Hollywood has had a long standing tradition of taking holidays & special events and then using them as a backdrop for horror. Of course this craze began with the immortal HALLOWEEN which not only inspired its own sequels, but countless other slashers tied to a particular date on the calendar. FRIDAY THE 13TH, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, GRADUATION DAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, NEW YEARS EVIL, and MOTHER’S DAY are all examples of this trend. Christmas inspired numerous blood-soaked entries as well, my favorite being the controversial SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. There was even a film titled THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN (which I guess sounds a lot more ominous than “November 1st”) that had absolutely nothing to do with Carpenter’s classic while cleverly riding its coat-tails.
During Quentin Tarantino’s fabulous GRINDHOUSE films, viewers were treated to some equally entertaining fake trailers specifically designed to compliment this era. While I enjoyed them all, I’d have to say that my favorite was THANKSGIVING directed by Eli Roth. Not only does it pay homage to the 80′s holiday slasher craze, it also brings to light one of its most glaring omissions; the Thanksgiving holiday!
So for those horror geeks out there, like myself, who are discouraged that they’ll have nothing to watch but football during Thanksgiving weekend, here are a few horror movies that have at least a passing connection to our upcoming “National Day of Thanks” – though its doubtful these “turkeys” will illicit much in the way of thankfulness!
THANKSKILLING – A fairly new film with a great title! I was thrilled to actually streamline this movie via Netflix last weekend. Thrilled, that is, until I actually sat down to watch it. The film opens in 1621 with a close-up of a well endowed pilgrim woman’s bare breasts as she runs (bounces) in terror. Soon she is overcome by a giant turkey wielding an axe! Yes, you read that correctly. Turning the Thanksgiving holiday completely on its ears, the turkey carves the pilgrim while proclaiming, ”Nice tits, bitch!” It gets progressively worse from here. The turkey monster makes his way to our modern world and quickly begins hacking up the local yokels. Outside of a porno, you’ll be hard pressed to find acting and production values so terrible. In the actors defense, however, I’m not sure even Meryl Streep could deliver these lines with any degree of credibility. I made it through about 20 minutes before having to call it quits. David A. told me he made it slightly further before also shutting it off (and we generally like bad movies). “What part made you finally give up?” I asked him. ”The turkey monster had sex with a girl and then announced that she’d just been “stuffed,” he replied. Poetry….sheer poetry.
HOME SWEET HOME - Here we actually do have an 80′s slasher that takes place on Thanksgiving! The setting is a ranch out west where a “Lou Ferigno” looking killer stalks a group of mismatched dinner guests. Most of these folks include horny adults with a couple of neglected children thrown in for that holiday family feel. I say neglected because at one point the little girl gets so tired of waiting for the self-absorbed, hedonistic adults to serve up dinner, she ends up grabbing the bird whole and devouring it underneath the table! Her older brother, on the other hand, is less concerned with food. Wearing KISS-like make-up while jamming out on his guitar, this Paul Stanley wannabe quickly becomes the film’s most memorable (and irritating) character! The cast would no doubt agree as he often enjoys popping out of nowhere, interrupting everyone’s sexual activities with his musical riffs. While I didn’t recognize the chords, you can be sure judging by everyone’s reaction it wasn’t “Let’s put the X in Sex.” Some hilarious death scenes make this a passable slasher, though certainly not befitting a major holiday! California is just not a state one should choose when trying to create a “fall-like” atmosphere and it isn’t long before the holiday gets lost completely……along with most viewers.
BLOOD FREAK – While not about the actual holiday, this film does utilize its most endearing symbol; the turkey. THANKSKILLING wasn’t the first movie to feature an over-sized, turkey monster. Back in the early 1970′s an eccentric film maker named Brad F. Grinter created BLOOD FREAK! Grinter was an interesting sort of fellow. He was a dedicated nudist who was also staunchly anti drugs. He was particularly opposed to marijuana which, despite the presence of a blood thirsty monster, is the true source of evil in this film. A young biker gets enticed by an attractive girl who turns him on to weed. After a heavy night of partying, he soon finds himself a walking turkey monster who craves the blood of addicts. Grinter breaks up the film by making several appearances as its narrator. While he clearly dislikes the cannabis plant, he apparently has no qualms regarding tobacco. Chain smoking throughout his diatribe, he can barely open his eyes at the camera amid the wafts of smoke. His banter, aside from being damn near unintelligible, makes absolutely no sense even when you can hear him. Ultimately he’d have made a much stronger anti-drug message had he admitted to partaking in it shortly before filming!
THE MUTILATOR – This slasher never mentions Thanksgiving directly but takes place during “Fall Break” (a hilariously campy, yet catchy song played in the film’s beginning) and I can’t think of why any school would “break” during fall unless it included this holiday. A group of college kids decide to spend their time away from class at a friends family boathouse, where they can partake in what any other self respecting group of horror victims would; lots of drinking and sex! Unfortunately, one of their classmate’s is carrying a dark family secret and this results in the group slowly being picked off one by one. As far as 80′s slashers go, I actually do enjoy this one. All the essential slasher elements are present and the film is far from boring. Makes for a great “Terror on Tequila” if you’re with the right group and definitely true to its genre. If only they had utilized the Thanksgiving holiday directly as opposed to some generic “fall break!”
