In August of 1999, millions of voices cried out in terror… and were suddenly silenced. What cataclysmic event could have possibly elicited such a response? It was the result of the cancellation of the long-running TV series, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Beloved by all who followed it through the years (and those who became fans following the show’s demise), the mission of Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a simple, yet relatable one: Track down the worst movies you can find, and make them a bit more bearable by suffering through them with a group of friends. Do that, sit back, and let the hilarity ensue.

From its humble beginnings on KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1988, to its run on Comedy Central (1989-’96, including a theatrical movie), to the final years on the Sci-Fi Channel, the brainchild of Joel Hodgson (show host from 1988-’93) has never ceased to be relevant. As long as bad movies keep being vomited into existence, there will always be a need for someone to poke fun at their flaws. This is why, in MST3K‘s absence, the spirit of the show had been kept alive, making the series more popular posthumously than it ever was in its original run.

This resulted in the creation of several similarly-themed TV series, the rise of countless YouTube stars, and quasi-spinoffs Cinematic Titanic (created by Hodgson) and RiffTrax (featuring former MST3K members Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett). Not everything that MST3K riffed on was entirely horrible, and it’s actually a good thing that many of those films were unearthed. An important lesson brought up by MST3K is that all cinema is of value in one way or another, and none of it should ever be forgotten… no matter how terrible it might be.

For these reasons and others, MST3K has never been forgotten either, and that’s exactly why an online petition to resurrect the show. With a little luck and a lot of support, the idea became a reality when Netflix picked up the series, re-launching it in April 2017 for a belated 11th season as Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return. Immediately, one can see that the formula is familiar, and the movies are still terrible, yet there are still some new things added just to spice things up a bit.

The only returning original cast member is Joel Hodgson (appearing only as supporting/tertiary characters). Robots Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy all have new voices and can do things that the old, much more limited budget prevented them from doing. Jonah Ray joins them as Gizmonic Institute employee Jonah Heston. Tormenting our lovable crew with bad movies are Felicia Day as Kinga Forrester (daughter of Dr. Clayton Forrester and granddaughter of Pearl Forrester) and Patton Oswalt as Max. Season 11 (or Season 1, depending on your perspective) consists of 14 episodes. In the interest of brevity… and a desire to be thorough without going overboard, I’ve broken up my review of these episodes into two parts. So, without further delay, here are Episodes 1 through 7!

 

11.01 – Reptilicus (1961)

It makes sense that the new MST3K would kick things off with a lame-ass monster movie, since the original series also riffed on several bad movies of the same genre early in its run. The premise, the opening theme, and the set all seem comforting in their familiarity, but right away you’ll notice some things have changed in the last 18 years. For instance, Tom Servo and Crow can now both get up out of their seats and move about the theater when the joke calls for it. Gypsy also pokes her head in on occasion, something she never did (or was never capable of doing) before. This first episode also presents a sign of things to come as there are celebrity cameos, this time from Wil Wheaton and Erin Gray.

The movie itself is, as one would expect, run-of-the-mill at best. The tail section to an ancient creature is discovered by Danish miners. The historical find is transported to the Copenhagen Aquarium for further study. That is, of course, until one of the badly dubbed, dumbass scientists falls asleep on the job, allowing for the specimen to thaw. Instead of decaying, to everyone’s amazement, it regenerates! This results in a very large, very pissed off monster tearing through Copenhagen, puking up a corrosive green substance all over everything and everyone. The monster is eventually subdued, but not without a chunk of it surviving in the ocean, leaving room for the sequel that never happened.

For a show like MST3KReptilicus is easy cannon fodder. You need something like this to both reassure longtime fans and to help draw in first-time viewers. The introductions of all the new characters are handled effectively. It’s the new voices for the robots that take getting used to. It will not go down as one of the show’s all-time best episodes, but even an average episode like Reptilicus is enough to give everyone hope that Joel Hodgson’s baby still has plenty of life left in it.

 

11.02 – Cry Wilderness (1987)

MST3K: The Return gets over its growing pains pretty quick in this, its second episode. Featuring amusing guest appearances from Sci-Fi Channel era villains Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl), Observer (Bill Corbett) and Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy), the main focus of this episode is a Bigfoot movie released in 1987. If it were Harry and the Hendersons, it wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting episode since that’s actually a decent family film. No, the object of our disdain this time is Cry Wilderness, and boy is it a doozy!

So, Bigfoot (i.e. a big guy in a really cheap Sasquatch costume) warns a young schoolboy named Kevin that his father is in danger. Kevin does what any kid would do when presented with such cryptic information would do, go to the nearest adult and tell them what he’s heard and who/what he heard it from. Probably should have left out the last part, since most everyone beyond a certain age believes Bigfoot to be a myth. Still, somehow Kevin manages to weasel his way into accompanying his father, a park ranger, on a hunt for a runaway tiger. Danger lurks in the form of a poacher who… now, get this… actually believes in Bigfoot (not unlike the David Souchet character from Harry and the Hendersons).

Things get even weirder when it turns out that, not only does Kevin know for a fact that Bigfoot exists, he’s even been protecting the big guy and kept him fed for a year (including an entire truck’s worth of Coca-Colas). The movie teases you with the idea that Kevin might wind up unsuccessful in protecting his father from danger on several occasions, but never actually pulls the trigger. Oh, also the poacher never has that moment where he has a change of heart. He does eat like a pig, though. Really bad movie, really funny episode. Some of the season’s funniest one-liners can be found here. If Cry Wilderness isn’t the best of the first half of Season 11, it’s very close.

