Retrospective: Poltergeist: 40 Years of Suburban Terror By Shawn McKee

Few things can tap into our inner fears like ghost stories. Gothic ambience, supernatural mystery, and fears of the unknown often drive the fascination with the haunted house sub-genre popularized in books and films throughout the ages.

Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House remains a literary landmark of psychological horror finely adapted into The Haunting in 1963 and later a Netflix series directed by Mike Flanagan. The classic film House on Haunted Hill (1959) starred Vincent Price as an eccentric millionaire, offering unsuspecting guests $10,000 to spend the night in his haunted mansion.

George C. Scott left his mark on the genre, starring in the 1980 thriller The Changeling. Stanley Kubrick adapted Stephen King’s The Shining into one of the most influential horror films of all time with his epic take on the modern ghost story. We’ve witnessed the mediocre fare of The Amityville Horror series, the found footage phenomenon of Paranormal Activity, Japanese imports like The Grudge, and a slew of others from the likes of Blumhouse and A24.

There are too many to mention, but one thing is clear, horror sometimes works best when it’s consigned to the familiar surroundings of home. No other film in recent memory captures this localized premise quite like the 1982 horror hit Poltergeist, where one family faces malevolent spirits from beyond.

The film’s opening credits impose over a closeup of an American flag on television with The Star-Spangled Banner playing, followed by white noise. The Freeling family sleeps soundly as their youngest daughter Carol Anne awakens and approaches a flashing television. She then engages in conversation with an unknown entity. After placing her hands on the screen, an apparition bursts from the TV and flows into the wall above her parents’ bed. The room rumbles, shaking the parents awake. They find their daughter unfazed and welcoming their new visitors with the now iconic line, “They’re herrre.”

Five-year-old Heather O’Rourke made movie history with that line. She was perfect for the role as was the entire cast. Since its release, Poltergeist has become a mainstay of our culture. It remains a timeless work, boasting impressive special effects courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and Robert Edlund of Star Wars and Ghostbusters fame.

The movie embodies a uniquely idyllic time and place, centering on an average American family facing an unreal situation. Their plight intensifies after Carol Anne is sucked into parallel dimension, with little hope of getting her back. This frightful spectacle of suspense, drama, and horror was achieved through the combined forces of movie master Steven Spielberg and horror legend Tobe Hooper. Rarely would we ever experience such a film from two artistically opposite spectrums. Their differing sensibilities created a perfect balance of heart and horror amid a movie embroiled in controversy over creative control and the tragic fates that would later follow some key actors involved.

Poltergeist concerns the Freeling family who reside in a quaint California subdivision complex. The father, Steve (Craig T. Nelson), is a realtor who sells homes among the very complex he lives in. His wife Diane (JoBeth Williams) spends her time raising Carol Anne, eight-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and teenage Dana (Dominique Dunne). Their seemingly normal existence is upended upon the presence of an unexplained paranormal phenomenon. TV channels change on their own, glasses spontaneously break, chairs move, and the family dog seems fixated on the wall above the parents’ bed. These strange and subtle occurrences are only the beginning of an increasingly sinister threat determined to wreak havoc on all who occupy the home.

After Carole Anne’s inexplicable disappearance, her parents enlist the aid of an investigative parapsychologist team to provide answers and help recover their daughter. The sympathetic team soon determine that the house is besieged by the presence of a “poltergeist” that must be studied and recorded with video cameras and audio equipment. The stakes are raised, and the true nature of what they’re up against becomes more apparent (and frightening) as the story proceeds. Rescuing Carol Anne is the catalyst for a desperate family pushed to the brink. After bouts of sleepless nights, the father discovers matter-of-factly from his boss (James Karen) that their entire housing development was built on a former cemetery, where they moved the headstones but not the bodies underground.

Poltergeist is the kind of movie dominated by everlasting set pieces. I don’t find the movie “scary” in a traditional sense today, but there were moments as a child, where I was too frightened to watch. The giant oak tree crashing its branches through the children’s second-story bedroom window, the clown doll coming alive, skeletons spilling out of coffins, and the house imploding into another dimension are just a few memorable moments of macabre. And who can forget the hapless researcher tearing his face off in a bout of hallucinatory fervor?

It’s a gripping story, where everything on screen works, including Zelda Rubinstein’s turn as the predominant medium who attempts to “clean” the house once all hell breaks loose. All is not what it seems, and just when we think it’s over, the movie pulls us back in, accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith’s heart-pounding score.

As viewers, we’re invested in the family’s plight because they’re down to earth and relatable. Such traits have always been Spielberg’s strong suit with characters. The movie feels very much like a Spielberg film, which fueled endless debate over who actually directed it. As writer and producer, Spielberg was contractually obligated to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) at the time and unable to direct. He hired Tobe Hooper based on the strength of Hooper’s landmark horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and his first studio film, The Fun House (1981). Hooper, in turn, wanted to emphasize the horror aspects over what was originally a science fiction story, with wondrous results.

During production, A Los Angeles Times article insinuated that Spielberg was the real director of the film based off comments Spielberg made about “taking charge.” This, coupled with marketing Poltergeist as a Spielberg film, further casted doubt on Hooper’s role, but the record has since been made repeatedly clear…mostly. Anyone who knows and admires Hooper’s work (as I do) can clearly see his directorial touches. It is undoubtedly a Tobe Hooper film. Despite it being his most commercially successful work, he never quite recovered from the implications following the film’s release, which has since become Hollywood lore.

Further infamy arose around the murder of actress Dominique Dunne by her ex-boyfriend shortly after the film’s release. Heather O’Rourke then succumbed to a rare form of intestinal septic shock after filming Poltergeist III in 1988. There has been countless speculation of a Poltergeist “curse” due to the use of real skeletons in the film’s climax and its overall exploration of the supernatural. Such notions are common but no less disrespectful to the talents lost and their families.

An entire piece could be written about the television symbolism portrayed throughout Poltergeist, for starters. The film’s endearing relevancy comes down to its realism, intelligence, and innovative take on the supernatural. Such rarity is further distinguished by its status as one of the most notable PG-rated horror films out there. Spielberg and Hooper successfully appealed the MPAA’s initial R rating. It’s a movie that left a huge impact on my childhood that can still be enjoyed and embraced by fans and newcomers alike. Just leave the light on after watching. You can never be too sure.

Paul McCartney at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL on 5/28/22 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

I’ve witnessed greatness on stage many times in the nearly three decades since I first started going to concerts. I’ve seen many early rock and heavy metal bands from “back in the day,” including pioneering acts such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, and even The Rolling Stones. But never before have I managed to catch one of The Beatles, the ones who started it all, and undeniably my earliest memory of rock music going back to when my parents had first introduced me to them so many years ago.

But that finally happened this past Saturday, May 28, when legendary former Beatle himself Paul McCartney took the stage at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL. I was there to witness this much anticipated event with my wife, son, mother-in-law, and extended family and friends of the Rewind It Magazine family. I don’t think a single one of us could issue a word of complaint if we tried.

