Given my longstanding affection for Rutger Hauer and monster movies, it should come as no surprise that I watched Split Second–probably a few times–when it was at the video rental section of my local grocery store growing up. That said, I didn’t remember much of anything about it besides that it was set in “the future” and that the serial killer/monster had something to do with the Scorpio Zodiac sign (which stuck with me probably because I’m a Scorpio).

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You’ll really never get to see the monster this well in the actual movie…

When I sat down to re-watch it recently, I was all geared up to make fun of how 1992 pictured 2008. And certainly the move hits all the check boxes of a movie about the future made in the early 90s: it’s grim, dark, crowded, polluted, and it rains all the time. But in spite of the fact that all the computers still look like ancient IBMs and I don’t remember London being under water by 2008, the not-too-distant future as envisioned by the set dressers of Split Second wasn’t as hilarious as I was expecting. And congrats to the writers for (correctly, it would seem) pegging global warming as the culprit for the future’s many woes.

While I was watching the movie, one of the things that struck me most forcibly was realizing that people in 1992 felt comfortable positing a future this bleak only 16 years away. Probably says something about how hopeful we felt back in the early 90s, huh?

Anyway, prognostications aside, all of Split Second was actually less hilarious than I was expecting. For a movie that’s been called “an extremely stupid monster film” and “utterly soulless and imitative,” I actually found that Split Second held up better than I had imagined. Sure, it’s an incredibly 90s movie. See the completely pointless nudity, the obligatory strip club scene, the dynamic between the lead characters, and maybe especially the weapons. (I’m pretty sure a Gatling shotgun is the most 90s weapon imaginable.) But if you can get into that, then there’s some surprising bits to be found buried within all the tough guy quips and shots of people slogging through water.

For one, flooded London is surprisingly well-realized, and works nicely as a backdrop for the serial killer/monster story. And while Hauer is hampered by the fact that he’s being asked to play essentially a parody of the maverick cop character that was pretty much every lead in every action movie of the era, he’s Rutger Hauer, so he at least extracts some entertainment from the role, and also peppers in a surprisingly good portrait of anxiety and even panic attacks for good measure.

I keep calling this a “serial killer/monster movie,” and that’s another place that Split Second stands out a bit from its peers. The killer in question is certainly a monster, but it’s also a serial killer, and while it never speaks, it is intelligent enough to leave taunting messages for the police and use firearms. So there’s that.

Better yet is the film’s decision to throw in a bunch of information about the monster, but no explanation for it. It’s got the DNA of all of its victims, which probably means something, but we’re never told what. It’s also got rat DNA, tying it at least thematically into the rat infestation that’s plaguing the city, but we’re never told that it’s a mutated rat, or some kind of human/rat hybrid, or anything else of the sort. It leaves occult symbols scrawled in blood at some of the crime scenes, and one of the characters hypothesizes that it thinks it’s Satan, and that, besides taking its victims DNA, it also eats their hearts in order to take their souls to hell. The movie throws a bit of everything at the wall when it comes to the monster, and what makes it kind of work is that it never actually waits for any of it to stick, just tosses it up there and then leaves it hanging. While it’s probably actually sloppiness on the part of the filmmakers, it’s the kind of approach to the strange and unusual that really appeals to me, and that movies take all-too-seldom.

The reactions of the characters to the existence of the monster are also pretty spot on, even if they’re often played for laughs in the film. Seeing the monster transforms the characters. While it doesn’t quite drive them Lovecraftian, gibbering in the madhouse crazy, it does fundamentally alter their priorities and their ideas about things like reason and reality. As it should. From the moment the characters encounter the monster directly, they are obsessed with the monster, and watching them spitball ideas about its nature and origins is a delight. Again, this isn’t always sold particularly well, but it’s a welcome touch, and really, how much nuance can we ask of a screenplay by the writer of The Fast & the Furious?

The monster itself, once it finally makes its appearance, is designed by Blade and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen director Stephen Norrington. Norrington also worked on the creature effects crew for Aliens and Alien 3, and it shows. The monster here is emphatically in the xenomorph school of design, boasting an inexplicable motorcycle helmet visor and pretty cool monster hands (reminiscent of the H.R. Giger poster for Future Kill). It’s also apparently From Dusk Till Dawn vampire squishy, as Rutger Hauer is able to rip its heart out of its chest with his bare hands, in spite of it surviving hails of gunfire as well as being blown up and electrocuted. As a kid, I’m sure that I just assumed this was possible because he was Rutger Goddamn Hauer.