 

11.03 – The Time Travelers (1964)

Ib Melchior strikes again! The same man responsible for writing the screenplay for Reptilicus also wrote AND directed this putrescent project. I would hate to think that the creators of the original Planet of the Apes film series might have mined this particular pile of dookie when crafting the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes… But after seeing this episode, I have to wonder.

A group of scientist have developed a device that is quite literally a window through time. The idiot power plant technician among them notices that it’s more than just a window, and decides to step through. Because of the device’s instability, it’s very likely that the guy is going to get lost on the other side if he doesn’t wander back soon. So, of course the others decide to go in after him. The woman among them isn’t pleased about being left behind… even though she’s supposed to monitor things until they return. She goes in after them, and the portal closes. They’re screwed. Stuck in a post-apocalyptic future, they elude the primitives by hiding underground.

There, the scientists discover a somewhat more sophisticated group who are building a rocket on which they plan to leave this lousy planet and all its cheap film sets behind. Our stranded scientists plead their case, but that doesn’t buy them a ticket on board the rocket. You’re probably asking why they don’t just rebuild their time portal. In fact, that’s what they are encouraged to do. But then the question comes to why the others would rather time travel than face a long, dangerous space journey. Time travel doesn’t interest them until the moment when the primitives destroy the rocket, leaving them no other alternative.

They arrive at the precise moment they originally left, but they are experiencing time at a faster rate and must do something or they’ll die quickly from old age. They jump through the portal, which had been set to 100,000 years in the future, but with the screen blank there’s no way to tell what they’re getting themselves into. Once they get there, everything looks okay, but we’ll never know for sure because that’s how we leave things… open-ended. I understand the regular cut of the movie includes some time-loop stuff at the end, but the MST3K version skips over all that.

As with ReptilicusThe Time Travelers is a chore to slog through. Only a superficial resemblance to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which is a far more nihilistic movie than this, but enough similarities that it’s possible some influence exists. Not as complete of an episode as Cry Wilderness, and not as amusing as Reptilicus. The boys have fun with it though, and that does make this one worth the watch.

 

11.04 – Avalanche (1978)

There’s a good reason why disaster movie marathons NEVER include this one. Rock Hudson, Mia Farrow, and an assorted cast of characters sit around and talk for about an hour before anything interesting actually happens. This would be the point where Avalanche finally lives up to the promise of its title, where loads of snow finally break off the mountain, covering everything in its path and smothering its victims to death.

The problem is that this one interesting part of the movie is doomed before it even starts. You’ll probably be fast asleep when it does. You wouldn’t even miss much if you managed to stay awake.  None of the characters are built up enough for us to care whether they’ll survive or not. Even the movie’s headliners, Hudson and Farrow, are extremely vanilla. There’s really not much more that can be said beyond all that.

One of the episode’s features (beyond the staggeringly stupid movie) is the guest appearance of Neil Patrick Harris. The filler segments of the original show were something I generally used to fast forward past, as all I was really interested in was the riffing on the bad movie. I lke NPH, but his segment is no exception, particularly because it drags on far longer than it should. Everything about this episode is slow-moving. Overall, Avalanche is the least of the first seven episodes.

 

11.05 – The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

I came dangerously close to labeling this episode as the least so far, before realizing the brilliance of it. As with AvalancheThe Beast of Hollow Mountain moves at a snail’s pace. So much so that it will test the patience of most Netflix viewers. In fact, it takes so long to get to the point that you start wondering where either the Beast or the Hollow Mountain are!

Set in Mexico in the 1900’s, we’re treated to a boring, uninspired love triangle. The main selling point of the flick doesn’t even show up until the last half-hour. The “Hollow Mountain” makes a brief on-screen appearance about ten minutes later. Until then, it’s all about the lovers’ quarrel. There’s a chubby comic relief character whom the MST3K boys seem to get a kick out of. Naturally, when the Beast arrives, Fat Boy is the first to go.

The stop-motion creature effects are done by the legendary Willis O’Brien (who also co-wrote the story). Nowhere close to his best work in either regard… The T-Rex from King Kong (1933) comes to mind when considering his best stop-motion work. Still, a movie that almost forgets what it sets out to be about is sheer brilliance, and the episode riffing on it makes sure to drive that point home.

 

11.06 – Starcrash (1978)

Among the things which one can count on from Italian cinema are classic Westerns, bewildering indie films, gory horror movies, and Z-grade imitations of immensely popular American films. Starcrash, owing its entire existence to Star Wars, occupies the latter category. The above image ought to give you a good idea as to this movie’s true selling point. It was the only one of the fourteen films included in this season which I had previously seen, so naturally it’s also the episode I looked forward to the most. It does not disappoint.

Stella Star (played by a scantily-clad Caroline Munro) is a space smuggler who, after a brief prison term, is tasked with saving the galaxy. But, you know, no pressure. Along for the ride are her partner Akton (a wise, excitable young man whose powers are meant to mimic the Force and who uses a weapon which is clearly a lightsaber), and former captors Thor (who is not related to the Greek God/Marvel Comics superhero) and Elle (a robot who sounds like a southern preacher). Their mission, assigned by the Emperor (Christopher Plummer) is to thwart the plans of Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) by finding the Count’s ultimate weapon… and if at all possible, saving the life of the Emperor’s son, Simon (David Hasselhoff).