Opening with the classic Beatles track “Can’t Buy Me Love,” I was instantly transported back to childhood memories of seeing old black and white footage of the fab four bobbing around on stage together. For the next two and a half hours, I found myself so transfixed on that stage, possibly the most lost in music I’ve ever been in my lifetime prior.

The next few songs, “Junior’s Farm,” “Letting Go,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and “Come On To Me” all served as decent enough warm ups that were paving the way to better things, the blues-ly Wings staple “Let Me Roll It” and the Sgt. Peppers-era “Getting Better” being a couple of said things. “Let ‘Em In” followed before McCartney dedicated “My Valentine” to his wife (who was in attendance for the show) and oddly enough featured actors Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman “signing” the lyrics on the video screens.

“Nineteen Hundred Eighty-Five” was up next with some retro lazer light work, while more classics like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” followed. Paul then dug deep with a track from his pre-Beatles Quarrymen days, “In Spite of All the Danger,” as well as “Love Me Do,” each featuring a little history of their original recordings from McCartney.

The semi-newer track “Dance Tonight” was next before McCartney took the stage solo with an acoustic guitar to perform “Blackbird,” another chill-inducing moment. “Here Today” was next up, before McCartney joked about the lack of interest usually reserved for newer music, before appropriately going into a newer track in the form of “New,” featuring the refrain “We can do what we want.”

Another Beatles number, “Lady Madonna,” proceeded before the interesting “Fuh You,” and although the Sgt. Pepper track “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” attempted to bring the psychedelic vibe with it, it was definitely one of the weaker moments of the night. A little backstory on late Beatle George Harrison preceded a ukulele-driven version of “Something” before picking things up again with the goofy but harmless “Obla Di, Obla Da.”

From then on it was nothing but the best, including some Abbey Road (my favorite Beatles album) era classics like “You Never Give Me Your Money” (which McCartney explained he and his current band had never performed live before) and “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” before launching into “Get Back.”

Another Wings track, “Band on the Run,” followed before McCartney took the piano again to serenade the crowd with “Let it Be,” blow everyone away (literally with various pyros and explosions) with the James Bond theme “Live and Let Die,” and invoke the entire stadium to sing along with “Hey Jude,” the unforgettable, massive Beatles anthem from 1968, and close out the first set.

It didn’t take long for McCartney and company to take the stage again for an encore, beginning with “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which he explained Get Back director Peter Jackson had isolated John Lennon’s vocals for specifically for the tour, and fans were therefore given a rare treat. “Birthday” and “Helter Skelter” got the crowd on their feet again, while the epic climax of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” (hands down one of my favorite Beatles medlies) was finally enough to choke up an old dog like myself, as I became overwhelmed with emotion, knowing just what greatness I had just experienced.

As if this wasn’t all enough in itself, a chance encounter on the way out of the stadium found us actually crossing paths with Alter Bridge and Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti (see photo below), who was more than happy to briefly chat with us about the concert we had all just witnessed (among other things). I couldn’t possible write a better ending to an already epic story if I tried.

The Rewind It Magazine crew (from l to r; Jacob Striewski, Shawn McKee, Jesse Striewski, and Brooke Striewski) with Alter Bridge/Creed guitarist Mark Temonti after Paul McCartney’s show last Saturday, May 28 (Photo by Jhennifer McKee).

In Memoriam: Ivan Reitman (1946-2022)

By: Shawn McKee

Each year brings the inevitable loss of another cultural icon. It seems this has been happening a lot lately, especially for those of us who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The recent passing of Ivan Reitman at 75 is another reminder of irreplaceable talent in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Reitman was one of the most reliably talented in his field. As the director, producer, and/or writer of countless seminal classics, his work behind the camera helped define the essence of modern American comedy. His films launched the careers of several comedic legends throughout the ‘80s, while reveling in absurd, wildly original concepts that always delivered.

Reitman’s strength lied in his dedication to offbeat premises and the realism necessary to keep them grounded. His track record wasn’t perfect, but there’s a reason his films remain so beloved today. He respected audiences and sought primarily to entertain. But none of that would have been possible without an adept storytelling methodology and greater understanding of the comedy formula overall.

Reitman was born in the Slovakian town of Komárom in 1946 to parents who were both Holocaust survivors. His family later immigrated to Canada, where Reitman studied music and directed several short films. After years of TV and stage production gigs, his first professional foray into film production began with two films from Canadian horror legend David Cronenberg, Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977).

Soon after, he found early success as producer behind the anarchic comedy hit Animal House (1978), notable for its memorable ensemble cast, including the great John Belushi. Reitman’s directorial debut Meatballs (1979) gave Bill Murray his first starring role as a clownish camp counselor. This was followed by another Reitman-directed comedy hit Stripes (1981), starring Murray and Harold Ramis, who sadly passed away in 2010.

Stripes further set the tone of the anti-establishment comedy prevalent during that time and featured Murray and Ramis as two aimless slackers who join the Army on a whim. Reitman seemed to have a knack for cultivating comic talent in what critics deemed the “slob genre,” mainstreamed by movies like Caddyshack (1980). But nothing could contend with the multi-million dollar cultural phenomenon that followed.

Ghostbusters exploded into cinemas in 1984 and quickly became the highest grossing comedy of its time. The supernatural special effects extravaganza was scripted by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, introducing a group of eccentric scientists who start their own ghost-catching business. Everything about the film has become a mainstay in our culture. The ubiquitous Ray Paker Jr. song and merchandise that followed continue the endearing legacy of a cherished film and its subsequent franchise.

As director, Reitman was primarily responsible for establishing a realistic backdrop to make the story more believable, and thus, more effective. Aykroyd initially envisioned the Ghostbusters battling supernatural entities in space. After several rewrites with Ramis and additional guidance from Reitman, the story was set in its now iconic location in the heart of New York City. Reitman hired effects wizard Richard Edlund and his company to deliver the groundbreaking special effects, including the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s downtown rampage. Reitman knew that for the film to work, everything needed to be convincing. He also expertly merged comedy, suspense, and horror into the proceedings. The results are pure movie magic and a testament to his directorial abilities.

Reitman followed his biggest hit with the moderately successful comedy drama Legal Eagles (1986), starring Robert Redford, Debra Winger, and Daryl Hannah. The idea stemmed from Reitman to emulate the sophisticated legal thrillers of the 1940s. But its impact paled in comparison to his next comedy, Twins (1988), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his first comedic role) and Danny De Vito as two “twins” reunited after being separated at birth. By this period, Reitman displayed a mastery of the form and once again delivered a fantastical premise with heart, suspense, comedy, and broad appeal.

Ghostbusters II (1989) was released during a summer of blockbusters that included Batman, Back to the Future Part II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It held its own and successfully brought back the original cast for more supernatural adventures in NYC. As a child, Ghostbusters II was the first film of the franchise I saw in theaters. It left me enthralled, even rivaling Batman as my favorite movie of the year. Today, the film holds up just as well as the original, despite what the naysayers say. Reitman’s direction remains reliably solid, utilizing the effective chemistry of the film’s key players and equally impressive special effects.

