Movie Review: DRAG ME TO HELL

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drag me to hell
Universal Pictures
2009
PG-13

“I desire the soul of Christine Brown. We will feast upon it while she festers in the grave.”

  • Drag Me To Hell tells the story of Christine Brown, an ambitious L.A. Loan officer with a charming boyfriend, Professor Clay Dalton. Life is good until the mysterious Mrs. Ganush enters their lives… and everything begins to unravel. When her loan is denied and she loses her house, the shamed Mrs. Ganush places the powerful curse of the Lamia on Christine, transforming her life into a living hell. Christine is tortured and desperate to have her old life back so she sets on a quest to reverse the spell. But as evil forces close in and threaten to drag her deep into hell.

Drag Me To Hell happens to be another movie review that I did back in the day, that got lost in the shuffle of moving things to a different blog host. Such is the pity, as I rather enjoyed this movie on its initial run, and we’ve gone this long since writing the original review, it’s high time I do a redux review.

Drag Me To Hell marks the first horror movie that Sam Raimi directed after his work on the Sony Spider-Man trilogy. He also served as writer and producer on the movie as well; let’s face it, though: us fanboys were chomping at the bit for his return to the genre that put him on the map, so to speak. For us, this was a long time coming.

The story of Drag Me To Hell is, well, as the DVD blurb included above stated, about a loan officer that denies a loan to a gypsy stereotype, who then puts the standard gypsy stereotype curse on her, resulting in the loan officer rapidly losing weight having really, really bad luck. Seems that she’s being followed around by a dark spirit. So she tries to get rid of the curse. Horrific wackiness–and a talking goat at one point–ensue.

Sam Raimi stated in an interview with The Post that he wanted to create “a horror film with lots of wild moments and lots of suspense and big shocks that’ll hopefully make audiences jump. But I also wanted to have a lot of dark humor sprinkled throughout.” And I do believe he was rather successful in that. I enjoyed it on my first watch, and I enjoyed it now on the re-watch. This is vintage Sam Raimi horror fun. And the goat scene I could re-watch over and over again, and still find highly amusing.

With Drag Me To Hell, Raimi didn’t necessarily reinvent the Cursed By A Gypsy horror wheel, but he does give it a good spin with his own signature style. It’s just a fun night of horror goodness. Recommended.

Movie Review: RUBY

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ruby
Dimension Pictures
1977
R

  • A woman with a shady past, Ruby Claire is the single mother of Leslie, a teenager who is deaf and mute. Ruby operates a drive-in movie theater and employs a number of ex-criminals, some of who start to die in bizarre ways. Eventually, Ruby discovers that the spirit of her dead mobster husband has possessed Leslie and is seeking revenge through the tormented girl. As Leslie picks off her dad’s former associate, she also begins to target Ruby herself.

If you take a Tennessee Williams play, and slather it with a generous dose of supernatural haunted shenanigans, then you pretty much have the recipe for the 1977 Southern Gothic low-budget exploitation horror flick Ruby.

It always fascinates me, whenever I come across a movie that was released the same year as the original Star Wars was, and it looks like it was made at least a decade prior. Even though Ruby is obviously not a Sci-Fi Fantasy film. I’m talking quality of production, here. Yeah, Star Wars has now become my standard to which I judge movies that were made in the year 1977. I have just become “that guy”. Whatever that means.

Anyway, we begin this flick in a kind of flashback, where a mobster is executed in a backwoods swamp in the 1930s, witnessed by his pregnant mobster girlfriend, and with his dying breath he proclaims a CURSE! while she goes into labor. Flash forward sixteen years later, and that former girlfriend–the titular Ruby–is now the proprietor of a kind-of out-of-the-way backwoods drive-in theater near her home that shows an endless stream of old b-movies, and where she employs ex-mobsters to work the joint. How nice of her. Her daughter, Leslie, has just turned 16, and has been mute since the day she was born. Ominous. Anyway, she is gifted a necklace for said birthday, and that’s about the time when weird poltergeist-y things started happening around the drive-in and the house, resulting in a massive employment turn-around due to a sudden case of not living anymore. Also, Leslie seems to be acting strange…and also talking! With the voice of her dead mobster boyfriend, so that’s not good. Is Leslie possessed by the ghost of a vengeful mobster? Or is there something else going on? Wackiness ensues…

