I’ve previously penned about William Castle’s cinematic escapades, specifically regarding THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and the influence of Castle on Joe Dante’s work (and THE TINGLER? Definitely an influence. You can see it not only in MATINEE, but also GREMLINS 2).

Yet again, my favorite local arthouse theater — the Music Box — hosted another Castle screening by the same folks (this time presented in Percepto! Whatever that is!), all interactive and enthralling!

If you are or have been an avid MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 viewer, you’ve seen THE TINGLER before. They, well, they do eviscerate it. Despite a rocky premise and a number of clumsy lines and awkward special effects, it’s far smarter than they give it credit.

The always magnanimous Vincent Price is a scientist who is investigating the physiological logistics of fear. He postulates that fear is imbued by a creature — the titular Tingler — that only manifests itself when one is terrified. He sets out to prove his point, and matters escalate.

I don’t need to tell you that Price is amazing here — he always shows up and gives his all, no matter the material — but the film is surprisingly gorgeous, especially the print that we saw. The contrast of blacks and whites are measured but effective; there’s a surprising amount of center-framing, and well, everyone just looks splendid, even the Tingler! (Yes, the Tingler definitely is poorly puppeteered, but the design is great and it glistens like it’s real!)

What is most astounding about this work — and unfairly discounted — is its reliance on a deaf and mute individual. This is one of the earlier genre films I can think of that utilizes ASL and deafness as a plot point without belittling the character. Said character is the wife of an older man, and together they pointedly run a theater that exclusively shows silent movies. Her husband mostly communicates with her via ASL, despite the fact that she can read lips.

(I will note that this film does slightly disparage her by briefly labeling her as ‘deaf and dumb’. She is not dumb.)

This is a film that explicitly asks you to scream at certain points. (I’ll note, everyone at the Music Box gamely participated, myself included! It was a lot of fun!) However, the crux of the film is centered around a woman who cannot scream, who has no voice, who can only communicate via visual motions. What’s more filmic than that?

Castle gets a lot of shit for being a schlocky, gimmicky director. Yes, he definitely more than leaned into that, but hell, so did Hitchcock. Did Castle rig up electrical shocks in theater seats to thrill audiences? Yes. Did I attend a screening featuring a number of campy interactive performances, solely meant to titillate? Yes. However, the work does have an empathic heart beating under the schlock.

If you do choose to watch THE TINGLER, please bear that in mind.


Every once in a while I completely miss the mark with a film, and I certainly did so with REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA when I first saw it, fucking fifteen years ago.

“Zydrate comes in a little glass vial.”

“A little glass vial?”

“A little glass vial.”

“And the little glass vial goes into the gun like a battery. /

And the Zydrate gun goes somewhere against your anatomy /

And when the gun goes off it sparks and you’re ready for surgery. Surgery.”

REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (REPO! going forward) musically portrays a BLADE RUNNER inspired dystopian future where massive organ failures wipes out the bulk of the population. The company GeneCo, run by CEO Rotti Largo, facilitates organ replacement and refinement on a payment plan but, if you miss a payment, they’re legally able to repossess organs by any means necessary.

We’re then introduced to Shilo, an extraordinarily pale Alexa PenaVega, the daughter of Ritto’s ex-fiancée and who has rare blood disease. Shilo is overly sheltered by her father Nathan, sinisterly portrayed by Anthony Steward Head. Matters escalate as everyone — including Rotti’s three desperate children, which includes SKINNY PUPPY’s ogHr — work towards their own self-interests.

“Lungs and livers and bladders and hearts /

You’ll always save a bundle when you buy our genetic parts /

Spleens and intestines and spines and brains /

High are our prices but our quality’s the same”

As stated right in the title, this is an opera — a goth-as-fuck rock opera — and has all of the trappings of one: it’s wall-to-wall extremely infectious, emotional goth/industrial songs and Greek chorus and family melodrama.

“My brother and sister should fuck.”

I attended a screening of it at the Music Box as part of the REPO! Road Tour with a post-film Q&A that included director director Darren Lynn Bousman and it grated on me. I found the film sweaty, especially the gaussian blur which felt unnecessarily tacky, despite that it seems to be trying to recreate the look of nitrate film. I did appreciate the moxie of those behind the production, especially Bousman’s efforts which absolutely took advantage of his directorial access to SAW IV’s sets and resources in order to realize REPO!.

“I’m infected /

By your genetics /

And I don’t think that I can be fixed /

No, I don’t think that I can be fixed /

Oh, tell me why, oh /

Why are my genetics such a bitch.”