Kindergarten Cop (1990) saw Reitman once again team up with Schwarzenegger to deliver a raucous comedy blockbuster based on an improbable concept turned real. In this case, Schwarzenegger’s hard-edged detective character goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to catch a bad guy. The movie was criticized as being too intense for children, which speaks to Reitman’s knack of fusing several genre elements together. Reitman was still at the top of his game, delivering the comedy hit Dave in 1993, the successful but embarrassing Junior (1994), and his welcomed return to science fiction comedy with Evolution in 2001.

When not directing, he produced dozens of notable films throughout the ‘90s and 2000s. He never stopped working, even producing the latest incarnation of the Ghostbusting franchise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), directed by his son, Jason. For someone beholden to comedy, it’s evident by the sheer quality of his work that he took his profession and work seriously.

The passing of a film director may not have the same impact as an actor, musician, athlete, or noted celebrity. The same could be said for scientists, authors, physicians, or anyone whose grand achievements occur outside of the limelight. We only know what we see. To me, a director’s work represents one piece of their catalog. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but I always look for the stylistic similarities.

I remember seeing the Twins trailer in the coming attractions before The Land Before Time (1988). It showed two newborn babies crying, still in the hands of doctors, with caption across both infants that read, “Danny De Vito” and “Arnold Schwarzenegger.” I was intrigued, especially when Reitman’s name was listed in the credits. I recognized his name from the sleeve of my worn-out VHS copy of Ghostbusters. Today, I remain grateful for his work. He gave us with laughter, excitement, and a love for the memorable characters and situations that will live on for generations to come.

Retrospective: 40 Years of John Carpenter’s Monstrous Masterpiece ‘The Thing’ By Shawn McKee

The makings of a good horror movie can be subjective. Within multiple horror subgenres exists a consensus of “greats ones” or influential classics that made an undeniable cultural impact. When trying to examine my own love of horror films, I’ve found excitement to be a prime motivating factor.

Danger, mystery, and suspense coupled with a dark, brooding atmosphere are perfect elements of any effective horror film. The creative ingenuity displayed in horror from the past hundred years is a remarkable testament to the human spirit. The sheer talent behind and in front of the camera throughout the twentieth century is overwhelming to consider. Today, we’re fortunate enough to witness horror from its infancy in the silent era to the movies of today.

Different things scare different people. Some people don’t like to be scared at all. I’m naturally drawn to the macabre, most likely due to the wealth of ‘80s horror films from my childhood. The 1980s were, after all, when horror was perfected. It’s a known fact. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without the springboard of the preceding decade’s “New Hollywood” movement that saw a new generation of filmmakers shifting control of studio system to a more independent, artistically driven one.

Before such notable times, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) singlehandedly changed the suspense/horror landscape, and studios took notice. The ‘70s gave us The Exorcist (1973), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Jaws (1975), and Halloween (1978), among others. These were serious films that made serious amounts of money, while leaving their mark as cultural milestones.

John Carpenter’s Halloween soon became the most successful independent film of its time. Carpenter followed with a string of hits that included The Fog (1980) and Escape from New York (1981). His next and most ambitious film would later stand as one of the greatest horror films ever made and a movie whose initial failure and unfair critical dismissal soured his career for years to come.

Carpenter was heavily influenced by the films of Howard Hawks, whose prolific, multi-genre career spanned decades. In 1951, Hawks produced a film adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 science-fiction/horror novella Who Goes There? called, The Thing from Another World. This influence can be seen during scenes in Halloween, where black & white clips from the movie are shown on TV. Carpenter was initially reluctant to direct a new version of Campbell’s classic novella after being approached by Universal. But he soon realized the potential of updating the story for modern audiences and put his entire directorial forces behind it.

Much like the original story, John Carpenter’s The Thing takes place on an Antarctic outpost besieged by a shapeshifting alien monster unwisely unearthed from its frozen state by curious scientists. The alien has no known identify or feature. It simply consumes, absorbs, and replicates every living thing around it. Carpenter’s version focuses heavily on atmosphere, utilizing the isolated, secluded backdrop to its fullest. The ominous score by Ennio Morricone is also the first time Carpenter didn’t do the music himself, though he did contribute.

Kurt Russell leads a talented cast of twelve men as no-nonsense helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady, based on meteorologist McReady from the original novella. He’s joined by the great Keith David as Childs and Wilford Brimley as Blair, the chief surgeon. Fear and paranoia overtake the men as they soon realize that the alien has infiltrated their ranks. Anyone of them could be the Thing, and there’s no way of telling. The alien is relentless in its objectives. It also has the added advantage of fully existing within in a single drop of blood.

The Thing’s groundbreaking special effects were dismissed by critics at the time as nothing more than a grotesque spectacle. Carpenter had tapped Rob Bottin, a young, ambitious make-up effects artist known for his work in Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981). It’s said that Bottin spent an entire year creating the shape-shifting effects for The Thing. Such dedication shows, as the results remain some of the best and most horrific creations ever captured on film. Bottin would go on to work Robocop (1987) and Total Recall (1990), among other films before strangely disappearing from movies altogether.

After years of struggling with its initial failure, Carpenter has said that he considered The Thing his personal favorite of all his films. I agree, and I’m grateful that it has received the recognition it deserves. It’s a serious horror film. There’s little to no humor, the threat is real, and the nihilistic ending remains legendary. It’s also a work of art, created by a filmmaker in his prime. If you’re looking for a good horror movie, there’s no better place to start than this 1982 masterpiece.

Special Edition: The History of the Holiday Horror Film By Shawn McKee

Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella A Christmas Carol is as familiar as the holiday itself. As a quintessential story of redemption, it’s hard to imagine a world before Ebenezer Scrooge. Roughly a hundred years later, director Frank Capra delivered a similar redemptive tale with the Jimmy Stewart classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Both stories had elements of darkness within their exploration of humanity, but neither delved into the murder and mayhem of the Christmas slasher films that followed. It was only a matter of time before Santa Clause became a serial killer, which audiences would get their first glimpse of on screen in the brief “And All Through the House” segment in the 1972 film Tales From the Crypt.

The1970s and 80s introduced a decidedly macabre take on the holiday genre. Nonetheless, these films exhibited a certain charm amid their profitable nihilism. It was a special time and place, where young filmmakers thrived in merging horror tropes with the holidays, long before Tim Burton arrived on the scene. One of the earliest examples of this twisted trend began with the aptly titled Black Christmas, a horror film that remains frightening to this day.

Black Christmas (1974)

Director Bob Clark played a pivotal role in launching the slasher genre with this tense, atmospheric film that entirely lives up to its reputation. Initially dismissed by critics, the movie has since gained a deeper appreciation for its artful cinematography, serious themes, and stark horror. Clark helped shape the prototype slasher film with a level of quality not often associated with the genre. There have been two worthless “name only” remakes, largely unrelated to the original plot.