An accompaniment to all the cheesy goodness of Starcrash is the score composed by John Barry, which consists of tracks similar to stuff he came up with for Moonraker and The Black Hole. Can’t go wrong with John Barry. You can’t go wrong with Caroline Munro either, even when she’s forced to overact with amusing facial expressions and her voice has been unnecessarily dubbed. It’s pretty clear that director Luigi Cozzi had no real plan going into making this movie, and was betrayed by the limits of his special effects budget (note the Christmas tree lights which stand in for stars). That’s a shame too, because it meant that his planned sequels were never going to happen. This is one bad movie which is so much fun that it deserved to spawn more bad movies. The best! The absolute best! The only real downgrade is another drawn-out celebrity cameo, this one from Jerry Seinfeld.

 

11.07 – The Land That Time Forgot (1975)

You might suppose that a movie based on a cherished Edgar Rice Burroughs novel would automatically give the film an advantage. But then you’d remember all the bad Tarzan movies mixed in with the good ones. The Land Before Time shows the signs of a good story fighting to rip its way out of the plottings of a terrible film. A bigger budget and more polished actors might have saved it. Hang on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

Set during World War I, the surviving passengers of a British merchant vessel are taken prisoner aboard a German U-boat. Eventually, the captives turn the tide and take over the ship, but not before being knocked off-course. So much so that they come across Caprona, a land heard of but fabled to exist. This is because the inhabitant human and animal life is so primitive that it is said to be stuck in time.

Speaking of time, budget limitations dictate that the film take its precious time in actually getting us to the island. Once there, the action is rushed, and we’ve barely enough time to learn that evolution on Caprona is based on migration, not natural selection before the movie ends on a rather bleak note. As an episode, the gags are good, and the little dance number performed by Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt is as cute as it is funny. A bit of a letdown after the last two brilliant episodes, but otherwise pretty good.

What will Episodes 8 through 14 have in store (beside hilariously awful movies)? Stay tuned for Part 2…

31. Halloween 4 (1988)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes, but his readers wouldn’t have it. So,  Doyle had to come up with an explanation as to why it had only appeared that Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, had apparently died together from a fall off a cliff. After the abysmal failure of “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” the late Moustapha Akkad was left with a similar task to Doyle’s. The final scene of “Halloween II” saw both the psychotic, knife-wielding killer Michael Myers and his ‘Holmes,’ Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), apparently burning to death in a gas fire explosion at  Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Although Jamie Lee Curtis had given him an out by declining to return, Akkad was still left with the unenviable task of finding a way of explaining how his series’ other two main characters could have survived.

At the film’s beginning (which was originally to have included an introduction explaining what REALLY happened at the end of Film #2), we learn that neither Dr. Loomis nor Michael Myers had perished in the fire at the hospital. It is now ten years after that brutal night, and Michael is in heavy bandages and lies in a coma at Ridgemont Federal Sanitarium, from where he is being prepped for transfer to Smith’s Grove. The ambulance crew make the mistake of mentioning the existence of his niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), and Michael suddenly awakens and kills everyone in the ambulance.

Learning of the incident, a heavily scarred Dr. Loomis is quickly on the scene, where he and others find the ambulance lying on its side in a creek, twisted and blood-stained. Although the severity of the wreck makes it impossible to tell who’s who among the casualties, Dr. Loomis knows Michael is not among them. Despite the sheer implausibility of anyone suddenly waking from a decade-long coma with muscles that haven’t atrophied, this does make for a visually exciting beginning. Loomis knows Michael will be heading back to Haddonfield to hunt down his niece, and races to warn Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr) to be ready for Myers’ impending arrival.

After locating Jamie and her older stepsister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), Loomis and Meeker are horrified to discover that Michael has annihilated everyone inside the police station. It is at this time that a band of vigilantes from the local bar arrive on the scene and take it upon themselves to track down and kill Michael. This prompts the Sheriff to call for official police reinforcements, blockading Rachel, Jamie, Brady (Sasha Jenson) and Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont) inside the Meeker home. It isn’t long before Michael shows up at the house, killing a deputy, Kelly (pinning her to a wall by shoving a shotgun through her!) and then Brady, and chasing Rachel and Jamie up onto the roof in one of the film’s more memorable scenes.

Both of the girls eventually fall to the ground below, and Dr. Loomis escorts Jamie to the schoolhouse, trying unsuccessfully to subdue Michael. This leads to perhaps the most preposterous scene in the whole movie (and yes, that includes Michael awakening from his coma with full strength and the aforementioned shotgun impalement). The group of vigilantes arrive in their truck to take the girls out of town, and thus out of danger. But Michael has other ideas, hitching a ride on the truck unbeknownst to everyone. From there, he somehow manages to individually dispose of every single one of the vigilantes without the rest of them ever hearing a sound. Never mind that he makes a ton of noise accomplishing this feat. He eventually kills the driver, too, (and in the movie’s bloodiest scene of all) by ripping the man’s neck wide open. Eww.

