Category: Sci Fi

The Northwoods of Wisconsin’s 1980s Horror Films & FANGORIA Connection?!

I just visited my old stompin’ grounds up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin & it peaked my interest into a specific window of time in the late 1980s & early 90s when apparently horror movie productions were a hot commodity up there-Fangoria was on the cutting edge of “cheesehead” fright flicks! Who knew? So waaaay up north there’s a cluster of small towns, Eagle River, Three Lakes, Sugar Camp & Rhinelander that were the main staple in filming many of these late 80’s early 90’s horror films. There was a unique studio all the way from the UK that oddly made it’s headquarters somewhere between this little group of cities. My mom currently lives in Three lakes (we had a cottage on a lake there since the 80s, my dad grew up there, my Aunt does too and owns a property in Sugar Camp & my mom also just bough a property in Rhinelander) alas I have spent a LOT of time there throughout my life. In fact I was just up there for an entire month. However I never suspected it was a mini horror mecca until recently. Why? Well let’s find out! Wisconsinite horror fanatics, this one’s for YOU!

Windsor Lake Studios which was based in Eagle River, Wisconsin, (I’ve heard possibly Sugar Camp Wisconsin too?) population 1300, produced a number of films for Fangoria and a few other smaller VHS only companies, though a few actually have made it onto blu ray over the past few years. Oddly only one of the trio of Fangoria Films releases have seen blu ray releases. At the time it was a big deal in the horror community when they started producing their own movies. It’s strange to me how or why a movie studio that produced predominantly horror flicks was open and operational in this tiny region nestled in the thick of the Northwoods and it’s plentiful chain of lakes. It’s definitely NOT Hollywood in the Northwoods-I can fully attest to that! That being said you just might run into a Rhinelander, Hodag (pictured below) in the woods if you’re lucky enough..

Windsor Lake Studio was started in 1987 and attracted the talent of Eagle River native Hank Carlson, only a teen at the time but had ambitions to be the “next Tom Savini”. He went on to become quite an impressive practical fx artist getting his start at Winsdor Lake by being annoyingly persistent, visiting the studio property many times though univited. There’s a great interview with him right here for all of you locals who want the scoop on this regional horror legend. He also gives some excellent perspective in the commentary of the Arrow Video blu ray’s for ‘Trapped Alive’  & ‘The Chill Factor’. The three owners of the studio were from the UK and producers of major Hollywood hits ‘Heathers’ and more notably ‘Hellraiser’ & ‘Hellraiser II: Hellbound’. Apparently the premiere for ‘Hellraiser’ happened at the Vilas theater in small town Eagle River where Hank Carlson worked. I wish I’d have known that back then dammit!

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KIDS vs. ALIENS: If “Goosebumps” was Rated R!

I’ve been looking forward to Jason Eisener’s ‘Kid’s vs. Aliens’ since I heard the ‘Hobo With a Shotgun’ director was making a feature length film based on his awesome short horror segment in V/H/S/ 2. Granted it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, I remember really digging the concept and execution of it.

The simple premise of this movie is so right up my alley it feels like it almost was tailor made just for me. In a nutshell some kids have a Halloween party that goes off the rails when evil aliens descend upon their lakeside household. The alien visitors for the most part resemble our traditional “Greys”, which I find to be one of the most terrifying creatures of the more modern era. I guess though they’d be more in line with what we saw in 2014’s ‘Extraterrestrial’ though (minus the CGI) than say the brilliantly bizarre 1989 Whitley Strieber biopic ‘Communion’. That being said, you’ve gotta admire how ambitious this movie is with all of its practical effects work and not a shred of CGI really anywhere to be found. Add in a lean run time of around 75 minutes (68 of them actual movie time) and you’ve got a nice, fast paced horror adventure at the ready. 