The story involves a group of sorority girls being harassed by an unseen psycho who may or may not be known by them. Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Kier Dullea round out the talented cast, with some other familiar faces in the mix. As the murders continue unabated, we never learn the identity of the killer, which was something rarely, if ever, seen before. Black Christmas heavily inspired John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), which led to the slasher boom of the 80s. Not content with one genre, Bob Clark later went on to direct the cherished holiday classic, A Christmas Story (1983).

Ralphie’s childhood quest for a Red Ryder BB gun is quite different than anything seen in Black Christmas, and it’s a testament to Clark’s versatility. Writer Jean Shepherd’s humorous, semi-fictional accounts of growing up in the 1950s is about as far from a slasher film one could get. Both films, in my opinion, can be appreciated on different levels. Clark cemented two equally enjoyable holiday classics for generations to come.

Olivia Hussey is terrorized in a scene from Black Christmas (1974).

Silent Night, Deadly Night (Part I-V)

The abundance of slasher films throughout the 80s weren’t without controversy. Bloody, elaborate special effects were often removed, following a merciless MPAA crackdown. In short, fans were left with tedious buildups to off-screen kills, amid other frustrations.

These films were seen as an affront to decency by parents and religious leaders alike, and maybe they were right. But nothing angers gore-loving teenagers more than censorship. I can attest to that. One movie, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), earned special derision from critic Roger Ebert, who called the profits from the film “blood money” in his heated review. He may have had a point as well. Horror movies, in general, are driven by profit. Violence sells, especially when it’s holiday themed.

Silent Night, Deadly Night continued the psychological tropes first introduced in Christmas Evil (1980). In both cases, traumatized, disturbed men unleashed their fury on society, dressed as Santa Clause. I’m still amazed that Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered five sequels, rendered unrecognizable by the fifth installment. The first film remains the best one, and the lengths they went to extend the series are a riot.

The initial outing tells the story of Billy Chapman (Robert Brian Wilson), who witnessed his parents’ murder at the hands of a Santa Clause-costumed killer. Chapman’s subsequent attempts at a “normal life” are derailed when he takes a job as a mall Santa and predictably snaps. It’s a straight-forward slasher that contains a certain depth to its portrayal of an orphaned child, doomed to the failures of the system.

The movie was pulled from theaters, following an outrage campaign in response to its commercials portraying an ax-wielding maniac dressed as Santa Clause. Simpler times, indeed. The shameless sequel presents forty minutes of footage from the original film through flashbacks recited by the brother of the original killer.

Ricky Caldwell (Eric Freeman), our demented lead, supposedly remembers everything about his brother’s descent, even though he was an infant at the time. All of this was intentional. Due to the first movie being pulled so quickly from theaters, the producers didn’t think anyone would notice if they “reassembled” the first film into a sequel. In the end, we were given an enjoyably bizarre suburban rampage, containing the brief but immortal “Garbage Day” segment. The movie is trash, but earnestly tries to breathe life into a pointless endeavor.

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out (1989) is an anemic straight-to-video concoction, featuring a girl with psychic powers inexplicably linked to the killer, ala Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988). Back then, plenty of films shamelessly stole from the Brian De Palma’s masterful Stephen King adaptation Carrie (1976). It’s a movie so dull and boring, that it completely earns Ebert’s ire from the first installment.

The best thing that could be said about Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990) is that it tries to be something completely different, even while copying Rosemary’s Baby (1969). It’s a cult movie, directed by the talented Brian Yuzna and starring the legendary Clint Howard. A young, ambitious reporter gets intertwined with a deadly witch cult. There’s plenty of mystery and intrigue that’s as enjoyable as a fourth entry can be. I appreciate their attempts to change things up, even if it has nothing to do with the original. It does take place during Christmas, allowing the cynical holiday tie-in to continue.

They weren’t even trying for consistency by the time Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991) rolled around. This bizarre entry features a deranged toy maker, as promised, portrayed by Mickey Rooney. My explanation of the plot wouldn’t do it justice, but it’s worth seeing out of morbid curiosity. In retrospect, I give it even more credit for shifting away from the source material. It’s the most ridiculous Christmas-themed movie you could see outside of Santa Clause Conquers the Martians (1964). One thing is for certain, Silent Night, Deadly Night films are less disturbing than the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, which still ranks as the most traumatic viewing experience of all time.

Since then, there has been an explosion of sorts of modern Christmas horror films, including a loose Silent Night, Deadly Night remake simply titled Silent Night (2012), as well as Krampus (2015), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), and Red Christmas (2016), among others. Each of these tried to put their own unique spins on the holiday horror genre, and all with varying results. But the above-named earlier films will always remain the go-to’s for anyone searching for true fright during the Christmas season.

Series Review: What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 (FXP)

By: Shawn McKee

The FX series What We Do in the Shadows is top-notch, quality entertainment. No detail is spared, from the sets, costumes, special effects, and makeup, the show retains every theatrical element of the 2014 New Zealand horror comedy film of the same name.

The movie was directed by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame and Taika Waititi, writer/director of the acclaimed Jojo Rabbit (2019), among other films. Their unique, fresh, and often hilarious take on the vampire genre was seamlessly adapted into a television series that just wrapped up its third season. Clement and Waititi are heavily involved in the show’s production and even reprise their roles from the film as sitting members of the esteemed Vampiric Council.

The series continues the trend of portraying centuries-old vampires living together in modern times. Their escapades are captured by a documentary crew in the vein of The Office and other “mockumentary” comedies. This is Spinal Tap (1984) was an early example as was the Albert Brooks satire Real Life (1979). Brooks’s movie is about a documentary filmmaker living with an all-American family to capture their daily lives, but in Shadows, we don’t know who the documentary crew is. Most of the time, we forget they’re even there.

I contend that Shadows is the best comedy show since It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (now approaching its fifteenth season). They both rank, in my twisted opinion, as the finest sitcoms of the past decade. Their sharp, outlandish humor and perfect casting lead to hysterical results. They’re also both property of the FX network, who played their cards right with two gems that continually restore my waning faith in American comedy.

What We Do in the Shadows premiered on television in 2019. At the time, I was a tad confused by the trailers showing a different group of vampires living together in New York. I didn’t know if it was a direct adaptation of the movie or something completely different. A few episodes in, I was sold by its fast-paced humor, deft comedic timing, and high production values.

The show follows four vampire roommates in their gothic Staten Island home, having traveled to the U.S. from Europe decades prior. There’s suave, sex obsessed Laslzo Cravensworth (Matt Berry), his vampire bride Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), bachelor Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), dedicated familiar (now bodyguard) Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén), and energy vampire outcast Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch).

Each character plays a vital part to the overall story. As roommates, the vampires are dysfunctional, aloof, and completely moronic. That, among other traits, is just part of the charm. The undeniable chemistry between the cast propels the show’s offbeat, unique brand of humor and clever writing. Though seemingly episodic in nature, there is an evolving plot that advances with each season. And if the largely brilliant third season showed us anything, it’s that Shadows shows no signs of slowing down.