Upon a recent rewatch, I realized my initial opinion was gravely wrong. Since my first watch, I’ve become a fan of musicals so I was able to greatly appreciate the influence of Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD, the patter inspired by THE MUSIC MAN’s Meredith Willson, the drama of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the driven emotion of Les Misérables, even the rich history of pirate songs, and a hilariously sick sense of humor. This time around, I saw how it lovingly leaned on the structure of opera and I was here for it.

“DECAF?! I will shoot you in the face!”

I still don’t love the gaussian filter that distracts from the extremely striking makeup and fetish costume design; the Repo Man outfit is especially well-executed. There is way too much exposition, often doled out by finely illustrated comic panels almost certainly included because of budgetary constraints. While I tried to be as concise as possible regarding the plot, this is an extremely dense and ambitious work with all sorts of intertwined conflicts and duplicity and back-story that can feel both overwhelming while also feeling unnecessary.

“How’d you do that?”

“Do what?”

“That eye thing.”

“These eyes can do more than see.”

“I know. I mean, I’ve seen you sing.”


“From my window. I can see the world from there /

Name the stars and constellations /

Count the cars and watch the seasons.”

With this rewatch, I simply allowed the film to wash over me and I loved it. There are so many great lines and songs in it and when the exposition lets up, it finds a fantastic flow that will leave you breathless.

“Your mother would be proud, rest her soul, would be so proud of you /

Though you cannot see her /

She is here with you /

We will always be there for you in your time of need /

Shilo, you mean the world to me.”

Paul Sorvino’s work here as Rotti Largo is remarkable. He takes it far more seriously than need be given his stature, all sinister and greed but occasionally sensitive, and his voice will blow you away.

“Maggots. Vermin. /

You want the world for nothing. /

Commence your groveling, your king is dying. /

Rotti, your king, is dying. /

Even Rotti Largo cannot prevent this passing. /

Who will inherit GeneCo? /

I’ll keep those vultures guessing. /

I’ll keep those vultures guessing.”

This is a quintessential passion project. It originated as a theater production shepherded into existence by Darren Smith, then a short film from Darren Lynn Bousman, then this astounding feature film. I’ve noted that often music-centric productions — such as the film adaptation of CATS — have a scrappy charm to them. That sort of pluck and charm is absolutely on display here, that exacting belief in the batshitcrazy creation you want to put in-front of people. I was not prepared for REPO! the first time I saw it, but give it a chance. I was deadly wrong about it the first time around and hopefully you’ll revel in its charms.

“Flesh is weak /

Blood is cheap.”


The excellent magazine and website RUE MORGUE has an interview with director Darren Lynn Bousman, looking back on REPO! fifteen years after its release. This interview was the impetus for my rewatch and, consequently, this recommendation!


Back-to-back cosmos-enacted zombie horror films! First, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and now a quintessential take on Los Angeles: NIGHT OF THE COMET!

This is another repost, as Sunday is a day of rest. I’m not religious, but I do think it’s a it’s a healthy action and I will be relying on Sunday reposts here on out because I do need to prepare for NaNoWriMo.

I fucking love this film. It’s a whimsical teen zombie film, witty, surprisingly progressive, vibrant, and has one of the more nuanced sisters dynamic I’ve seen in genre films. It’s brilliant and well-worth your time this month.



This film features portrayals of rape and abuse. I do not go into specifics in this write-up, but felt it was worth the warning.

So, I done fucked up in attempting to have an entire month of extolling fun, non-traumatizing works. As seems to be a persistent theme, I thought this film was more fun than it is — and it is very fun, in a JAWBREAKER high-school way — until it isn’t.

I simply forgot about the final act. Well, didn’t forget exactly as just blocked it out. Of one of my many conditions, I suffer from dissociative disorder. For example: once my wife and I were having a pleasant discussion and the film playing on the TV in the background had an awful rape scene in the film and she asked me to turn the channel and noted: “How can you not be affected by this?” Simply put: my mind blocked it out. It wasn’t happening. That situation was not playing out. I went to another place.

Again, I wanted this month to all be about fun horror films. Initially, I’d planned to write about Brian de Palma’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE today, but I want to save that for our at-home Halloween viewing instead. A bad decision for sure, but so it goes.

Moving along. ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE is a sadly mostly-overlooked film from MAY and DARLIN’ director Lucky McKee, one of the few male writer/directors that seems attuned to taking the piss out of masculinity and shining a light on the shit women have to endure.

“I’m rotten.”

“No, you’re not rotten. You’re just… living.”

