All of the 2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge movies in one place

We did it! Today’s the final day of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge! Check out our final films. And while you’re at it, check out Scarecrow Video and donate some money to their fine efforts!

You can also see this list on Letterboxd.

1. The Lady Auteur: Pioneering women directors in psychotronic cinema. Now see who’s wearing the pants in Hellywood. A Day to Dismember

2. She Bites. Scientists should not fool with mother nature but they do and bad things happen. Phase IV

3. Math and Numerology. The plot must revolve around numbers in some way. Count on this theme to be a tough one. Banshee Chapter

4. Franchise Day. Pick something from any franchise that has four or more entries. Bonus points if it has a fast food eating scene in it – have it your way. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

1 2 3 4 CLIVE. Clive Barker was born on October 5th. Celebrate any of his gruesome cinematic deeds. Nightbreed

666. El Dia De La Bestia: The more Satanic, the better. Legacy of Satan

7. Hell on Earth. Watch a post-apocalypse movie. Bonus if it has punks (see the Destroy All Movies definition of punk) in it. Jubilee

8. The Eyes Have It. This pick must have an eye specific scene. Eyeball

9. Unseen Terror. You barely see it but it still terrifies you. Fiend Without a Face

10. Unhead Until… It’s too late! Your last second will be your loudest. We’re looking for the quietest non-silent movie or one where the enemy hunts by sound. The Sound of Horror

11. That Soundtrack Though. One where the soundtrack is more impressive than the movie itself. Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight

12. Too Soon. Kids 12 or less meet an early demise. Geez, grim. The Children

13. And on the 13th Day There Was Only Black and White. Greyscale is also acceptable. Black Sunday

14. Westerns. Hats and boots are a must on this trail, y’all. The Four of the Apocalpyse

15. Easterns. The Asian continent has produced so many exotic cinema treasures. Watch one. Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion

16. Petey Wheatstraw presents. Watch a movie featuring African-Americans in the starring roles. Bonus if it’s written and/or directed by an African-American. Tales from the Hood 2

17. Die Laughing. “Hello?” “I don’t think comedy belongs in horror.” “You got the wrong number, pal.” Jennifer’s Body

18. Psychotronic Documentaries. The real authority on the occult, ufos, ghost hunters, conspiracy theories etc. They’re all real, accurate and true, right? The Aldebaran Mystery

19. VHS Day. Watch something on the greatest physical format known to psychotronica. If you don’t have access to a VCR watch something originally shot on video. Night Train to Terror

20. Video Store Day. The most important day of this challenge. Watch something physically purchased from an actual video store. If you live in a place that is unfortunate enough not to have one of these archival treasures then watch a movie with a video store in it at least. #vivaphysicalmedia! The Lost Boys

21. Opiate of the Masses. The power of the Scarecrow compels you to watch a religious film! If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?

22. Separation. Alienation. Aloneness. If you scream alone in the woods and no one is around to hear it, are you really screaming? The Witch

23. Creepy Phone Calls. Reach out and touch someone before they reach out and touch you. 976-EVIL

24. Puppets or Dolls: Sometimes they play back. Dead Silence

25. Institutionalized. An antagonist from the funny farm. Nightmare

26. Military Involvement. When the men in green take on the little green men. Starship Troopers

27. Modum Onerariis: A movie about transportation methods. A car, rollerblades, a broom, flying saucer…whatever gets you there. The Wraith

28. Home Invasions. Unwanted visitors can really make a mess out of things. Hardware

29. Gangs. Specifically, one where a group of ne’er-do-wells do some serious menacing. La Venganza de los Punks

30. Slash Your Face. A solo maniac is out to get ya. You can run but you can’t hide! Absurd

31. In the Graveyard. The graveyard seems a fitting place to end a journey. But for some it might just be the beginning…ZOMBIES!!! Return of the Living Dead

2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 31: Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Day 31 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 31. In the Graveyard. The graveyard seems a fitting place to end a journey. But for some it might just be the beginning…ZOMBIES!!! How did it take so long for this, one of my favorite movies of all time, to make it to the site? This is quite literally the ultimate drive-in movie to me — it moves fast, it’s ridiculously quotable and it’s packed with laughs and gore.