Plus the main kid protagonists of this movie are also quite charming for the most part. None of them get bogged down in modern online politics or social commentary, they’re just kids in danger with wildly filthy mouths being….kids. In essence they’re a fairly solid attempt of mixing the kids in Stand By Me with The Goonies. I’d say for the first 3rd of the movie I was pretty sure this might end up being one of my favorite horror films of 2023. It’s got a lot of heart at its core as well (maybe trying a bit too hard at times) and characters who you can for the most part get behind on this weird little ride.

However with ALL of that going for it, still there’s something here that in my opinion just didn’t quite click the way it should’ve. That’s not to say this isn’t a fun little movie, becuz it is. It just misses the mark at being a modern horror classic, maybe because they’re trying just a bit too hard at mostly everything they attempt to sell the audience. It’s same problems I had at times with 2013’s ‘Knights of Badassdom’ a movie which I do admittedly still enjoy quite a bit.

I guess I would say what it does succeed at being is a pretty excellent R-rated “Goosebumps” movie. In many ways, even the way it’s filmed looks a little bit like a vintage Goosebumps episode for better or for worse at times. I guess my problem was maybe my personal expectations weren’t quite met in the way I’d initially hoped for. Though this movie in many ways borrows heavily from the likes of classics like Fire In The Sky, it really lacks the intensity, atmosphere and mystery that could have pulled from it, even if just a little bit of it. The aliens In my opinion are shown way too much in plain sight. All of the things that make grey aliens so terrifying is completely absent here, they run around roaring like enraged grizzly bears. 

The aliens also look a bit too much like men in rubber suits, which I usually don’t mind, but easily hiding them a bit more might have benefited this greatly. More of the monsters isn’t always better. Overall though I do appreciate the almost entirely practical nature of this film’s special effects. It’s refreshing to see filmmakers getting a bit more old school these days!

Though the characters for the most part are fun wonky children, they do try a bit too hard to sell us that on all levels. Much of the character development feels a bit forced. The kids and their antagonist teen enemies end up being somewhat over the top caricatures and don’t always feel like “real’ people. The kids are NERDS, the older teen sister-hero is a NERD and the teens are really reeeeally meanies who don’t like NERDS. By the middle of the movie I found myself wishing their personas had been toned down. They started to feel like they were written by the “modern day Kevin Smith” or something. Ok, well maybe not that bad. Instead of growing to like them more as the movie progressed, I found myself becoming slightly annoyed with everyone’s behaviors and actions even if they were good in nature. 

Looking at it now though with zero expectations, it’s still one I do plan on revisiting again. It’s got plenty of action and really does try to feature a cast of heartwarming lead characters and pathetically almost unbelievably evil teen villains to you are basically told to hate anytime they appear. It also takes place on Halloween and makes it prime viewing for the holiday. There’s a lot of good here so don’t get me wrong, I just feel like someone needs to put together an amazing home invasion Grey alien horror film and do it the right way. In the perfect world I was hoping this would be a mix of 1989’s Communion and maybe like Evil Dead. (here’s a still photo  from Communion).

Instead it leans hard into the campy territory and doesn’t skimp on some impressive Gore FX either. Perhaps it’s really my own expectations that took this down a few pegs for myself, with all the crappy stuff out there streaming I do think there’s a lot of fun to be had. Check this one out, it’s worth a rental, but don’t go in expecting it to be quite as cool as his segment was in V/H/S 2. Still thank you Jason for adding an entertaining alien invasion flick to the cinematic horror library!

 

 

 

MOVIE MELT Podcast & The Y2K Mayhem of 1999’s ‘Y2K’?!!

Yes true believers it is NO joke-we survived Y2K!! The year was 1999 and tensions were through the freakin’ roof, all the rumored disastrous computer malfunctions combining with insane natural disasters, the world was on course for certain doom!!  Some of you out there might be too young to remember this fateful evening and how we  persevered the most dire circumstances. Well if you need a refresher here it is becuz I went back on the Movie Melt Podcast and we covered Y2K from 1999 starring Louis Gossett Jr, Malcom McDowell and some other annoying dude who plays an idiotic computer hacker!!