The film starts with high-schooler Maddy — a stern Caitlin Stasey — who, at first blush, feels a bit like Veronica Mars. She films herself talking about how she’s going to infiltrate the world of American football and cheerleading at her school, and undermine it. She does, she gets into the cheer squad, attends a party and gives the Tracy The Captain — a very blonde Blake Lively-ish Brooke Butler — the fingerblast of her life, while also telling off Brooke’s cheating ex for reasons later explained. Matters escalate, and four members of the cheer squad try to drive off to escape masculine insecurity and violence. Unfortunately, their car suffers an accident and all four of them die.

“How do I look?”



Fortunately, Lanna, who has been pining over Maddy for some time — I’ll note that this film is extremely sapphic — is prone to being witchy and she manages to bring them back to life via a handful of gems. Kinda. Two of the squad members were sisters, and they end up body swapped. Also, now they can only feed on blood and, oh, everyone is emotionally and physiologically tethered to each other.

“Leena’s a witch.”

“That’s not nice Maddy. You shouldn’t call people names.”

“No, she’s right. I am a witch.”

What results is what can only be described as unbridled hedonism due to their imbued power. There’s a lot of lust and murder. Again, matters escalate, and as others discover exactly how they survived their car crash, there’s the inevitable pursuit.

“Uh, what did he do to you?”

If I had remembered the final act, I certainly wouldn’t have rewatched this, but I did mean to write about it the first time I watched it as its cadence and sense of humor and twisted set-pieces are so fulfilling. Of note: cross-cutting between a death and an orgasm across all of the squad that is expertly and comically handled.

“Uh, what the fuck is going on?”

“Somebody got fucked, somebody got killed and I’m going to P.E.”

ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE fully recognizes the youthful feeling of invincibility but also of vulnerability and being pursued and power dynamics. Of all of McKee’s work, it feels far more succinct and the most impactful, and it’s a shame that it’s overlooked.

SHE-DEVIL (1989)


This write-up contains spoilers for the novel THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A SHE-DEVIL.

It’s hard to imagine now, but back in the day Roseanne Barr was considered a progressive blue-collar feminist, first through her brusque stand-up, then with her heralded sitcom ROSEANNE (who had now-disgraced self-proclaimed feminist Joss Whedon in the writer’s room).

Despite being a pre-teen, I absolutely loved ROSEANNE. Barr encapsulated the type of outspoken, driven woman that reminded me of my own mother, who willfully worked whichever job she could get because she wanted to give back and keep her hands busy. She was restless and smart and witty and the Barr in ROSEANNE mirrored that same sort of mentality and cultural ethic.

So, it wasn’t terribly surprising that she was cast as Ruth, the unruly protagonist of the film adaptation of THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A SHE-DEVIL. It was not hard to imagine Barr inhabiting the role of a scorned woman, a woman who undermines positions of authority with the intent to shoehorn her way into a patriarchal society because, well, she did all of that.

However, there’s one major flaw with this adaptation, and that is: Barr is not tall.

As noted in my prior write-up, Ruth’s height is the predominant facet to her being an unwelcome woman in society. To the extent that she goes through major elective surgery to change from being 6’ 2” to around 5’ 8”, which takes the work from being a piece about a scorned and envious woman to outright body horror due to what she is willing to endure to mould herself.

At this point in time in Barr’s career, she was very well-known for being short and stout. The stout fits the Ruth character. Short? No, not at all.

I’m getting ahead of myself, especially if you haven’t read my prior write-up about the source material.

SHE-DEVIL comes across as a simple vengeance tale: Ruth, a plain woman, discovers that her accountant husband — and parent to her son and daughter — is cheating on her with Anne, his romance author client. Ruth decides to burn her life, and their lives, to the very ground.

For the most part, SHE-DEVIL is yet another film that: if you watch it before consuming the source material, it comes across as brilliant. Yes, it casts aside the most extreme acts of the novel, but otherwise its fidelity to Weldon’s book is quite astounding. They could have just lifted the concept — scorned, vengeful woman wrecking the lives of those she feels have wronged her — and ran with it, but instead they recreate most of the non-body horror scenes, almost word-for-word, and it plays! It works!

Part of that is simply because of the cast. I previously harped on Roseanne Barr’s involvement, but motherfucking Meryl Streep plays Anne, the romance author, during Streep’s astounding run of playing absolutely independent but also unwelcome women. Ed Begley Jr. is Bob, Ruth’s accountant husband and, while on paper you wouldn’t think that Begley Jr. could pull off being a philandering, sexy debonair — he usually just plays a mostly innocuous schmuck — it actually works here. A lot of it has to do with his robust and glorious hair styling, but he also conveys a charismatic and alluring type of sleaze.

I honestly didn’t know he had it in him.