In all, I’ve probably made Split Second sound a lot better than it is, but it is a lot better than you may have heard, and than I had expected. While all the good qualities are just seasoning mixed into a pretty generic early-90s action thriller package, and many of them are undercut by the film’s willingness to go for lazy tropes or play things for laughs, especially in the final reel, they are at least there. Whether you can extract the enjoyment from Split Second that I did will probably depend a lot on your tolerance for this kind of thing, and your willingness to dig around in the soggy detritus around the edges for those few interesting nuggets.

[This post previously appeared on my Patreon.]

Last year, just before I left for Panic Fest, I received a phone call about my dad’s failing health. It wasn’t the first such call, and it wasn’t the last, but that Panic Fest sticks in my mind as the last time for a long time that my dad’s illness, death, and the subsequent emotional and mental fallout therefrom wasn’t heavily on my mind. I didn’t really realize how much Panic Fest had become the symbolic anniversary of all those things for me until this weekend rolled around.

I had been planning to help work the fest, but for various reasons that didn’t come to pass. And it turned out to be a good thing, because I got buried in some quick-turnaround deadlines that kept me busy much of the weekend. I did make it out to say hello and pick up a couple of Funko minis, but I wasn’t able to stick around and enjoy the festival. Maybe next year.

What I did instead–besides work on the aforementioned deadlines–was have a rougher-than-expected weekend. It took me until this morning to figure out why, to connect the occasion of Panic Fest to my memories of all that I’ve been struggling with over the past year and change. I know that I’ve come a long way in that time, and that I’ll be all right, but it hit me hard today.

To the folks at Panic Fest itself: Sorry I wasn’t able to make it more, or stay longer. It was great to see everyone for the brief moment that I did, and thank you guys for being a pleasant memory in the midst of a lot of unpleasant ones.

A few years ago, I co-edited Fungi with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. In the time since, my affection for William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night” and its peculiar 1963 Toho film adaptation Matango–as well as all fungal monsters everywhere–has been well documented. However, in all that time, there was always another adaptation of “The Voice in the Night” that I had never gotten a chance to see. Until now.

In a recent interview with The Haunted Omnibus, I mentioned my frustrated desire to see the “Voice in the Night” episode of the 1950s TV series Suspicion, and lo and behold, Michael Bukowski came to my rescue with a link to that very episode on YouTube! The last time I had looked for it, I had been unable to find it anywhere except in a film archive in California. Sadly, the picture quality of this YouTube version is completely terrible, and large portions of the beginning and end of the episode are lost almost utterly to darkness, but still, it’s worlds better than nothing!

Essentially a two-person show starring Barbara Rush (It Came from Outer Space) and James Donald (Quatermass and the Pit) as the pair of hopelessly-in-love (she sells it better than he does) newlyweds who become lost at sea and marooned upon the ill-fated island. Also keep an eye out for Patrick Macnee and James Coburn as the sailors who hear the haunting tale. The human drama is actually pretty well-realized, and there are enough tantalizing glimpses of the derelict ship and the fungus-shrouded isle to make you long for a better print than the one that we have available to us.

Sadly, there are no fungus creatures–or maybe there are, lost somewhere in the sea of inky blackness that are the episode’s last couple of minutes–so it’s no Matango, but it’s still a fairly admirable adaptation of Hodgson’s tale. Hopefully someday it will get a high definition release of some kind so that we can see the lost ships and fungal landscapes a little more clearly. Until then, thanks to Mike for directing me to this, and that’s one more off my list…

Some of you may already have noticed, but Never Bet the Devil, my first collection which was published in 2012 by Evileye Books, has gone out of print as of December 31, 2015. It’s still available from some online sellers, but its sudden scarcity has triggered bizarre online algorithms which have driven the price up ridiculously. In short, please, nobody pay close to $100 for my book? If you really want a copy that badly, contact me privately and we’ll work something out, though I don’t even have any author copies left to speak of.