This later, nearly forgotten flick from PM Entertainment was in serious need of attention, and of course everyone needs a refresher on just what exactly went down on New Yearz Eve Y2K!

 We also talk about the most badass films of 2022 and do another battle of the bands Y2K edition! Check this refresher out and get educated on what really went down in 1999!! LISTEN HERE! Check out the trailer too for this epic showdown/real life history lesson!

INDIANA JONES 5 Trailer’s “Crystal Skull” Style VFX are TROUBLSOME!

So a few days ago we finally got the long awaited ‘Indiana Jones 5’ teaser trailer! Yes the final installment ‘The Dial of Destiny’ will indeed arrive in June of 2023. After the backlash of ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ from 2008 it’s been promised that we’d get a proper legit style Indiana Jones movie finally. Though that promise seems quite thin as the original creative team of Spielberg and George Lucas is nowhere to be seen this time around. It seems if I’m being honest with myself that Disney is now again going to give us, like they did with Star Wars, more of their bloated big budget fan fiction!

 I really don’t wanna be so negative here when it comes to sequels these days of beloved eighties franchises, but after watching this trailer a few times I’m quite worried. As I browsed YouTube for fan reactions it seems that I’m surely in the minority here. Almost everyone who viewed it seems to think that this looks like legit old school Indy. It makes me wonder if we were watching the same damn trailer? Now I’m not gonna say that it wasn’t a blast seeing and hearing Sallah again, of course I do wonder just how much he’s actually in the movie and if they’ve decided to not feature Ke Huy Kwan, aka “Shortround” then in my opinion this movie’s already made a major misstep for that alone. I’m willing to not jump to any major conclusions so far as it’s just a 2 minute trailer right?!

What I can say without a shadow of a doubt though is that the visual FX work here is borrowing heavily from the “Crystal Skull” playbook. Over the years I’ve grown to warm up to that movie (though deep down in my heart I know how truly disappointing it was), though it took some time and leniency, I was certain that director James Mangold was going to really do it justice giving us something that felt grounded in the reality of the original’s practical effects, locales and real sets. I’ve always felt that last installment really suffered from the clear overuse of wretched CGI and in my opinion it has no place anywhere near an Indiana Jones film. So I’m quite surprised that’s this new trailer relies so heavily on sub par computer graphics and obvious green screening.

What the hell are they thinking over there at Disney? The only real criticism I’ve seen are from YouTubers are from the legions of whom are obsessed with reporting and whining about “woke” elements being in Disney properties. They seem to be very triggered about Indiana Jones having a female sidekick here. These people in my opinion are just as irritating as the ones on the opposite side of the spectrum. None of them seem to have any real criticism about what’s being displayed so far on screen visually. So many of these scenes in the trailer look out of place, like him running on top of a train, riding on a damn horse and even the underwater skull and eels all look pretty cheaply rendered by digital technology. And those are only a few instances of the many questionable moments in the trailer. Even him jumping from one car to another looks like some sort of bad blurry CGI. What gives here? Is Hollywood completely uncapable of doing anything on set anymore?

The final Indiana Jones movie jam packed with sub par CGI again after all of the complaining about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Who the hell is greenlighting all of this shit? I often wonder is this just a cost issue? A corporation that has billions of dollars can’t afford to film on real sets with real actors with real practical effects and stunt work?  I’ve got a real bad feeling about this one…and we haven’t even gotten to the story yet.

 I’m also at this point getting a little tired of the whole de-aging deep fake techniques  that apparently are all the rage still. I would have much rather preferred Anthony Ingruber appearing in the role of a young Indiana Jones than some computer generated Harrison Ford mumbo jumbo face faking.

