Trash or Terror Tuesday: Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive (1992)

Poster for Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive (1992) Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive (1992) by #JohnPatterson

w/ #PattyDuke #DavidSoul #FrancesBay

Residents of new homes experience strange phenomena and find out that their houses are built on a former cemetery.

Based on a #TrueStory !

#Horror
#TrashOrTerrorTuesday

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes & DVDs comes…

Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive (1992) is a made-for-TV horror film – but not from the golden era of the ’70s and early ’80s. As one might expect, it’s not as good as many of those older films, but it’s not as bad as some of the junk that’s been pumped out more recently, either.  It was probably very influenced by Poltergeist (1982), and – likewise – it’s nowhere near as good as that, but…

I’m going to keep this short. Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive (1992) is a mild Terror. Keep your expectations low and you might find it to be an acceptable way to pass and hour and half on some lonely afternoon. But if you’re looking for a top notch ghost story, stick with Poltergeist (1982), or The Changeling (1980).

Trash Or Terror Tuesday: Bloody Mary (2006)

Poster for Bloody Mary (2006)Bloody Mary (2006) by #RichardValentine

w/#KimTyler #MattBorlenghi #CoryMonteith

A group of psychiatric nurses invoke the spirit of #BloodyMary and the slaughter begins.

“To Release The Greatest Evil On Earth All You Have To Do Is Say Her Name.”

#Horror

#TrashOrTerrorTuesday

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is#Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes & DVDs comes…

Bloody Mary (2006) is about a group of psychiatric nurses – but after watching the opening sequence you would probably be utterly convinced (as I was) that they are a group of high school girls, or maybe sorority sisters. They seem to be playing a fairly typical hazing prank on one of their friends. “Hey, take off all of your clothes and go down into this dark sub-basement alone and say “I believe in Bloody Mary” three times into a mirror.  Some fraternity asshole – wait a minute, he’s another employee of the psychiatric hospital (but we don’t know this yet)… this jerk is supposed to be waiting down in the hole to give the naked girl a good scare. However…

SPOILER ALERT (although this is the first five minutes of the movie). He’s late and some honest to goodness spirit or monster shows up and kills the poor girl (I mean, full grown psychiatric nurse).

Her sorority sisters (I mean professional nurses who work in a hospital) simply close up the hatch and don’t tell anyone what happened. In fact they lie about it. Because that’s what full grown, medical professionals do, right?

Did I mention that they are all young and hot? This may be part of what confused me. Having spent a fair bit of time on a psychiatric ward of a hospital (as a visitor), I can tell you that not all of the nurses who work there are young… or hot.. or women. And during the hundreds of hours that I was there, not one of them was playing pranks on their co-workers – or covering up a mysterious death in the basement. At least not that I ever saw…

But the nurses in Bloody Mary (2006), it turns out, are part of some kind of Bloody Mary worshipping cult. “We’re so close,” their leader says, as she warns them not to fuck things up by telling the truth or anything. Close to what, I have no idea. The movie never explains what exactly these idiots are hoping to gain from their relationship with the deadly spirit. Is it power of some sort? Money? Fame? I don’t know – and I predict that you won’t either if you watch this film.

I could go on and on about all of things that don’t make sense in this movie. Put simply, the script is bad. The movie contains some okay moments of horror action, a little but of gore, and a surprising amount of nudity. You could almost be fooled into thinking that you were having a good time if it wasn’t for the annoying STORY – or should  I say, lack of story? It’s hard to know.

So what’s the verdict?

Bloody Mary (2006) is Trash. It does have a decent amount of sleaze which almost elevates it to the level of fun, trashy Trash – but it doesn’t quite get there. You will have a much better time watching a movie like The Vineyard (1989), which is a downright Trashterpiece. I highly recommend it.

If you are really curious about Bloody Mary (2006), go ahead and give it a shot. You may find a few moments of entertainment in there. But I, having seen in twice (?!) in my life, will be steering clear from now on. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)

When I was a kid, there were a lot of cool looking scary movies in the theatres. I used to scan the listings in our local newspaper, see the ads, and wish that I could go. Unfortunately, I was too young to get in to most of them. I also didn’t have any money, so I had to rely on my parents taking me – and they weren’t generally choosing horror movies. One of the first films I went to see on my own (with friends) was Poltergeist (1982) – but that was years after I’d started reading the listings. VCRs were still just a futuristic dream for me at that point. So what was a horror loving kid to do in the 1970s and early ’80s?

