Sunday, October 30, 2022

Right over there



It was a dark and stormy night in Santa Ana, California. No, really, by the time I arrived at The Frida Cinema, on the night of October 15th, what started as a drizzle had become a full-on cats & dogs shower with thunder and lightning. Which was all right with me, because warm weather in October bums me out, we shouldn't be sweating during this time of year, we should be in sweaters, and besides, rain is horror-friendly weather.

I carefully walked down the soaked sidewalk to join the small crowd of fellow VIP ticket holders for tonight's event: Camp Frida 6: Holiday Horrors all-night horror movie marathon, with films that took place on or around days of leisure and/or celebration.
 
In exchange for paying a little extra for our VIP tickets, we were allowed early entry, giving us ample opportunity to find and claim a seat, and more time to get to know our fellow attendees. Or, if you're an antisocial loner with a blog, it allows you time to mill about the theater, silently judging everybody else for not being as big a loser as you.

At the check-in table, we had our tickets scanned, and we were given a wristband to identify us as VIPs, and those who intended to drink alcohol during the night were given a second wristband. We were then given a Camp Frida t-shirt, along with a goodie bag filled with, uh, goodies. Mine had some candy, a couple stickers, and a couple pins, one of which was a glow-in-the-dark Camp Frida logo. There was also a blank Christmas ornament inside, which one could decorate at the table containing markers, stickers, and strings.

 

The Frida is a two-screen theater, and the tradition during Camp Frida is to different films in each of them, allowing attendees to choose their own movie-watching adventure throughout the night. The screens are each given a name that goes with the whole summer camp motif, and so for that night, screens One and Two became the Fire Lodge and Mess Hall.

We were directed to the Fire Lodge, where the stage had been decorated with cobwebs, balloons and jack-o-lanterns, while music by Goblin, John Carpenter, and Jerry Goldsmith, among others, played on the sound system. A volunteer went around offering to tape off seats in the Mess Hall for us, that way, should we decide to watch a movie over there, we'd already have a reserved spot.

I wanted to hug this volunteer, but I figured if I was going to hug anybody, it was going to be the pretty blonde volunteer who was done up like Florence Pugh's May Queen from Midsommar (minus all those flowers). Alas, I never did work up the courage to step up and spit mad hugging game to her. Not because I was afraid of being turned down, but because I was afraid of her saying Yes, and next thing you know, I'm wearing a bear's skin -- and all that that entails.

Some time after that, we were joined by the rest of the attendees, including a large group of friends with at least two married couples in the rotation. They were all very chipper and I sensed they were longtime pals, and it was nice to see that there were a couple of single men among them, because that meant that the wives in the group didn't force their husbands to only fraternize with other married friends. But upon seeing the two single men in the group turn to give each other an intimate smooch, I realized, nope, they’re all married.

One of the straight husbands excused himself, and his wife looked over to the others, as he walked away, and casually declared "He has a very small bladder!", to which another wife responded with "Oh really? I have the best bladder in the world" and I almost piped in with "...for a woman, maybe", but I didn't want to ruin their fun. Because I actually enjoyed watching them, it reminded me of my younger days when I was the third wheel to my married friends, interrupting them every time they were about to kiss.

There was an intro by the Frida's projectionist -- whose name I didn't get, I’m sorry to say, I believe it was Don, but don’t hold me to that -- and he brought down the Frida Cinema's founder, Logan Crow, the director of programming Trevor Dillon, and various volunteers, giving each of them their time to shine as we applauded them all.

Then he handed the mics over to the two ladies who would be our camp counselors for the evening: Becca and Isa, who are the social media director and volunteer coordinator for the Frida. They broke down the details of the evening, in regards to the schedule and the breaks between films, as well as a polite request for us to be considerate with our trash. 

Then, it was on to the marathon proper -- which started off a little too scary for us, as the first film appeared very yellow on screen, forcing the projectionist to stop the movie and fix the situation. One quick bathroom break later, all was well again, and from that point forward, it was smooth sailing all night.

 

Now you kids might want to sit up close and listen to this oldhead tell you about a period in the late 90s when Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson brought back the teen slasher with their surprise hit Scream. Hollywood wanted in on that sweet, sweet money, so along came a bunch of horror films starring a bunch of pretty faces, rather than the more relatable, attainable types that starred in these kinds of movies back in the 80s.

Among these cash-ins was the 1997 slasher I Know What You Did Last Summer, directed by Jim Gillespie, and also written by Williamson, who adapted the novel by Lois Duncan. This was the first film of the evening, which takes place in a seaside North Carolina town, where we’re introduced to four friends celebrating the 4th of July, all of them recent high school grads with plans for the future.

By the way, for any designated drivers reading to this: Tie up your drunks. Tie them up or knock them out, because there is still the possibility that one of these intoxicated assholes is going to do something that will take your attention off the road for one second, and that's all the time needed for some sad-assed fisherman to stumble onto your speeding vehicle's path. That's what happens to our quartet, and rather than do the hard but correct thing in calling the cops, they instead dump the body in the ocean, swearing to take this secret to their graves.

