Society (1989)


Here is a crazy, ambitious, and underrated film that mixed the paranoid thriller and body horror genres with a 1980s teen comedy.  It was Brian Yuzna’s (The Dentist, Return of the Living Dead 3, Bride of and Beyond Re-Animator) first film as director, and definitely one of his best.

It starts off as a typical ’80s screwball teen movie- Bill (Billy Warlock, son of Dick Warlock who played Michael Myers in Halloween II) is a typical Beverly Hills teen- he comes from a rich family, and is popular at school, but is seeing a therapist because he feels paranoid and alienated from his family.  He has a standard issue blonde cheerleader girlfriend (played by the girl who Jason kills by dragging under the water in Friday the 13th Part 7), and a typical goofy ’80s best friend, but he feels something is not right with his parents and sister.

When his sister’s jilted boyfriend brings him proof of some twisted, underground weirdness (of the type most normal people imagine decadent rich people do behind closed doors), he begins to suspect that there’s some creepy, foul secrets his family is involved in and keeping from him.  By the end he finds out that there’s much more to it than just a bunch of rich perverts, and most of the influential people in Beverly Hills (and most everyone he knows) is in on it.  It turns out he wasn’t paranoid enough, and by the time it reaches it’s grotesque denouement, the movie has transformed from a coming-of-age teen movie into a full on horror film (tho still a bit screwball) that’s more than a little fucked up.

Yuzna keeps the humor going all the way to the end, and unfortunately some of it is goofy and full of bad puns (another ’80s staple). This makes the horror less effective, but it’s still got enough twisted humor to keep the mood black overall.  The effects are insane, and tho the body count is quite low, it’s still worth watching just for how fucked up it gets.  The first two thirds of the movie, tho mostly a teen comedy, still has a darker edge- like a teen comedy with some weird stuff going on, slowly building from the subtle to in-your-face insanity.  I once saw it described as “Lovecraft as filmed by John Waters”, and tho it’s not quite THAT cool, it still kind of fits.  The effects by Screaming Mad George (of excellent late ’70s punk band THE MAD, who has a very recognizable and bizarre style of twisted latex and slime) are somewhat cartoonish, but that just enhances the freak show.

The social commentary is quite loud and clear, and just a bit heavy handed, but certainly not outdated considering the plutocracy we live in these days.
What’s not so timely is the fashions, hair styles, and setting- this movie is as ’80s as it can get.  This might be a joy for some, and a detriment to others.  It’s also lacking in nudity for a screwball ’80s teen movie (there is just a tiny bit.  That’s an observation, not a criticism.  This movie is plenty entertaining without it).

You cannot defeat the mullet!

You cannot defeat the mullet!

We’d definitely recommend it to anyone into body horror, ’80s teen comedys, freak shows, and grotesqueries in general.  I first saw it by tape trading in 1990 or so (it was released in Europe in 1989, but not in the US until 1992).  Movies like James Gunn’s Slither owe a lot to it, so if you like that a double feature might be in order.

The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter (2014)



I’ve just returned from the very first showing of the newest slasher throwback The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter.  This means that the movie has not been released widely yet, and is just getting ready to enter some film festivals.  Full disclosure time: I do know the director and several of the actors involved in it somewhat, but I will be as impartial as I can be.

The first thing you should know is that there are no Pick-Axe Murders Part I or II.  In his intro director Jeremy Sumrall explained that with most movies that have sequels, they get worse and worse the more there are, so since this is his first full length film as director, he wanted to start off with the bad one and work his way up to the good one (who knows when Part I will be made, but he promises it will be a masterpiece.  There’s a good chance he was joking about all of that).