Rachel takes control of the truck and rams right into Michael, knocking him senseless several feet away. Although she is told to stay in the truck, Jamie gets out anyway and touches hands with her uncle. Sheriff Meeker then arrives with the squad of deputies, who raise their guns just in time to keep Michael from stabbing his niece from behind, sending him crashing into an old mine shaft. No way he’s getting out of there, right? Hey, if he can survive getting freaking burned alive in a gas fire…!

Back at the Carruthers home, all seems quiet. Even Dr. Loomis, although injured from the battle at the schoolhouse, appears to be all right. Jamie’s stepmom decides to draw her a bath. Jamie is still wearing her Halloween costume, which looks strikingly similar to the one worn by her uncle the night he killed his older sister Judith in 1963. Sure enough, Jamie puts on her mask, grabs a pair of scissors from the next room, enters the bathroom and stabs her stepmom. The shrieking alarms Dr. Loomis, who races to find Jamie at the top of the stairs, covered in her stepmom’s blood, and still wielding the scissors. Mortified by the scene in front of him, Dr. Loomis instinctively pulls out his gun, intending to kill Jamie. Sheriff Meeker wrestles the gun from Loomis’s hand and spins around to look up at Jamie. Rachel and Jamie’s stepfather arrive just afterwards. Everyone is in shock. Loomis in particular is both horrified and saddened, crumpling to the floor and able only to utter the word “No!” over and over. It appears that Evil has been passed (rather than destroyed) from uncle to niece and that Innocence has been corrupted once again.

What would have otherwise been an okay, yet totally unnecessary sequel is made ten times better by its conclusion. No matter how many times I have personally seen it, that final image of 11 year-old Danielle Harris wearing the bloody Halloween clown costume and holding up the pair of scissors in striking position is hard to erase from my mind. I just wish the producers would have had the guts to run full steam with this ending into the next (inevitable) sequel, because I think then that “Halloween 5” could have had the potential to become the most terrifying film in the franchise, or at least the best of the sequels.

“Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” could have benefited from a little MORE restraint in the gore department, methinks. A couple of the deaths in this film are just plain ridiculous (in particular the previously mentioned Kelly Meeker). It’s Zombie Jason of the latter “Friday the 13th” sequels ridiculous. I also wish they could’ve gotten a more imposing mask for George Wilbur to wear in this film. Danielle Harris’s clown mask was scarier than that silly thing… even before the final shot! Still, a very decent entry in one of the greatest of all horror film series.

30. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Michael Parks

It really doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years since “From Dusk Till Dawn” was unleashed upon the world. In fact, it almost feels like it could have happened yesterday… or even overnight. The thing that best serves to keep this movie fresh in the mind is how effortlessly it is able to combine two completely different genres into one beautiful package. Add to that the fact that the script was written by Quentin Tarantino (as his first paid Hollywood writing gig) and an excellent cast of characters, and you have a classic modern horror movie on your hands.

Bank robbing brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) are on the run, both from the FBI and law enforcement of the State of Texas. They’ve already killed a few cops, feds and civilians, and two more casualties soon follow at a liquor store. On top of it all, they’ve also kidnapped a bank clerk, to whom Seth has promised she will live as long as she does all that they ask of her. Unfortunately, Richie has a bit of an impulse control problem. He rapes and murders the woman while Seth has stepped out of their motel room to pick up some hamburgers.

Meanwhile, a family of three driving an RV fatefully stops to rest at the very same motel. Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is a former preacher who lately has questioned his faith following the death by auto accident of his wife. Jacob and his children, Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu), are to be the Gecko brothers’ next hostages. Forcing Jacob to drive past the Mexican border, the Gecko brothers’ destination is a strip club called the Titty Twister, where are supposed to rendezvous at dawn with a man named Carlos. Until that time, they intend to enjoy themselves, and encourage the Fullers to do the same.

The fun only lasts a short while. After a very sexy show from the featured attraction, Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek), the truth of this place is revealed: All of the employees (the girls, the bartender, the band, Santanico and others) are in fact vampires! Most of the truckers and bikers who’ve shown up to eat, drink and get their rocks off are killed within minutes. Richie himself is bitten and killed by Santanico. When Richie turns, Seth is forced to drive a wooden stake through his heart. By the end of the initial assault, the only ones who still have a pulse are Seth, Jacob, Kate, Scott, Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Frost (Fred Williamson).

As the survivors commit to dealing with the dead bodies so as to prevent them from rising up again, one of them bites Sex Machine on the arm. Gradually, he turns into a vampire. When he does, Sex Machine bites both Frost and Jacob. As Frost becomes a vampire, he tosses Sex Machine through a door, allowing a second wave of vampire to fly in as bats. Retreating to a storage room, Seth, Kate and Scott and an injured Jacob (wielding a shotgun) make the most out of what they can find to create weapons to be used against the vampire horde. This includes a Super Soaker with holy water (for Scott), a crossbow (for Kate), and a rather phallic pneumatic drill with an attached wooden stake (for Seth).