A year later, one of them, Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) comes home from college and it's clear that the weight of that man's death weighs heavily on her soul, as it does on the souls of her ex-boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.), and her friend Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar). As for the fourth of their guilty party, Barry (Ryan Phillippe), he's an overly pumped-up, rage-filled jock, and therefore has no soul, so he just continues to be his usual aggro self, and all of us in the audience found his very extra behavior very entertaining to watch.

Soon, our group begins to receive anonymous notes with the title of the film written on them, which brings out major scared & paranoid vibes in the entire gang. They want to know who is the I in question. Is it the goofy-ass nerd from The Big Bang Theory? Or maybe it’s creepy-ass Anne Heche. There’s also a strong possibility that it’s one of them. But my money is on the scary hook-wielding figure in a rain slicker, and I have to give this dude some serious props for his excellent handwriting and his top-notch hook skills, he probably uses the same hand for both.

The audience seemed to appreciate Julie's use of a very 90s Internet to search for clues, as well as her very 90s hair bangs, while I also got a kick out of the killer's very supernatural ability to show up and disappear anywhere, as well as his ability to transport dead bodies in record time -- in broad daylight, no less.

My apologies for what might have come off as an insensitive comment regarding Anne Heche's character, and to be real with you, due to her recent passing, her tragic and unsettling role carried with it a tragic and unsettling air that obviously wasn't there in my previous viewing.

But rather than dwell on that sad truth, I will dwell on a possibly sadder one. This viewing took me back to when my friends and I saw this at the cinema back in '97; we had a good time and then went to grab a bite at In-N-Out Burger where we had a serious discussion about which of the actresses in the film we'd most want to bang. One friend was all about Hewitt, having been into her since Party of Five, while my other friend was a big Buffy fan, and so that's where his penile loyalties lay.



As for me, I was the outlier who preferred the actress who played Helen's sister, Elsa (Bridgette Wilson), because it was my understanding that dat Veronica Vaughn is one piece of ass, and on top of that, her character wore glasses, and as some of you might already know, the only thing hotter to me than one pair of tits are two pairs of eyes. Of course, each of us would then accuse each other of lying about wanting to fuck any of the ladies, because clearly he was gay -- except we used a different word, because the 90s were a more innocent time for hate speech.

An even sadder post-script to that anecdote: Ten years later, I met up with one of those high school friends. It had been a while, so we caught up, reminisced about the old days, then went to see Transformers. At the end of the night, as I drove him back home, he tried to get nostalgic by making those humorous assumptions about my sexuality again. As per usual, I told him, Yeah sure, I'm totally gay, and you're all I want, you big hunk, you. Except, this time, he kept going, and so again I jokingly said Yes. But he would continue, and eventually it got very uncomfortable because it didn't sound like he was joking anymore. It sounded like he was seriously trying to get me to admit that I was gay. So I seriously answered him No. 



But that wasn't enough. He still wouldn't let up. This went on for way longer than it should've gone. I told him this wasn’t funny anymore, and frankly it was getting annoying. And so he asked again.



I had enough. I slammed hard on the brakes and pulled the car off to the side, nearly colliding with a parked PT Cruiser. It got real quiet, and you could smell burnt rubber in the air. I looked over at my friend and saw fear in his eyes as I began to roll up my sleeves. Then I reached over, angrily unzipped his fly, furiously pulled out his cock, and violently sucked him off. After we both finished, I wiped my mouth and told him "Listen, you son-of-a-bitch, a gay man wouldn't have given you such a bad blow job, and a straight man wouldn't have stayed hard -- let alone gotten hard in the first place!" That shut him up. Then I took him home, wished him well, and dropped him off. I never heard from him again, although I did get an anonymous text the following year that read "I know what you did last summer”, but I ignored it.



Anyway, it held up for me, the movie, I mean. It's a solid slasher, and it's a lot more beautifully shot than I remembered — props to cinematographer Denis Crossan — this is definitely from a time when movies used to look like movies. I enjoyed it just as much as I did the last time, even if all the scares weren’t as strong the second time around. But it was fun to watch others jump up and scream every once in a while. It also warmed my heart to hear the entire audience burst into a rapturous cacophony of applause, cheers, and laughs after Hewitt delivered quite possibly the most iconic line of dialogue of her entire career. 

That's not the only moment where the audience reacted as such; during the intro, we were asked to cheer any time the holiday of the film was said out loud. In this film's case, we cheered every time someone mentioned the Fourth of July. 



But what I thought to be the worst part of the movie back then, remains the worst part today; there's a scene where Helen comes back home after a long day, and she goes into the kitchen to grab a soda, and it's so awkward and unnatural the way she stands over her kitchen table, pouring her drink into a glass in the most assholish way -- with the glass standing straight up, so that she gets 90 percent foam and 10 percent soda -- taking a couple sips from the glass in a manner more befitting someone with a gun to her back. Then she takes off for her bedroom, with both the half soda can and the half empty glass still on the table. I guess she figured the killer who just crept into her house might be thirsty as well.