I would’ve surely preferred River Phoenix to have appeared as the younger version again if he’d still been alive. I’m really hoping this trend doesn’t replace the real actors portraying younger versions of a character.  I find all of this very troubling and at the very least was hoping for one last hurrah in the Indiana Jones universe that felt somewhat on the same level as the original trilogy. But I do understand how misguided Hollywood really is and for me to really expect anything different in this day and age is just a pipe dream, that keeps reaccurring over and over.. I’m really hoping that I’m proven wrong and I’m going to go in to this final installment as indifferent and neutral as possible, but hey if I’m gonna be honest so far this looks like a possible flamin’ turd in the making!

 

 

 

 

‘MANDY’ Director Finally Returns With More WTF Horror in ‘THE VIEWING’!

I’ve been waiting quite some time for Panos Cosmatos to follow up his dark epic adventure film ‘Mandy’ & to my surprise he did so late October. I guess I’m late to the damn party on it as I really don’t watch much streaming content on Netflix anymore, for me personally most of the stuff on the platform just doesn’t cut it. Most of it feels like factory filmmaking, but I was pleasantly surprised to check out Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ there and come to find an episode of his new horror anthology called ‘The Viewing’ fresh from the director of ‘Mandy’ and ‘Black Rainbow’!!

 I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure just what to expect but this bizarre episode packs a punch with its finale and along the way manages to blend in some great humor and the cast of interesting characters to keep this mysterious story moving quickly with intrigue. It’s an interesting plot too, taking place in 1979, with icon Peter Weller (Robocop) playing an elusive billionaire who invites several TV personalities to his bizarre mansion for a “viewing” of something seemingly otherworldly.

Cosmatos constructs a genuinely humorous character study as the drug fueled gathering slowly transitions into utter chaos by its end. I really enjoyed this episode, it definitely had the signature “Panos” feel to it, at least visually and sonically. It really has that same dreamlike quality as his previous two features and the score again here with The Viewing is something I’d definitely listen too in my spare time.

It’s rich atmosphere is full of color and visually abstract in all the best weirdest ways possible. I was a bit surprised with the humorous tone presented, which sticks around right till the very end, leading me to be extra curious about what his next film ‘Nekrokosm’ might bring to the table. Take note though, it’s not all fun and games, when the shit finally does hit the fan (which does sorta take a little longer than I’d hoped) we’re treated to some legit WTF moments of monster mayhem and headscratching horror in the way Panos most definitely excels at.

The FX here too are quite impressive, as I’d hoped and kinda expected them to be. It’s clear that The Viewing rises above the rest of the flock as a all too welcome walk into the mind of one of the genres most creative visionaries. I can WAIT to feast my eyes and mind upon his next full feature film…if you dug ‘Mandy’ go check this shit out!

‘Perversions of Science’ the Forgotten Tales from the Crypt Sequel Series?!

Tales from the Crypt is easily hands down one of the greatest horror television shows of all time and what a great time of the year to revisit your favorite episodes! Well this year I put together a cool VHS horror anthology that’s all Halloween themed, in fact this is my sequel, as I made the 1st installment last year. To put this thing together I did a lot of research on Halloween themed horror short films from the eighties and nineties, Halloween themed horror TV episodes (no sitcoms) and of course installments of movie horror anthologies that all revolve around the Season of the Witch.

Finding the goods is actually a lot harder than you might think, but my Halloween research led me to a 1997 series called ‘Perversions of Science’ that has a pretty sweet Halloween episode directed by horror icon Tobe Hooper! But just what the fuck is ‘Perversions of Science’ anyway?

 Well news to me, it’s the “sequel series” to Tales from the Crypt and involves the same creative team, with music by Danny Elfman. Instead of the Crypt Keeper this time we get a futuristic sexy sultry computer generated robot woman as our host. Where the hell has this been my entire life and why am I just finding it about it all right now?!

