“Burnt Offerings”

900 bucks to rent a giant sprawling estate for the whole summer.

It’s too good to be true, of course. It’s a horror movie, after all. And the house in BURNT OFFERINGS puts its summer inhabitants through hell.

A family, led by Karen Black and Oliver Reed, rent a decaying mansion for the summer. They plan to bring along his old aunt (a delicious Bette Davis) and their young son Davy.

The house’s owners, the Allardyces, are a weirdo brother and sister pair (Eileen Heckart and Burgess Meredith chewing the scenery), and their offer is real… as long the family agrees to take care of this elderly mother (an agorophobe who hides away in her room and takes a tray three times a day). They agree, and the summer begins.

Weird dreams plague the father and odd things begin to happen. The house is having an effect on them all, and as their family bonds deteriorate, the house begins to change, getting fresher, appearing younger.

The pace is a little slow, and the film can get a little ponderous. But the story is solid.

This one’s a real gem. Some terrific performances sit at its center, and the ending is an effectively creepy conclusion. It’s got style. And it’s worth a watch.

“TerrorVision”

A movie that really leans into the horror-comedy hybrid, TERRORVISION is a campy monster romp with a killer opening theme song.

A suburban family who’s a wild collection of extreme 80s spoof stereotypes gets a satellite dish. While the thing’s getting installed, a weird electrical bolt from outer space hits the dish and infects the family’s TV with something alien.

A space alien monster with a goofy grin and google eyes is trapped in their TV sets, and it’s got a hankering to kill. The monster dispatches some folks in some gruesome ways and is about to dispatch a trio of kids when the movie takes a wild turn.

Mistaking one of the teens for his monster caretaker on his home planet, the monster warms to the kids. They teach him to watch TV, and the movie veers into a twisted E.T. spoof.

We eventually get back to horror-comedy, and an alien cleaner and a TV horror host come through to try and save the day.

TERRORVISION tries to do a lot. It’s got some commentary on technology and our obsession with TV. It drops some mid-80s pop culture references. It even pokes fun at swingers. And it tries to make some knowing meta-points about monster movies themselves. But thankfully for us, it doesn’t try very hard. It’s mostly interested in delivering some goofy fun. And it succeeds in that from the very beginning.

“mon mon mon MONSTERS”

A quartet of maladjusted and sociopathic high school assholes frame a fellow student with stealing class dues. Their teacher assigns community service for the framed student… and makes the asshole quartet join him. Their assignment: assist elderly folks who are living in a strange underground apartment complex that’s pretty much absolute squalor.

But the elderly don’t live here alone. Two sister monsters — a weird hybrid of vampire, zombie, and cannibal — live here as well, feasting on the elderly and sleeping in cardboard boxes in an abandoned elevator shaft.

While the students are attempting to steal a safe from one of the elderly tenants, they stumble upon the two monsters, scaring one off and chasing another into the street to be hit by a car. This monster becomes a prisoner of the students, and that imprisonment becomes the center of the film.

The framed student struggles with the moral rightness of what they’re doing. And the escaped monster moves through grief in a search for her captured sister (a narrative thread that precipitates one of the film’s best sequences, on a city bus). As her grief-fueled rampage roars through the city, the framed student tries to help the captured monster.

When things come to a head, the framed student has to decide which of the monsters he wants to align with, and what kind of justice will be served in the end.

What mon mon mon MONSTERS does so beautifully is subvert all of our expectations about monster movies. In this world, the monsters are are our sympathetic focus, and the students are the agents of the film’s real violence, cruelty, and horror. It’s a unique morality tale wrapped up in monster tropes, and it’s highly engaging and unusually smart.

The film makes us question what makes a monster. Are the monsters in our world the vampires and zombies? Or are the monsters the humans that make compromised moral choices? Our female monsters kill — and in spectacularly gory fashion — but they also exhibit kindness (one offering a heart to the other to eat) and depths of sadness. And our students are capable of theft, torture and a gory murder of their own.

Their menace and maliciousness provides more horror than our vampire zombies. And that subversion of the genre is what makes the film so interesting. When all the film’s monsters crash together in the last stretch, easy moral answers evaporate, and and the film embraces human (and monster) ambiguity in all its messy glory. And the film’s final scene is a gut punch, beautifully distilling everything that came before in one perfect image.

The answers aren’t easy here. But neither are living and dying.

“The Suckling”

THE SUCKLING is bonkers.

Playing like a horror film made on the fly by a few amateur pro-life filmmakers, this movie is one of the weirdest flicks I’ve seen in a while. It’s an anti-abortion missive wrapped up in a monster movie/exploitation film hybrid.

A teenage couple get pregnant, and they decide to get rid of the baby. They head to this dilapidated house that’s the neighborhood brothel. Abortions come cheap (and wholly unsanitary) here, and when the deed is done, the fetus is flushed down the toilet and ends up in the sewer.

Luckily, the fetus falls into some toxic waste and is transformed into a monster hell-bent on revenge. The monster fetus encases the brothel in a giant placenta (including its parents, who have been resting inside), and begins to murder the brothel staff and customers one by one.

This is a low-budget enterprise (you can tell the placenta is just painted rope), but its weirdness makes up for it. The performances are atrocious and deliciously amateur. The script is a jumble. There’s a monster fetus running around. And it tries so hard to be scary that it practically has an aneurysm from the effort. This movie is a hoot, from top to bottom.

And the film ends on such an unexpected “oh no they’re not really going to go there” note, that even if you hate it, it’s worth sticking through it.

“Alone in the Dark”

With an opening scene that plays like some community theatre production of a horror stage play adaptation of Hooper’s “Nighthawks,” ALONE IN THE DARK establishes his campy-creepy fucked up worldview with a flourish.

Hard to imagine the film going any other way, with three dedicated scenery-chewers in the mix: Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau and Jack Palance.

Pleasance runs an asylum that’s holding Landau, Palance and a handful of other extremely dangerous men. They’re kept from the public by a security system (“all run by electricity,” as Pleasance says in an early scene), but when a blackout hits their town, the system is rendered useless, and the band of maniacs hits the street.

The backbone narrative doesn’t really matter here. It’s really just there to support the homicidal shenanigans of Landau and company. So much of it strains credibility — an institution doesn’t have a backup power source for the system holding in insane murderers? — but the creeps and the kills make up for those weaknesses.

What works here is the balance of campy excess and more restrained horror. A scene mid-film where one of the maniacs stumbles upon a house with a girl and her boyfriend plays like a perfectly contained short film in itself, tense and terrifying. It’s a sharp counterpoint to the cheesy bar band and Pleasance’s completely bonkers psychiatrist. The film is tonally all over the place, in the best possible way, and it’s a lot more fun than horror films that take their scares more seriously.

It’s a delicious little movie.

“Flavor” Issue 2.

Two issues in to FLAVOR, and I’m already eager to see where Joseph Keatinge will take this world.

This second issue doesn’t have quite the propulsive force of the first, but it introduces a few new narrative wrinkles — a new character, a secret past for Geof, and the secret black market of Fishmongers.

Xoo Lim continues to be a badass (can’t wait to see the fight coming at Fishmongers in the next issue), and the delicate moment she has with Geof in their scene around the middle of the book adds another layer of sweetness and depth to her. She’s a really compelling central character, and I’m eager to see how her story unfolds.

The art remains beautiful, particularly the gorgeous nighttime colors as Xoo heads to Fishmongers.

I dig where this is going. And I hope Keatinge and Clark keep expanding this canvas. It’s an intriguing world that I want to know more about.