After a break, we returned to the Fire Lodge, where the hosts announced that both theaters were opened. Then they invited Mikey Aguirre, the gentleman behind See It on 16mm, on stage; normally he tours to various cinemas to screen films on 16mm, but that night he was there to pitch his selection for the night, the 1989 Spring Break/Easter slasher, Nightmare Beach, which would play over at the Mess Hall. The hosts then told us that those who were going to see Aguirre's choice would also have the bonus of participating in an Easter Egg hunt before the film, where we could find eggs containing movie passes and various other goodies.



The hosts then tried something new for Camp Frida; a wheel appeared on screen, divided into sections, each section representing a different film. The wheel was spun, and whichever film the arrow settled on would be the one that would play right there in the Fire Lodge. Among the films were New Year's Evil, the 2006 remake of Black Christmas, and 1995's Day of the Beast (also a Christmas film). Unfortunately, it landed on 2001's Valentine, which I saw back then and never wanted to see again. So it was an easy choice for me -- and apparently most of the audience, as many of us ventured next door, some of us going to our saved seats.

I was so busy settling into my new seat, that I forgot about the Easter Egg hunt until an overzealous gentleman swooped over to my lonely section and grabbed all the eggs surrounding my oblivious ass, and all I could do was laugh.

Nightmare Beach starts off in true 1980s Spring Break style: With a serial killer being executed by electric chair. Diablo is his -- was his name, and he was the leader of a particularly crime-happy biker gang, but he continued to swear his innocence in the murders almost up until the moment of his execution, where he then swore that he would return to exact his revenge. One crispy convict later, we're treated to a credit sequence montage of college beach bodies having fun up and down the Florida burg of Manatee Beach, before settling in to introduce the various potential victims and killers.

Our main doofus is Skip, a college football player who recently fucked it up for his team during the Orange Bowl and is understandably forlorn about it, despite attempts by his horndog teammate Ronny to cheer him up by reminding him that they are indeed there for Spring Break! and all which that entails.

While Ronny employs the "Ask a hundred women to sleep with you, and one will say Yes" technique of scoring, Skip prefers the company of Gail, a local bartender who is almost as much an Eeyore as Skip -- but she has a much better reason for her down syndrome. You see, Gail's sister was one of Diablo's victims, and she was there for his execution, so there's both fear and uncertainty over what she witnessed, and what she was told -- feelings that grow even stronger once it's revealed that Diablo's body has disappeared from its grave.

Perhaps not too coincidentally, a mysterious leather-clad biker -- identity hidden by helmet -- is driving around town in his souped-up motorcycle, complete with electrified passenger seat for unlucky hitchhikers. But since hitchhiking was becoming less of a thing by '89, he supplements his murder-cycle by going on foot, killing people by electrocuting them or burning them with exposed live wires or big furnaces that shoot out flames at lengths that defy logic.

But you know how it is with these Italians, logic has about as much place in a horror movie as a Negro in their sister's bedroom. Oh, yeah, about the filmmakers; during his intro, Aguirre credited the direction of this eye-tie production to Umberto Lenzi, who among various gialli and Euro-crime films, is probably most infamously known for the grindhouse fave Cannibal Ferox -- aka The One Where A Chick Gets Hooks Through Her Breasts. But Lenzi claimed to have quit the production before shooting began, only sticking around at the request of replacement director James Justice (who co-wrote the screenplay), in a position that I can only speculate as being the Obi-Wan to Justice's Luke Skywalker.

Either way, this ultra-goofy, terribly-acted movie was so much fun to watch with a crowd. When not being entertained watching the killer turning people into crispy critters, we were equally entertained by the scenes featuring the most Floridian of men and women. There is so much WOOOO! going on, most of it coming from this random dude who keeps popping up to scream "Go gators!", he always popped up when you least expected it, and it never failed to make many of us in the audience crack up. There are also plenty of scenes involving wet t-shirts and oiled up bodies, and it's all equal opportunity as we watch both sexes get reduced to eye candy, because that's the America that I believe in.

Speaking of America, this movie features quite possibly the most realistic cinematic portrayal of high ranking officials and civil servants -- at any level -- that I've seen. They are all so incompetent and self-serving; as the body count rises, the mayor and the chief of police decide to cover it up by burying the bodies in a salt mine, and they have a doctor to help them falsify the records. The mayor doesn't want to look bad, and the chief is just a power-tripping asshole, and it's heavily implied that the doctor uses Bill Cosby tactics to satisfy his Kevin Spacey tastes.

I'd hate on the chief and the doctor, except they're played by John Saxon and Michael Parks, and they were never not awesome, regardless of who they played. And while you never see Parks do any of the abhorrent things he's accused of, you do see him hilariously pull out a flask every single time he gets or gives bad news, and the audience always cheered whenever that flask come out.