Cinematically, it’s rather straight-forward and not handled with much grace, but the main attraction here is the script — mostly cribbed from the novel — and the performances. If nothing else, it feels like it was greenlit to capitalize on the sensation of recent accessible-but-camp films, such as John Waters’ HAIRSPRAY, films that portray women taking charge of their lives through any means possible, but in a darkly comic way.

That means circling back to what isn’t in the film: the body horror. A keen eye will notice that Barr’s Ruth does take advantage of some physical alterations, but nothing so severe as in the novel. Essentially, all of that is dropped, which severely neuters the work.

However, even without that facet, it’s still a powerful feminist film. If you don’t believe me, believe the illustrious and erudite Criterion Channel, which routinely plays it. It is a smart film, however, if you know what it could have been, you might be slightly disappointed.


I’m not sure how many folks remember William Castle nowadays, given that he did most of his most intriguing work in the 50s and early 60s but, if you are a horror fan, you are probably aware of him (and you’ve probably watched Joe Dante’s love letter to his sort of theatrical gimmicks via his brilliant film MATINEE).

That said, myself and a friend went to my favorite movie theater — Chicago’s Music Box Theatre — to see a 35mm print of Castle’s THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL that also promised to involve Castle-esque gimmicks, such as actors roaming through the audience and skeletons.

Reader: they did two screenings and the one I attended — at 9:30 on a Thursday night, nonetheless — was sold out.

I’ve seen THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL more than a few times. Vincent Price is exceptional in it, as always, and it’s chock full of schlock, including all of the standard ‘haunted house’ tropes, such as falling chandeliers, senseless locked doors, and plenty of fake-outs. (It definitely owes a debt to James Whale’s THE OLD HOUSE (1932), which Castle remade later in his career.) Is it a great film? No. Does it make much sense? No. Is it populated by B-grade actors not quite giving it their all? Yes.

Is it a memorable film? Fuck yeah. It has a fantastic set, serviceable lighting, and striking set-pieces.

I realize I’m extremely lucky to live in a city where my favorite film palace loves to show horror, and even luckier that they go to the trouble of recreating gimmicks. They even talked to Castle’s daughter to get points of reference and her blessing. These folks are doing the work.

While THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a blast under any circumstances, seeing it in a fully sold out thousand-plus seat theater with a group of very-game audience members who were all very well-mannered while still being appropriately rambunctious was one of the best post-pandemic screenings I’ve attended. It reminded me of the controlled chaos of The Vic’s Brew ’n View (R.I.P.) where everyone’s there to have a good time and respond to the screen appropriately, be it laughing, clapping, or blurting out something legitimately funny (instead of play-acting MST3k).

I know I often say this, but nothing can recreate the feeling of seeing a movie in a theater, and when you encounter these very sort of specific circumstances, it’s extremely special. The Music Box created an experience that those who were there will be dining out on for years, and they deserve every accolade. I only hope that you can find a similar theater that you can call a home-away-from-home.

OCULUS (2012)

(Hulu/freevee/Pluto/tubi/VOD) I find Mike Flanagan to be a frustrating creator. He’s very clearly a sensitive, empathic person and he has a familial perspective that surprisingly rare nowadays. While I haven’t read the King novel that GERALD’S GAME is based on, I found it to be an exquisite one-room thriller. On the other hand, I found THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE — a well-executed horror mini-series — to be a severe distortion of Shirley Jackson’s original work, one that serves Flanagan’s themes instead of Jackson’s.

OCULUS, despite being Flanagan’s theatrical debut, is exceedingly confident with its themes and how it explores them. The surface-level premise starts with a prototypical family in the 90s consisting of husband Alan (CSI: MIAMI’s Rory Cochrane), his redhead wife Marie (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Katee Sackhoff), pre-teen daughter Kaylie (redhead Annalise Basso), and adolescent son (Garrett Ryan). Alan buys an antique mirror that possesses both himself and Marie. He ultimately chains Marie up while ignoring the rest of the family until he ultimately kills Marie, has a moment of clarity, then forces his son to shoot him before he can do any more damage.

Newly orphaned, Ryan (now played by Brenton Thwaites) is institutionalized for years, while Kaylie (DOCTOR WHO’s Karen Gillan) floats around, spending her time trying to track down the mirror. She finally finds it and, when Ryan is finally given a clean bill of mental health and released, she pitches him an elaborate plan to destroy the mirror, to destroy the entity in it, forever.

In other words: it’s comprised of Flanagan’s major recurring themes: fractured families, brothers and sisters coping with loss and hurt and trauma, psychotic breaks, and obsession. You might be inclined to include addiction — Marie being chained up, Alan ignoring the world to the point where his children have nothing to eat — but I’m not completely confident in claiming that.