THE GIANT CLAW – Nothing to do with the holiday at all, yet still a Thanksgiving favorite of vintage horror fans and hosts alike. THE GIANT CLAW actually comes attached to a equally large bird (every bit as dignified in appearance as an actual turkey) that comes from some “anti-matter galaxy.” I listened to the scientist in the film try to explain this phenomena and still don’t get it! One of the all time campiest entries in the 50′s giant monster genre, you can’t help but smile when you watch it. And there is so much to love! The asinine banter between the pre-Mulder/Scully-like main characters, the annoying narrator (who like BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS was inserted to make up for a lost soundtrack), and that BIRD! That absolutely, hilarious looking bird the filmmakers so generously show us almost immediately after the movie starts! Pop in this cult favorite after your holiday meal and indulge in some mindless entertainment while your body digests……if you doze off to sleep, you’ve got nothing to feel ashamed about.
The main hall of the convention was immense. Locating the horror hosts required careful navigation through crowds of people to reach the opposite side. Once there, you’d find an entire section dedicated to them, along with a schedule roster listing their availability. As many of them were also filming excerpts for their own shows or even entire web casts, catching them all would require frequent visits.
The first host I had the honor of meeting was Doctor Destruction from Wisconsin. My friend and I saw him earlier that evening while dining at the hotel’s restaurant. It was actually a comical moment; in walked the good doctor wearing full make-up, along with his assistant, Eyegore (photo below). I should mention that Horrorhound was not the only convention taking place at our hotel. A smaller group of Veterans had also convened that weekend, creating a bizarre mix of gore hounds and conservative, senior citizens. When Doctor Destruction entered the restaurant, you could of heard a pin drop as all the elderly patrons suddenly stopped conversing and began staring, awestruck. To ease the tension, I called across the room, “Hi Dr. Destruction!” He nodded in return, though I have no doubt he’d grown used to being stared at.
Prior to formally meeting him in the main hall, I had watched some of his “Crimson Theater” shows and enjoyed them. I approached his booth and introduced myself. He was very personable and I was thrilled that, along with his autograph, he was selling copies of his work. He asked which of his episodes I had seen and I responded, VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE. “Oh God, that’s so old!” he said. He pointed to a stack of DVD’s assuring me that, “These are much more current.” I went through them, buying just about every single title. After Horrorhound, I popped in one of these shows and was shocked at how much his program had evolved since VARAN. The sound quality had noticeably improved and he had expanded his empire from local public access in Kenosha, into Milwaukee, Racine, and Muskego via a local, commercial station.
Dr. Destruction has grown quite popular up in Wisconsin with a growing number of fans referred to as “Ghoulies.” He certainly warrants a closer look and will be featured in an upcoming Horror Host Spotlight.
The next host I had the privilege to meet was none other than Penny Dreadful herself! This New England hostess was the winner of the 2007 Rondo Award for “Favorite Active Horror Host(ess).” She was also one of six hosts featured in the latest issue of “Rue Morgue.” This is one witch whose ascension can not be credited to a mere broomstick! Smart and savvy, she has used more than an ample bosom to distinguish herself among her horror host peers (though tongue-wagging, male fans won’t be disappointed in that regard either). She will be covered in much greater detail in my next Horror Host Spotlight.
Penny was joined by her partner (both on and off the screen) the werewolf, Garou. They were both a lot of fun and delighted me by signing her season 5 box set of “Shilling Shockers.” Garou was a bundle of energy and actually very funny. After I left Penny, I was so enamored with meeting her that I left my autographed photo (duh)! True to his character, Garou tracked me down to bring it to me, which was very nice of him.
Prior to Horrorhound, I had watched Penny’s latest, 7th season. My kids and I decided to present her with a gift basket worthy of a witch; rubber creepy crawlies and potions courtesy of the local trick shop. I also included some Svengoolie clips I had burned onto a DVD and the WCIU promo card Svengoolie had signed for her the night before. She graciously reciprocated and that autograph (along with Count Gore de Vol’s) was aired on a recent episode of Svengoolie.
In an effort to support the “home team,” I wore my Svengoolie shirt that first night in the hall. This attracted the attention of another host, and fellow Illinoisan, The Bone Jangler. He was very warm and, despite being an imposing figure, immediately put us at ease. Clearly he loved his status as a horror host as well as being among his peers. I had recently watched his Web presentation of BLOOD FREAK and we talked about that as well as how disappointed I was at not being able to meet his co-host, Nocturna, who was appearing at another event.
Later, I saw The Bone Jangler conversing with the legendary, Son of Ghoul. He noticed me and used the opportunity to introduce me to his famous friend. I thought that was an incredibly nice gesture on his part and I was thrilled to meet the Ohio legend. Son of Ghoul is celebrating his 25th year on commercial television and has legions of Midwestern fans. I found him to be very down to earth and anxiously purchased a stack of his shows. I was alarmed when I heard that he recently suffered a heart attack , but am comforted at the news that he is recovering well. I know there are countless Ohio horror fans that feel the same way.
Others I met included Web hostesses Marlena Midnight and her co-host, Robyn Graves from “Midnight Mausoleum.” We also met Helena the Hussy. I had not viewed any of their works prior to meeting them but they eagerly sold me some episodes to rectify the matter.
As the night waned, I left the convention hall feeling a great sense of accomplishment. Little did I know, however, it was about to end on an even higher note. Exiting the hall, I noticed a VERY familiar face signing autographs to my right. My evening’s finale was about to be served up…..courtesy of The Mistress of the Dark!
(to be continued)