Also included in this assortment of assholes is a pervy hotel manager who goes into a supply closet that also happens to have a hole drilled into it, allowing him to spy on a hooker in the next room who has a great racket going. She hooks her johns by giving them a sob story about being a student short of cash. I think this is a very smart ploy, because it allows dudes who are too proud to pay for it to sleep with a woman who is totally out of their league. As far as they're concerned, this hot chick was totally into them, and so, sure, here's a couple hundred bucks to help her with that other thing.



There's also a prankster, who among his heee-larious pranks, goes around pretending to be a shark on the beach, freaking everybody out. Man oh man, do I fucking hate pranksters. Do you wanna know why? Because these motherfuckers -- you know what? For your eyes sake, and for the sake of my high blood pressure, I'm gonna move on. Suffice it to say, motherfuck a prankster.


After the break, we all returned to the Fire Lodge, where someone came out to to give us the bad news -- it was last call for alcohol -- and the good news -- they would be serving pizza after the film. Then the hosts returned to announce the next film playing in that theater: The first of two Jamie Lee Curtis movies that take place on a train during New Year's Eve, Terror Train. Then they spun the wheel to reveal the alternate feature: the 2009 zombie flick Dead Snow

Having already watched Terror Train during the Camp Frida live-stream in 2020, I decided to go with the other film, which I had never seen. So off I went, back to the Mess Hall, with my large cup of Cherry Coke that I didn't finish during Nightmare Beach.

Easter is this Norwegian film's holiday, and so we watch how kids over there do Spring Break: Somewhere in some snowy hinterland, up in some mountain cabin. So we're going to not going to see a bunch of exposed skin, which is for the best, because we're not talking beach bods for most of this crew. But I get it, in the cold you're gonna want some extra layers of warmth.

So anyway, we've got seven of them; four dudes and three chicks, and you'd think the tubby movie geek of this funky bunch would be the odd man out. Wrong. He actually ends up being the first -- the only one! -- to score, with a rather attractive woman, despite their being nothing particularly alluring about him, visually or personality-wise. 

Again, let me remind you, he's a movie geek, and as you, me, and the rest of the movie geeks know, movie geeks are the absolute fucking worst, that's why we have to find another movie geek if we wanna fuck, and that just makes two of the fucking worst, who are also the worst at fucking, getting together to fuck, and if two of the fucking worst who are the fucking worst at fucking end up fucking, that means some of the fucking worst end up having fucking kids -- and their kids are the fucking worst.

They usually grow up to be pranksters.

So back to this fat fuck and his hot chick. He leaves the cabin to go take a shit in the outhouse, and after dropping a deuce and wiping his ass, this lady just steps right into the outhouse with him, and it's like, if being in a small space that reeks of shit isn't going to cool her jets, then I suppose she'd be turned on by the piece of shit sitting before her. He doesn't even have to make the first move, instead, she picks up his hand -- the same hand he used to wipe his shitty Norwegian ass with -- and begins to suck his fingers. 

Lady and gentleman, it was at this point, that the jaded black-hearted cynic who has watched real death videos and who found A Serbian Film kinda dull, this garbage human whose words you are reading, began to feel something approaching the temptation to faint. 

But instead I took a deep breath, picked up my cup of Cherry Coke and sucked on the straw as if it were my old friend's cock -- strengthening my resolve. My eyes rolled back down from my head, and I was able to continue watching as this poor damaged woman rode this chunky cowboy into an orgasmic state of fecal-scented bliss. 

It was here that I felt I was truly watching a horror film. And so I was relieved when the zombies finally arrived.

And who are these zombies? Nazis. You see, back during World War II, a bunch of these SS scumbags had occupied this part of Norway, and they did their thing, raping, pillaging, murdering the villagers, because that's what one does for their country. But eventually the villagers fought back and killed most of them, but some of them escaped and froze to death. 

Well, here they are, back from the dead, and ready to reich and roll. The survivors are left to fend these zombies off, using their wits and what little weaponry they have at their disposal. I enjoyed this absurd splatter flick featuring creative kills, and filled with blood, entrails, severed body parts, and various viscera, even though this is definitely more of a movie geek joint that takes stuff from fondly remembered genre films and gives them its own spin. It's less about reinventing the wheel and more about redecorating it.

The movie openly references its cinematic inspirations, particularly the works of Sam Raimi, specifically Evil Dead II, and so, it has that same kind of horror-comedy blend, albeit a much darker form of comedy. I also appreciated some of the nasty turns and surprises it takes along the way, and it plays no favorites when it comes to its characters, regardless of what you'd expect based on their types.

This was directed by Tommy Wirkola, who also co-wrote the screenplay, and he went on to direct Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which I'm now interested in checking out because I'd like to see what he turned out on a big Hollywood scale. But I'm also left thinking that if this guy, an obvious movie geek himself, intended on painting such an unflattering portrait of one, as he did in this film, or was this in fact, some kind of wish fulfillment.

