spanish dubbing. With the whole film now available in Spanish, this is just included for completeness.
  • 1992 B’s Nest Video Magazine Intro: Tempe used to put a little video magazine at the end of their tapes. Basically, they’re just commercials. This one is interesting in that it is produced by Bookwalter and Lance Randas (who is also Bookwalter). What’s up with that?!
  • Three other Ozone trailers:
    • Original 1993
    • Japanese 1995
    • Street Zombie 2003.
  • Other trailers:

Booklet

The Blu-ray also comes with an eight-page booklet with an article by Ross Snyder that puts Ozone into historical context relative to the films that went before and after. It’s excellent and well worth a read.

Additionally, Tempe has had some Ozone magnets produced and one comes with the Signature Edition. The magnet is much more substantial than the old (still cool) magnets that they used to sell. It’s more than worth the extra $5 the Signature Edition will cost you.

Summary

I see that all the cheap 2003 Ozone DVDs at Makeflix are sold out. You can purchase it on Amazon, but at $12.99, you are better off springing for the Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray is available on Amazon, but currently, you get a better deal at Makeflix — even with shipping (which is free if you order more than $30). The basic version is $19.99. If you want the Signature Edition ($24.99), it seems to only be available from Makeflix. If you’re any kind of fan of the film, it’s the one to get.

Note

It turns out that the source material just doesn’t have the resolution to do a widescreen print. It was possible with Robot Ninja (which looks great in widescreen) because it was shot on 16mm film.


Image of Ozone taken from Makeflix under Fair Use.

Ouija Blood Ritual: Blu-ray Review

Ouija Blood Ritual

Ouija Blood Ritual was released at the start of this month and it is a masterpiece.

I didn’t even want to buy it. It looked like just another micro-budget horror film. But Tempe just put out a Blu-ray of Ozone and even though I have several copies, I had to get this version.

The problem is that Makeflix gives free shipping on orders over $30, and I’m really cheap about that. So I purchased Ouija Blood Ritual. And glad I am that I did!

The film is the brainchild of Dustin Mills. I haven’t seen any of his films before, even though he’s made a dozen and a half features since 2010. He is also a puppeteer, which raises him further in my estimation.

The Plot

Ouija Blood Ritual tells the story of three 20-somethings who are producing a YouTube video series that recreates rituals meant to summon ghosts and demons. Things like Bloody Mary.

Not surprisingly, their recreation of the summoning of Closet Man (the boogeyman who hides in your closet) actually works. Things go from uncomfortable to unnerving to terrifying from there

The plotting of it subtle and clever. There are a number of very tense points that aren’t necessarily directly related to the plot. Then there is an extra layer of psychological torture going on in the second half of the film that makes it almost unbearable.

Structure

It’s constructed as a found-footage narrative with two different groups. The second group’s video exists as a kind of film-within-a-film. But it’s also used effectively at the beginning to set the tone.

One element of the story that heightens its effectiveness is that Closet Man can grab your phone and use it to film what he sees. This is seen at the very start but it gets much more intense as the film unfolds.

Acting

What most struck me as I watched the first half-hour of Ouija Blood Ritual was how much I liked the three principal characters. And they all seemed very real. I was surprised to learn that they didn’t have a history of working together. In fact, they mostly hadn’t worked together at all.

The lead is played by Kayla Elizabeth (The Dead Will Rise 2). She’s the on-screen talent for the show who would like to leverage it to get a job in local news. The producer is played by Rob Grant who is understanding of the foibles of his colleagues even if he doesn’t hide his annoyance well. And the cameraman (who is also Kayla’s brother) is played by Dustin Mills himself.

The three come off very much like friends who are working on a project together. Then, when things start going wrong, they respond with the same concern and aggravation that you would expect. The acting was mostly ad-libbed, but I think it speaks well of the actors that they seem like they’ve known each other for years.

Technical Elements

Most of the effects in Ouija Blood Ritual are practical or editorial. Digital effects are also used, however. But only once in a major way and always in a way that added to the film.

The sound editing is exquisite — one of the main reasons the film works so well. It mostly consists of electronic noise. But it is how it is used that makes it effective. For example, there is one scene where Dustin is in his room sobbing and speaking into the camera. But all we hear is noise until the sound cuts to what he’s saying, “I can’t, Goddammit!”

I so often find myself annoyed at music in film making me feel things that the rest of the film would not. So it’s nice to not have any here. Even if we admit that noise is music, its use here only heightens what’s already happening. I think the film would still work with only the in situ sound.