Ruby is one of those mid-70s type of low-budget horror movies that, despite all of its flaws and obvious cheapness and unintentional hilarity, is actually pretty fun to watch. The movie is dripping with old school Gothic atmosphere, and the story has a nice Turn of the Screw by way of William Faulkner. Mileage will vary as far as enjoyment goes; personally, I thought it was fine once I got past the obvious flaws. Nothing I’m going to be rewatching any time in the future, but not a bad way to burn some time.

Book Review: AMISH ZOMBIES FROM SPACE (Peril in Plain Space #2)

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amish zombies from space
Kerry Nietz
Freeheads Publishing
2015

If it wasn’t for the roaming bands of dead, it might not be such a bad place.

  • First, vampires in space. And now…zombies. Really? Jebediah and the others are trying to get over the horrors they faced in deep space, and now this. It’s been five years, and the Amish colony on Miller’s Resolve has finally gotten settled. Jeb and Sarah have a son. Elder Samuel is happy not being in charge. Darly has a private practice. And Greels is out of jail at last. But when a mysterious ship from space arrives on Resolve, it unleashes a horde of undead that might spell the end of the survivors and their dreams of peace. Will the specters of the past save them, or seal their fate?

Of course there’s a sequel to the surprisingly awesome book Amish Vampires in Space. Of course it would involve zombies this go-around. And, of course I would immediately read this one after experiencing the first book. I would have been disappointed in myself if I hadn’t. So let’s get to this, shall we?

Just as the back cover blurb states, it’s been five years since the wackiness on The Raven transpired. The surviving Amish have settled and flourished on a new planet called Miller’s Reserve, one with a sun that won’t be so keen on going supernova any time soon. Jebediah and Sarah have moved on from the Amish community they helped to save; Jeb shaved his beard and Sarah lost the bonnet, and both run a joint handmade furniture shop and bakery in the city of another planet, while their five-year-old son Issac is way into monster hero videos. Seal and Singer are now married, and flyin’ around the galaxy in their own private ship and discussing possibly starting a family of their own. Doctor Darly has her own private practice, as well as a bit of an unhealthy dependency on her virtual assistant. And then there’s Greels, who didn’t fare very well after the events in the first book; he’s just getting released from jail, he discovers that his severance pay and any evidence he ever worked for the Guild have been wiped out of existence, and he only has $200 to his name. Meanwhile, back on Miller’s Reserve, a ship with a bunch of annoying tourists shows up and insists on checking out the quaint Amish way of life for themselves. Only, they may have a secret ulterior motive about visiting and disrupting the good folks, and it may or may not have something to do with another strange ship that has just crash landed nearby the community, bearing some very gruesome cargo. Soon, the community is overrun by the undead corpses of the Amish and their animals. Also, Greels has just kidnapped Issac and taken him on a space-trip in a stolen Guild cargo shuttle to a mysterious base on the edge of uncharted space, a place that may have a clue to what went on in the last book, and also to help defeat the zombies that have overrun Miller’s Resolve.

Once again, Kerry Nietz manages to take the concept of a bunch of future Amish settlers on a planet in far-off space being overrun by zombies, and make it seem rather plausible. Sure, this book takes the more scientific route when explaining the source of what made the zombies, as well as shines some more scientific light as to the origins of the vampires that plagued everyone in the last book. But, this being birthed from a sci-fi writer, I would have been disappointed if it didn’t.

And just like in the previous book, Amish Zombies from Space manages to blend the sci-fi with the horror, action and drama in a rather cinematic way, to which you can vividly picture it all in your head. And really, the book does manage to do something different from the standard way this could have ended. And thus, I would once again mark this book as Recommended, especially if you’ve already read the first book.