Like, I can imagine some super nerd who jizzes over movies and comic book properties and movies about comic book properties, working up the kind of fear and resentment towards the opposite sex, and so that ends up mixing in with his passion to just be able to, you know, actually kiss a girl. And the larger that fear and resentment grows, the more toxic that mix becomes, until eventually that nerd goes from thinking "Man, I wish a nice girl would let me take her out for a chocolate malt" to "Man, that sexy slut should hunger for my four inches so bad, she's willing to smell my shit to get it." 


It was during the following break that the pizza arrived, and me being overly assumptive, assumed that it was as complimentary as the coffee for VIPs. Two slices and seven dollars later, I returned to the Fire Lodge, where trailers for holiday-themed films played in the background, including Thankskilling, Bloody New Year, Gremlins, Eyes Wide Shut, Jack Frost, and Uncle Sam

Then the hosts returned to announce the next film playing in the Fire Lodge: the 1987 Thanksgiving body-counter Blood Rage, which was introduced by a gentleman whose name I can't recall, but he's from the website HorrorBuzz. He talked about how this movie was a favorite with everyone from HorrorBuzz, and that they've screened it twice for their Horror Movie Nights at the Frida. He talked about what a wild film it was, and I agree, as it is an annual viewing for me every November.

But as much as I would have loved to experience a nutty flick like Blood Rage with a rowdy sleep-deprived crowd, I made the difficult decision to instead go with the wheel's choice for the Mess Hall: 1986's April Fool's Day, a film I always meant to watch. So off I went, but not before stopping for a cup of my free VIP coffee, of which I took two sips before tossing it in the trash, where it belonged, then I silently wept for those who had to pay for that disgusting brew. 

Only a handful of people chose to watch this film, and the projectionist stuck his head out from the booth to thank us for giving this movie a chance, because he felt it was a pretty good movie worth a watch. He also warned us that the movie would begin in a strange aspect ratio, but not to worry, that's intentional on the film's part. Then someone in the crowd douche-ily ordered the projectionist to "roll film!" and the projectionist mumble-responded some appropriately snarky comment about how he was going to get the film print ready, as if this entire evening's slate wasn't being presented digitally.

So yeah, the film opens with a narrower aspect ratio, because we are watching footage from someone's video camera, introducing our cast of college cutups, as they travel by ferry to visit their friend Muffy at her island residence for the weekend during Spring Break. The most recognizable of the group is Kit, played by Amy Steel, who is best known as final girl Ginny from Friday the 13th Part II, and Arch, played by Thomas F. Wilson, who is best known as one of cinema's greatest bullies, Biff Tannen, from the Back to the Future trilogy. 

As for Muffy, she's played by the Valley Girl herself, Deborah Foreman, who gives a very interesting performance as someone who comes off both very friendly while also vaguely creepy. It's like she's not quite all there, and despite her sweet face and lovely smile, there's something possibly sinister brewing underneath -- and that's when the film connected the dots for me, when she is shown setting up various pranks all throughout her property. 

I knew it -- a prankster! And on the weekend of April Fool's Day, no less! Oh, she's having herself a blast messing with her guests, placing whoopie cushions on their chairs, or setting the same chairs up to fall apart, she's screwing with the light switches, jacking up the water faucets, and worst of all, she serves them franks & beans for dinner. Not that I dislike franks & beans, but c'mon, that house screams Chateaubriand, man, you gotta class up the cuisine for your guests.

But on the other hand, they deserve it. They really are all a bunch of assholes, when you get right down to it, the best kind of privileged White people that Reagan's America had to offer. All they do is goof around, make gay jokes, work out, kick soccer balls, try to fuck each other, and wear sunglasses because their future is so bright. And so I couldn't get too upset once they start disappearing, only to reappear at room temperature, in various states of Dead.

So it leaves a viewer wondering if this is all Muffy's doing as well. As mentioned before, she carries a faint air of psycho killer, and the opening credits even show us a flashback of Muffy's childhood, where she receives a jack-in-the-box but a scary monster doll pops out instead. You hear her scream, and it's the kind of prank that might seem minor in retrospect, but come on, man, the only thing kids have in common is that they are all little shits, otherwise they are each unique and different in every way, and so some kids handle scary stuff better than others. And while some might give a quick yelp and move on, and some might go crying for their mommies, others end up becoming Psycho Freaky Jasons. You just never know.

It's like this one time that I saw a friend put on a monster mask and hide behind a couch as his two-year-old toddler came stumbling into the living room. His mother and I protested against this, but he was dead set on having his fun. As so out he popped, going "Rraawwgh!" at his baby boy -- who then gave out the most ear-piercing scream, dropped to his knees, and I'm sure tears weren't the only liquid he excreted that moment. His mother then started yelling at my friend, practically beating on him, while their son fell onto his back, crying for some kind of comfort. I immediately bid farewell and walked home, choking back the lump that was growing in my throat, wiping away the pesky moisture forming in my eyes, because that's the kind of pussy I am. 

The last time I saw that child, he was a preteen, wearing a shirt featuring a drawing of a farting dog with the words "Blame the Dog" under it, but I couldn't tell you if that was a sign of trauma or not. But his mother is no longer in the picture, and the father is a big Trump supporter, so clearly there was some damage done. Anyway, I think the important lesson to be learned here is don't get a girl pregnant at 15 years old.