As you can tell, I love this film. Now I’m going to have to dig into Dustin Mills’ old films.

Blu-Ray Details

The video and sound on the Blu-ray are excellent, but that’s not really my thing. Others may be less impressed.

When I looked carefully at some scenes, I saw a bit of aliasing, which is probably in the source material. And since the film is supposed to be found footage, it isn’t well lit. As with other films like V/H/S, not being able to see details is part of the appeal.

Commentary

The Blu-ray comes with a commentary by Dustin Mills. As solo-director commentaries goes, it’s pretty good. There is a lot of background information about the production. And I was pleased to hear him discuss the likability of the characters, which was a critical element of my enjoyment.

Interviews

There is a 7-minute interview with Kayla Elizabeth and 4.5-minute interview with Rob Grant. They don’t add much to what is in the commentary.

Misc Extras

The full footage (14:21) of the film-within-a-film adds a bit of context for the production.

The trailer is also included.

Finally, there are trailers for Sons of Steel (perhaps an upcoming release), The Zombie Army, Going Hog Wild (our review), and Oil of LA.

It’s available on Blu-ray and DVD. You can also get it from Makeflix or directly from Phantom Pain Films.

Overall, a pretty good release of a great film.


Ouija Blood Ritual cover taken from Amazon under Fair Use.

The Ending of City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead - Ending Shot

I recently published a discussion about Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy. In it, I briefly discussed the ending of City of the Living Dead. I’ve given some thought to it, and I now think I understand it.

The Ending

At the end of the film, Mary and Gerry have managed to kill Father Thomas and thus close the gate of hell. They come out of the tomb and see John-John, the young boy they had rescued after all his family was murdered. He runs toward them smiling.

Then they look concerned. We see John-John running toward the camera, still happy. But we overhear the survivors screaming. The shot freezes and then is cracked with black lines that expand to fill the screen. The end.

What Happened

It is widely claimed that the original footage shot was destroyed. That may be true. But it isn’t necessarily. What we do know is that Fulci decided, for whatever reason, that he couldn’t use the ending that was shot.

Clearly, whatever the original ending, it had to include something that Mary and Gerry saw and recast the happy ending it appeared we had reached was not a happy ending after all.

There isn’t a lot to work with here, though. They are in an isolated area. So:

  1. Zombies could have appeared from out of the forest.
  2. The police, who brought John-John to the tomb, could be zombies.
  3. John-John could have been a zombie.

What most people say about the ending as it stands is that we are supposed to understand that John-John is a zombie. But so what?

Ending in Context With “Gates of Hell”

It doesn’t really matter who is a zombie or even how many zombies their are. When Mary and Gerry killed Father Thomas, all the zombies burst into flames. If there are zombies outside the tomb, well… Are they really back in the normal world?

Based on the ending of The Beyond, it would seem that the appearance of zombies means that they are rather in Hell itself. So they saved the world but imprisoned themselves in the process.

The other possibility is that they simply defeated Father Thomas and his minions but the gates of hell are still open. But in that case, what were the characters doing for the previous hour and a half?

Does the Ending Matter?

To be honest, I’d rather the film just end with the death of Father Thomas. As I mentioned before, City of the Living Dead is more of a cinematic nightmare than anything else. Sure, it has a plot and character. But the point is to horrify the viewer.

No one watching the film thinks, “I wonder what happened to John-John”! The scene outside the tomb seems tacked on. And it isn’t as though the world is now safe. There are seven gates of hell. What are the odds that a plucky psychic and harried psychologist will manage to show up to close the other six just in time?

The epilogue deprives the viewer of a satisfying ending. So instead of reflecting on the masterpiece that you just saw, you spend a bunch of time trying to figure out what you were supposed to take away from the ending.

City of the Living Dead is an exceptional film with a third act that kills (literally and figuratively). But I don’t think it’s deep. It isn’t the kind of film that is supposed to make you think. So don’t!

I’m going to pretend this epilogue doesn’t exist and that Mary and Gerry will always be standing in the tomb in front of the ash of Father Thomas.


Image taken from City of the Living Dead under Fair Use.

Recent Additions: June 2020

Psychotronic Review

Instead of the usual layout here, I’m going to discuss these below because a number of these need to be discuss together.