This one starts out with a TCM-style title crawl explaining the back story (ostensibly the plots of the first two): In the summer of 1982, a group of campers were horribly slaughtered at Camp Arapaho in the sleepy little town of Woodland Hills. The 10 gruesome murders were blamed on Alex Black, a mysterious man believed to have been the son of Satan himself, whom the townspeople had hunted down and lynched nearly 20 years prior. The only survivors were Adrienne, a camper, and a young deputy named Mathews…

One year later, a series of mysterious killings at the Meadow Falls Sanitarium (where Adrienne had spent the last year as a patient) were once again linked to the mysterious Alex Black. Adrienne made it out again as one of the only survivors…

Part III begins in the summer of 1988 (5 years after the sanitarium massacre), and follows a group of kids going to a typical ’80s hair metal concert.  Unfortunately for them, Alex Black has been resurrected, and returns to spread carnage and death as well as confront the haunted and alcoholic Adrienne and (now) Sheriff Mathews one last time.

The law of diminishing returns states that there is no way this movie could be any good or even interesting in any way.  The reason that people do not like to sit by the highway and watch cars drive by is because it’s something we see every day, and for horror fans, slasher films (of this sort in particular) have been done and redone so often, it’s about the same as sitting by the road watching traffic.  However, every once in awhile a 16 car pile up will happen, and watching traffic might become more interesting.  The question when watching a new throwback slasher has become: is this one like watching traffic, or a 16 car pile up?
Obviously originality is pretty much out the window- everything that can be done with the slasher formula has been done, so what you have left is fun factor and intensity factor.  Few directors have the talent and ability to make an incredibly intense film, much less an incredibly intense slasher, so most go for fun.  The goal is to see how over-the-top crazy you can get.

The good news is that The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter is just fun enough to call it a success- it’s funny, occasionally clever, and entertaining enough to not be a waste of time.  The characters are silly and over-the-top in an ’80s movie way (obviously something they were shooting for), the dialog is cringe-inducingly goofy (but also in a good way- it’s obviously purposefully goofy), it has just enough clever humor and subtlety  thrown in to let you know that the bad stuff is done on purpose, and of course it’s so full of old school slasher homages and nods that you could overload a boat with them.  But not a boat on the way to New York.  That would be disastrous.

The acting is much better than in most underground/ low budget horror films- a huge step above 90% of the straight-to-video movies that I’ve watched (and I’ve watched a lot of them).  Low budget/ straight-to-video horror uber-queen Tiffany Shepis does a fine job as Adrienne (and actually keeps all of her clothes on throughout the whole movie- one of the only actresses in it that does), and Phantasm‘s A. Michael Baldwin plays Sheriff Mathews.  Most of the other actors and actresses are locals who haven’t appeared in many larger releases, but they all do an excellent job and look like they’re having a lot of fun, so hopefully that will change.
As hinted at above, there is a lot of nudity thrown in.  More than usual for a slasher.  This is, of course, a key ingredient in a slasher film (however in this day and age when anytime you want to see boobs all you have to is go to Google images and type in ‘boobs’, it’s not as much of a draw as it was in the days before the internet, when most of the classic slashers came out).

Unfortunately, it’s lacking in the other slasher key ingredient: the kills.  That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot- there are as many (or more) as in most classic slashers, it’s just that they are mostly all mundane (with the exception of two or three).  Two of them (one of a main character and one of a supporting character) are even done off screen.  I’m assuming that this is because of budgetary reasons (having a big guy squeeze someone’s head and blood pour out of their mouth is a lot cheaper to film than a spectacular kill like the machete between the legs of the guy walking on his hands in Friday the 13th Part 3).  Not everyone can afford Tom Savini, but still the fact remains that this is a slasher where most of the death scenes are pretty underwhelming.  BUT I do have to give them credit for using all practical effects.  It’s a lot more time consuming and harder to pull off, but looks a lot better than a bunch of CGI any day.  The only other complaint I’d have is the music- sometimes it sounded good, but sometimes it just didn’t fit with the scene it was paired with (tho not as bad as in the otherwise also decent  Sweatshop– in which director Sumrall played the killer).  Music is a big part of a horror film, and sometimes (as proven by Halloween) can make or break it.

But overall it is far above most straight-to-video horror drek coming out these days, and makes a good bridge between the above mentioned Sweatshop and Spirit Camp– both slashers produced in the same area as The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter and using a lot of the same people (Kerry Beyer, director of Spirit Camp, even has a cameo in Pick-Axe as one of the hair band members).