While this is lumped in with other slashers of the era, April Fool's Day is more in the spirit of an Agatha Christie mystery; we watch these characters hang out, and on occasion, a body will pop up. And on the rare occasion that we are shown a victim's final moments, the film cuts away before things get bloody.  The violence is pretty tame, and the film's R rating is more about the language and sexual situations. Because of that, I can easily recommend this to people who otherwise stay away from these kinds of movies.

I can also easily recommend this to people in general, because I felt this was a pretty good movie. It's a good mystery featuring well-executed scenes of suspense, which shouldn't surprise me, considering this is from Fred Walton, the director of the original When a Stranger Calls. But despite these guys not really being my kind of guys, I actually enjoyed watching them. Some of it feels improvised, rather than scripted, and it all feels natural. I not only believe that these characters were friends, but it wouldn't surprise me if the actors themselves already were friends, or became friends during the shoot.

Even though this movie is over 30 years old, and is probably most known for its ending, I'm still going to keep mum on the conclusion, for the sake of anybody out there who hasn't seen it. But I really liked the bold choice that this film made, and I can imagine many who saw this back in the day found this film to be a breath of fresh air, and I can imagine many others being pissed off by it.

But it's greatest accomplishment is that it's a film featuring people playing pranks on each other, and somehow I was left smiling by the end of it! Because I fucking hate pranksters!

I'm sorry, I held back while talking about Nightmare Beach, but forget it, I'm going both barrels right here and now. You wanna know why I hate pranksters? In my experience, pranksters love to prank but absolutely hate it when they get pranked, which proves to me that pranks are really just some screwed-up and cowardly way to be hostile to others, while laying all the responsibility on the victim. Because if you get pranked, and don't find it funny, then you are the asshole. wHaT's WrOnG? dOn'T hAve A sEnSe oF hUmOr? is the defense these absolutely worthless cunts pull out like badges from the Twat Police, after assaulting you. 

Tell a prankster that you do not like pranks, and they'll accept it as a challenge that was never given, and so they will proceed to prank you. There's a word for that kind of person, who will insist himself on you, despite your request that he doesn't -- and pranks are just another way to insist.

I swear to god, if I become King Dictator of the World, I'm having all pranksters executed; put 'em on their knees, give 'em two to the back of the head, and bill the bullets to their families, China-style. The bodies of the executed will be cremated, and the ashes will be sent to their loved ones, and when they open the urn to scatter the ashes, a wacky spring-loaded snake will jump out at them. What's wrong? Don't have a sense of humor?


Back at the Fire Lodge, we were told that instead of the wheel, they would name films and the two that got the most applause from the audience would play next; the winners were The Return of the Living Dead from 1985, and Night of the Demons from 1988, which I had already seen at a previous Camp Frida, and thought was OK, so I instead stayed put for the zombie flick, which I've seen on the big screen a couple times already, and wouldn't mind watching again.

The 4th of July is mentioned at the very beginning, but never mind that, we're not here for fireworks, we're here for zombie mayhem, and that's what we get during this film which mostly takes on the 3rd. Still, I'm surprised that throughout this entire film, not one early firework is seen or heard in the background. I don't know about the film's setting of Louisville, Kentucky, but over here in Southern California, you can't stop someone from lighting fireworks before the 4th. They usually start as early as April, and they don't stop until late September, if we're lucky.

I don't think you even have to be from SoCal to recognize that this supposedly Southeast location is obviously Los Angeles. So we should be catching glimpses of the occasional errant firework set off by some overzealous cholo, because it's always a cholo flaunting the off-season fireworks. I don’t know why, maybe it’s a requirement of the lifestyle.

Anyway, everyone knows that George A. Romero's 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead is a work of fiction. What this film presupposes is, maybe it's not?  That's what Frank, a senior employee at a medical supply warehouse tells the new hire Freddy, that the film was based on a real incident and that the zombies were sealed into airtight containers by the Army, and that one of those very same containers is stored in the warehouse's basement. 

Of course, curiosity gets the better of the two, and off they go to check out the formerly living corpse, which results in them getting sprayed with zombie gas -- while bringing back the dead, for good measure. The two call in their boss, Burt, to help them deal with the walking corpses that just won't stay dead. Even worse, these things all have a hankering for human brains.

Meanwhile, Freddy's punk friends are killing time at the neighboring cemetery, waiting for him to clock out from work. They're unaware of what's going on, and so when one of them, a pink-haired chick named Trash, openly admits to fantasizing about being eaten alive, she has no idea how soon that fantasy will become terrifying reality.

