Halloween has really snuck up on me this year and so I’m staying in and making my way through a stack of films and horribly dated TV programmes. I’m not even going to dress up; I’m just going to sit here drinking Co-operative’s “red flavour” wine and eating some seasonal branded Jaffa Cake bars, which are all green and have cobwebs on the packaging.
The saddest thing about this whole sorry affair is that tonight isn’t even Halloween. I’m writing this blog the night before Halloween and simply pretending that it’s Halloween for the sake of authenticity.
So as I have my first glass of the geographically challenged “La Weekend”, I’ll start things off with Death Wish 3, which stars Charles Bronson (the actor as opposed to the violent prisoner who’s so inexplicably popular with dim-witted lads and confused middle-class students).
Death Wish 3
Strange But True?
Round the Twist
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
FILM: Death Wish 3 (1985)
Like many films of its day, Death Wish 3 attempts to deal with the harsh realities of living in a gritty Regan-era New York City. However, there’s one glaring difference that sets Death Wish 3 apart from similar films of its time: it was directed by Michael Winner (a kind of hedonistic apricot that perpetually looks as if it’s trying to shit itself inside-out).
So let’s enter Winner’s world, shall we? Let’s travel back to the 1980s when the poor were out of control and only a bloated frog-like monstrosity could save the unashamedly privileged from low-life street scum.
It was a cruel time, a bizarre age where brutal street punks sported absurd tribal tattoos. One downwards vaginaesque marking coupled with two ridiculous horizontal black lines across the forehead was the style at the time, and some even paired the look off with a reverse Mohawk because, well, fuck you, yeah?
This is the dystopian world in which Death Wish 3 takes place, a city at the mercy of one mildly tempered pensioner, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson). The vigilante killer from the first two movies, here Paul is given permission from the lieutenant of the NYPD to take the law into his own hands in an attempt to oust crime from the mean streets of Brooklyn.
The real joy of the film comes not from the satisfaction of watching Paul brutally shoot street punks, but from the street punks themselves. Take for instance their bad boy leader, Manny Fraker, who looks like Brian Eno the day after a cider-fuelled midnight trip to Chicken Cottage.
Yeah, he’s pretty bad; in fact, he’s untouchable, but not because he’s particularly adept at street warfare. By his own admission, he’s got a lawyer, and, well, you just don’t mess with a degenerate with decent legal representation.
The real star of the film, however, is “The Giggler”, a bizarrely perky street thief known far and wide for his infamously hysterical giggle. Worth watching simply for him alone, Winner’s 1980s socially corrupt action horror is like viewing the world through the eyes of an out of touch Daily Mail reader, in which all criminals are motivated purely by some deep-seated evil. And naturally there’s only one way of dealing with evil: GUNISHMENT!
TV SHOW: Strange But True? – Stocksbridge Bypass (1994)
This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about this spooky ‘90s supernatural TV show which, in every conceivable way, is a rip-off of the popular American series Unsolved Mysteries. But who cares about that, eh? This one has it all: Aspel, appallingly crap reconstructions—a title that’s also a vague, confusing question.
“How strange,” it seems to announce before then wondering, “but I wonder—is it true?”
I’d hope these stories are bloody true, Aspel. Otherwise, you’ve got a lawsuit on your hands.
Obviously the biggest difference between Strange But True? and its American counterpart is that the latter revolves around Americans and the former revolves around Brits. Needless to say that hearing a vacant Yorkshire man recalling that one time he encountered a ghost on his way back from getting hammered at The Feathers isn’t particularly scary, it’s just crap.
Porn and supernatural TV shows—it’s the two things that we Brits consistently get wrong. We shouldn’t do either, ever. It’s just awful.
So with a title like Stocksbridge Bypass, I wonder what terrifying, spine-chilling horrors await us in this episode of Strange But True?.
This episode’s mystery: “A group of children, running in a circle—by the side of a construction site.”
Allow me to explain further: the time was around about midnight, a time when typically children aren’t out playing near the side of a construction site!
Two security guards saw what happened that night.