I don’t know how much different the finished product will be- it hasn’t been rated yet, and there were a couple of bits that needed clearer editing, but other than that it looked finished, so hopefully everyone else will get to see it soon.

Watch it with a bunch of friends and beer in a marathon with Friday the 13th Parts 1 – 3, Intruder, The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, Maniac, Stage Fright, New York Ripper, and if you want something modern maybe Hatchet (if you want to get a little more low rent and sleazy you could add in Don’t Answer The Phone, Murder Set Pieces and Strip Nude For Your Killer).

Evilspeak ‘zine #1


Hot on the heels of our last review of a new ‘zine (Organ), we’ve gotten another one- Evilspeak!  Organ was put out by the folks at the metal label Hell’s Headbangers, and Evilspeak is put out by the folks at metal label Razorback.
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is a horror/ gore film ‘zine that may call back to the days of the ’80s and early ’90s ‘zine scene, but it mostly reminds me of a far older influence- Famous Monsters of Filmland.  All it’s missing are the bad puns and film stills.  Most ‘zines are usually critical of the movies that they include- they write reviews and criticisms and cover current films coming out, actors in up-and-coming films, and news about the newest stuff they want you to discover.  Sometimes they might have a retro article or write about an undiscovered gem or re-issue, but it’s mostly about the here and now.  Famous Monsters, on the other hand, always wanted to share their love of old, classic, and under-appreciated films and actors.  They were rarely ever critical, but generally just talked fondly of monsters and films long gone (at least until some of the later issues).  The current version of Famous Monsters of Filmland on the stands is not really like this, but more like a modern movie magazine, however there are some throwback ‘zines in the same style such as Scary Monsters  that are trying to carry on the tradition started by the classic Famous Monsters.   Evilspeak takes the Famous Monsters template and loads it with horror and gore films from the ’70s and ’80s (which Famous Monsters shied away from) such as Tourist Trap,  Humanoids From the Deep, and the magazines namesakeplus adds in articles on drive-ins, Gore Shriek comics, Filipino horror films, a nice longer one on creature features of the late ’70s and early ’80s such as The Boogens and Without Warning (which has just been re-released by Scream Factory) written by Stevo of IMPETIGO (who somehow forgot the mutant bear flick Prophecy, which terrified the hell out of me when I was a little kid), and the late horror hero Chas Balun (who of course did the one of the best horror/ gore ‘zines of all time Deep Red, among many other things).  It also has interviews with Heather Langencamp and Amber Wyss of A Nightmare On Elm Street and director (and actor) Ulli Lommel, who’s been stuck doing terrible quickie serial killer films recently but who has done some better films in the past such as The Boogey Man, The Devomsville Terror, and The Blank Generation.
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This magazine shows the love well, and the articles are not dry or boringly written like in some books (who try to sound scholarly, but are just tedious).  There is room for improvement, but this is a very good first issue.  Check it out.

Organ ‘zine #1



Organ is a new ‘zine put out by some of the guys at Hell’s Headbangers.  I don’t see many new ‘zines these days (tho they seem to be gaining in popularity- there are more coming out every day), so getting one this thick and detailed is very nice.  And what detail it has- the art and layouts are phenomenal!  It’s all black and white, but I love that look- like an old Creepy or Eerie comic book (but 10 times as thick).  You can tell they took a long time putting this together- the art is painstakingly intricate, and everything is very neatly hand written (which I still don’t like that much, but it fits in this ‘zine).
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The interviews are very well done and informative, with bands such as IMPETIGO, ASPHYX, CIANIDE, NOCTURNAL, DENIAL, and UNDERGANG to name a few.  They also have interviews with Mike Howlett about his awesome book The Weird World of Eerie Publications, and Mike Minett (who played Frank in the splatterpunk classic Bad Taste).  There are articles on Coffin Joe, ’80s sword and sandal movies (such as Deathstalker and The Sword and the Sorcerer), VHS trading in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and a rather pedestrian one on Japanese hardcore (the only article in the whole ‘zine that seems a little threadbare).  There are also some old school comics along the lines of the above mentioned Creepy and Eerie mags, and scads of movie reviews (mostly gore/ horror/ exploitation).

