Shudder continues to deliver up the bizarre and unusual, proving it’s well worth the price of admission for the streaming service. This last week saw the service bring the 1985 film The Stuff to the service.
It’s an unusual horror flick that combines elements of consumer protection advocacy, mass media advertising, consumerism, ruthless business tactics, and addiction into a blob of creamy terror.
Indeed, the film is something like The Blob (1958) and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) rolled into one: a greedy corporation knowingly sells a dangerous product, which turns out to be a goopy white organism that entire consumes the very people consuming it.
So, essentially, the entire flick is a metaphor for consumerism and corporate greed run amok.
Apparently, the 1960s were a bit wild for the Soviets, too, as the Russkies allowed the release of Viy (1967), a Soviet-era horror flick, the first of its kinds to enjoy an official release in the USSR. Shudder is currently streaming the film, and it’s worth your time to check it out, both for the novelty of watching a Soviet horror flick, but also because it’s a fun, surprisingly frightening film.
I am a great lover of vampire movies and stories, and am always interested to see how filmmakers and storytellers approach the well-worn vampire mythology. Every vampire story must take time to establish the “rules” of that particular vampiric universe, so the (sub?)genre lends itself to world-building. Some vampires can survive in sunlight, though uncomfortably; others can endure limited exposure; still others burst instantly into flames. Some vampires fear the sign of the Cross; others laugh at it mockingly; still others fear the faith in what the symbol represents, but the symbol is rendered powerless without that faith.
Vampire stories also offer the opportunity to explore interesting themes. Immortality is a common one: what happens when you have forever to live on Earth? Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire (1976) explores that idea in great detail, specifically the ennui and nihilism that come with earthly eternal “life.” The initial thrill of vampiric power and endless nights of bloody reverie gradually turn to centuries of self-indulgent, murderous moping, as the vampire passively watches the world he loved transform around him into something unrecognizable.
This month, Shudder released a new exclusive, Jakob’s Wife (2021), a feminist-inflected vampire story starring 80s scream queen Barbara Crampton. While the feminist themes were a bit heavy-handed at points, the film handled the subject matter with a surprising degree of nuance. Suffice it to say that, like tell-tale two-pronged mark of the vampire’s bite, this film has stuck with me.
Binge-watching The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs has introduced me to some obscure and forgotten flicks. Several of the films the freedom-loving Texan screens are deservedly forgotten, and even hard to watch, with only Joe Bob’s off-the-cuff rants and film history knowledge keeping me going. Others, however, are real gems—rough-cut and a little sooty, but gems nonetheless.
One such film is Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action-comedy starring wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Piper is better known for his role in They Live (1988), the John Carpenter classic in which Piper’s character discovers a pair of sunglasses that show the world for how it truly is. They Live—with its infamous six-minute fistfight—is the better film, but Hell Comes to Frogtown is really delightful.
But The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot has the kind of exploitation title I love. When I first heard about the film (on RedBox), I became obsessed with seeing it. I remember making a special trip to a distant RedBox kiosk to rent the DVD.
I mean, clearly this flick had to be the greatest movie ever made, right? What kind of crazy, evil genius cooked up the concept of a man assassinating Hitler and Bigfoot?
Well, it’s not quite the greatest movie ever made—far from it—and the film is way different than what the ridiculous title implies, but it’s still quite good. Just temper your expectations.
Today marks the end of summertime fun and the beginning of work. Classes for the school year won’t start for another nine days, but I’ll be filling out various bits of legalese paperwork and taking the same bloodborne pathogens quiz I’ve taken every August for the paste decade.
In the spirit of beginning another year of academic rigmarole and inspirational mind-molding, I decided to review the 1989 dark comedy Heathers, starring Wynona Rider and Christian Slater as two oddball teens who declare war against the titular popular clique that rules the school.
I first watched Heathers on Hulu back in 2019 with the girl I was dating at the time. I remember it being far darker than I anticipated, and found the second half of the film unpleasant. I usually enjoy unsettling movies, but tonally it seemed “off.”
Well, tomorrow I head back to the real world—at least, as close to the real world as teaching gets—and the glorious freedom of summer ends. I’ll likely spend today playing piano at church and watching crummy movies on Shudder.
That’s kind of a metaphor for the conundrum of summer vacation: you get two months of completely unstructured time handed to you, then blow it all watching B-movies and taking naps. I do think I had a more productive summer than usual, but many of my hoped-for projects—as usual—are incomplete, even un-started.
Oh, well. It was still a good summer. I loved living like a retiree for two months.
Anyway, on to the flicks!:
“Monday Morning Movie Review: Still (2018)” – This movie is about a magical water source deep in the Appalachian Mountains that grants eternal youth to two jaded outlaws. A young woman stumbles upon it, and is drawn into their weird world.
“Monday Morning Movie Review: Suburban Gothic (2014)” – This flick is a fun, quirky comedy-horror. The protagonist is a dude who looks and dresses like a gay man, but is just an eccentric weirdo. When some Mexican contractors dig up a young girl’s grave and steal her necklace, some supernatural shenanigans start to go down. Needless to say, this movie—which is only seven years old—could not be made today.
“Monday Morning Movie Review: The Housemaid (2016)” – I very much enjoyed this Vietnamese-language film, which takes place during France’s failed attempt to hold onto its southeast Asian colony in the 1950s. A young woman takes a job at a notoriously haunted rubber plantation and begins an affair with the wounded French captain and plantation owner. The flick is all about revenge and colonialism, but don’t let that second point spoil it for you—it’s quite good.
That’s it for this Lazy Sunday, my last Sunday as a free man until June 2022.
August is an odd time be writing about vampires. With the intense heat and humidity of the brutal South Carolina summer beating down upon us, it doesn’t feel like vampire weather. But the crisp autumnal nights of October are closer than we realize, even if they seem impossible right now.
That said, the Southern vampire is a particular niche of Southern gothic horror. All the mystery and romance of “moonlight and magnolias” is enhanced with these mysterious, romantic creatures stalking about crumbling old plantation houses in the night. I’ve been reading Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire(the film version of which I reviewed last fall), and the titular vampire and narrator, Louis, is from Louisiana. The exotic setting of New Orleans plays a prominent role in the first half of the book, and provides the perfect backdrop for Louis, Lestat, and Claudia’s lethal nocturnal escapades.
This week’s film, 1987’s Near Dark, isn’t exactly about Southern vampires, but Midwestern vampires. That doesn’t exactly fit into the mold of the seductive, mysterious vampire, but that’s one of the film’s strengths: these vampires are crazy Nebraskan (or Oklahoman?) low-lives, terrorizing the prairie in a aluminum-foil-covered panel van.
The description for the movie on Shudder.com reads thusly:
A lonely dog groomer in Hollywood searches for love, but his true passion is making weird video art that nobody understands. His menial routine spirals out of control when he meets the girl of his dreams, crossing boundaries between reality and fantasy as he dives deeper into his video experiments.
I guffawed as soon as I read the line “making weird video art that nobody understands.” That sold me on the flick, which I actually found enjoyable, if baffling.