If you ever wondered where the fact that zombies like brains come from, look no further. This is the film that did it.

July 3, 1984. Louisville, Kentucky. The Uneeda Medical Supply company. Frank (James Karen, Poltergeist) is showing off all of the strangeness within the warehouse to new employee Freddy (Thom Mathews, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI). There are all manner of body parts, skeletons from an Indian skeleton farm, half dogs and drums containing the leftovers of a military experiment gone wrong, the kind of horrifying thing that they would make a movie about. A movie like, say, Night of the Living Dead. The problem is, Frank accidentally releases the gas in one of the tanks and reanimates corpses and bodies and half dogs throughout the warehouse.

A quick call to the owner, Burt (Clu Gulager, The Initiation) provides only minor help. Trying to figure out how to control the situation and keep his business out of trouble, the three men hack a walking corpse to bits. But it just won’t die — the movies lie! Even a shot to the brain can’t stop the living dead. They turn to Ernie (Don Calfa, Weekend at Bernie’s), a mortician friend, to burn the bodies — which releases the reanimation process into the open air and the graveyard next door.

I never realized in all the times I’ve watched his that Ernie is supposed to be a Nazi in hiding. Now that I see the clues (he listens to the German Afrika Corps march song “Panzer rollen in Afrika vor” on his Walkman while embalming bodies, he carries a German Walther P38, has a photo of Eva Braun and refers to the rain coming down like “Ein Betrunken Soldat” (German for “a drunken soldier”), it makes a lot of sense. Director and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon confirms this theory on the DVD commentary.

Meanwhile, Freddy’s friends learn about his new job from Tina, his girlfriend. There’s Spider, Scuz, Suicide (Mark Venturini, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning), Casey (Jewel Shepard, Raw Force), Chuck and, most importantly, Trash (Linnea Quigley in the role of her career). The scene where she announces that the worst way to die would be for “a bunch of old men to get around me and start biting and eating me alive. First, they would tear off my clothes…” is one of the silliest and goofiest excuses to have nudity in a movie, but it works.

As her friends blast 45 Grave and watch Tina disrobe on top of the grave of Archibald Leach (Cary Grant’s real name), Tina looks for Freddy. However, she’s been found by Tarman, the half-melted corpse in the barrel that started this whole mess. And it doesn’t get any better, with zombies calling in paramedics to die (“Send more brains!”) and even the police getting destroyed by the undead. And if you think the military is going to do anything other than nuke the town to hide the truth, then you’ve never seen a zombie film before.

This is a movie unafraid to feature shocks and laughs in the same frame. It comes from the writing team of John Russo and Russell Streiner, two of the names behind the original Night of the Living Dead. When Russo and George Romero went their separate ways, Russo got the rights to the name “Living Dead” while Romero would be allowed to make sequels. The original plan was for Tobe Hooper to direct this movie, but he would go on to make Lifeforce. Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (Dark StarAlienLifeforceTotal Recall and the Alejandro Jodorowsky chose to supervise special effects when he tried to make Dune) agreed to direct, but only if he could rewrite the movie so that it wasn’t seen as a ripoff of Romero’s film.

This is a film packed with in-jokes, like how Freddy’s jacket says FUCK YOU on the back of it and has a totally different jacket for the edited version that says TELEVISION VERSION on it. And there are even more little MAD Magazine-style bits throughout, like the hidden message on the eye test poster in Burt’s office.

I can’t hide how much I love this movie. From the production designs to William Stout to the special effects work (including puppeteer Allan Trautman as Tarman), this movie moves fast, takes no prisoners and continues to surprise me. I always find something new with every viewing.

Want to see it for yourself? Grab the 30th Anniversary blu ray from Shout! Factory or watch it for free with your Amazon Prime membership.

2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 30: Absurd (1981)

Day 30 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is Slash Your Face. A solo maniac is out to get ya. You can run but you can’t hide! I’ve been wanting to watch Absurd, the truly bonkers movie from the scumbag team supreme of Joe D’Amato and George Eastman.

