HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER (2004)

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SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER (2004)

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Halloween set flick tells the story of nine year-old Dougie Whooly (Alexander Brickel) who is obsessed with a video game called Satan’s Little Helper where the player takes on the mantle of an assistant to Old Scratch who is gathering souls. Dougie is so obsessed with the game, that he dresses as Satan’s Little Helper for Halloween and when he meets up with a man wearing a devil costume, Dougie thinks the game is being acted out before his very eyes. Sadly, Dougie is either delusional or insane as the costume wearing individual is a real murderer who takes the all too willing youngster on a killing spree across town. Will Dougie’s hot number of a sister (Katheryn Winnick) be able to save Dougie from this fiend, or will she also become a victim of this all too real game.

Odd horror/comedy (?) is written and directed by Jeff Lieberman who gave us the cult classics Squirm and Blue Sunshine in the 70s and the slasher Just Before Dawn in the early 80s. The film asks us to forgive a lot to put it’s story in motion, mostly in how much little Dougie seems to go along with what is obviously real acts of violence. The film never establishes if Dougie has some sort of problem that causes his total detachment from reality, or is he one really stupid or mentally challenged kid. He’d have to be to bond with a complete stranger and then join him in acts of violence and even murder…all on the pretense that this is a live reenactment of a video game and that it’s all a big prank. Even his eccentric mother (Amanda Plummer) seems to tolerate a lot in terms of Dougie’s game obsession, when most parents would be getting quite concerned. She even thinks it’s cute when the boy claims he is going to marry his older sister Jenna (Winnick). Then again, the dumb script expects us to believe that the town police force seems to be content to sit back and watch their fellow officer’s heads wrapped in tape while eagerly awaiting their turn, since they are all found like this in groups. As a horror, there is little suspense or frights as the whole thing is just so goofy and the only thing that gives it a bit of atmosphere is the Halloween setting and some gory moments. The costume our anonymous killer wears is pretty spooky, but again, the silliness of it all keeps this from being really effective. If the film was intended to be more of a comedy, it’s not very funny and produces few intentional laughs. The director also directs with a leaden pace and the flick is at least 10 minutes too long with our main characters leaving and returning to their home continuously.

The cast are all fine and seem to give it their all. Hard to fault young Alexander Brickel for the hard-to-believe behavior of Dougie as this is how the script is written. As the kid, he is a creepy and disturbing little boy and it’s hard to feel sorry for him when he finally figures out this is all real and he has been placating a psychopath…but that is how Dougie is written and directed. Katheryn Winnick really shines as his hot and quite resilient sister Jenna. She makes a good heroine and seems to be the only character with her head on straight and knows fairly early something very wrong is going on. Amanda Plummer plays the same type of eccentric, oddball she seems born to play and is fine as Jenna and Dougie’s clueless mother. Stephen Graham is also adequate as Jenna’s ‘friend’ from school, but he isn’t given all that much to do and the character never really gets developed much, despite a fairly large role in the film. The killer is played with some creepiness by Joshua Annex, but we never see his face or is he ever positively identified as one of the few suspects.

The film has a bit of a cult following, but I don’t get it. Sure, there is some atmosphere and gore and Winnick is a very hot heroine, but there is way too much suspension of disbelief in terms of Dougie. It’s hard to believe any kid is that stupid that he sees people hurt and killed right before his eyes and thinks it’s all part of some Halloween game. He also seems disturbingly certain his favorite video game is being acted out live with himself as a participant, which also indicates a kid in desperate need of therapy. Lieberman directs with a slow pace and despite his experience, some of the set-ups seem a bit sloppy and the script definitely needed work. Check out Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn for a far more effective slasher unless you want to give this a shot, it does have it’s fans.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 devil masks.

satans little helper rating

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981)

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JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981)

“Keep breeding in the same family and something’s bound to snap.”

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

 After revisiting Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm I decided to check out his 1981 slasher Just Before Dawn. I honestly don’t remember if I have ever seen it before and as I watched it, nothing rang a bell, so this may be the first time watching this flick for me. The film follows the late 70s’ early 80s slasher formula and adds a hint of Chainsaw Massacre, as it tells the story of five youths who travel up to some recently inherited property deep in the remote Oregon mountains. Despite the ominous warnings of old park ranger, Mr. McLean (George Kennedy) and the appearance of a drunk and quite frightened hunter (Mike Kellin), they enter the woods to enjoy the great outdoors. Obviously there are some local inhabitants who are not exactly thrilled at the intrusion and have a violent way of showing it…of course had the warnings these kids received been less vague…

Co-written… with Mark Arywitz and Jonas Middleton…and directed by Lieberman, this backwoods slasher is moderately paced much like his Squirm and generally most of the horrors of this era. The body count is fairly small and despite a gruesome opening scene kill, a lot of the carnage occurs off-screen. But the film does have a nice atmosphere and there is something just a little off about the film to make it interesting despite being fairly routine on the surface. I wouldn’t say it’s a strange movie outright, but there is something a bit odd about it that I can’t quite put my finger on and this slightly unsettling aspect did give it some extra points. The film is well shot by Dean and Joel King and the music by Brad Fiedel is creepy and adds some atmosphere to it as well. Throw in some 80s nostalgia and this was a decent enough 80s horror flick to pass the time.