Movie Review: MANDY

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Mandy Movie Poster
XYZ Films
2018
NR

“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Erik Estrada.”
“Erik Estrada who?”
“Erik Estrada from CHiPs.”

  • Taking place in 1983, Red is a lumberjack who lies in a secluded cabin in the woods. His artist girlfriend Many spends her days reading fantasy paperbacks. Then one day, she catches the eye of a crazed cult leader, who conjures a group of motorcycle-riding demons to kidnap her. Red, armed with a chainsaw and other weapons, stops at nothing to get her back, leaving a bloody, brutal pile of bodies in his wake.

Behold, the movie that valiantly tries to out-crazy Nicholas Cage. And it does somewhat succeed…until the third act, when Cage’s character eats some LSD and cocaine. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, Mandy is this psychological horror flick that started to get some positive buzz from the usual sources I go to for horror reviews and recommendations after being show at the usual festival circuits. Mind you I would have eventually watched Mandy because of Nicholas Cage–it was the only reason I ever watched those horrid Ghost Rider movies, after all–but then reports of this being completely weird even for a Nic Cage movie, I immediately put it in my watchin’ cue and took in the madness.

What can I say about Mandy? Well, besides that, yes, it is a completely insane movie, even despite Nic Cage. In terms of horror, one might classify Mandy as an American-style giallo film, something that relies more on style, jarring camerawork and music cues, and ultra-violence for something that’s quite visceral and madness-inducing. Again, this is all before Nic takes the LSD.

The story of Mandy was pretty straight-forward in the DVD blurb contained at the top of this review–the girlfriend of a lumberjack gets kidnapped by a hippie cult lead by a failed musician (as you do), boyfriend tries to get wife back, hippie leader gets spurned and kills girlfriend, boyfriend snaps and takes drugs and decimates the cult all the while hallucinating. It’s your typical love story, really.

So, in a nutshell, Mandy is crazy-violent, intensely insane, and will have you questioning reality by the ending shot of the movie. This is a movie that is essentially one long lucid nightmare put on film. Do I recommend watching Mandy? Yeah…but, only if you’re fully aware of what you’re in for. If you’re a fan of emerging from watching a movie with your optimism, cheery disposition and sanity fully intact and your faith in humanity unshaken, this isn’t the movie for you. For the rest of us, by all means, enjoy the madness.

Book Review: AMISH VAMPIRES IN SPACE (Peril In Plain Space #1)

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amish vampires in space

Kerry Nietz
Fireheads Publishing
2013

  • Jebediah has a secret that will change his world forever and send his people into space. The Amish world of Alabaster calls upon an ancient promise to escape destruction. Then end up on a cargo ship bound for the stars. But they are not the only cargo on board. Some of it is alive…or used to be. Now, with vampires taking over and closing in on the Amish refugees, these simple believers must decide whether their faith depends upon their honored traditions or something even older.

A couple of years ago, while bored at work, I was amusing myself by doing Google searches on words that were absurd when paired together: words like “Wafflecone Conspiracy”, “Polka Metal”, “Government Intelligence”, things like that. Just to see what wackiness would pop up. One of those searches was for “Amish Vampires”. And lo and behold, the link for this actual novel, Amish Vampires in Space, popped up. Which tells me that there are clearly other people out there whose brains work just like mine. That should be enough to give anyone pause.

Anyway, as a title like Amish Vampires in Space falls squarely in the Shut Up And Take My Money files, I purchased the Kindle edition of this book, just to check it out, sight unseen. No idea what the book was about…but I had an inkling that, somehow, this would involve Amish vampires. In space. I mean, it’s right there in the title. Brilliant, that. Besides, even it it turned out to be someone’s poorly written subReddit fan-fic that somehow found its way to getting published for realsies, I can at least hold my head up high, and proclaim from the rooftops that I have, indeed, read a book titled Amish Vampires in Space.

I haven’t even gotten to the review of the thing, and I am savoring this for all it’s worth.