“They were physically shaking,” recalls Peter Owens, a security company manager who spoke to the men later that evening. “Their complexion was very white and pallid and one of the men was crying.”
Terrified, the two men turned to the police, who surprisingly refused to help them arrest a harem of inoffensive ghost children. Instead, one PC Dick Ellis (who may or may not be a real police officer) jokingly told the men to turn to the church, which they did, refusing to leave the premises for several days.
However, they weren’t the only ones to see peculiar occurrences on that bypass, which for decades had been a haven for sexually frustrated truckers, wanking off in the nearby layby.
Local chicken factory employee Nigel Brooke claims that he smelled a smell walking past there once, but not just any smell.
“Not a human-type smell,” he tells the cameras.
Yes, not a human-type smell. It was more of a ghost-type smell—like mash or something.
Who, I wonder, could be responsible for this ghoulish smell?
Well, some woman, who lives nearby, has invented a story, suggesting that a monk did it and she knows this because she’s a psychic and she reckons that the monk was there 500 years ago and that he’s angry because there’s a bypass, yeah?
Just some food for thought for you there.
So did they ever find out what these people were seeing (and smelling). Unsurprisingly, they didn’t, although they did find a sheet of polythene, which they thought it could have been, but they weren’t sure. It probably was to be honest.
Finally, just in case your pants are still dry, Michael Aspel gives you his final, disturbing thought on the Stocksbridge bypass horror, as they’re calling it now.
“Just for the–” he says, letting our what sounds like a little burp, causing him to forget what he was talking about. “—record, the Stocksbridge Bypass was opened on Friday 13th.”
A chilling conclusion, I’m sure you’ll agree.
FILM: C.H.U.D. (1984)
It seems that a few people online simply can’t stomach C.H.U.D., which frankly surprised me, as this suspenseful ‘80s horror is hilariously campy and features performances from the likes of John Heard and the fantastic Daniel Stern. Plus, it’s called C.H.U.D.! I mean who wouldn’t want to sit down and watch a film called freaking C.H.U.D.?
“Is that the C.H.U.D.?” you’ll ask yourself repeatedly during the first forty or so minutes of the film. You’ll end up finishing characters’ sentences as you desperately attempt to denote what C.H.U.D. could mean. For example, John Heard’s character might say something like, “I’m just gonna go take a—“ and you’ll find yourself interjecting with, “C.H.U.D.?”
So what the hell is C.H.U.D.? Well, according to Wilson, the film’s token bad guy, it stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller”. However, an alternative and far more likely acronym mentioned is “Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal”, which refers to the process of dumping of nuclear waste under New York City.
Wilson, a corrupt politician, is primarily responsible for the dumping of this waste and now blood (or C.H.U.D. maybe) plasters his smarmy hands. See, some of the homeless people who live in the sewers have come into contact with the waste and mutated into violent beasts, feasting on human flesh and in one instance the fluffy fur of a small dog.
Our main characters are George Cooper, a photographer whose work appears to be mostly bum-based; Captain Bosch, a hot-headed cop who loses his wife to C.H.U.D.; and AJ, who runs a soup kitchen and is therefore “one with the bums”.
While AJ helps Bosch with his investigation, George, along with his pregnant girlfriend, are hounded by a yappy freelance reporter. George, it transpires, knows many of the homeless people after shooting a few of them for a recent photography series and is eventually able to help uncover the mystery of C.H.U.D..
Despite the overall campiness of it, the atmosphere of the film is surprisingly suspenseful, even if the C.H.U.D.s do look faecal impressions of Paul Daniels. But how could I ever have disliked a film called C.H.U.D.? It had me at C.H.U.D..
TV SHOW: (A)round the Twist (1989 – 2002)
Class, I suspect, was what the producers were going for when they dreamed up this terrifying children’s series. Airing first in 1989 and continuing for four series until 2002, it was the television equivalent of being a little bit sick in your mouth, each episode a minute capsule of nausea waiting to explode in viewers’ mouths. Now all I see when I close my eyes and remember watching Round The Twist as a kid is the show’s horrible opening sequence, which climaxes with an extreme close up of the Bronson’s freakishly tangoed mouth.