  1. 100 Bloody Acres (2012)
  2. 2 Young 2 Die (2006)
  3. The Beyond (1981)
  4. The Birds (1963)
  5. BloodRayne: The Third Reich (2011)
  6. Blubberella (2011)
  7. City of the Living Dead (1980)
  8. Death Ship (1980)
  9. The Funhouse (1981)
  10. The Ghost and Mr Chicken (1966)
  11. Hell of the Living Dead (1980)
  12. The House by the Cemetery (1981)
  13. Housebound (2003)
  14. The Incredible Mr Limpet (1964)
  15. It Came From Outer Space (1953)
  16. Pizza Man (1991)
  17. Platoon of the Dead (2009)
  18. Poison Sweethearts (2008)
  19. Scare Campaign (2016)
  20. The Seekers (2003)
  21. The Unseen (1980)
  22. V/H/S (2012)

100 Bloody Acres (2012) and Scare Campaign (2016)

The Cairnes brothers are a successful editor and director in the Australian TV industry. They know their craft and work with some great people.

Their first feature was the horror comedy 100 Bloody Acres, which everyone should see. It features a twisted sense of humor that should appeal to anyone who enjoys horror generally.

Scare Campaign is kind of odd. It’s really well made with a great performance by Josh Quong Tart. But I find the plot predictable. But I eagerly await their next film. These guys are great!

2 Young 2 Die

David Palmieri is a successful grip in Hollywood and on the side he makes micro-budget (mostly) horror films. Such people are really inspiring because they could just relax in their careers. But he continues to put out films.

I’ve only seen 2 Young 2 Die (AKA Axegrinder). It was one of his first films. It features some good gore and a plot that kind of makes sense. I’d definitely like to see more of Palmieri’s work.

City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981)

This is Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy and it is amazing. Every horror fan should own them. And of course that means that they haven’t been released together, as they ought to be.

Check out my article, The Gates of Hell Trilogy. It also includes a thorough round-up of the available versions. Sadly, City of the Living Dead has been released really well only outside the US. If you only get one, I think The Beyond is the best. And most other people agree.

Housebound (2003) and The Seekers (2003) and Platoon of the Dead (2009)

I originally bought Platoon of the Dead when Tempe Video was closing down. It’s a good micro-budget zombie film. So I decided to look into the work of director John Bowker. There’s a double DVD with Housebound and The Seekers.

I hope to write an article looking at the progression of Bowker’s career. These two earlier films aren’t as good as Platoon. But they are still worthy and The Seekers was pretty fun.

The Birds (1963)

I grew up with The Birds. Because it was filmed locally, every time it came on TV, we had to watch it. I still enjoy it — especially Suzanne Pleshette and the bird-lover, Ethel Griffies.

BloodRayne: The Third Reich (2011) and Blubberella (2011)

These two Uwe Boll films were made at the same time. BloodRayne is a standard Nazi action film and Blubberella is a parody of it. They are both solid films, but the main reason to watch BloodRayne is that you will better enjoy Blubberella.

Death Ship (1980)

Death Ship feels so much like it was made for TV but it wasn’t. It has its moments. I didn’t much like it but to be honest, I really don’t like George Kennedy.

The Funhouse (1981)

I love The Funhouse. It’s scary, has interesting characters, and looks fantastic. Wayne Doba as the “monster” is great. And I quite like Elizabeth Berridge. This is one of Tobe Hooper’s best.

The Ghost and Mr Chicken (1966) and The Incredible Mr Limpet (1964)

Don Knotts has not aged well for me. I find him kind of annoying. Yet these films work remarkably well. The Incredible Mr Limpet is the lesser of the two. It’s got a strange Cold War kind of plot that seems tacked on. Still, the animation is good and it’s sweet.

The Ghost and Mr Chicken is a surprisingly scary film. I don’t have any children, but if I did, I’d definitely use it to infect them with the Horror virus.

Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

Hell of the Living Dead is a Bruno Mattei “me to” film. It’s not great. But it features some awesome gore. Frankly, I’ve always found the conflict in Day of the Dead kind of annoying and it’s the same here.

It Came From Outer Space (1953)

It Came From Outer Space is a great science fiction film from the people who brought us Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s nice to get away from the usual “invasion” films of that time.

Pizza Man (1991)

Pizza Man is LF Lawton’s follow-up to Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. It’s equally funny. Sadly, Lawton doesn’t make these kinds of films anymore.

Poison Sweethearts (2008)

Poison Sweethearts is a series of short films — mostly about women who are pushed too far. It’s roughly horror but presented in a very artistic way. It’s worth a watch. I really liked one of the shorts.

The Unseen (1980)

This is one of those “Great horror films you’ve never seen” type of things. I’ve gotten tired over the years of having plots where I’m trying to figure out who the killer is. There’s none of that here. And the story is heartbreaking. I highly recommend The Unseen.