Originally called Rosso Sangue (Red Blood), this movie is also known as Zombie 6: Monster Hunter, Horrible, The Grim Reaper 2 and Anthropophagus 2. This really has nothing to do with Anthropophagus (well, D’Amoto and Eastman were involved there, too and that movie ends with Eastman’s guts all over the place and this one starts that way), as it’s more of a Halloween ripoff. And I don’t mean that as an insult.

Mikos Stenopolis (Eastman) starts off being chased by the Vatican priest (Edmund Purdom, of all people) who created him. So let’s get this crazy set-up out of the way: a Greek monster who can’t be killed because his blood coagulates very quickly was created by the Roman Catholic church somewhere and when that maniac escaped, he ended up in some small American town that only cares about the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Rams, so I’m just going to assume that they’re in New Castle or Zelienople.

The chase leads to a fence where Mikos is impaled. He makes his way to the front door of the Bennett house, holding his bloody guts as he passes out. He’s revived in a local hospital — shades of Haddonfield Memorial — and escapes after murdering a nurse with a drill. This being an Italian film, that entire murder appears in great detail.

The priest — let’s call him Father Loomis, cousin of the other Father Loomis in Prince of Darkness — informs the authorities that there’s only one way to kill Mikos: destroy his cerebral mass.

Synchronicity rears its head when Mr. Bennett, in a hurry to get home and watch Terry Bradshaw thread the needle to Lynn Swann, hits Mikos with his car. He just keeps going. When he gets home, he’s brusque with his wife and kids. Seems that his daughter, Katia, has a spinal condition and must stay in traction. All she wants to do is use a compass to continually draw the same drawing over and over again, while her brother Willy is obsessed that the Boogeyman is coming to kill him. Guess what, Willy? You’re right.

Mikos spends the rest of the movie randomly killing anyone who gets in his way, like a young Michele Soavi playing a biker and a butcher who gets the top of his head sawed off. He finally makes his way to the house. Peggy is on her way to watch the kids when she gets a pickaxe to the head. And the other woman who was watching them? Well, she gets her head forced into a lit oven that bakes the flesh off of her face in an extended sequence before being stabbed in the neck with a pair of scissors.

Willy goes all Tommy Doyle and runs to get help while Katia finally frees herself from her bed. She stabs him in the eyes with her compass and leads the killer on a chase throughout the house, using loud music to distract him. The priest arrives and struggles with Mikos, just in time for Katia to chop off the killer’s head with a ceremonial axe.

The police arrive late, but Katia assures her little brother that everything will be fine as the camera reveals that she is holding Mikos’ bloody head.

Absurd inspired the German black metal band who took their name, who eventually went from watching gore films to killing people for real as their music went further and further into far right extremism.

Your enjoyment of this film will be colored by how much you like gore, how much you understand that Italian movies are often very hard to understand and how much you’re willing to forgive a film. Personally, I loved it. The oven kill scene is really uncomfortable to watch and the gore is incredibly effective.

Severin Films has just re-released this film with all of their trademark quality and insanity. It’s the first uncut release of the film in the U.S. and features an interview with Eastman and Soavi, as well as a bonus soundtrack CD. They’ve also rereleased Anthropophagus and also offer an amazing bundle that comes with pins of Niko and Joe D’Amoto, as well as a George Eastman stuffed doll. I love that Severin gives films as disreputable as these all the care and concern that Criterion would to a movie from a director much more esteemed and talented (but so much more boring).

2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 29: La Venganza de los Punks (1987)

Day 29 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is all about gangs. Specifically, one where a group of ne’er-do-wells do some serious menacing. I’ve been wanting to talk about this movie for some time, so this gives me the perfect opportunity to blow some minds.

The sequel to 1980’s Intrepidos Punks, this one ups the ante from the very first five minutes. After Tarzan (luchador El Fantasma, father to Lucha Underground’s King Cuerno) is freed from prison, he instantly gets revenge on the man who put him away, Marco (Juan Valentin) by interrupting the cop’s daughter’s quinceanera. His gang proceeds to rape and kill every single person there, leaving Marco alive so that he can be tormented by his loss.