The rights have reverted back to me, and I’m hoping to have it back into print–or at least into ebook–in some new edition as soon as possible. I’ll keep you apprised as things go along. For those of you who do already have a copy, congrats! I don’t know what its print run ended up being, but I doubt there are too terribly many out there in the world, and that’s all there will ever be, at least of this edition.

In the meantime, you can still snag a copy of my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and I’ll have some more publishing announcements coming in the next week or so.

Well, 2015 may have been the big year of high-number sequels in long-running franchises, but it bucked recent tradition in one major way: For the first time in a long time, the majority of movie monsters on screen this year were not in multi-million-dollar blockbuster tentpoles (Star Wars notwithstanding), but in modestly-budgeted, honest-to-Godzilla monster movies. So regardless, really, of the ultimate quality of any of those movies, that’s something to be thankful for. When you also factor in that a majority of the monsters on screen this year were also primarily practical effects, it really is downright jaw-dropping.

While most people are probably expecting the titular creature from It Follows to take the crown for 2015–and while there are, admittedly, few more intriguing loglines in recent memory than that movie’s central conceit–ultimately I found the execution of said monster, while frequently chilling, to be too uneven and, yes, maybe too metaphorical for it to take the top spot among movie monsters in a year that’s actually crowded with contenders.

Up until literally the month of December, I really thought The Hallow would walk away with the prize. While the film itself is of mixed quality, its woody/fungal monsters, brought to unsettling life principally via practical effects, would have dominated most any normal Year in Creatures. What I didn’t expect was to find a contender in an unlikely Hollywood epic in November. While the C.H.U.D.-alikes in Mockingjay Part 2 may not have been the most inventive monsters ever to hit cinema screens, their deployment was one of the most effective I have ever seen, full stop. It helps that they’re in easily one of the best movies that I saw in a theatre this year.

Ultimately, though, for all the best intentions and incredible critters in such a ridiculous quantity of movies, there was no real competition for the top honor, not after Krampus hit theatres in early December. While my feelings about the film itself may not have been as unanimous as I had hoped, there’s no denying the sheer quantity and bravura of its creatures. Krampus is a film that could easily have gotten away with having only the titular Christmas demon, along with maybe an evil toy or two. Instead, it crams the screen with monsters, from Demonic Toys-like demonic toys (though director Michael Dougherty claims never to have seen that dubious classic) to dark elves to “Yule goats” to Krampus himself, almost all of them brought to life primarily through puppetry and suit effects. Even the movie’s snowmen–which, spoilers, don’t actually do anything besides appear creepily in the front yard–are almost enough to count as additional monsters.

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Even if there weren’t any other monsters in the mix, though, Krampus himself would probably be enough to steal the show. With enormous, heavy hooves, a hunched back, and more sheer scale than you might imagine, it’s actually the little touches the make Krampus work, from the bells that jingle on the chains he wears to the slipping mask of an old man face that he ultimately displays. While the character may lack the personality of Sam from Trick ‘R Treat–Dougherty’s previous contribution to the horror canon–as a monster he’s hard to resist.

When you get right down to it, though, whatever you think of any of my picks here, the real winner in 2015 is us. We haven’t had a year this crammed full of movie monsters in actual monster movies in a long time, so whatever your particular poison, make sure you enjoy it while it lasts!

As of recently watching The Howling 2: … Your Sister is a Werewolf (also known as The Howling 2: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch, according to IMDb) I am pretty sure I have now seen all six (!) of the original Howling movies, for better or (more likely) worse. Prior to finishing out the set, I would have been fairly confident that none of them could out-batshit Howling 3: The Marsupials, but I’m pretty sure Your Sister is a Werewolf just proved me wrong. Given the fact that it’s helmed by Philippe Mora, who was also responsible for Howling 3, it should come as no surprise that we’re in Best Worst Movie territory here.