Bronson, you’ll recall, was the youngest member of the Twist family, which also consisted of siblings Linda and Pete and their father, Tony Twist. Each week something graphic and disgusting would happen to one of these characters, like one of them of would contract some sort of horrific flesh eating disease or they’d fall in a cess pool or they’d be crapped on repeatedly by seagulls.
This was how practically every episode panned out, yet I seemed to find myself tuning in each week, as if I enjoyed subjecting myself to misery and suffering.
I didn’t want to review an entire episode of this (I tried to; it was pretty gross), but I did want to briefly reminisce about how supremely fucked up this series was. What surprised me looking back was how they changed the cast three times during the show’s thirteen-year lifespan and yet I never noticed.
I was also surprised to learn that the actor who played Bronson last is still in the business of making people shit their pants.
FILM: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
There are a few set words that some internet film reviewers use to sound important or knowledgeable. These critics are the ones who slate a film with incredibly vague criticisms like being “boring!!!!!” or having “no plot!!!!!” or being “way too long!!!!!” without ever saying anything specific about the film itself, instead relying on their cavalier use of exclamation marks to validate their sage opinions.
It’s these generic yet animated criticisms that I’ve seen repeatedly directed at Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a film that’s universally detested for not featuring Michael Myers, the serial killer from the first two Halloween films.
This is understandable to a degree as John Carpenter’s original Halloween was a hugely influential film. Audiences in 1982, I suspect, were hoping for more of the same with Season of the Witch and were justifiably disappointed by a film that’s essentially about neo-paganism bullshit and latex masks.
That set-up alone, as far as I was concerned, made me want to watch the third instalment of the Halloween series, which is actually more of a campy mystery than it is a horror.
I mean just look here; isn’t that Angela Lansbury?
She won’t be solving this movie’s mystery, anyway; this case belongs to Doctor Dan Challis, played Tom Atkins, who has somehow managed to carve out a career for himself by exclusively playing either doctors or detectives. Here, rather excitingly for him, he gets to combine the two!
A smooth, moustachioed divorcé, Challis is something of a ladies man, someone who shows no qualms about letting down his kids when there’s a possibility that he could be making it with a woman, and having her sip from his nectary love chalice.
The film’s mystery involves a seemingly insane man, who enters the hospital injured and holding a pumpkin Halloween mask. Upon seeing a TV commercial for the same mask on hospital television, the patient yells at Doctor Challis, proclaiming, “They’re going to kill us all.” Then just a few hours later, a stranger wearing a suit murders the man by brutally snapping his nose like a twiglet.
The man’s bizarre death leads Challis on an investigation, and he seems even more dedicated to solving the mystery when he discovers that the dead man has a smoking hot daughter, Ellie. (It should also be noted that Challis is already banging some other woman, but fuck monogamy, he’s Doctor fucking Challis!)
The good doctor along with Ellie are eventually led by their investigation to a motel in a Californian town that’s inhabited primarily by Americans with shockingly embarrassing Irish accents. It’s here that Silver Shamrock are based, a company that manufactures latex masks like the one the man was holding at the hospital.
They’re also responsible for the commercial that was playing that night, which plays repeatedly throughout the film and goes like this:
Fun Drinking Game: Drink every time you hear this tune and you will be drunk within the first ten minutes of the movie.
At the motel a number of things happen: firstly, Challis and Ellie seem to forget about the mystery for a while in favour of engaging in a 24/7 fuck festival.
Secondly, we discover that the Silver Shamrock employees are all well-dressed robots. And thirdly, a woman’s teeth are obliterated from her mouth after she inspects a microchip in the back of one of the Halloween masks.
I’ll try my best to explain this video: hidden inside all of the Silver Shamrock masks is a little chunk of Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument that is likely pretty interesting to most Brits, yet infinitely exciting to American filmmakers it would seem. I grew up reasonably near Stonehenge and have never once considered the mystical proprieties of its stone, although perhaps I should have, because apparently it holds the immense power of laser wasp!