Let me sum this up the best way I can: Tarzan and his gang look like the best Italian post-apocalyptic movie ever, if a Mexican wrestler led a gang that’s mostly made up of Japanese women wrestlers circa the Crush Girls era that had constant Satanic orgies. Tarzan even yells, “Long live death, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol!” at one point, sending me into ecstatic bliss.

Marco’s partner says that “We are all guilty. We are all accomplices. All of us!” Probably no one listened to the police chief when he claimed that the gang was only the tip of the iceberg at the end of  the last film. Now, Marco is getting kicked off the force, slowly eating soup and planning his horrible vengeance on the gang.

This movie quite literally comes from inside my brain. It’s the only place where luchadors can lead Satanist drug gangs against an ex-cop willing to take things so far that he pours acid on people, all whilst a surf punk band jams out and curvy dancers gyrate to their completely offbeat (and off beat) performance. Everybody has aluminum foil on their spikes or metallic hair or is naked or has a bad dye job or looks likes the random dudes you beat up in Final Fight. Throw in a black mass where a goat is beheaded and devoured and you have the feel good movie of 1987!

The only thing I don’t like about this movie is its ending, which Roberto Ewing’s the entire movie as one bad dream. Fuck that. If you just stop the movie right before that, all will be much better with your world. I also want there to be more movies in this series and am willing to Kickstart anything that attempted to make this happen.

2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 28: Hardware (1990)

Day 28 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 28. Home Invasions. Unwanted visitors can really make a mess out of things. I’ve always been a major favor of Richard Stanley, from his documentary The Otherworld to his attempt to direct The Island of Dr. Moreau and the documentary that ensued, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. Today, we’re talking about his 1990 film Hardware.

The world has become a wasteland filled with radiation. Scavengers roam the decimated zones, taking whatever they can to survive. One of them (Carl McCoy, the lead singer of goth rock band Fields of the Nephilim) finds a robot and takes it to Alve the junkman (Mark Northover, Burglekutt from Willow). McCoy’s character, who he calls Preacher Man, is supposed to be the same as his Nephilim character, a drifter with a fake hand, yellow eyes and dressed in dusty cowboy gear.

A former soldier, “Hard Mo” Baxter (Dylan McDermott, nearly unrecognizable with cyborg parts and facial tattoos) and his friend Shades buy the parts, dividing up the body with Alvy while Mo keeps the head as a gift for Jill (Stacey Travis, Phantasm II), his artist girlfriend.

Mo is a wanderer who finds his way in and out of Jill’s life. At first, she doesn’t want to let him in, but after he gives her the robot head, she allows him in. They fight initially about an upcoming government sterilization plan and whether or not they should bring children into the world before having passionate sex that’s watched by her creep of a neighbor, Lincoln (William Hootkins, Porkins from Star Wars!).

They awake to another argument about the way that Jill has used the head for a sculpture when Alvy calls. He wants Mo to come back, as he wants to tell him what he’s learned about the robot, which is a M.A.R.K. 13. Mo wonders if that’s a reference to Mark 13:20, “no flesh shall be spared.” When he arrives, Alvy is dead and the robot is gone. A note here: the actual text is “In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days.”

The rest of the machine has reassembled itself inside Jill’s apartment and attacks her. She escapes and Lincoln appears to help her. He seems initially nice until his pervert side emergers, but he’s soon pulped by M.A.R.K. 13. As Mo, Shades and the building’s security team battle the robot, it drags Jill away.

Mo has talked throughout the film about how deadly he is, but when he fights M.A.R.K. 13, it uses the same toxins on him that killed Alvy, sending him into hallucinations before killing him, too. The robotic intruder now hunts Jill throughout the building, killing everyone in its path. She even tries to reason with the robot’s AI before she learns its secret: an issue with moisture. She and Shades get it into her shower and destroy it.

The movie ends with gorgeous shots of the drifter from the beginning as he disappears back into the wasteland as DJ Angry Bob (Iggy Pop) talks about how the M.A.R.K. 13 is about to be mass produced to sterilize the country.