The pages are very think and the print is dark (you can’t tell on these scans because the ‘zine is so thick that my scanner couldn’t scan it that well so the print look a little light- it’s not like that in the actual ‘zine).

This was a pretty damn fun read, and I’m looking forward to more…

The Greatest Albums of All Time: Septic Death- “Now That I Have the Attention What Do I Do With It?”


Not a lot of bands come from Boise, Idaho, however even if SEPTIC DEATH were the only band to emerge from there, it should put the city on the map as birthing something great.
The band was formed by late ’70s/ early ’80s California skate regular Brian “Pushead” Schroeder, who had already made a bit of a name in the underground hardcore/ punk scene not only as a skater, but as an artist.  He began sending his art to bands and ‘zines in the early ’80s, and many of them chose to use it.  Later he became the main artist for Zorlac Skateboards, designing the artwork for a special edition METALLICA skateboard .  The band soon used him to design art and t-shirts for them, which propelled him to even larger fame.  At this point he has done art for tons of bands both big and small, and his unmistakable gruesome and original artwork and attention to detail was first brought into full bloom in the service of SEPTIC DEATH.
Now That I Have the Attention What Do I Do With It?
(which came out in early ’86) is not actually an album proper, but a re-issue of the band’s first 12″ep Need So Much Attention… Acceptance of Whom mixed with some compilation tracks and some new songs.  Side A features 3 tracks from the 12″ep that have added guitars and re-recorded vocals, as well as songs from compilations such as PEACE/ WarCleanse the Bacteria, and the Putrid Evil flexi (some re-recorded).  Side B features the other 9 songs from the 12″ep in their original versions.

Back cover of the Need So Much Attention... 12"ep

Back cover of the Need So Much Attention… 12″ep

Pushead still considers it his band’s debut album rather than a compilation, so we at PMT count it as such. The music on this is astoundingly perfect, jaw dropping hardcore thrash. There are few albums that deal in this kind of music that are this phenomenal. The songs are fairly simple, but very original sounding even today (after almost 30 years). The musicianship is as tight as can be, with insanely fast picking from guitarist Onj, talented and original bass lines from bassist Mike Matlock and a stop-on-a-dime delivery that belies a strong intimacy with the songs and their instruments. There is no band that I can think of who play thrash that can top this. Some people say SLAYER’s Reign In Blood is the ultimate thrash album, but this one blows it away. The fast parts are incredibly fast, and the breakdowns are rocking and make you want to kill. The vocals sound like a cross between a hardcore screamer and a gruff black metal vocalist (with just a bit of a snotty punk snarl), and the song structures are interesting and well put together (even the shorter songs like “Advantage” and “Dream Silent” seem carefully crafted). It’s worth mentioning that drummer Paul Birnbaum is insanely talented and his outstanding drum work is a perfect testament to what a thrashcore drummer should sound like- not just fast, but rhythmically interesting.
The lyrics are also written with a high level of quality, mostly concerning madness and horror (with some social ones thrown in).
The production is perfect- clear enough to hear everything well, but grimey enough to not sound too clean or overproduced.  The buzzsaw guitars and fuzzy bass compliment the machine gun drums (that at times sound like he’s pounding on a coffin) perfectly.

The packaging and artwork is top notch, as you’d expect from a detail-oriented perfectionist like Pushead.  However he gets a couple of other artists to do some work on it as well, so the artwork is varied and not one-dimensional.

Many bands, from METALLICA to INTEGRITY have heralded the brilliance of SEPTIC DEATH (James Hetfield even did vocals on their follow-up 7″ep Burial, and Kirk Hammett played mead guitar on a song on their Kichigai 7″ep).  If you like hardcore, thrash, crust, or extreme metal and you haven’t checked this album out, do yourself a favor and listen to it now.

Their drummer and guitarist have switched instruments and now play in a band called Little Miss and the No-Names (who are much more punk rock sounding).