The premiere of the ten-episode season begins with “The Prisoner,” featuring hopelessly loyal familiar/servant Guillermo locked in his vampire masters’ basement after slaughtering a hoard of vampires who had entrapped Nandor, Nadja, Laszlo, and Colin into attending the prestigious Nouveau Théâtre des Vampires. The entire event was a trap to execute them for murdering other vampires, namely the ancient Baron Afanas from the earlier season. What no one knows is that Guillermo has been inadvertently behind all the vampire deaths thus far. As a descendent of famous vampire killer Abraham Van Helsing, it’s in his blood.

Following the theater massacre, the vampire roommates are unsure what to do with Guillermo. He saved their lives, but he is also a vampire killer by nature. Though Guillermo is caged and presumably prisoner, the gang don’t notice as he slips out of his cage each night to do his chores at night and look after them. He even has time to go to Arby’s during the day. They eventually decide to let him live and “release” him with a promotion to bodyguard. This, of course, follows an ineffective ritual where they engage in a hypnosis ritual to prevent him from harming them.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Vampiric Council deliver a videotaped message, informing Nandor, Nadjga, Laszlo, and Colin that since all the powerful vampires of New York area were killed, they, in fact, will be appointed the head a new council. Nandor and Nadjga immediately square off for the throne as Guillermo schemes in the background.

Guillermo’s intriguing development throughout the series continues unabated. After ten years of service, he remains entirely dedicated to his master, Nandor with hopes of becoming a vampire one day. It’s revealed early on, however, that no familiar ever actually becomes a vampire. But Guillermo’s budding confidence and increasing friction with Nandor provide some of the show’s most genuine depth.

The third seasons contains four brilliant episodes, four good ones, and two that are slightly filler. In one particularly stellar episode, the troupe go on vacation to Atlantic City, where they barely survive due to the cleaning woman throwing out their bags of native dirt needed to sleep. In another, Nandor joins a cult-like wellness center of “formerly fanged” iconoclasts who have rejected vampire lifestyle and wish to become human.

We see the return of the Baron Afanas (what’s left of him anyway), incredibly played by Guillermo del Toro regular Doug Jones. Nadja rises in the council ranks as Nandor grows sullen and depressed by his loneliness and immortality. Laszlo strangely links up with Colin Robinson for many episodes, and we soon find out why. Energy vampires only live for a hundred years, and Colin is nearing his 100th birthday.

The third season begins and ends on a high note. Both episodes are perfect bookends to an engrossing storyline that provides real growth for its characters, despite their farcical environment. Shadows shows that, human or vampire, we all desire purpose. By the finale, Nadja has been invited to join the Supreme Council in London and frets leaving Laszlo, her love, due to his hatred of the old country.

Nandor, meanwhile, embarks on his journey of self-discovery, leaving Guillemro feeling distraught and abandoned. Their shocking all-out brawl is a series highlight, where Nandor, acquiescing to Guillemero, turns to the camera and says, “That little fucker can really move when he wants to.” A lot more happens, including Colin’s death and bizarre rebirth, and we’re left with a litany of questions by the end. The fourth season can’t come soon enough.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Metallica and More at Welcome to Rockville 2021 in Daytona Beach, FL By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

For the first time in its ten-year history, the massive Welcome to Rockville music festival came to the International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL for four straight days and nights from November 11-14. And with press credentials extremely limited for the event, it did not look likely that Rewind It Magazine would be able to make it. But as luck would have it, our very own photographer Brooke Striewski managed to pull off winning four day passes from local rock station WJRR.

Each night featured an array of different bands on the stage (and to anyone that was able to make it all four days and survive, I applaud you), and having just acquired wristbands the day of the first show and having numerous prior engagements, there was no way we would be able to make much more than the headlining acts. But photo passes be damned, we were still determined to get in as much as possible, and see as many friends of the extended family also attending as possible (including Mike Jones, Josh Kelly, and Rewind It Magazine contributor Shawn McKee).

Although I’m ninety-nine percent sure the first band we saw onstage upon entering that first night on Thursday, November 11 was indeed Brass Against, we did not witness the now-infamous “peeing” incident from lead singer Sophia Urista (shame, I know). Our first “real” introduction to the music was via A Day to Remember, a band I first saw back in 2011. Can’t say I was ever a huge fan of theirs, but songs like “Mind Reader,” “Resentment,” “All Signs Point to Lauderdale,” “Brick Wall,” and “All I Want” were all decent enough live numbers.

From there it was on to catch hip hop icons Cypress Hill, who just about any middle/high school misfit in the ’90s will remember as the go-to stoner group. Along with Public Enemy’s DJ Lord in tow, the group actually started off somewhat promising with tracks like “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That,” “When the Shit Goes Down,” “A to the K,” and “Hand on the Pump.” But as soon as they did “Pigs” and started preaching their hypocritical anti-law enforcement rhetoric from their oh-so protected stage (From what again? That’s right, law enforcement!), they began to lose us. More stunning achievements in songwriting followed, such as “Bilingual,” “I Wanna Get High” (where a nearby fan became falsely excited, mistaking it for another, similar sounding song), “Dr. Greenthumb,” and “Hits From the Bong.” By the time they reached their biggest hit “Insane in the Brain,” we were already making our way over to the main act of the night.

Slipknot are one of those rare exception, nu metal acts that I can actually tolerate. and having previously photographed frontman Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root on stage with Stone Sour for another magazine at Earthday Birthday back in 2013, I was actually intrigued to finally see them behind their “other” faces. They were also our fifteen year old son’s favorite act of the entire festival, so to be able to watch them alongside him was no doubt a special moment for me. They definitely did not disappoint, coming out strong with somewhat newer track “Unsainted” before finally launching into the likes of “Before I Forget,” “The Heretic Anthem,” “Psychosocial,” “The Chapeltown Rag,” “Wait and Bleed,” “Vermilion,” “All Out Lie,” and “Duality.” At some point during the night, Taylor also took a minute to address the recent tragedy at Astroworld, forging a moment of honest solidarity between band and audience.

Slipknot headlining the first night of Welcome to Rockville on Thursday, November 11, 2021.

Night two was definitely a step up, and one to remember. By the time our crew arrived this time around, Chevelle (another band I once photographed at EDBD, but in 2012) were mid-way through their set. Although more up my son’s alley once again, hearing tracks like “The Clincher,” “Send the Pain Below,” and “The Red” took me back to another, more simple time.

Social Distortion has been a band on my list for some time now, and although I’ve had close calls of seeing them in the past, I was finally able to catch them this past Friday night. Tracks like The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” “Ready For Love,” “California (Hustle and Flow),” “Far Side of Nowhere,” “Lude Boy,” “She’s a Knockout,” “The Way Things Were,” “Story of my Life,” “I Was Wrong,” “Ball and Chain,” “Don’t Drag Me Down,” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” were all powerful in a live setting (although I would have liked to have heard just a little more older stuff, like maybe “Mommy’s Little Monster” at the very least). The laid back demeanor of founder and lone original member, frontman Mike Ness (now joined by former U.S. Bombs/Youth Brigade guitarist Johnny Wickersham in place of the late Dennis Danell since 2000) was a stark contrast to Cypress Hill’s set the previous night around the same time frame, and just echoed an overall coolness.