There’s another way to read the film, of course. This a work explicitly created around uncertainty of vision, of the reversible image of mirrors. I’ll keep my reading deliberately vague as to not lead potential viewers into how I perceive it, but it has depth if you want to seek it out.

The heart of the film is brother/sister bond, another strength of most of Flanagan’s works. There’s a care and interaction there that some folks simply cannot fictionalize, and it was delightful to see that represented on the screen.

While OCULUS is a stirring and expertly crafted film, my favorite part of watching it was my endless speculation as to the whats and whys and how it would be resolved. It’s a film that ignites your imagination, one that you’d walk out of a theater excitedly discussing the myriad possibilities of the film. The end result wasn’t as wild as where my mind went, but it was still extremely satisfying.


(hoopla/Pluto/Prime/tubi/VOD) The original HELLRAISER is a very specific film. You are either very into it or you are not. I remember watching it as a young teen and laughing at it. My friends and I would routinely trot out the line: “The box. It summons us.” as camp, but the film held an odd, unknown allure to me. Then I rewatched it early on in college — I still have my HELLRAISER 1 & 2 VHS box set — and as a burgeoning club-going goth realized how it is literally wall-to-wall kink.

I’ve seen it more than several times since — once at the Music Box with Clive Barker to discuss it, which was amazing and I still can’t believe happened — and my appreciation for it only grows. The costume and creature and production design is absolute perfection. Jane Wildgoose does not get enough credit for her contributions.

The film is relentlessly, unapologetically horny in an unsettlingly thrilling way. The great Amy Nicholson posited that, at the heart of it, it’s a neo-noir, that Julia is a femme fatale and I certainly agree: it is a film centered around morally dubious people who are off-kilter, and what is more noir than that?


(freevee/Plex/Pluto/tubi/VOD) WOLF CREEK is the first film from Australian Greg McLean — I previously wrote about his second film, the creature feature ROGUE — but WOLF CREEK was what made me take note of him. While WOLF CREEK is ultimately a slasher film, it prioritizes the human experience, and revels in it as much as possible. It’s a slow burn of a character drama, of youths exploring their freedom for about the first half of the film, and it’s quaint and peaceful and safe. Then it takes a hard left-turn, as some lives do.


(Pluto/VOD) There are movies that have musical moments, there are musical movies, and then there are film musicals. I find that differences are somewhat slight: musical moments are films that have a handful of scenes where the characters burst into song, usually to a well-recognized pop culture song, to underpin whatever emotional state they’re feeling. (Think the jukebox moment in SOUTHLAND TALES when Justin Timberlake lip synced to THE KILLERS’ -I Got Soul- which I both love and hate that I love.) Musical movies are adaptations gussied up to conform to the needs of the film viewer. (I’m trying to keep to modern references, so: Tom Hooper’s LES MISERABLES or, uh, CATS* but also previously recommended, and non-modern, THE MUSIC MAN.)

Then there are film musicals, which aren’t adaptations, and often are labeled as ’rock opera’, despite often being neither. They follow the scripted structure of a musical, and then they just film it. It’s too grandiose to fit within the required guidelines of a Broadway music, but the creators -love- traditional musical narrative structure, and are dead-set on realizing their creation. They’re rarer because they’re often fan efforts. For every ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, we also get five REPO! THE GENETIC OPERAs**.

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE definitely falls in the latter camp, and emphasis on camp. It’s based on the short film ZOMBIE MUSICAL (but I’ll warn you that it’s definitely an early draft of a feature film) — and it toys with the format, including one musical number well-worth the price of admission where lead Anna (a very elastic DICKENSON’s Ella Hunt) and her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) obliviously sing through zombie anarchy due to a transformative evening which, yes, cribs from SHAUN OF THE DEAD and Zack Synder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD but manages to do its own thing. I do wish the music was stronger though — the songs are fine but, apart from a few exceptions, they’re mostly forgettable — but it’s a fun time, especially if you’re into both comical horror and musicals.

Lastly, if you’re interested in musical narrative storytelling, Jack Viertel’s THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL is a revelation. He does an amazing job of deconstructing how musical narratives work in ways that will blow your mind.


* Sorry not sorry, but I find the film far more watchable than the stage production, even though Tom Hooper should never have been given this project.

** For what it’s worth, I do admire the hard-scrabble pluck of REPO!. I sat in on a Q&A where the writer and director went into detail as to how they finagled specific SAW sequel scenes just so they could film specific REPO! scenes for free, and good for them for realizing their vision through whatever means necessary!