So, a little backstory: Apparently, this title came about because the owner of the book’s publishing company was contemplating how popular Amish romance novels were in the Christian fiction market. I don’t know what it’s like now, but there was a time when Christian book publishers’ collective credo involving romance fiction–or, possibly any kind of religious fiction in general–was, “If it ain’t Amish, don’t bother submitting.” Or something like that. Then he started thinking about how popular vampires were in young adult fiction in the general market, and came up with the idea of producing cover art for a fake book he had no intention of actually publishing, more as a satirical goof on the genres. And that was that…until author Kerry Nietz contacted the publisher with an actual idea for the story of Amish Vampires in Space. And so they did. Mind you, they stipulated that he had to have an actual story to give them, and they reserved the right to reject publication. The fact that this not only got published, but also has a sequel further intrigued me.

But, enough prattling about the making of. Let’s get to what you’re really here for: What do I, your Uncle NecRo, think of Amish Vampires in Space? And, can I manage to continue typing out that title without giggling like a five-year-old who heard his grandmother pass gas while bending over?

To answer the later question first: No. I cannot. But, you probably suspected that.

As to the former question: Amish Vampires in Space is a subversive novel of science fiction goodness that takes a rather absurd sounding premise, and manages to weave a story that makes it all not only plausible, but also manages to be an engaging and heart-felt and well thought-out novel chock full of drama, comedy, and action to keep even the most jaded of sci-fi geek engaged to the end of the book. The writing style takes a very cinematic style, keeping the story moving, despite the over-400 page length of the book. I found myself enjoying pretty much every page from when I picked it up, and finding it hard to put back down.

Overall: Whether you pick up a copy of Amish Vampires in Space because of the gonzo title alone (like I did) or more out of morbid curiosity, you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story contained herein. This isn’t one of those subReddit fan-fics that got lucky, like 50 Shade of Toxic Relationships; this is actually well-written. Recommended.

Movie Review: 31 (Thirty-One)

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31

Lionsgate
2016
R

“You know what they say, Kemosabe. In Hell, everybody loves popcorn.”

  • Five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned Hell-like compound where they are forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns.

When it comes to Rob Zombie movies, love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny that you won’t be bored with them. With a style planted firmly in the 1970s-era exploitation style horror, calling his movies “over-the-top” just doesn’t seem to do it justice. Also, his movies seem to be able to give you the benefit of an acid trip without actually having to drop acid.

Same as it was with his 2016 flick 31. While Zombie’s previous movie, Lords Of Salem, was more of a psychological horror, 31 leans more to his House Of 1000 Corpses-style of intense, bloody and ultra-violent slasher style of movie, chock full of the kind of mind-bending insanity-inducing visuals you would come to expect from Rob Zombie in the first place.

On the plus side, at least Zombie doesn’t fill his movies with a bunch of pretty people. And these characters aren’t pretty, both in their looks and their speech. But, you should know by now that the characters in his movies revels in the ugliness. There’s a certain twisted charm in that, really.

In 31, we have an RV full of carny workers traveling to their next gig, traversing the bi-ways of 1970s America, when they stop at a gas station and comes across the local weirdos. Later than night, they come across a roadblock and are kidnapped by goons dressed in Freddy Kruger sweaters, and wake up in a warehouse, where they’re told via loudspeaker by a group of people dressed like 17th Century French aristocrats that they’ve been volunteered to play a game called “Thirty-One”, and for the next 12 hours they will be in kind of a Most Dangerous Game type setup, only they’re pursued by several different murderous clowns, and if any of them happen to survive the 12 hours, they win! Only, they never really get around to saying what it is they win, as nobody’s ever really one one of these games before. So, of course, you already know that one of ’em are going to survive. But, I digress. The clowns include a diminutive Latino dressed as a Nazi called Sick-Head, a couple of redneck wackos named Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head, a guy-girl team named Death-Head and Sex-Head (respectively), and when all of those fail, they call in the fan-favorite pinch-hitter Doom-Head, who was taking this year off and wasn’t in a good mood to have his Halloween festivities interrupted.

