[Review] Canadian Horror At Its Best: The Changeling Turns 40

Director: Peter Madek | Writers: Russel Hunter, William Grey, and Diana Maddox | Released: 28 March 1980 | Run Time: 1h 46min

Forty years ago today, The Changeling was released onto an unsuspecting world. It would go on to become one of the most compelling supernatural thrillers of all time. Haunted House stories terrify people because a home is the one place you feel most secure. This often overlooked Canadian horror film delivers the frights. And it should be in everyone’s personal collection.

After watching his wife and son die in a horrible accident, John Russell (George C. Scott), uproots and moves across the country, where Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere), helps him move into an old mansion where he tries to move on with his life. But the enormous house has other plans for him. The presence gets his attention by shattering windows, doors open and close on their own, and John is led to a boarded up attic room where he finds a kid’s wheelchair amongst all the dust and cobwebs. John immediately realizes something bad happened in the house, so he starts searching for answers. He digs into the history of the mansion and its previous occupants.

John’s research leads him down an unthinkable path. The Changeling is a perfectly paced slow burner. You can sensed the dread easing in with each passing scene. Not only was the plot great, the atmosphere set the tone, allowing the unease to settle on your skin. I love the soundtrack, it really does enhance the tension.

Even though the film is forty years old, The Changeling aged well. It still holds its own to this day. If you don’t have this one in your personal collection, then you should change that immediately.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Perhaps the most chilling supernatural thriller of all time. One of the scariest movies ever made. Scott delivers one of the best performances ever. As a Manhattan composer consumed by grief after his wife and daughter are killed in a shocking accident. When he moves to a secluded Victorian mansion he will find himself haunted by a paranormal entity that may unleash an even more disturbing secret.

[Review] The Slumber Party Massacre

Director: Amy Holden Jones | Writer: Reta Mae Brown | Released: 12 November 1982

The Slumber Party Massacre is completely off the rails bonkers. It’s told over the course of an evening, and takes place at both the school and a teen’s house. The parents are flying out for vacation and she has the house all to herself. Instead of throwing a party, she hosts a slumber party and invites her basketball teammates.

From the first scene you know the body count is going to add up pretty quickly. I can’t believe the first victim’s classmates didn’t hear her struggling in the van. She was slapping the glass really hard. And within the first ten minutes the ladies are in the showers naked. It’s not an 80s horror film without boobs. I’m glad we’ve gotten past that trope in horror films these days. Not long after the shower scene, another teen is killed, this time in the gym. no one was around to hear her scream either. Convenient or well planned on the killers part?

As the night progresses, the fun transitions to the slumber party. The teammates decide to watch a basketball game on television, but soon after a scary movie graced the screen. The director sort of uses the film to propel the plot. As the killer drills his way to the final girl, the film plays in the background. Along the way there’s a snail hunt and a hotdog placed on a black eye. I have no clue what that is about. I felt like I missed out on an inside joke or something. It was awkward.

The acting wasn’t that great. The dialogue wasn’t fluid. It all just felt really clunky. As for the killer, he doesn’t say too much. I think it would have probably been better if he didn’t say anything at all. It made his character less scary. The audience already knew he was crazy from the jump, but his reasoning felt forced. The director leaves some mystery to the killer, though. And that is with his motivation or his why. It’s fairly obvious he likes to prey on teen girls. And why use a cork drill of all things? He’s either disguised as an electrician or handyman. I didn’t really give it much thought because I wasn’t that invested in the killer.

At some point you have to make your audience care about the characters. I didn’t really care for any of them. They were paper thin with no real depth. Overall, the kill scenes weren’t that bloody. I was pleased as punch with the body count. But given the title massacre, I would have liked more blood splatter. And there’s only a few scenes where you get to see the special effects.

For what it’s worth, the film made me want to wear a jean jacket. I will definitely catch the other two films to see which direction the trilogy went. I wanted more from this film. It didn’t deliver the goods for me.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

[Review] Tiny Terrors: Stuart Gordon’s Dolls

Director: Stuart Gordon | Writer: Ed Naha | Date: 29 May 1987 | Run Time: 1h17min

I really didn’t know what to expect going into this film. It was surprisingly good. Really good, actually. A family of three slide off the road during a terrible thunderstorm. They seek refuge in an old mansion out in the middle of nowhere. Thinking the place is abandoned, they find a way inside only to run into the owners of the mansion. Not long after, a businessman shows up with two hitchhikers, trying to shelter from the storm. The owners welcome their unexpected guests with open arms.