Going back out into the crowd of vampires, the group begins to fight back. Jacob doesn’t last long before he changes and bites Scott. Kate is forced to kill her father, and then her brother as well. Having lost their weapons in the fracas, Seth and Kate are down to one gun with a scant amount of ammunition. Daybreak arrives, and the sunlight starts to peek through the holes in the walls, made by earlier gunfire. Seth instructs Kate to create more holes, but it’s only partially effective, as the vampires continue to close in on them. Just then, Carlos (Cheech Marin) and his men show up outside. Seth hollers at him to shoot down the doors, which then exposes all the vampires inside to sunlight, killing them in a fiery explosion. Expressing anger at Carlos’s ignorance of just what kind of establishment that the Titty Twister turned out to have been, Seth makes their planned exchange, and give some of the money to Kate. Afterwards, Seth sends Kate on her way back home, while he departs for El Rey, Mexico.

The second-best movie I’ve watched all month (behind only “Psycho”), I have long considered “From Dusk Till Dawn” to be a fantastic movie in every conceivable way. It’s horrific (thanks to wonderful makeup effects from KNB), it’s well-acted… George Clooney in particular is just superb… and expertly written. I love the fact that it’s essentially two movies for the price of one, starting off as a action-crime getaway movie before transforming into a vampire flick at the sixty-minute mark.

I kinda wish we’d seen a little more from Tom Savini’s Sex Machine, as he’s just hilarious. Cheech Marin, a veteran of Robert Rodriguez’s films, plays three roles: in addition to Carlos, he also shows up as a border patrol officer and as one of the vampires. Greg Nicotero (best known today for his directing and supervision of the makeup effects on TV’s “The Walking Dead”), in addition to working on the makeup effects for “From Dusk Till Dawn,” also cameos as a biker from whom Sex Machine steals a beer. Although Nicotero’s character dies off-screen in the final cut of the film, a deleted scene shows that his head is bitten off by Santanico Pandemonium.

If you love the work of Quentin Tarantino but never have bothered with “From Dusk Till Dawn,” you’re missing a lot! Everything that makes a Tarantino script great is present here. If you’re a “Walking Dead” fan and love the gore that the show provides… same answer, except that it probably would have been even better before cuts were made to bring the movie down to an R-rating. Basically, you can’t go wrong. As fresh now as it was in 1996. Two decades from now, you’ll doubtless be able to say the same thing, because “From Dusk Till Dawn,” like the creatures of the night that it depicts, is immortal.

29. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Director: Deborah Brock

Starring: Crystal Bernard, Patrick Lowe, Kimberly McArthur, Juliette Cummins, Heidi Kozak, Joel Hoffman, Scott Westmoreland, Atanis Ilitch

Usually, I have to look overseas to find a horror movie as ridiculous as this! Since “The Slumber Party Massacre” was released five years earlier, the slasher genre had been altered forever by the introduction (and subsequent popularity of) the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. I mention this, because the existence of that franchise is the only satisfactory explanation I can come up with to rationalize the complete left turn into absurdity that is made by “Slumber Party Massacre II.” I only wish it had sustained the madness throughout its scant 75 minute runtime.

Courtney Bates (Crystal Bernard), the youngest survivor from the first film, is now a young adult who is plagued by nightmares of her earlier traumatic experience. She’s in an all-girl rock band, whose music you would only pretend to enjoy if you were her boyfriend or were looking to date her. The band, which includes Sheila (Juliette Cummins), Sally (Heidi Kozak) and Amy (Kimberly McArthur), go to a condo owned by Sheila’s parents where they intend to have a slumber party for the weekend. Matt (Patrick Lowe) is invited to come watch the band play and get to know Courtney, while Sheila’s boyfriend T.J. (Joel Hoffmann) and his buddy Jeff (Scott Westmoreland) crash the party.

All the while, Courtney’s disturbing nightmares persist. The dreams include the sight of her sister, Valerie, in a mental institution, as well as a man dressed in black and wielding a guitar with a large drill bit attached to the neck. These dark visions start to spill over into the waking world, confusing Courtney, worrying her friends and annoying local police. Finally, the Driller Killer emerges into the real world by killing Matt right in front of Courtney. With song and dance, he kills each of Courtney’s friends one by one until just the two of them are left. Courtney wins the battle, fulfilling the Driller Killer’s wish for her to “Light My Fire” by setting him ablaze. That’s when the movie, which has already been weird enough, takes a turn for the utterly mystifying with an ending that appears to show that the whole movie has been one big fakeout dream. Courtney first wakes up in her condo bed with Matt (which would only have nullified part of the movie) before he transforms into the Driller Killer. She screams, only to find that it is she, not her sister, who is in a mental institution. I give up.

The only real reason to watch this movie is for Atanas Illitch, who plays the Driller Killer. Atanas Illitch, the son of Mike Illitch (owner of the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, and owner/founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza), puts everything he’s got into the role, and what comes out is a terrifically hammy, 100% entertaining performance. Crystal Bernard is the only cast member to go on to anything of any real significance, starring on the hit 1990s TV sitcom “Wings,” but you probably wouldn’t have gauged that future success based on this movie. The sad thing about the Driller Killer is that the mayhem (and the awesomeness) doesn’t get underway until the film’s final 25 minutes. You’re left to either fast forward to that point, or suffer the first 50 minutes, which are excruciating apart from some female nudity. If you’re not into that, then yeah… it’s gonna be a chore to sit through, and all for a payoff that’s sorta/kinda worth it.

28. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Director: Amy Holden Jones

Starring: Michele Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella, Debra Deliso, Andree Honore, Gina Mari, Jennifer Meyers

Unimpressed by horror movies with nuanced plots? Looking for something extremely lightweight? Have you ever wondered what a slasher movie written and directed by women would look like? “The Slumber Party Massacre” is your app for that. Made during the height of the slasher genre’s popularity, “The Slumber Party Massacre” was intended as a parody of the genre, but was filmed straight. As a result, this low-budget horror still contains some of the humor from the original script, yet is unburdened by standard things such as plot or character development.

Trish (Michele Michaels) is a high school students whose parents are going away for the weekend. This provides an opportunity for Trish and friends Kim (Debra Deliso), Diane (Gina Mari), and Jackie (Andree Honore) to get together for a slumber party. Trish also wants to invite Valerie (Robin Stille), the new girl in school, but is turned down when Valerie overhears Diane talking trash about her in the girls’ locker room. Meanwhile, a serial killer named Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) has escaped from prison, looking to add to the list of five murders for which he’d been serving time. His weapon of choice: a power drill. Quickly, he kills a telephone repair woman and appropriates her van, and then kills a female student who becomes locked in the school after going back for a textbook.

As night falls, the slumber party begins. Three boys, including Diane’s boyfriend, show up to join in. Instead of going to the party, Valerie, who lives next door, has elected to stay home and babysit her younger sister, Courtney (Jennifer Meyers). Their relationship seems to be a contentious one, full of squabbling and insults… so, your typical sibling rivalry. Courtney wants to be where the fun is, but Valerie says “no” to the party. It isn’t long before Russ Thorn shows up to crash the party, killing a neighbor who’d promised Trish’s mother he’d watch over the house. Thorn gets into Trish’s house via the garage door, which no one in the house seems to have a firm grasp on how to close properly. Diane and her boyfriend, who step out to the garage for a make out session, are next to die.

Inside the house, nothing yet seems to be amiss. While Trish is on the phone with her gym teacher (who is quite clearly no more than five years older than her students) discussing a recent baseball game, the others are waiting for the pizza guy to show up. When he does, the girls are horrified to see him collapse to the floor dead, with bloody holes drilled where his eyes ought to be. The coach overhears the screams, then calls Valerie to check on the situation before deciding it’s better if she goes there personally. No further calls to or from Trish’s house are possible, as Thorn has cut the phone line. Both of the remaining boys are killed outside the house.

Back inside, Thorn kills Jackie, causing Trish and Kim to barricade themselves upstairs. When Courtney takes it upon herself to go check out the party, Valerie follows her, hoping to find out if everything’s okay over there. Scared out of their minds at this point, Trish and Kim wonder if Valerie and the killer aren’t somehow in cahoots. Thorn breaks into the bedroom and attacks Trish and Kim, stealing Kim’s knife and stabbing her to death with it. Valerie and Courtney enter the house and discover Kim’s body stuffed inside the refrigerator. Courtney hides under the couch, while Valerie eludes Thorn by going down to the basement.

With Courtney still under the couch, Thorn switches places with the dead pizza guy under the sheet which the girls had placed over the body. Just then, the coach shows up, but Thorn gets the drop on her and kills her. Trish, who was nearby, stabs Thorn, but that just pisses him off. After taking her time choosing a weapon with which to arm herself, Valerie emerges from the basement to attack Thorn with a machete. The action spills outside near Trish’s family swimming pool. There, Valerie cuts off a piece of the drill bit from Thorn’s power drill before cutting off his left hand as he falls into the swimming pool. Believing the nightmare is over, Valerie and Trish hug. Suddenly, Thorn leaps out of the swimming pool, only to fall directly onto the machete, still being held tightly by Valerie.

“The Slumber Party Massacre” is cheap, and definitely looks it. But this is a slasher movie, and they work best when they appear rough around the edges in every respect. Kudos to actor Michael Villella, whose crazy eyes are the creepiest thing about this movie. The movie itself scores points by cutting through the BS and skipping right into the action. I do wonder what it would have looked like had the satirical nature of the original script been followed to the letter. But the end result is a movie that belongs as part of a horror marathon. There are certainly less interesting ways to spend 75 minutes of your time.

 

27-one-missed-call-2003

Director: Takashi Miike

Starring: Kou Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi, Anna Nagata, Renji Ishibashi, Atsushi Ida, Mariko Tsutsui

Ah, yes, the Japanese ghost story. Always so bizarre! I’ve noted how this may well be my least favorite type of horror movie (werewolves run fairly close), and yet… at least technically… I’ve already dealt with two of them just this month. However, neither should count as they were not produced by Japan. One (“Pulse”) was a remake set in America, while the other (“The Forest”) was an original story set in Japan but featuring an American protagonist. 2003’s “One Missed Call” is the real deal. As batshit crazy and existing outside of anything resembling reality as the rest of its ilk, “One Missed Call” remains my one and only exception to my prejudice against this little subgenre.

A college student named Yoko Okazaki (Anna Nagata) receives a call on her cell phone, which she notices is from her own number. It goes straight to voicemail. The weird thing is that it’s dated two days to the future. Yoko and her friend Yumi Nakamura (Kou Shibasaki) listen to the message. Instantly recognizable as Yoko’s voice, the message ends with Yoko screaming. Two nights later, Yoko is having a phone conversation with Yumi which quickly becomes familiar, as Yoko is repeating the words from the voicemail. Soon, Yoko screams as she is dragged by an unknown presence off the bridge she was standing on and dropped down onto the roof of an oncoming train. From her mouth a red candy emerges, while a severed hand calls a number. Some time later, Yoko’s boyfriend, Kenji Kawai (Atsushi Ida), meets with Yumi and tells her that he received a voicemail with the exact same ringtone. To Yumi’s horror, Kenji is pulled by that same unidentified down an elevator shaft. As he dies, Kenji spits out a red candy and calls another number.