I wonder if it says anything about my own mental state by how I can watch a Rob Zombie movie like this and just shrug and say, “Okay, sure.” at the insanity that was unfolding in front of me while watching 31. For those of you who want your movies to ultimately make sense in the end…nope, 31 isn’t the movie for you. Sure, I was left with many more questions than answers while watching this: Why do they call the game “31”? Why is Malcolm McDowell dressed in a powdered wig and foppish 18th-century regalia? Does Rob Zombie really think that actual dialogue works like that? Doubtful that these and other questions will ever be answered, but I’m thinking that’s the point. I’m fine with insanity for insanity’s sake.

What this boils down to, though, is that 31 isn’t exactly what you would call a genre-defining movie. It falls squarely in the torture-porn exploitation style, with its sheer madness being the most amusing part of the flick. I wasn’t expecting a full mind-blowing freak horror that got under my skin and stayed there like Lords Of Salem; this, however, did feel ultimately like going through the motions. Good for a rental.

Movie Review: SPIRIT STALKERS

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spirit stalkers
Big Biting Pig Productions
2012
NR

“Expectant attention is not a mistake the Spirit Stalkers make.”

  • The Spirit Stalkers reality show, once a big hit, faces cancellation without a rating boost, which leads the investigative team to Gloria Talman, whose house is rampant with unexplained ghostly activity.

During my extended period of health-related exile in the year of our Lord 2019, I did watch a bunch of free-for-streaming movies on Amazon, and yet somehow managed to hold on to some semblance of sanity.

One of these movies that wound up in my watching que was 2012’s Spirit Stalkers, a direct-to-video horror flick that, on the surface, looked like another one of those found footage / mocumentary style movies about a group of ghost hunters who happen to stumble upon a real haunting. Since these kind of movies are almost literally a dime a dozen, I steeled myself for what I hoped would at least be a so-bad-it’s-good kind of movies. So, imagine my surprise when Spirit Stalkers wound up doing something slightly different than what was expected.

The Spirit Stalkers in question is a reality television show about a team of ghost hunters lead by a guy who is more concerned with uncovering the truth behind the aledged “hauntings” than relying on the sensationalism tactics. Of course, this is not good for ratings, and the producers and other cast members try to introduce more ratings-grabbing tactics–ghost hunting gadgets, suggesting there are real ghosts, trying out new catch phrases and younger cast members–he’s finally told to either find a real haunting, or get canceled. Fortunately for him, there appears to be an actual, honest-to-goodness haunting going on in the house of a single mother, where she and her teenage daughter seem to be experiencing weird things. So the Spirit Stalkers are on the case! But, will this wind up to be another fake haunting easily explained by science, or is there something more sinister going on? The answer is yes.

I’ll start off by saying that I’ve seen far worse independent horror flicks than Spirit Stalkers. It has its flaws, and make no mistake, I will be addressing them. But at least this was made with some skill, rather than a camcorder and delusions of adequacy. Here, there’s some decent editing, along with some very well executed framing and cinematography, lending to some good atmosphere. And at least part of the storyline has an intriguing kernel of an idea that I wish they would have explored more.

For me, the parts of the movie that worked the best were the television show angle itself. What they should have done was make that the main focus, leaving the bits with the lady and her daughter at the house introduced later on. Instead, the flashing back and forth constantly between the two interrupted the flow of the narrative something bad. Making things even more convoluted is the tendency to feature memory flashbacks that don’t really contribute to the story and makes one more confused than anything.

Also working against the movie is the subpar acting, which isn’t as bad as I’ve come across elsewhere, but is still cringe-inducing at times. But, like I said, I do like what they did with the ending. It wasn’t jaw-dropping or game-changing, but I respect the direction they took.

Overall: If I actually used a numerical system for rating these things, I would go with a 2 out of 5. It’s surprisingly much more watchable than your usual stable of haunting movies, but nothing that results in a must-see. Good for a time waster.

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