Hardware is an intriguing film. It’s not great but it has a heart and soul that wants to be. It feels like a Phillip K. Dick story, but finds its influence in a post-apocalyptic short film Stanley made in his teens and his time in a guerrilla Muslim faction while acting as a journalist during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The TV broadcasts in the film are based on the work of Psychic TV and add a lot to the film (indeed, music really influences this one, particularly a quick cameo by Motörhead frontman Lemmy).

However, one influence that has dogged this movie is how close it is to Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill 2000AD comic strip “SHOK!” Later releases give full credit to this story.

Richard Stanley tried to get a sequel made, Hardware II: Ground Zero, which would have been a bigger Western-style movie. Sadly, the project died as the rights to the film are split between Miramax and the producer, Paul Trijbits. In this bigger, badder world, the US government would already be mass producing M.A.R.K. 13s to patrol the US-Mexican border and wipe out illegal aliens. There, Shades and a veteran named Lyle Maddox would find Jill living in a hippie colony of “destructuralists” in Splendora, Texas who are under attack by the M.A.R.K. 13s and Mexican guerrillas. According to the site Everything is Under Control, the script is “a definite page-turner, but it’s also violent, challenging, and ultimately, perhaps even too crazy for its own good.”

I really wish that movie had been made. I love the vision that Stanley has, the cinematography in this film and the sense that it’s all part of a much bigger story. Throw in music by Ministry, Motörhead, Public Image Ltd. and a score by Simon Boswell (Santa Sangre, Stagefright) and you have a film I’ll be coming back to soon.

Hardware was released by Severin in 2009 but was out of print for awhile. You can get a new re-release at Ronin Flix.

2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 27: The Wraith (1986)

Today’s Scarecrow Psychotronic challenge is 27. MODUM ONERARIIS: A movie about transportation methods. A car, rollerblades, a broom, flying saucer…whatever gets you there. I’ve been wanting to talk about The Wraith for some time, so this is the perfect opportunity.

In another version of our reality, The Wraith was the Top Gun of 1986. People are still wearing t-shirts of it, dressing up in costumes at cons and I have an amazing Jake Kesey action figure on my shelf.

As bright lights descend from the heavens — shades of The Visitor — an all black Dodge Turbo Interceptor comes to life, along with a black-garbed driver.

Welcome to Brooks, Arizona. This is where Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes, son of Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes, exuding pure sexual menace) leads a gang of car thieves that race people for pink slips. Everyone and everything is his property, mainly Keri Johnson (Twin Peak‘s Sherilyn Fenn), who doesn’t remember Packard killing her boyfriend Jamie Hankins (Christopher Bradley).

That’s when Jake Kesey arrives on a dirt bike. He instantly befriends Keri and Jamie’s brother Billy, who both work at Big Kay’s, a local drive-in hamburger joint. One day, while they swim at a local river, they both notice huge knife scars on Jake’s back.

The Turbo Interceptor starts to take over Packard’s races, its driver’s face never seen, his body covered in armor and metal braces for reasons unexplained. Everyone who races the Wraith, as he comes to be called, is killed, including gang members Oggie Fisher (Griffin O’Neal, April Fool’s Day) and Minty. Me, I like Skank and Gutterboy. How can you not love gang members who drink gasoline for an entire movie? I love that they’re so high that they refuse to believe in the Wraith. Soon, they get blown up real good.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Loomis (a pre-freakout Randy Quaid) is in hot pursuit but never seems to get close. Rughead, the only gang member who didn’t help kill Jamie, goes to the police to try and save his skin. He’s played by Clint Howard and his amazing hair, a B&S favorite since Evilspeak.

Packard still has an iron grip on Keri, despite the fact that she won’t give him what he wants: sex. Isn’t that what all guys want? Well, once he sees Keri kiss Jake, he kidnaps her and says they’re heading for California. She stands up to him and says that she never loved him. The Wraith shows up and Packard finally pays for his crimes. As the police prepare to give chase, Loomis calls it off, as they could never catch him.