Yumi’s friend Natsumi Konishi (Kazue Fukiishi), is the next target of the deadly voicemail. The ghost has decided to mix things up a bit this time, adding photos to the voicemail. By this time, you have to be thinking that the easiest way out is to simply get rid of her cell phone, right? Well, Natsumi tries that, but it doesn’t work, because any cell phones owned by people she comes into contact with will contain the same message.

Word of the series of mysterious deaths has spread, and a TV host is interested in sensationalizing her story with a live exorcism on his program. Wanting very much to help her friend, Yumi talks to a detective named Hiroshi Yamashita (Shinichi Tsusumi). Yamashita has a special interest in helping Yumi. His sister had died in a fire after receiving a voicemail from her own number. Oh, but let’s not forget about Natsumi! So, the exorcism completely fails. Yumi is helpless to do anything but watch as her friend’s body is unnaturally twisted before her eyes. When Natsumi breathes her final breath, Yumi is next to receive the voicemail with the creepy ringtone.

Turns out that Yamashita’s sister, who was a social worker, kept a journal. In it, she talks two children whose mother was accused of child abuse. The last anyone saw of the mother, it was at a hospital which is due to be demolished soon as the result of a fire. One of the childer, Mimiko, died of asthma one year earlier. Her sister Nanako is the only living witness, but she’s unlikely to tell anyone her story as she hasn’t spoken a word since her sister died. She does have a doll which plays the same tune as the mysterious ringtone, though.

Following the one lead they’ve got, Yumi goes to the hospital, where ghosts harass her and scare the bejesus out of her. Finally, Yamashita shows up. In a dark room, Marie’s body is found, severely decomposing. Surprise, surprise… she’s holding a cellphone. The body suddenly reanimates and knocks Yamashita out of the room. At this point, Yumi starts thinking back to her own abusive mother, and this causes her to hug the grotesque corpse in front of her, which has returned to being little more than a rotting stiff.

Back at Nanako’s orphanage, Yamashita finds a nanny cam which proves that it was Mimiko, not her mother, who harmed Nanako. On this particular day, this is what caused her mother to leave Mimiko to die from her asthma. Understanding the truth, Yamashita tries to make it to Yumi’s apartment in time to save her from Mimiko’s ghost. However, when he gets there a possessed Yumi stabs him, and he falls to the ground. Not dead, Yamashita has a vision of himself saving Mimiko from her deadly asthma attack. When he awakens, he finds himself in a hospital with Yumi standing over him. From behind, we can see she is holding a knife, indicating she is still possessed. She spits a red candy into Yamashita’s mouth, and then smiles.

I don’t know if I can adequately explain why most Japanese ghost stories don’t interest me. By comparison, explaining why I feel “One Missed Call” works where others fail is fairly simple. You take the standard ghosts in the machine plot, hand it over to one of THE great Japanese filmmakers of the modern era, and let him do his thing. The surreal direction of Takashi Miike is why “One Missed Call” is in a class by itself. Far less disturbing than “Ichi the Killer” or “Audition,” it’s still one of Miike’s best. Kou Shibasaki is a talented lead with understated range. If you don’t believe me, check her out in “Battle Royale,” where she plays a deliciously villainous role. About the only thing I might change about this movie is to make the ending slightly easier to digest. It is a bit of a headscratcher, but doesn’t do enough to take away from the overall entertainment factor. If only more movies like it were this visually engaging, I might be able to change my mind about the genre as a whole.

26. I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

Director: Steven R. Monroe

Starring: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, Chad Lindberg, Tracy Walter, Andrew Howard

Brave little soldier that I am… and because it was part of the same DVD package as the original… this year, I watched 2010’s “I Spit on Your Grave” back-to-back with its 1978 counterpart. While that’s not a decision I regret (I’d seen both before), the combined brutality of both does leave me feeling a tad unclean. Pretty much every popular horror movie from the 1970s and 1980s has been remade within the last fifteen years. It was only a matter of time before this one happened. It was fate. To its credit, “I Spit on Your Grave” goes out of its way to outdo the original in terms of shocks. It was virtually impossible to make the rape scenes any more graphic without resorting to filming unsimulated sex, so the majority of the shocks and discomfort this time come from the initial physical assault, as well as the near-cartoonish violence during the revenge portion of the story.

Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) is a young novelist who has chosen to spend some time at a secluded cabin in order to work on her latest novel. Unlike the first film, a specific location in the United States is never pinned down. Judging from the accents, I’d call it a safe bet that we’re meant to be somewhere in the Deep South. Along the way, Jennifer comes into contact with gas station attendant Johnny (Jeff Branson) and his friends Stanley (Daniel Franzese) and Andy (Rodney Eastman). Johnny flirts with Sarah but, although she’s polite about it, his advances are all for naught.