The rest of the film is just one long chain of fuck-ups, ranging from colossal to monumental to apocalyptic. Written and directed by Dan O'Bannon, who up until this point was known for writing Alien, Blue Thunder, and my favorite Tobe Hooper film, Lifeforce, his directorial debut is a top-notch entry in what I like to call the "Everybody's Fucked" sub-genre. Because no matter what these characters try to do to contain the situation, they're all fucked. It is a nihilistic work, but it's also good times, because O'Bannon is able to balance out the doom with an overall sense of fun -- and it never stops being tense and exciting. He knows the right tone for any given scene; when to make things funny, when to make them scary, when to make them disturbing, and when to make them tragic.

O'Bannon is strongly supported by a pitch-perfect cast, including the late great trio of Clu Gulager as Burt, James Karen as Frank, and Don Calfa as Ernie, the undertaker from the mortuary next door (and who might also be a secret Nazi, but I already talked about those assholes two movies ago). Then on the punker side, you have a bunch of those assholes, so I'm just going to point out Thom Matthews as Freddy, Beverly Randolph as Freddy's girlfriend Tina, and Linnea Quigley as the aforementioned Trash, who despite her limited screen time, arguably leaves the biggest impression on a viewer, at least she did on me.

There's also Spider, played by Miguel A. Nuñez Jr., whose previous film was Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, where he played a victim taking a shit in an outhouse, but unlike those filthy Scandinavians in Dead Snow, he and his paramour don't fuck on the toilet. Instead they sing to each other while she waits for him outside the shitter, like a normal human being.

Overall, I really enjoy this movie, despite half of the soundtrack being comprised of non-stop screaming. It doesn't matter if it's comedic screaming or screams of genuine terror, screaming's screaming, man, and it can get grating. Most of it comes from Frank and Freddy, who scream at how badly they fucked things up, at the sights of melty reanimated bodies clamoring for braaaaains, and from the agonizing pain as they slowly die from exposure to the gas, becoming zombies themselves.

But the other half of the soundtrack is a mix of cheesy 80s synth score and a bunch of boss tunes by bands like 45 Grave, T.S.O.L., and The Damned, sounds that never get old -- unless you're young, then that stuff is old by default. But they're bad jams, nonetheless.

While I prefer Romero's original Dead trilogy over this one, as far as zombies go, I have to give it to O'Bannon, because I find his version of the undead to be horrifying. It has nothing to do with Romero's zombies being slow and O'Bannon's being fast, because they're both equally scary for their own reasons. No, it's because Romero's zombies can be killed; one shot to the brain will do 'em dead. But it doesn't work that way with O'Bannon's zombies; you can brain 'em, decapitate 'em, dismember them, and they’re still moving.

To add pain to injury, it hurts to be a zombie in O'Bannon's world. They need to consume human brains to take away from the pain, they’re like junkies desperately fiending for a fix. So you gotta look at it like this: If you die and become a zombie in Romero’s world, well, your non-life involves slowly walking the earth, chowing down on the occasional human, and stopping at the neighborhood mall every once in a while. It doesn't seem like a bad existence, I mean, I don't hear them complaining. And once someone separates your brain from your spinal cord, its lights out, and any possible suffering you might have had as a zombie, is finally over.

But become a zombie in O'Bannon's world, and you're fucked forever. You are in everlasting pain, save for those brief moments of relief that come from cracking open a skull and diving in for some delicious brains. But that won’t last, and there you are, running in search for more relief. And if someone shoots you in the head, it does nothing. Hell, it might actually hurt more. And if someone machetes your head off your body, you are now burdened with yourself, having to carry your head around with you -- provided you can find it. And if you get chopped up into pieces, there will never be relief.

Should you decide to suicide, well, that's one way to solve your problem in Romero’s world. But suicide is not an option in O'Bannon's world, not unless you want to throw yourself into an incinerator, but if you also happen to be infected with zombie cooties when you burn, well, congratulations, you've just infected the air with your self-made zombie gas, further spreading the pain, you inconsiderate asshole.

Anyway, I really dig it: gory, funny, scary. The ending’s a bit odd, it feels like they ran out of money and scrounged something up in editing, but that's a very minor complaint towards a major accomplishment. I also forgot that the movie begins with a disclaimer informing the viewer that what they are about to see is all true, using real names and real places. So take that, Fargo.

 
Everybody was happy to find donuts waiting in the lobby, while I was happy they were free; I grabbed a glazed twist and stepped outside to enjoy my sugar rush with some fresh air. Then, we all gathered at the Fire Lodge for a final spiel from Trevor Dillon about the history of Camp Frida, and then the various volunteers were shouted-out for their hard work in putting this night together and working this night together, and we all gave them a round of applause. Then Becca and Isa came back out to reveal the final film of the night: 1988's Maniac Cop, which features a climax that takes place during St. Patrick's Day.

Somebody is killing innocent people on the streets of New York City — somebody with a badge — and perhaps if you’ve never heard of the Maniac Cop series, you might have actually been surprised when it was revealed not to be Bruce Campbell’s brief red herring of a character, but instead a bigger man with a bigger chin, played by Robert Z’Dar. And perhaps if you've never heard of the Maniac Cop series until now, my apologies for spoiling it for you.