Keri gets back home and the Wraith pulls up, then transforms into Jake. He tells her that he is her dead boyfriend, but doesn’t look like him because “This is as close as I could come to who I once was.” In truth, Sheen was tied up making Platoon, so they filmed the early scenes without him.

But Jake has one last act before he can leave — he gives the Turbo Interceptor to his brother, revealing who he really is. He tells Keri to pack light for where they are going. Where, Jake? Heaven? Outer space? The planet or dimension that sent Tony’s dad in Xtro?

The Wraith is the very definition of bonkers. It’s like Ghost Rider meets The Car meets Rebel Without a Cause by the way of a punk gang from The Road Warrior. It’s so many movies in one, with something for everyone to love. It was written and directed by Mike Martin, who also brought us Hamburger: The Motion Picture and directed four movies under the pen name Jake Kesey. Yep. You guessed it. The Wraith himself.

You can check it out on Shudder, which you should do immediately.

2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 26: Starship Troopers (1997)

Day 31 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 26. MILITARY INVOLVEMENT. When the men in green take on the little green men. I’ve decided to go with a movie that gets unfairly maligned — Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, which may be the most anti-government, anti-imperialism movie ever made. Trust me — I have plenty to say about this one.

Originally an unrelated script called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine, this movie licensed the name Starship Troopers from the Robert A. Heinlein novel. That novel is as militaristic and fascistic as it gets. This movie? Well, upon its release, many critics saw it as a celebration of fascism. How anyone came to that conclusion is an absolute moron. This is a movie that rails against it from its very first frame, building on the mega mobile awareness that Verhoeven only hinted at in RoboCop.

There’s no way to not reveal my politics as I write about this. I usually keep that out of these articles, but a constant source of worry for me is that our universe has done more than slide to the right; we’ve seen Nazi and fascist ideologies written off as “some good people.” So when Verhoeven alludes to wartime newsreels and Triumph of the Will (the Mobile Infantry ad at the beginning is taken shot-for-shot from this film), he’s doing more than just some satire. I have no idea how anyone can watch a movie where Doogie Howser is wearing full SS regalia and see it as an endorsement of militaristic ideology.

In the DVD commentary, the director states that he “evoked Nazi Germany’s fashion, iconography, and propaganda because he saw it as a natural evolution of the United States after World War II, and especially after the Korean War.” Obviously, if we believe conspiracy theory, the Nazi powers that be became part of our CIA, NASA and military/industrial complex. We won the war and became the enemy. Verhoeven motto for the film? “Let’s all go to war and let’s all die.”

As manifest destiny takes mankind into the stars, they discover arachnids, called “bugs.” While it’s never outright stated, it seems like the bugs are several steps down the evolutionary ladder from humans and would have never attacked us if we’d just left them alone.

On Earth, citizenship in the one world government is a privilege that only comes from military service. That’s one of the reasons to sign up. You also get to be a pilot. Or impress the girl you’re in love with. That’s how Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) joins up, trying to win the heart of pilot Carmen (Denise Richards). Then there’s Dizzy (Dina Meyer), who is the way better choice, but as she’s more masculine, Johnny never sees anything in her until it’s too late. They also have a friend named Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) whose psychic ability means he will be one of the ruling class.

The film unfolds in episodic form where we progress from basic training to initial battles with the bugs to the first meeting with one of the more intelligent members of their species, a “brain bug.” Throughout, commercials and military propaganda fill the screen, always ending with “Do you want to know more?” That’s ironic — real, uncontrolled information does not exist and executions air live on TV at 6 PM. This is the government-controlled media empire that we are constantly spiraling closer and closer to.

Every time Starship Troopers hints at the fact that humanity is doomed and that we’re in over our head — like the disastrous battle on Klendathu — these messages nearly erase those feelings. And one only has to look at the climax of the film, where an army of masculine warriors gathers around a very female creature and celebrate the emotion of fear as people celebrate in a moment that should be the emotional feel-good close of the film. But it’s hollow. And it’s wrong. And the emotions that it makes you feel are false, put in there to teach you a lesson.

“Come on you apes! Do you wanna live forever?”