When she is not writing, Jennifer spends the rest of her time relaxing in the sun, smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, which she has enough of to put an entire fraternity in the hospital. The cabin she’s staying in isn’t perfect. For one thing, the plumbing needs work, with only dirty brown water coming from it. When Matthew (Chad Lindberg), a plumber with an obvious mental handicap comes to her rescue, Jennifer rewards him with a quick kiss as her way of saying “thanks.” Matthew then goes to his friends… the guys from the gas station… to tell them all about this girl up in a cabin who likes him. His ego still bruised from the earlier encounter, Johnny and the others all decide to go up to the cabin and teach Ms. Hills a lesson.

After some initial harassment which includes tossing dead birds at her window, the four men break into Jennifer’s cabin with the intent of helping Matthew to lose his virginity. They force Jennifer to perform oral sex on a gun and a bottle. Here’s where the movie’s plot takes more than a minor detour from the plot of the original. Jennifer somehow escapes into the woods and finds Sheriff Storch (Andrew Howard) out on a hunting trip. He goes with her back to the cabin, which is now empty. While there, Storch notes her stockpile of alcohol and her stash of marijuana, then takes it upon himself to frisk her. As he is doing this, Jennifer is starting to feel violated. Her concerns are worsened when the boys return, revealing that the they and the Sheriff are all in this together.

Jennifer is held down on the floor. Matthew is pressured into raping her, which he refuses to do. But, when the others begin taunting him and calling him names, Matthew finally relents. After Matthew is finished, Jennifer makes her way out into the woods, where she is cornered and held down again. Storch has his way with her, while Andy periodically holds her head underwater. As they do this, Stanley is filming the entire thing. It’s implied (though not explicitly shown) that the others take their turns as Jennifer passes out from the pain. When she comes to, she gets up and walks toward a bridge. Just as Storch is about to shoot Jennifer, she falls from the bridge, presumably to her death in the water below, although no evidence of her body can be found. Wanting there to be no trace of evidence, Storch destroys Stanley’s tape.

A month passes by. There is some evidence to suggest that Jennifer is still alive, but nothing concrete has yet surfaced. Then Stanley comes to realize that his camera is missing, and he panics. It would seem that the tape which Storch destroyed was blank, and that the tape containing Jennifer’s rape was still inside the camera. Upon hearing this, Johnny almost kills Stanley. Later that night, Johnny is harassed at his home in the same manner that Jennifer was, with dead birds being thrown at his window. When he sees that one of Jennifer’s slippers and a few of Matthew’s bracelets are part of the debris being thrown, Johnny suspects that Matthew is the culprit. When Storch’s wife receives a digital camera-sized tape in the mail, Storch angrily interrogates the boys to find out who sent it. They think it was Matthew. Also, Storch murders his hunting partner (he same man who rented the cabin to Jennifer), citing “loose ends” as his reason.

Matthew, haunted by what happened, goes looking for Jennifer inside the cabin. Finally finding her sitting on the couch waiting for him, an apologetic Matthew breaks down. “Forgiving” Matthew, Jennifer states that his apology isn’t good enough and, remembering how he choked her as he raped her, Jennifer chokes Matthew with a noose until he passes out. This is only the start of her revenge. Jennifer next goes after Stanley and Andy. She captures Stanley in a bear trap, turns on his camera, pins his eyelids back with fishhooks and smears fish guts all over his face. Birds then come and peck his eyes out. The guy who likes to watch can no longer see. Andy gets knocked unconscious with a baseball bat. When Andy comes to, he’s suspended above a tub filled with water. Jennifer pours some lye into the water, then removes one of the boards underneath him. Stanley can’t hold his head out of the water forever… and you can guess what happens when flesh meets lye.

This leaves Johnny and Sheriff Storch. Capturing Johnny, Jennifer recalls how he’d threatened to knock out her teeth. Accordingly, she pulls a few of his out before chopping off his manhood, causing him to bleed to death. Lastly, she lures in the Sheriff by visiting his wife and daughter and then apparently taking the daughter to the park. Storch is knocked out from behind. When he comes to, the man who anally raped Jennifer now has a shotgun shoved up his rectum. The trigger is tied to a string around an unconscious Matthew’s hand. When he wakes up, the gun goes off, killing both men.

While I applaud the writers for connecting each of the murders to actions committed by the men earlier in the film (something which the 1978 film didn’t do), the impracticality of Jennifer actually being able to carry out her plans does detract from it a bit. Not to mention how truly hard to watch it all is. Actress Sarah Butler does a tremendous job displaying Jennifer’s transformation from innocent victim to crazed killer, but I find the ambiguity of the fate of the sheriff’s daughter to be truly unsettling, and it does tend to leave Jennifer a bit less sympathetic than she started out. In fact, I find the inclusion of the Sheriff character and the whole subplot with his family to be one huge and unnecessary complication. The original film (which barely hinted at one of the characters’ families) got along just fine without all of that.

Shockingly, there is not one but two sequels to 2010’s “I Spit on Your Grave,” the latter of which sees the return of Sarah Butler as Jennifer Hills, more bloodthirsty than ever. There’s even apparently going to be a belated sequel to the 1978 film! This begs the obvious question: WHY?! What possible good can come from continuing the story? I can watch both the 1978 and 2010 versions of “I Spit on Your Grave” without much of a problem. It’s all pure fiction, and should be looked at as such. But nothing about either inspires me to actively search for more.