One answer was TV movies. There were also regular movies on TV, of course. That’s how I saw Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), etc. But TV movies were a really big thing in those days. It seemed like whatever types of horror movies were selling tickets at the theatres, there would soon be suspiciously similar looking movies popping up on my TV.

Newspaper ad for The Lynda Carter made for TV movie Hotline (1982) - a different kind of horror than The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)When slasher films were all the rage on the big screen – often two or three opening in the same week – I recall getting to watch made for TV “slasher” movies like Hotline (1982), starring Lynda Carter. It wasn’t exactly a hard core slasher film, but get a load of the description on the IMDb: “A beautiful telephone operator is stalked by a murderous madman.” it says. “Hang Up! Before HE comes to cut you off…DEAD!” Now I really want to see that movie again – but it will have to wait for another Friday night…

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964) was made for TV before my time. I did not see it rerun as a late movie. I didn’t even know it existed until sometime last year. Apparently it was the pilot for a proposed TV series called The Haunted, which never got made. The producers added some more footage and released it as a standalone movie.

Martin Landau stars as an architect who moonlights as a paranormal investigator. It’s not clear to me if he was supposed to be a recurring character on The Haunted, but it wouldn’t have been a bad idea for a show.

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre is stunningly shot in black and white, and has loads of creepy atmosphere. The story is also interesting, and perhaps a bit more complicated than the average old fashioned ghost story. It starts with an idea that could have been (and probably was) ripped right from the pages of Edgar Allan Poe. “Terrified of being buried alive by mistake, a woman puts a phone in her crypt to be able to call home if she needs help.” says the IMDb. When I read this description, I couldn’t help but think of Poe’s The Premature Burial. However, this is all back story for The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre. The film actually begins with the dead woman’s son receiving mysterious phone calls that he believes are from her – and our story goes from there (this made me think of Psycho II (1983), but that film didn’t exist yet).

Diane Baker and Martin Landau explore the crypt in The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)

The cast is excellent, and also includes Judith Anderson, who was in such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Agatha Christie’s proto-slasher And Then There Were None (1945), and film noir masterpiece Laura (1944). The film also stars Diane Baker – who was in such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964), and a movie that I first watched and enjoyed a few years ago, Stigma (1972).

When I was young, I thought that made for TV horror was somehow inferior to regular theatrical horror films. I suppose it was because of the limitations of television in those days (no gore, no nudity, little violence, etc.). Now, I have the almost polar opposite opinion. I’ve seen more than my share of mind-numbingly awful recent horror films that contain all the nudity, gore and violence that anyone could hope for, and yet are boring, have no compelling story, or are just plain stupid. Made for TV movies – especially the ones made back in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s – could not rely on things like gore to entertain the audience, so they had no choice but to tell a compelling story. Made for TV horror films like The Night Stalker (1972)Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), Salem’s Lot (1978), Trilogy of Terror (1975) and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) are now considered classics of the genre.

My friend Brian and I have an all day horror movie marathon once a year, and recently we’ve taken to watching nothing but old made for TV horror films. Having already seen most of the classic gore and extreme horror films of the past, TV movies were kind of the last frontier of undiscovered material for us – and we have unearthed a few gems in our modest quest so far. Some examples are When Michael Calls (1972), Home For the Holidays (1972), Scream Pretty Peggy (1973), The Victim (1972) and  A Cold Night’s Death (1973). Had we watched The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, it would have been very high up on our list of favourites. 

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema that could have been a bonafide classic if it had ever been given a chance. I had never heard of it, and I have been exploring the fringes of horror and made for TV movies for quite some time. I have often talked about home video (VHS and Beta – rentals in particular) being the equivalent of the “home drive-in” of the 1980s and ’90s. I’ve come to realize that movies shown on late night TV, and made for TV horror films, were the pre-VHS and Beta “home drive-in” for people like me. It’s always a thrill to discover an old made for TV movie that would have thrilled me, or scared the crap out of me, when I was too young to see it in the theatre – and I will undoubtedly be revisiting The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: 13 Ghosts (1960)

I always liked ghost stories. In most of the ones I remember from when I was a kid, there was only one ghost. There may have occasionally been two or three ghosts in a story. But the idea of one movie having thirteen ghosts in it was absolutely unthinkable to me.