“They’ll keep fighting and they’ll win!”

“These are the rules. Everybody fights, nobody quits. If you don’t do your job I’ll kill you myself.”

Yet every single authority figure in this movie has been scarred by the very Federation they serve, particularly Rasczak (Michael Ironside, absolutely amazing in every film and beyond that here), who goes without an arm until signing back up for service, his stump now replaced by quite literally an iron fist.

I still can’t believe that they sold kids toys of this movie.

Want to know more? Watch it for yourself on Hulu.

2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 25: Nightmare (1981)

Today’s Scarecrow Psychotronic challenge is 25. INSTITUTIONALIZED. An antagonist from the funny farm. I’ve answered with Nightmare, which probably best known for being a video nasty, one of the 72 films that violated the British Obscene Publications Act of 1959. In fact, its distributor was sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing to edit the film. It also brags that Tom Savini created the film’s effects, a credit denied by the FX artist.

After mutilating and murdering a family, George Tatum has been jailed for years. Now, he has been given the opportunity to be reprogrammed and returned to society. That said — he still has nightmares of his childhood and a trip to a Times Square peep show unlock flashbacks that make him a killer all over again.

En route to Florida — where his ex-wife, daughters and son live, George follows a woman home and kills her. Meanwhile, his doctors have no clue that he’s left the city.

Imagine his wife’s surprise when she starts getting all manner of threats over the phone. All she wants to do is carry on with her new boyfriend, Bob. She has enough to deal with, as her son C.J. is the worst of all horror movie kids. He often plays pranks that go way past the line of good taste, like covering himself in ketchup and pretending to be dead. So when the kid says that a man is following him, everyone thinks he’s just up to his normal young serial killer in training mischief.

After killing some of C.J.’s fellow students, George breaks into their house and kills the babysitter while mom is at a party. But C.J. calmly and cooly deals with it — he shoots his father with a revolver while dad has a flashback of catching his dad engaging in BDSM games with his mistress before he decided to kill them both with an axe.

The movie closes with C.J. sitting in a police car, mugging for the camera, while his mother returns to see her ex-husband’s body being removed from the house. How does C.J. know the camera is there? Has he learned how to break the fourth wall? Will he soon be able to hear his own theme song, much like Michael Myers? And when I’m asking questions, isn’t the full title, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, way better than just Nightmare?

Director Romano Scavolini started his career in porn, which might explain the incredibly casual nudity in the film and its devotion to giving the viewer exactly what they want from a slasher. It knows exactly why you’re here and gives you what you need. He stated about the film that he wanted to tell a story that has roots in reality and not just fantasy. A story of no hope, because mankind is at the mercy of its own demons. And, perhaps most importantly, a story where a young boy is unable to deal with the fact that his parents might just happen to be down with BDSM.

According to Matthew Edwards’ Twisted Visions: Interviews with Cult Horror Filmmakers, Scavolini claimed that prior to receiving distribution through 21st Century Film Corporation, Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures had both wanted to buy the film, but only if the gore was cut down. Scavonli refused, feeling that “the strongest scenes had to remain uncut because the film should be a scandalous event.” Yeah, I’m gonna call bullshit.

This is a scummy, down and dirty affair. C.J. is an annoying kid, but who can blame him, He has the worst parents possible — one’s a serial killer and the other would rather party on down with Bob than deal with the wretched fruits of her ex-husband’s loins. It’s everything that 20/20 exposes on how horrible slashers movies are should be.

If you want to see this for yourself, it’s streaming for free with an Amazon Prime membership.

2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 24: Dead Silence (2007)

Day 24 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 24. PUPPETS OR DOLLS: Sometimes they play back. When I first started dating my wife, this was a movie that she picked for us to watch. While I scoffed at the time, it’s been in our DVD player more times than I may like to admit. It’s an early film from James Wan, after the first Saw but before The Conjuring and Insidious.

You need to know a few things about this film.

First, it takes place in a fairy tale reality that has nothing to do with our world as you know it.

Second, no one acts like a normal human being.