Former White Zombie frontman Rob Zombie was up next, and like Slipknot, was playing his final show of 2021. Although there’s still plenty of visuals to behold throughout his shows via videos of everything from clips of his films, to half naked go go dancers, I remembered not being all that impressed the last time I caught him live in 2006, either. Now joined by not one, but two former members of Marilyn Manson (guitarist John 5 and drummer Ginger Fish), Zombie and his crew made plenty of noise with tracks like “The Triumph of King Freak (A Crypt of Preservation and Superstition),” “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown,” “Superbeast,” “Living dead Girl,” “The Eternal Struggles of The Howling Man,” “Well, Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO,” “More Human Than Human,” “House of 1000 Corpses,” and “Thunder Kiss ’65.” A quick solo from John 5 followed before closing things out with “Dragula,” but overall, it was not much more than simply a pretty “meh” performance.

And finally, after waiting forty years (the age of both myself, and the band themselves), I was able to come full circle and complete seeing the last missing piece of the “Big Four” of thrash metal that also includes Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer. It was truly surreal to hear Metallica tear through “Whiplash” off of 1983’s Kill ’em All album, before going into “Ride the Lightning” from the album of the same name. More classics new and old followed, including “Harvester of Sorrow,” “Cyanide,” “The Memory Remains,” “One,” “Frantic” (yes, from 2003’s St. Anger album, which lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield even poked a bit of fun at), and “Moth Into Flame.” More classics like “No Leaf Clover,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Fade to Black,” “Master of Puppets,” “Fight Fire with Fire,” “Fuel,” and “Seek and Destroy” followed. But I also noted how, curiously, nothing from The Black Album was performed, and I would indeed find out why soon enough (stay tuned). Although packed in like sardines in one of the largest crowds any of us have ever been in, it was truly an unforgettable experience to have together.

Having already seen the majority of bands on Saturday night’s roster – including The Offspring, Staind, Lamb of God, and Gwar – and having previously committed to the third annual Stogies and Spirits event at Henry’s Depot in Sanford, FL (where we watched local cover act Skin Deep perform instead) we wisely took a night off from Rockville and waited until Sunday to return, which was a gamble that paid off perfectly. Upon arrival on Sunday afternoon, the weather had cooled down considerably, and the all-female trio The Warning were well into their set. Not only were some pretty faces a welcomed addition after staring at nothing but dudes for days now, the girls actually rocked pretty damn hard, too…

…Yet not as hard as the mighty Anthrax. The last time I saw them back in 2010 (where I photographed them at Hard Rock Live along with Megadeth and Slayer), they were full of energy, and absolutely tore up the stage. And despite a member change since (Shadows Fall guitarist Jonathan Donais has since taken over for Volbeat’s Rob Caggiano), the band still had it. Staple tracks like “Among the Living,” “Got the Time,” “Caught in a Mosh,” “Madhouse,” “Finale,” “I am the Law,” “Anti-Social,” and “Indians” still all sounded crushing live, making Anthrax easily one of my favorite bands of not only the night, but the entire weekend as well.

Former Escape the Fate frontman Ronnie Radke’s band Falling in Reverse were next up. Although another of the many bands I photographed at the three consecutive Earthday Birthdays I covered (I believe it was 2012 this time around), the appeal has definitely worn off for me, and is once again something more appreciated by my teenager. Still, it was interesting hearing “The Drug in Me is You” again alongside newer tracks like “Believe in Me,” “Drugs,” “Just Like You,” and “Popular Monster.”

Mastodon were up next, and admittedly, we only caught a glimpse of their set due to it being time to find some grub. But we filled our bellies just in time to catch a reunited Mudvayne, who, despite their laughable costumes and makeup, did not cause anyone to lose said dinner. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Mudvayne, or vocalist Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett’s other band HellYeah, who once again I photographed at – you guessed it – Earthday Birthday! The only songs I even recognized in their set were the early 2000’s hits “Not Falling” and “World So Cold,” and after listening to Gray struggle to hit the right notes (to be fair, I understand he may have recently recovered from a case of Covid), we began making our way to the next stage.

Legendary southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd have somehow also managed to escape from my radar until now, but it was totally worth the wait, even with virtually no original member present at the time (sole surviving member Gary Rossington was out due to recent medical issues, leaving long time vocalist/younger brother to late original vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, Johnny, and guitarist Ricky Medlocke, who played briefly with the band in the early ’70s and has been back with them for a good twenty five years now, as close as it gets). Still, this did not stop them from bringing the house down.

Lynyrd Skynyrd performing the final night of Welcome to Rockville on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

Thin Lizzy/former Brother Cane guitarist Damon Johnson took over duties for Rossington with ease and enthusiasm, and the band opened their set admirably enough with “Workin’ For MCA.” More classics like “I Ain’t the One,” “Saturday Night Special,” “That Smell,” “Gimme Back My Bullets,” “The Needle and the Spoon,” “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and “Sweet Home Alabama” followed before ending with an epic, ten-plus minute rendition of “Free Bird” (all these years of hearing it yelled at concerts, and we finally heard it live). Skynyrd’s set was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the night, and the entire weekend.

Things could have easily ended there and been just fine. But instead, Metallica had to play a second show of the weekend, and it was immediately apparent the energy of Friday night’s show just wasn’t quite there this time (from both band and audience), and opening with the semi-newer track in the form of “Hardwired” was a clue of what was to come. Things did actually pick up briefly though, as the guys dove through a couple of classics (and two personal favorites of mine) “The Four Horsemen” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).”

But then, the unexpected happened; they started playing The Black Album (remember what I had said about Friday night’s set?), and to top it off, backwards. That’s right, the most boring album in Metallica’s “classic” era catalog, was played from “The Struggle Within,” all the way to “Enter Sandman.” I get that it’s a milestone for the band and recently just turned thirty years old, but I could have easily lived without hearing every moment from it (and judging by the crowd’s reaction, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way). The Black Album was actually the first Metallica album I ever owned, and it did little to nothing to win me over as a fan; it took going back to their earlier efforts to finally win me over.

Although the band did briefly redeem themselves afterwards by ending with “Damage Inc.” and “Creeping Death,” it still did not measure up by any means to their Friday night set. But I think it’s safe to say that all those who attended and lived through the incredible, exhausting experience that was Welcome to Rockville 2021 will surely have many a story to tell for a long, long time.

Film Review: Last Night in Soho (Universal Pictures)

By: Shawn McKee

Last Night in Soho is one of the most visually impressive films I’ve seen in a while. Its vibrant cinematography, sweeping camera movements, and gorgeous colors effectively recreate London during the Swinging Sixties. Though set in present day, the movie shifts back to a different time and place through multiple dreamlike segments, while presenting the mysterious and tragic downfall of an ambitious singer caught up in the glitz and glamour of a bygone era.