Well from what I understand it definitely wasn’t the most popular series of its time and only ran for ONE season. Though many of the episodes have strong horror elements, it’s primarily a science fiction based show. I don’t claim to be any expert on this as I’ve only seen one episode, but the one I did see was definitely good enough to make me hella curious on hunting down the rest. But since it’s so close to Halloween I might as well talk a little bit about the Halloween themed episode of that’s leading me down this Perversion rabbit hole.

The episode ‘Panic’ takes place on Halloween night at a costume party, where two real life aliens from another planet are disguising themselves and eagerly awaiting orders from their leader to launch an attack on the human race. However unbeknownst to them a “war of the worlds” type radio broadcast is on the airwaves that evening and they mistake it as a real world news event. This leads the evil aliens played by Jason Lee & Jamie Kennedy (oh soooooo damn 90s!!!) into a bizarre series of earthly events on All Hallow’s Eve.

There’s some pretty cool practical effects here that definitely harken back to the good old days of Tales from the Crypt but of course there’s also some rather dodgy nineties cgi as well. That all being said I’d love to get my hands on a nice clean copy of the show as it looks like it’s got a lot of potential.

But there’s never been physical version of this thing ever released to my knowledge besides it’s original airing, no DVD’s VHS or blu rays out there that I’ve been able to track down and not streaming anywhere.

With directors like Tobe Hooper, William Shatner (?) and stars like Jeffrey Combs, Ron Perlman, Sean Astin, Will Wheaton this 10 episode series is on my ASAP must see list!!  Have you seen this forgotten television series? Let me know! Ps here are my VHS tapes I made:

Humans & Mushrooms MERGE in MATANGO!

Hey fungi enthusiasts! If you’re looking for something truly stange & spooky to check out this Halloween season (and I know you are) then look no further- It’s time to take a trip of the sea shores of Japan to an uncharted incredibly creepy deserted island in 1963’s psychotronic horror: Mantango! I’m going to admit I haven’t really explored a lot of 1960s horror especially from Japan. However I’m a huge sucker for “stranded on an island” movie concepts and this one looked like it hit all the right beats from the trailer I saw. Essentially it’s like a demented episode of Gilligan’s island and much of the movie actually does actually kinda feel just like it, in all the best ways.

Visionary director Ishiro Honda paints an incredibly atmospheric nightmare landscape on the open sea, with a band of tourists on a fancy yacht who find themselves in the midst of a violent sea storm. Tired and hungry they take refuge on on a mysterious exotic tropical island infested with strange colorful mushrooms. There’s something extremely unsettling yet whimsical about the whole endeavor as the crew struggles to get along and and also find food that’s safe to eat there.

The most of the characters here I found to be a bit on the bland side, but it really doesn’t matter much because the beautiful bizarre portrait on display here of the island itself ends up as the true star of the entire show. The quietness of the foggy remote island lends much to the impending dread in the thick air as soon our cast of characters find themselves with hungry bellies, drawn to consume the beautiful fungi. It’s like they’ve spent the week in the garden of Adam-and-Eve but instead of colorful fruits instead enticed by mind altering fungus!

Matango is somewhat of a slow burn, but it’s a really fun “trip” right from the get go. All of the set pieces from the on the ship and especially the island are truly a spectacle to behold. It really makes me miss real practical sets, as many of the movies now in the fantasy genre just resort to bad CGI green screen backdrops. Being made in 1963, everything has that special  earthy but put together carefully by hand look to it of that era, looking like some high budget theme park attraction, blanketed in roaming fogs.

There’s also some some legitimately creepy visuals to behold, every bit of Matango’s landscape looks like at any moment could come alive and grab you. As the tourists become more restless and frustrated it’s clear something sinister has taken hold of their psyche. And while the movie secondary moniker is ‘Attack of the Mushroom People’ I would say that’s a bit of a stretch here. There’s really Not a helluva of a lot of “attacking” going on until maybe the movie’s final 10 minutes, but it’s definitely worth the wait once the mushroom people do arrive.