Third, everything — and I mean everything — is shot in blue filter and overly processed, appearing washed out.

Finally, every single bit of the frame is overly art directed. Everything it too complicated. Everything is too dirty. Everything is too macabre. Nothing ends up being frightening because everything is too much, too much and way too much.

But I have a soft spot in my hard heart for this wacky little movie. It’s never really sure who it wants to be — is it about the dolls doing the killing? Is it the legend of Mary Shaw? Is it a police procedural? And why does the evil woman have such a frightening tongue?

Mary Shaw has an undefined moveset, as it were. Should we be worried about her ability to silence areas and kill people when they scream? Or should we be worried about someone else? or should we be worried about all the killer dolls? There is so much to worry about!

Big shout out to Donnie Wahlberg here, who must have just finished an acting class that said, “You gotta have some kind of object for your character so you can do object and hand work.” He was like, “What if I continually shave my face with an electric razor in every scene?” And everyone on set was real harried that day and said, “Sure, I guess that sounds good.” So basically all I can tell you about his character, Detective Jim Lipton, is that he shaves in every scene. It’s also hilarious to me that the above class I mention, which doesn’t probably exist outside of my brain, was an Actor’s Studio class and he wanted to credit James Lipton with the name of the character as a way of paying back his mentor.

So what can I say good about this movie? The theater set — I refuse to believe a small town that was the happiest town ever would name their theater after France’s Grand Guignol but go with this movie for a bit — is awe inspiring. I love how it looks, as nature has had its way with it, with a giant display case of hundreds upon hundreds of evil dolls. Seriously, if you have an issue with dummies, don’t watch this. It’s like Magic times one hundred and one, minus the talent and story.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. The studio got super involved with this one, to the point that Leigh Whannell (who also wrote most of the Saw and Insidious films, as well as writing and directing the superior Upgrade) was so displeased with the final film that he only writes scripts on spec now, instead of pitching to studios and being paid to write the screenplay.

I say all these things knowing that I’ll end up watching this movie once a year, laughing at some of its worst moments, puzzling over some of its poor FX and trying to decipher why the characters would act the way they do. I’ll also wonder how such a quaint little town has such a sleazy motel in it. And then I’ll watch it all over again.

2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 23: 976-EVIL (1988)

Day 23 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 23. Creepy Phone Calls. Reach out and touch someone before they reach out and touch you. At one point, 976 numbers were everywhere. You could call anyone and everyone — the Cory’s, Santa, Freddy — all for just 99¢ a minute. Most people have forgotten about them with the rise of the internet, but it’s important to remember them before watching this film, the directorial debut of Robert Englund.

Spike and Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys from Fright Night) are cousins who live under the overly watchful eye of Hoax’s super religious mother Lucy (Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, God Told Me To). They couldn’t be more different. Hoax is a nerd that’s afraid of everyone while Spike is a motorcycle riding bad boy with the girl of his cousin’s dreams, Suzie (Lezlie Deane, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare).

Both boys start using the novelty phone number 976-EVIL, which reads them creepy-themed fortunes for a few dollars. The real truth is quite sinister: Satan uses the line to find people to give them what they want in exchange for their souls. There’s a great scene here where a religious investigator goes to the home of 976-EVIL, After Dark, Inc. There is room after room of people, Santas, phone sex women and so much more, but in one dusty, cobwebbed closet lies the machine that powers this foul enterprise.

By the end of this movie, the cousins’ power dynamic has shifted and the literal gateway to Hell appears in front of their home. The way there is littered with 80’s cliches and a tone that is never sure if it fully wants to be comedic or horrific.

Still, this movie is not without its charms. The Deftones wrote the song “Diamond Eyes” about the film and it was popular enough to bring Spike back for the direct-to-video sequel 976-EVIL II: The Astral Factor. And England met his wife, set decorator Nancy Booth, while directing this movie. She would sneak R+N into the backgrounds of scenes that he would discover each day while watching the dailies. And hey, how many movies have uber religious old women get devoured by cats?

PS – There’s an entire chapter about this film in the book Satanic Panic: Pop Culture Paranoia in the 1980’s that is must reading.