We don’t see movies like this too often, an entirely original concept with a large budget and backing of a major studio (Universal). It’s not related to any franchise or pre-existing property. As a psychological horror film, it’s also not associated with the Blumhouse “horror” assembly line or A24 cerebral art house fare. The story was conceived by British writer/director Edgar Wright. And how much you enjoy his film is based on how willing you are to get immersed in its world.

Like any worthwhile art, Last Night in Soho is inundated with symbolism. There’s a lot going on in every scene. On the surface, the serpentine story unfolds as a full-length Twilight Zone episode. It’s unlike anything Wright has ever done before, and if you know his versatile body of work, you can appreciate how far he’s come.

Wright is known for the comedy horror film Shaun of the Dead and its equally farcical action counterpart Hot Fuzz, featuring the dream team of British comic actors, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Both films are notable for their striking wit, over-the-top violence, and fast-paced editing, for starters. Wright then went on to make the superbly crafted and hilarious Scott Pilgrim vs. the World based on the comic series of the same name. His unique brand of fast-paced British humor was established early on with the TV sitcom Spaced, also starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

For movie lovers and film buffs alike, Wright remains the gift that keeps on giving. Even with a misfire such a Baby Driver, in my opinion, his artistic talent is clear. His films can also be bombastic and tend to go haywire in the third act. I was expecting as much in Soho. I can’t say that it doesn’t fall into the same trap, but what I witnessed overall was any cinephile’s dream. The abundance of clever camera shots that masterfully blend its real world and dream world segments together must be seen to be believed.

In a time of unending corporate factory filmmaking, Soho stands on its own. The characters are appealing, the suspense is brooding, and the payoff is well earned. It’s an unlikely film from an unlikely director, made with the careful precision as love letter to 1960’s cinema and music. The soundtrack thunders along with songs of the era and even more recent songs reimagined as sixties tracks. But Wright also doesn’t shy away from reality as he demystifies nostalgia to present a nightmarish underbelly that existed during that time. Through it all, the movie is a tour de force of sight and sound with excellent performances of its two female leads.

The plot involves an aspiring fashion designer named Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie), who gets accepted into the London College of Fashion. After some friction with her inconsiderate dorm roommate, Ellie rents a room from an elderly landlady named Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). The room, however, turns out to be haunted, and Ellie vividly dreams of a mysterious singing beauty from the 1960s named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). The dreams grow more intense as time goes on, and Ellie finds herself engrossed in a murder mystery that she’s unable to separate herself from.

By sheer quality alone, Soho should be destined to become a classic. Its enthralling visuals, carefully selected period music, and topnotch storytelling form an exciting two-hour tale of macabre. It might just be one of Wright’s best films. There were some moments that tested my patience, but the abundance of imagination on display won me over. I walked into the movie knowing nothing about it beyond being an Edgar Wright film. The gamble paid off, and I was pleasantly surprised. Movies like this breathe life back into cinema, making that trip to the theater well worth it in the end.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series Review: Creepshow Season 3 (Warner Bros./Shudder)

By: Shawn McKee

In 1982, horror legends George A. Romero and Stephen King collaborated on the seminal comic horror anthology film, Creepshow. This masterpiece of macabre was Pittsburgh native Romero’s first and most successful foray into studio filmmaking. Warner Bros released his horror classic to respectable financial and critical success. It remains, in my opinion, a resounding display of Romero’s sheer talent as a director and visual artist. And for the record, everything here is just my opinion, especially when discussing the new TV series.

I was both excited and skeptical when horror streaming service Shudder premiered their Creepshow series in September 2019. It appeared to have the right elements, having two names heavily associated with the genre. This included John Harrison, composer of the original film and director of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), and Greg Nicotero. Nicotero is the incredibly prolific special effects protégé of Tom Savini, and best known for his work on The Walking Dead. Chances are, if you’ve seen a movie made in the past thirty years, Nicotero worked on it.

His career in groundbreaking effects began with Day of the Dead (1985), my personal favorite Romero zombie apocalypse entry. He then worked on Creepshow 2 (1987), Evil Dead II (1987), and Misery (1990), where you can thank him for the “hobbling” sledgehammer scene. He’s done effects for Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, and scores of other major directors. He co-founded the special effects studio KNB EFX Group, which raised the bar with their work on The Walking Dead, creating unbridled gore unlike anything ever seen on television. Nicotero and Harrison both wrote and directed a handful of Creepshow episodes throughout its current three season run. As executive producer, the show seems to be mainly in Nicotero’s hands, in addition to his Walking Dead duties. This isn’t a man who slows down.

The third season has its share of hits and misses like any anthology show. It even recalls the uneven but sometimes rewarding Masters of Horror series from Showtime, which gave us hour-long segments from John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, and John Landis, among others. My first rule in providing analysis of these recent horror outings is to first appreciate that they’re there. The fact that there’s a Creepshow series that earnestly tries to emulate the look and feel of the movie and old horror comics that inspired it is a win for me. I’m happy enough that a major network like AMC chose to invest the talent and resources into this show via Shudder. Such acknowledgments aside, how does the third season measure up? It’s quite like the previous seasons; some good, some bad, and an overall worthy endeavor for any fan of the genre.

For starters, the show has an excellent opening and theme song. I also applaud their decision to maintain “The Creep’s” non-verbal cues. The now enhanced, hooded floating skeleton chuckles between segments, much like the original film. The music throughout the series remains rooted in John Harrison’s original style, which is also a plus. The comic to film transitions can be subtle, heavy-handed, and weak at times, but they try. The poorer episodes generally fail because of lackluster acting and writing. Nothing about the series looks cheap, however, and it’s clear that there’s a budget behind this. Unfortunately, certain episodes sometimes resort to appalling CGI effects that nearly sink the production. The third season’s six episode run felt like a mixed bag, but I watched each time, hoping for it to get better.

The season premiered with the “Mums,” a story that tries to emulate the simple revenge/comeuppance troupe of Creepshow lore. A kid’s mother is murdered by her backwoods beer-guzzling militia caricature of a husband for being too “free-spirited.” Buried in the ground, the mother returns as a killer plant and exacts her revenge. There was nothing else to this hokey melodrama, and it started out the season on all the wrong notes. In “Queen Bee,” a trio of teens venture to a spooky, dimly lit, off-limits hospital to spy on a pop singing superstar who’s about to give birth. There’s some great atmosphere and nice effects in an otherwise unremarkable outing.

The second episode features “Skeletons in the Closet,” directed by Greg Nicotero. This one involves a film buff couple who run their own movie museum, displaying old horror movie props and collectors’ items. I can see why Nicotero would be attracted to this story, and it speaks to the fandom in us all. But like many episodes, it meanders and ultimately doesn’t go anywhere satisfying. “Familiar” involves an aspiring lawyer who realizes that a demon is following him after a drunken visit to a fortune teller one night. This borrows from and pays homage to “The Crate” segment from Creepshow to mixed results. The acting is hard to get past in this one.