Before we discover all of this bullshit, Challis and Ellie take a guided tour of the Silver Shamrock factory, home to one of the most mysterious doors in movie history—“The Final Process” door.
“The Final Process”, you say? Why, whatever could that be?
Why not just go ahead and write, “Real Tour” and “Mock Tour For Ignorant Public”?
Needless to say that being overly shifty on this tour doesn’t work out well for the doctor and his new mistress, especially when they come across Ellie’s father’s car. Clearly they now know too much, and later that evening, hired robo-goons kidnap Ellie before forcing Challis to play keys in their new band (they’re a little bit Hall and Oates, a little bit Shed Seven).
An embarrassingly fruitless attempt to save Ellie ultimately results in Challis being captured and forced to listen to the Irish genius behind the Silver Shamrock Company, Conal Cochran, reveal his elaborately stupid plan.
He explains that when the Silver Shamrock television commercial airs on Halloween night, the Stonehenge chip will activate, killing the wearer and unleashing a lethal swarm of insects and snakes.
Those crazy Irish, eh?
What a shame Stonehenge isn’t in Ireland and that the film’s writer has based his entire understanding of the country on the packaging of an American brand of breakfast cereal.
I won’t spoil what happens next, although I have to mention the frankly brilliant scene where Challis fights Ellie’s robotic double. After he’s finished clubbing the android around the head, he stands there holding her autonomous and detached arm, the liberated limb strangling our moustachioed hero. The arm, however, has absolutely no leverage or hold on Challis and simply letting go would cause it to fall harmlessly onto the ground.
Shortly after this the film reaches an appropriately silly conclusion. Still, silly isn’t necessarily bad; Halloween III might be kind of disjointed, bafflingly stupid and bizarrely anti-Irish, but it’s surely not deserving of the title of “WORST FILM EVER OF ALL-TIME—OMG ZERO STARS!!!”
After all, it’s not a generic slasher clone and it at least attempts to do something interesting with the idea of Halloween. The original plan for the Halloween movies was to leave Michael Myers deceased and release annual unrelated films all centring on the holiday of Halloween. It would have been a neat idea if they’d seen it through, but because of the sheer volume of faux-outrage directed at this schlocky horror/mystery, things didn’t quite pan out that way, which is a shame.
As ridiculous as Halloween III may be, it’s at least gleefully ridiculous. I mean laser wasp? You’re telling me you were impressed by that display of sheer lunacy?
FILM: Flesheater (1988)
There’s something profoundly unsettling about this film, but not the good kind of unsettling, the kind of feeling that you’d expect from a horror film. No, Flesheater has a certain sleaziness to it that sets it apart from other ‘80s zombie flicks. It’s a sleaziness that suggests that it was shot by a group of dogging enthusiasts, scarpering about in a woodland somewhere, in between shooting takes for their true labour of love: Rogue Doggers 4: Boobs in the Wood.
Flesheater, you see, was just a way for them to pay the bills; Rogue Doggers 4: Boobs in the Wood was their art.
Shot in the bleakest of settings, the story follows a group of Dawson’s Creek-aged teens, who venture off into the countryside for an overnight hayride as well as awkward sexual experimentation with fingering and such.
Straight off the bat, this set-up raises two very important questions: firstly, how did all these teenagers, who look at least 46, find babysitters on such short notice; and secondly, why have they chosen this depressingly drab setting for their non-stop frolicking sex escapades?
Not that we get to see much frolicking; our first zombie shows up within the first ten minutes to repeatedly go, “AHHH! AHHHH!” like a molested seagull, only shutting up when he’s gotten his hands on a bit of someone’s spleen.
Directed, written, starring and produced by Bill Hinzman, best known for playing the cemetery ghoul in Night of the Living Dead, Flesheater is actually kind of boring, drawing out actions scenes to kill time and filling up on long talky scenes. The acting is porno-standard and pales when compared to a classic erotica title like Rogue Doggers 4: Boobs in the Wood and it pastes together a lot of zombie movie cliches, adding very little to the genre.
I guess I was just expecting more from a film with such a gaudy DVD cover.