The cast are a bit livelier than Lieberman’s Squirm. George Kennedy is solid as always. Gregg (Slither) Henry is our lead male and he is fine as the cocky Warren who actually surprises us a bit by loosing some of that swagger when things start to go wrong. Cutie Deborah Benson is Warren’s girlfriend Connie who also surprises us when this fish out of water rises to the occasion against the serrated machete wielding mountain folk. Rounding out our young vacationers are Jaime Rose as the promiscuous Megan, Chris Lemmon as Jonathan and Ralph (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) Seymour as Jonathan’s photographer brother, Daniel. They are all suitable in their roles as potential mountain folk fodder and are an attractive cast, as is the custom with these flicks. The rest of the supporting cast are appropriately creepy playing various mountain locals including pretty Katie Powell as Merry and big John Hunsaker as the deranged blade carrying killer. Hunsacker also gives his loony a bit of an off-putting sense of humor to add to his imposing size and inbred looks.

I liked this flick. On the outside it is a routine backwoods slasher, but there was enough atmosphere and odd touches throughout to keep me entertained despite the low body count and lengthy stretches between kills. There wasn’t much suspense, but the film had enough of the traditional elements to keep my attention and a few off-kilter moments, too. Not a bad flick to throw in with the more renown classics especially when watching some 80s slashers during the Halloween season or with a summer slasher marathon!

3 serrated machetes.

before the dawn rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SQUIRM (1976)

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SQUIRM (1976)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Squirm is another of exploitation studio American International Pictures “nature gone amok” films that were popular in the mid 70s along with Frogs and The Food Of The Goods. It’s story begins when a freak storm hits the rural, coastal town of Fly Creek, Georgia and it knocks down electrical power lines sending thousands of volts into the ground, driving the local worm population into a maddened frenzy. And since the local worm population consists mostly of  “pinworms and blood worms” it explains the gruesome fangs our featured worms have to pick their prey clean, right down to the skeletons. This is not good for the local human population, most of whom make their living selling said worms for bait. Looks like the tide has turned! And if that’s not bad enough, pretty Georgia peach, Geri (Patricia Pearcy) and new boyfriend Mick (Don Scardino) not only have an avalanche of murderous worms to contend with, but the jealous attentions of simpleton, handyman Roger (R.A. Dow) who is also driven crazy by a face full of angry blood worms. This is going to be a very bad day for Geri, Mick and the citizens of Fly Creek.

Written and Directed by Jeff Lieberman, who also made the trippy Blue Sunshine, Squirm is a pedestrian paced horror that takes a really long time to get going, but does provide quite a few creepy moments simply due to the nature of it’s slimy villains. The body count in this low budget thriller is fairly low with most of the deaths happening off-screen, though there are a few gruesome moments courtesy of make-up FX master Rick Baker. Lieberman does gives us a number of skin-crawling moments though, with tidal waves of worms and having the slimy critters come pouring out of shower heads at the least opportune moments. If those scenes won’t get you creeped out, the numerous close-ups of fanged shrieking bloodworms certainly will. Throw in some nice 70s nostalgia and the film does provide some entertainment though, it’s low budget, slow pace and anti-climactic ending keep it from really being the B-Movie treat it’s premise promises.

The acting is fairly wooden across the board with everyone, including pretty lead Pearcy speaking in a slow, monotone, Southern drawl. Actor Peter MacLean overacts a bit as the local jerk of a sheriff, but it’s not enough to score points in the camp department, though some moments from R.A. Dow’s ‘Roger’ do…especially when he’s acting with a face full of worms. And as for the worms, they clearly are the most effective performers and elicit quite a few “Ewwwww’s” when they appear, especially in large flowing numbers.

Overall, Squirm is a moderately creepy and amusing “nature run amok” flick with a few gruesome moments and plenty of slimy worms to get us through it’s slowly paced 90 minutes. It is a cult classic and it’s waves of carnivorous worms do stick with you, but it’s not quite the gross-out treat it could have been with a bit larger budget and a director who could instill a little more life into the proceedings. Certainly worth a nostalgic look and definitely works within an evening of like features, but a little disappointing if you were expecting more. You might find the MST3K version far more entertaining!

2 and 1/2 fanged blood worms… ewwwww!.

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