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The cast features a paycheck-collecting Sir Christopher Lee versus Sybil Danning as the queen of werewolves, with an attempted leading man turn by Reb Brown, better known to all of us as Big McLargehuge from Space Mutiny, displaying emotions that are constantly inappropriate for every scene that he’s in. Anytime your film’s subtitle is Your Sister is a Werewolf and the movie feels the need to repeat said subtitle half-a-dozen times in the first fifteen minutes, you know that you’re in good hands, and this is definitely the werewolf equivalent of Return to Salem’s Lot. Which is to say that it bears virtually no resemblance to its predecessor, is completely bonkers, and has a little bit of everything. Highlights include:

  • Christopher Lee in New Wave sunglasses.
  • A full-on, mid-transformation werewolf threesome.
  • A werewolf-themed puppet show that the movie constantly cuts back to.
  • A shirtless guy in a ridiculous helmet salvaged from the set of some low-budget Conan the Barbarian knock-off being killed by a dwarf with a flail.
  • Lots of statues, carvings, ossuaries, etc.
  • The one time the movie feels the need to let you know when something is happening
  • A massive BDSM werewolf orgy.
  • Sybil Danning in action figure-ready dominatrix getup, complete with cape, sunglasses, and a ridiculous floppy demon staff that comes to life in the film’s climactic scenes!
  • Loads of werewolves that more closely resemble Sasquatches.
  • The obligatory nightclub scene that the movie also constantly cuts back to, featuring maybe a couple of songs that are recycled over and over again on the soundtrack.
  • And a ridiculous montage of Sybil Danning ripping her top off (NSFW) that plays under the closing credits.

I started 2015 with a modest goal: I wanted to watch more movies that I had never seen before than ones that I had. I think I accomplished that pretty handily. In 2015, I watch 255 movies, 156 of them for the first time. Of those 156, 25 of them were released in 2015. (Yeah, I don’t make it out to the theatres as much as I used to…)

For me, 2015 was a year full of movies that I liked but didn’t love. Since there’s no one twisting my arm to make a ranked Top Ten list this year, I’ll simply say that, of the movies that I saw that were released in 2015, a few of my favorites include: Mockingjay Part 2, Insidious Chapter 3, Crimson Peak, Krampus, and Mad Max: Fury Road. And before you ask, no, I still haven’t seen The Force Awakens, so you’ll have to wait to hear what I think of it. I did catch Hateful Eight just under the wire, watching it on New Year’s Eve in 70mm, but, while the experience was pretty amazing, I’m not yet sure how I felt about the movie. I also saw Bone Tomahawk over the weekend, and it was every bit as good as everyone’s been saying, though it definitely did drama better than it did horror.

There are lots of other likely contenders for a best of the year list that I just haven’t gotten the chance to sit down with yet. In spite of the best efforts of movies like Hellions and Run All Night, the worst movie that I saw that came out in 2015 remains Tremors 5, and I say that as a fan of the franchise, even its later entries.

When you only see 25 movies that came out in a year, you’re bound to miss a lot of good ones. So it probably comes as no surprise that I saw more older movies for the first time that left a big impression on me than I did movies that actually came out this year. A few highlights include: The Guest, The Canal, Nightcrawler, April Fool’s Day, The Taking of Deborah Logan, Resolution, The Warriors, Hide and Seek (2013), Kill, Baby… Kill!, Black Mountain Side, Blood and Black Lace, Night of the Demons, Phantom of the Paradise, Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos, Kiss Me Deadly, and Mockingjay Part 1.

While I didn’t make it out to the theatre very often this year, I did have several superlative theatre-going experiences. Back at the tail-end of January, I attended Panic Fest, where I got to catch a midnight double-feature of WolfCop and The Editor. I’ll be there again this year, on the weekend of February 5. In October, I was a guest at the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, where I caught a bunch of movies, the best of which was probably Black Mountain Side.

On my birthday I attended a mystery horror triple-feature at the Tapcade, where I got to see both Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time, and then in November I saw the Mockingjay double-feature at the Alamo. Finally, just a few nights ago, I watched The Hateful Eight in 70mm, as I already mentioned.

In 2016, I hope to continue the trend of watching more movies that are new-to-me, and fewer re-watches, although going back to classics (or not-so-classics) that I haven’t revisited in a long time is also high on my list. I’m also hoping, though it seems that I say this every year now that I’m a freelancer, to read more books in 2016, so that may cut into my movie watching time. We’ll see…

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