Judy Bower and her vivid imagination goes unwanted by her father and stepmother. In fact, they go so far as to want to put her in a boarding school simply because her imagination is too wild for their liking. As the night progresses, Judy tries to warn her parents about the evil dolls. But it’s no use, her parents think she’s making stuff up again. One by one, the new occupants become victims of the evil dolls. Maybe it was the loud music, or maybe it was the parent’s terrible parenting skills that set the dolls off. Whatever it was, the dolls were ready to play with their new friends.

Stuart Gordon and his crew did a great job with the special effects. It didn’t take much money to make a big splash with the blood. The dolls were great given the budget restraints. I like the camera angles and the placement of the dolls. But what Stuart Gordon did well was the lack of doll movement. Sometimes you couldn’t see the dolls, but you knew they were in the room. The laughs and murmurs crawl over your skin and burrow deep in your flesh.

The acting was solid. Some actors were stronger than others. The dialogue felt a bit choppy at times. There were some parts of the film that fell flat. The jump scares were great. Some of the jump scares were predictable, though. I think the predictability is what makes 1980s horror so much fun. You know the scares are coming, but they still manage to frighten you.

With any great director, you have to have a few laughs along with the frights. And Stuart Gordon delivers the laughs. Dolls is a good time. If you like evil dolls out to kill terrible people, then you should watch this film. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A group of motorists, including young Judy Bower (Carrie Lorraine), her horrible father (Ian Patrick Williams), her evil queen of a stepmother (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) and a meek businessman named Ralph (Stephen Lee), become stranded at a spooky mansion during a nighttime thunderstorm. The house’s strange owners (Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason) offer overnight lodgings, but with the dastardly intentions of making their visitors the playthings of their murderous toy dolls.

[Review] Three Tales of Terror: Body Bags

Body Bags is a made for TV horror anthology film written and directed by John Carpenter. The film is set in the horrific town of Haddonfield, Illinois. It’s broken down into three stories, all of which are summed up in a morgue by the ghoulish host played by none other than John Carpenter himself. There’s a sort of Crypt Keeper like vibe to the host, which I dug immensely.

The first story is “The Gas Station,” written and directed by John Carpenter. It’s about a college student’s first evening on the job as a gas station tenant. Some of her customers are sketchy, mainly Wes Craven’s character. He played the sketchy character perfectly. John Carpenter does a great job misdirecting the audience. I thought the special effects were going to be abysmal, but John Carpenter does an excellent job with the blood and guts. I love a good kill scene.

The second story is “Hair” was also written and directed by John Carpenter. It’s about a middle aged man going through a midlife crisis. He’s dating a younger lady, and he wants to impress her. He longs for the old days and his lush locks. While flipping through the channels one afternoon, he watches a commercial on hair growth. He checks into it. The doctor talks him into getting a long hairstyle, just like the one from his misspent youth. After he gets the new hairstyle, his relationship improves, but not for long. “Hair” is a careful what you wish for type story.

“Hair” had some recognizable actors in familiar roles. The acting was solid. The special effects were a bit dated, though. And there wasn’t any real frights in this story. It felt more like a science fiction story more than anything. I did get grossed out by a few scenes. The ending fell a little flat with the reveal, but the actors did a good job selling it.

The third story is “Eye” featuring Mark Hamill as a baseball player that loses an eye. Overall, I enjoyed the tale but I couldn’t stand Hamill’s accent. It didn’t sound that authentic. So, after he loses his eye, he has a groundbreaking eye transplant. It goes horribly wrong and fast. What starts out as headaches quickly become evil visions.

If you like anthology films, then you will dig Body Bags very much. I wish more television networks would air horror specials. There’s nothing groundbreaking about Body Bags, but it’s a good way to spend an hour and a half. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch it for free.

Rating: 3 out of 5.