“The Last Tsuburaya” features an obnoxious trust fund millionaire who collects expensive art for his own amusement. With a character so rotten, I was surprised to find much better acting than usual. Brandon Quinn delivers quite well in an episode with astounding practical effects, involving an immortal demon who exists in one of the priceless paintings acquired by Quinn. The following segment, “Okay, I’ll Bite,” was directed by John Harrison, paying homage to Creepshow’s cockroach segment, “They’re Creeping Up on You!” but with spiders. It involves a sympathetic convict’s struggles in prison, amid his pet spiders. There’s a lot of meandering again to an unsatisfying conclusion in one of the most forgettable episodes of the season.

Our fourth episode begins with “Stranger Sings,” about a gynecologist lured into the home of a deadly siren who wants him to remove her vocal cords and transplant them into her friend. Great practical effects mired by an incredibly unappealing story and weak acting. The ambitious “Meter Reader” follows, displaying an apocalyptic hellscape in the not-to-distant-future. There’s a lot to like about this segment, involving a deadly plague and eerie social commentary. The only misfire was the obnoxious lead character “strong woman” prototype.

“Time Out” is a Twilight Zone-type tale about a magic armoire that pauses time. Passed down through generations, the armoire winds up with an eager law school grad who soon uses it to his advantage. This episode ranks as one of the series’ most imaginative ideas, and the execution isn’t bad. A gory animated segment follows with “The Things in Oakwood’s Past,” co-written and directed by Nicotero. The voice acting is top notch, featuring Mark Hamil and scream-queen Danille Harris. Overall, an inventive and enthralling outing with strange animation that makes you want to see it in live action.

The finale episode is the strongest of the entire season. “Drug Traffic” is an absolute horror show, featuring a monstrous girl apprehended at the U.S./Canadian border, followed by “A Dead Girl Named Sue.” This final back-and-white segment exists in the Night of the Living Dead universe from the original movie, and it’s pure magic. Nicotero directed the first episode, and Harrison directed the second. Both show the full potential of greatness of the Creepshow series when it’s firing on all cylinders. With all its hits and misses, I regularly enjoy watching the show each week. I hope they keep it going for years to come.

Retrospective: 30 Years Since we saw ‘Ernest Scared Stupid’ By Shawn McKee

For most of us who grew up with him, Jim Varney was Ernest P. Worrell. He embodied the goofy, oblivious, and patently good-natured everyman whose antics were ripe for a barrage of movies throughout the eighties and nineties. Ernest resonated predominantly with children during his heyday but was just as popular with adults taken with his abrasive harassing of unseen counterpart “Vern” in dozens of commercials leading up to his movie success. “KnowWhutImean, Vern?” was a catchphrase for the ages.

It was hard to imagine that Ernest was just one character of many from a versatile impressionist. Varney had a long, established career in stand-up comedy, television, and commercials long before his breakout character. He found fame as Ernest after staring in several commercials for the Nashville-based Carden and Cherry advertising agency. Executive vice president of the company, John R. Cherry III, helped conceive the character and would later direct the surprise hit Ernest Goes to Camp in 1987 and every Ernest film to follow. Disney’s Touchstone Pictures produced and distributed four theatrically released Ernest films, ending with the 1991 Halloween-themed extravaganza Ernest Scared Stupid.

Ernest’s latest adventure begins with a clever montage of black-and-white horror/science-fiction movies, effectively setting the tone. Our hero sneaks around the darkness, reacting to clips from Nosferatu (1922), White Zombie (1932), and several other chiller classics as the opening credits roll. We’re then given some elaborate backstory about a 19th century killer troll vanquished by the townspeople, with Ernest’s own ancestor among them. The captured troll places a curse on the Worrell village elder, promising that his lineage will grow dumber with each new generation. Fast forward to the present, we find Ernest working in sanitation, not far removed from his job as a janitor in earlier films. We also learn that he lives in the same 19th century town that had sealed the captured troll under an oak tree.

Through inadvertent stupidity, Ernest releases the troll, while innocently helping some kids who built a treehouse upon its tomb. Once released, the troll captures children by turning them into wooden dolls and feasting on their energy, which is creepy enough. There’s also a wild performance by Eartha Kitt, singer of the classic song “Santa Baby,” playing Francis “Old Lady” Hackmore, replete with dark, low angled shots throughout her lair. Bill Byrge, one half of the hilarious Chuck and Bobby duo, returns once more as the silent Bobby. His brother Chuck (Gail Sartain), who Bobby had been paired with since the Hey Vern, It’s Ernest! days, is absent this go-round, replaced in this entry by his “cousin,” Tom (John Cadenhead).

Scared Stupid stands out easily as the most bizarre Ernest outing, and as a Halloween movie, it works. The trolls soon multiply and attack the entire town, but not before a scene between Ernest and lead troll, Trantor, where Trantor beats the complete crap out of Ernest during a school Halloween party. Ernest took a lot of abuse in his movies, starting with the beatdown he received in Ernest Goes to Camp by a burly, sociopathic construction worker he had the misfortune of provoking.

On the set of Ernest Scared Stupid. L to R; Actors Bill Byrge, Eartha Kitt, John Cadenhead, and Jim Varney.

After his umpteenth savage beating, Ernest soon discovers that milk destroys the trolls. This scene, of course, follows a humorous segment of Ernest’s misreading of milk as “miak” in ancient scrolls and proudly displaying a jar of seasonal Bulgarian “miak” to a ward off the head troll. A dizzying, climatic spectacle preludes Ernest’s eventual defeat of the troll army as he saves the day and brings peace to the cursed town.

Perhaps the most eerie thing about the film is that all the children turned into wooden dolls by the trolls are presumed dead until the very end. Even Ernest’s beloved Rimshot (the feisty, lovable terrier seen both in this movie and Ernest Goes to Jail) falls prey to the ensuing troll rampage, only to be brought back to life in the end. And by the end, we’ve seen enough trolls and goo for a nice, long shower.

Scared Stupid rivaled the ambition of Ernest Goes to Jail, where Varney played multiple roles, including murderous convict and Ernest look-alike, Felix Nash. This latest Ernest movie would contain the most elaborate special effects and makeup of any of his previous films. It would also be the last of the Disney-back theatrically released films before Ernest went straight-to-video. Varney pumped out five additional Ernest films before tragically dying of lung cancer in 2000.

The Scared Stupid commercials back then ran nonstop, with Ernest taunting an evil troll, moments before backing over him in a pickup truck and saying, “How about a bumper sandwich, booger lips?” Were these movies dumb? Sure. Were they reviled by critics from the start? Absolutely. But something lost on any “serious moviegoer” back then was the sheer amount of fun Ernest films offered impressionable youths. It may have been just another holiday cash-grab, following Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), but it was also the closest we would get to seeing Ernest in a semi-horror film. In a time where culture is so seriously grim, we could all use a little Ernest P. Worrell to lighten the mood.