But that's part of life. The way I see it, everybody takes a beating sometimes, and everybody gets at least one movie spoiled for them; back in 2019, I was walking towards the Vista Theater to watch Avengers: Endgame, and two kids from the previous showing were walking the opposite direction, loudly recounting who died in the end. I wanted to push the little bastards into oncoming traffic, but nobody was driving at that moment.

Back to the movie, in which I can only guess writer/producer Larry Cohen wanted Whitey to understand the fear that Blacks and minorities feel in the presence of our local Officer Friendlies — and make a profit while he’s at it — and so here’s another example of why I feel genre films were the best and remain the best at social commentary, compared to, say, your usual Oscar bait claptrap that prefers to ladle it all over until every crevice is coated in Message.

For the especially thick-headed types in the audience, there’s a man-on-the-street interview where a Black guy mentions three of his friends having been shot by cops -- and you know he’s not talking about our Maniac. That's just common behavior by the pigs in blue, who know a paid vacation is worth the risk of being that one in a million who gets made to be an example. Hell, that's better odds than your average criminals gets when they commit murder.

William Lustig was the perfect guy to tell Cohen’s story; his B-movie action/horror chops are on full display here. When I first saw this on cable, my 4th grade mind was blown when the identity of the Maniac Cop was revealed, and our leads found out how much of a scary indestructible force they were up against. Speaking of which, I love how the movie switches protagonists on us with only a half hour left to go. I really wish more movies would continue to surprise us this way.

I forgot Tom Atkins starred in this, as the lieutenant investigating these murders. He's the one who introduces the idea that the killer is a police officer, and so, the fact that we have a policeman who wants to hold another policeman accountable for violent acts against helpless, unarmed, law-abiding citizens means that if you have trouble finding this movie in either the Horror or Action category of your preferred streaming service, well, you'll probably locate this under Fantasy.

Or perhaps you'd find this under Documentary, if one were to go by the shitheel captain, played by William Smith, and the shitbird commissioner, played by Richard Roundtree, the latter having broken my heart. I mean, look at you, Shaft, your ass used to be beautiful, you used to be the man who would risk his neck for his brother man, and now here you are, standing up on behalf of The Man. 

Going back to Atkins, he’s been in plenty of films over the years, but I kinda wish he would have a Robert Forster-esque resurgence, where you’d see him pop up in bigger movies more often. Maybe if we can take Tarantino’s attention away from some wannabe starlet’s feet for two seconds, we can tell him to hook Atkins up with a role in his next project.

Also, I don’t know if this is a hot take or whatever the kids call it these days, but I’m not a fan of 80s-era Bruce Campbell. No no no, I don't mean as an actor, I mean his look. I think he started looking more manly in the 90s, when he started gaining some age on his face and some meat on his bones. Or maybe I’m projecting, as the years creep up, the doughnuts take their toll, my hair loses volume, and I begin waking up sore for no reason -- and I'm no Bruce Campbell to begin with. Either way, I like my Bruce the way I like my beef: aged and thick.

My only real issue with the film is more of a budgetary one, in that I can easily tell the scenes that were shot in Los Angeles and the ones that were shot in New York. I recognized quite a few downtown L.A. locations here and there, plus a palm tree or two where there should be zero.

But hey, at least they could afford to film in both cities! If you were to make this movie today, I bet you would have the leads mixing it up with actors who have Eastern European faces and who speak East Coast slang with vaguely Borat-esque accents, driving on cobblestone streets around 19th century architecture lined with creepy dry-branched trees, with everything looking blue and severe. Welcome to New York, everybody!

Props to Sam Raimi, by the way, for appearing in a cameo as a news reporter, and for saying "St. Patrick's Day" a bunch of times during his brief scene, causing us in the audience to break out into cheers and applause every few seconds. It was pretty funny; in my sleep-deprived state-of-mind I imagined that Raimi was performing his scene live, and he knew that saying the name of the holiday would induce this Pavlovian response from the crowd, and so he toyed with us, the way he toys with his actors, particularly his favorite punching bag, Campbell.

Anyway, I don't have as much to say about this one as I would if we were talking about the sequel, which I remember being even better. But this first film will always be remembered as the one where Larry Cohen and William Lustig displayed their courage, by speaking up to declare that All Zombies Are Bastards. 

 

After the film, the hosts came out to wrap up, and we all gave each other a round of applause, before going onstage to take a photo together. I took part in posing with everybody else, while making sure to stand in a place that would keep me hidden -- the best of both worlds for someone like me. And so, a little before 8:00am, Camp Frida 6: Holiday Horrors ended with those of us who made it through the night stumbling out bleary-eyed onto the wet streets. 

 


 

I ended up stopping in Fullerton to grab some thematically related breakfast at Zombee Donuts, where all their delicious pastries were decorated like coffins, eyeballs, snakes, spiders, monsters, and of course, zombies. They weren't making them look legitimately scary, they were made up to look cute and cartoonish, and that's probably why there were plenty of little kids there. They tasted just as lovely as they looked. The donuts were pretty good too.