Even by today’s standards these creatures look quite incredible, feeling like something materilized from a strange fever dream. Matango has definitely peaked my interest in Japanese movies from this era, this is a cool little mind bending bit of eye candy that’s that is most definitely worth a watch this Halloween season if you’re in the mood for something truly unique! I got it on blu ray recently from Far East Flix!

 

Comic Cover of the Week: SHOCKWAVES of ’85!!!

One of the most memorable Marvel Comics covers of the 1980s oddly comes from the most unsuspecting title!! The Teansformers #5 is one of the best of the era hands down! It’s a brilliant work of iconic art by Mark Bright from 1985 that gave the series sn “edge”, transforming it from a mere kids toy property to a possibly gritty sci-fi series..A truly stunning example of how to execute comic book cover perfection….

‘WARRIOR: Predator’ The 2019 Fan Film ‘PREY’ Ripped OFF?!!

‘Prey’ the surprise Predator prequel hit of 2022 was that great original idea right? Not so fast. I was a bit shocked to come across this eerily similar 7 minute fan film from 2019 the other day! Maybe I’m late to the party and this is common knowledge but I’ve heard no one mention this short film at ALL when ‘Prey’ hit the scene recently. 

 The short film ‘Warrior: Predator’ was released 3 years before Prey and was surely conceived and filmed much earlier than that. Director/writer Chris R. Notarile  apparently has received no compensation or admission of conceptual ideas at all from the major studio from what I understand.  Who knows perhaps the fan film project got wind of the major studio film and ripped them off? Or maybe they knew each other and this was meant as some sort of early promotion? Check out this interesting little film and let me know what you think? It seems Prey director Dan Trachtenberg and writer Pat Aison might have some explaining to do?!!

Crazy 80s Aussie Rock Opera: SONS OF STEEL!

I’ve been stating lately here that I’m just not a big fan of movie musicals. BUT perhaps the type of musicals I’ve seen my entire life just don’t bring the fucking goods to the dance floor! I recently viewed 1988’s Australian musical oddity ‘Sons of Steel’ at a double feature movie night & paired it up with ‘The Legend of the Stardust Brothers’ from 1985! It was a gloriously cheezy musical combo!  

 If you were to ask me to really explain to you the plot of Sons of Steel I’d have a big problem trying to do so. It’s basically a “Dee Snyder” (Twisted Sister) look-a-like who sings a buttload of cock rock songs and also travels into the future or something where he meets some weird barbarians to try to try to stop an evil genius with a “mini-me” sidekick from destroying the planet?!  I guess that’s the gist, but who really gives a damn, it’s one giant awesome mess of a rock opera with a TON of foggy, neon atmosphere, bizarre characters, a meandering wild plot, jam packed with terribly excellent heavy metal songs!

 If you’re looking for a tubular 80s party movie this is definitely a BANGER! It’s sure to get the juices with it’s unusual plot & wild fashion, however, this like many other Aussie genre flicks of this era (Razorback, Fortress, Road Games, The Quest) have some truly stunning cinematography and rich atmosphere that amplify the onscreen antics to eleven. Simply said as dumb (and fun) as it’s story is, this movie looks far more fantastic that it has any right to. Easily one of the aspects here that make this such enjoyable viewing aside from the leather clad wardrobe, roaring motorcycles and two tone proto punk hairdos soaked in loads hairspray.

It’s leading musclebound  man, Rob Hartley, (who portrays Black Alice) is a real joy to watch. He overacts and grunts his way through most of the strange dialogue as well as belts out some mindnumbing musical numbers. Apparently trying to save the world from a nuclear holocaust, he’s not quite the person you want to put the fate of the planet in the hands of. That being said Black Alice gets into some good trouble and there’s some pretty impressive action scenes to chomp into as well. I was excited to check out director Gary Keady’s  filmography, however Sons of Steel remains his sole, one and only contribution! What a pedigree! Lucky for us all this one received received a snazzy fancy new blue ray release last year from Future Video-if you wanna ROCK check this shit out!