V/H/S (2012)

V/H/S brings together a number of fine filmmakers to create a bunch of connected shorts. What’s not to like? Even the poor lighting and limited resolution is used for great effect. I need to check out Siren, which was spawned by this film.

Is the Drive-in Theater Back?

Milford Drive-in Theater

In January, I went to see a high school basketball game with my cousin and I got a great idea. In the summer, we should drive over to Sacramento, pick up her brother, and go to the West Wind Drive-in Theater!

She didn’t immediately take to the idea because she knows the kind of movies that I like. But I explained that we would see a “normal” film. There would (sadly) be no Blood Feast playing there anyway.

And then the pandemic started and I despaired of getting to do this. But I shouldn’t have. Drive-in theaters may end up being big winners from this crisis.

Childhood Memories

Many people have noticed that drive-in theaters are kind of pre-social-distancing.

A large percentage of my memories from childhood involve movies: on television, in the theater, and at the drive-in. I especially remember my older sister sticking my younger sister and me in the trunk of the car to save money getting into the drive-in. It seems that everyone did that — to the point where theaters started just charging by the car.

One of my earliest memories was going to the drive-in to see The Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes with my friend George and his parents. I must have been 6-years-old. George fell asleep, which still shocks me. He missed the reveal of the people who worship the bomb!

When I first went to grad school, I went to the drive-in a number of times. I remember seeing Dick Tracy and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Technological Changes

By the 1980s, most drive-ins had switched from physical speakers to FM broadcasting. So the sound when I saw these films in 1990 was fine. The visuals, however, were not. They were faded out — a lot like those illegal DVDs people used to sell that had been video-taped during a showing of the film.

I’m happy to hear that the drive-in theater industry eventually addressed this problem. In recent years, theaters have been converting to digital projection. Sadly, this is going along with the consolidation of the industry because this technological change is expensive. So we are seeing a lot of chains, like West Wind that I discussed earlier.

Pandemic Movies

The movie industry has adjusted to the pandemic by releasing films directly to streaming. And that’s great! (I guess it’s great; I almost never see new films.) But people still like to make movie-going an event.

And I suspect soon the theaters will open up. I don’t see a problem if precautions are taken. (It’s interesting that airplanes are filling up but movie theaters aren’t. I’m not saying either should go back to normal but I see a distinct class element here.)

But many people have noticed that drive-in theaters are kind of pre-social-distancing. Sure: there might be some issues at the snack bar and the bathrooms. But these can all be managed. For example, some theaters are offering food service at cars.

And while all the indoor theaters around me are closed, you can still go to the drive-in. At the San Jose drive-in, they are showing a bunch of well-designed double features. For example: ET and Jurassic Park. But they also have new films: The Hunt and The Invisible Man.

Temporary drive-ins are opening up. I just read about two in the Chicago area. Another in Maryland. And Colorado. And these are just some that have been reported on in the last day!

I really don’t know if drive-in theaters will ever again be more than nostalgia for old people like me. But changes in the technology are a good sign. The indoor theater doesn’t offer me much. I’m thrilled that the drive-ins near me are playing double-features. I don’t expect I will ever prefer the drive-in to my home theater. But if they were equally accessible, I’d definitely pick the drive-in over the indoor theater.

And not just for nostalgia.


Milford Drive-in Theater by Laxbot7 under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Anniversary Post: They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants

On this day, 9 June, in 1971, They Might Be Giants was released. It’s one of my all-time favorite films. But I must admit that the first time I saw it I was bewildered by it. I just didn’t grok it. I guess I was just too young and too sane.

Or maybe it is that the film is all about the nature of reality — something I didn’t connect with much when I was young. Now it’s the main thing I think about. In the film, George C Scott plays Justin Playfair, a retired judge who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes. Or is he Sherlock Holmes? I’d say that you are more likely to enjoy the film if you go along with it.

But the main thing in They Might Be Giants is that it is filled with colorful characters played by colorful character actors like Al Lewis (The Munsters), Rue McClanahan (The Golden Girls), Oliver Clark (A Star Is Born), and Jack Gilford (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).

How to Watch They Might Be Giants

I highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t. Below, I’ll embed a great print (while it lasts). But you can get it on Blu-ray with a director commentary, a featurette, and the extra scene in the grocery store (sadly not integrated with the film as it has been in other releases).

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of its release. We will have to do something for it. It is a spectacular film!

See our article on the film.


The Might Be Giants DVD case via Wikipedia under Fair use.