I’m not sure how old I was when I first heard mention of the title 13 Ghosts, but I was certainly aware that the movie existed for a long time before I ever saw it. It is not a movie that I watched on late night TV, or on a Saturday afternoon (which is when I saw great films like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) for the first time). I’m sure that the original 13 Ghosts, would have appealed to me in a similar way when I was a kid. And I was certainly a fan of The Wizard of Oz (1939) back then, which seemed to come on TV at least twice a year (and I watched it every time). So, I liikely would have recognized – and appreciated – The Wicked Witch of the West (or Margaret Hamilton, as some might know her) playing the mysterious housekeeper in 13 Ghosts. But alas, I never saw the movie when I was young.

In 2001, I was a member of the board of the Manitoba Association of Playwrights, and we used to meet once on month on Tuesdays right after work. Like most unsuccessful playwrights, I worked at home, so this meant that I had to walk downtown just as most people were leaving downtown for home. The meetings would often last about two hours, which meant that I would be walking back home around 7:00 PM. And the journey would take me right past the Towne Cinema 8 – which I could remember being built twenty years earlier. It had been a big deal at the time, because it had been Canada’s first stand-alone multiplex cinema.

I would often think, as I walked past, that it would be fun to just stop in and see a movie. But I almost always had other plans, so I would keep walking. But on this particular October evening, there was nowhere else I needed to be. And, I happened to know that there was a horror film playing in honour of the Halloween season.

This was another issue for me. I went to a lot of movies back then. I had friends who would want to go as often as once a week, and it was not unusual for me to wind up at the theatres two or three times in a given week. However, most of my regular companions were not horror fans. They might occasionally agree to go to one, but if it wasn’t spectacular I’d be hearing about it for the next six months. So, I mostly watched horror films on my own, at the Home Drive-In.

The movie playing at the Towne Cinema 8 on this fine October evening was Thir13en Ghosts (2001), the remake of William Castle’s original – which I still had never seen. I don’t usually like to see remakes of classic horror films before I see the originals – in fact, I often don’t like to see them at all – but it had been ages since I’d seen a horror film on the big screen and this seemed like an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. So, I walked through the front doors, down the set of stairs into the basement, and bought a ticket…

I know that some people enjoyed Thir13en Ghostsand I suppose that I did too, on some level. But basically I thought that it was a big budget spectacle that was short on quality storytelling. It’s been almost twenty years since I suffered throu -I mean, watched it – so, I can’t really remember enough details to talk about it intelligently. And I will be the first to admit that if I watched it again now, I might, possibly, feel very differently about it. So… The point is, on that October evening in 2001, I vowed that I must finally track down watch the original 13 Ghosts.

Thankfully, because of the remake coming out, the original had been released on video and was pretty widely available. I managed to rent it at my favourite video store, Movie Village. I knew going in that it had to be better than the remake. In fact, I was so sure about that, that I probably raised the bar of my expectations so hight that I expected the film to be a work of brilliance that would make Thir13en Ghosts look look a bad re-run of (’80s robot sitcom) Small Wonder.

Well…

It was definitely better than Thir13en Ghosts, in my opinion. But I have to say that I was just a little bit disappointed in it. 13 Ghosts was not light years better than the remake. It had some of the same problems, it seemed to me in that moment, as Thir13en Ghosts. Again, this was almost 20 years ago and I can’t remember exactly what had turned me off. And it’s not that I hated it. I thought it was pretty good. But I had loved movies like The Tingler (1959) and House on Haunted Hill (1959) so much, that maybe I expected more from William Castle. 

But the real culprit, I think, was Thir13en Ghosts. Watching it first, even though I didn’t like it, had somehow cast a shadow over my experience of 13 Ghosts. And as a result, I did not watch the movie again until last Friday. If I hadn’t bought a box set of William Castle Blu-rays, which included 13 Ghosts, I’m not sure if I ever would have.

But I’m really glad I did. This time I went in with much lower expectations. Not really expecting it to be bad – I had thought it was at least decent the first time I saw it – but perhaps I just didn’t have the recent hangover of watching the remake first. And I must admit, that part of me was afraid that I might hate it. However…

I loved it this time! It has a sense of humour, plus some nifty ghost effects (for their time) and some moments of legitimate creepiness and suspense. Had I watched it on a Saturday afternoon when I was a kid, it probably would have thrilled me.

It may still not reach the heights of William Castle’s best work, but 13 Ghosts (1960) is certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema that would be welcome on any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn or Saturday matinee, and I look forward to watching it again!