The Faux Phantom Haunts on

Hey, followers! I want to thank you all for following this blog for the past few months as I did my best to provide you with quality movie reviews, quality game reviews, and assorted musings. As my semester here at university draws to a close, I look forward to being able to providing more content more regularly, so stay tuned! I will hopefully be breaking into board games, art, and music as the days go by, and judging by my most successful posts so far, there will be plenty more Netflix Horror Finds, 

How the TV Traumatized Me

As a horror fan, you just have to have a strong stomach. Really. If you had to turn away from the screen every four seconds, well, then how would you enjoy the story between all the bloodshed? And, yes, there are horror flicks with actual narratives. Somewhere.  In any case, I can usually get through a film without cringing these days (provided nothing completely grotesque happens). But, you know, looking back on my childhood, I was a total scaredy cat growing up. Everything frightened me, from Halloween masks to insects to some of the weirder lullabies on this CD my parents thought it was a good idea to buy me.

And what’s funny is that as much fondness I have for the horror genre today, the television and movie screen was a huge source for some of my most frightening memories as a kid. Do you remember that commercial for the board game Perfection? The one with the wacky guy in the yellow shirt singing that weird jingle? Apparently, if you moved too slowly, the game pieces literally burst out of your chest like something out of Alien. I was rightfully traumatized and even avoided the board game aisle in toy stores.

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If his hair doesn’t keep you awake at night, the board game pieces eating his innards will.

But also because of that scene in Jumanji where the kid gets sucked into the board.

There were a lot of movies that freaked me out growing up. There was Toy Story, a heartwarming tale about friendship. Featuring a baby doll head with spider legs. Now, my cousin collected porcelain dolls. And Barbie dolls. And Cabbage Patch kids. And you never knew when one might sprout tentacles and try to eat you.

There was also everyone’s favorite: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Forget kids being subject to horrible forms of torture for misbehaving. What about that scene with the candy boat? And the flashing lights? And footage of a chicken being killed?

But I understand these scenes unnerved a lot of kids. But, look, people, I was also afraid of the character Diesel from Thomas & Friends. I don’t know why. But every time he came on the screen, I ran screaming from the room. And continued to watch the show despite it.

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This is what evil looks like.

But enough about my dysfunction. What “not so scary now” things scared you growing up? What movie villains kept you awake at night? Let me know about your personal nightmare fuel in the comments. Maybe we’ll all feel better about ourselves.

 

Back in 1992, there was a video game called Night Trap. And this ridiculous story about a group of teenage girls being stalked by a vampire-like creatures in ninja costumes was almost single-handedly responsible for the creation of the rating system. Politicians cried the game glorified violence against women (when in reality, your object was to protect them.) Even if some of them were running about in *gasp* nighties. If you’ve never gotten to play this campy horror gem, some clever people have strung all the scenes together into an actual movie. Check it out!

Suspiria (1977) review

Check out this review of what may be my favorite horror flick of all time, Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece Suspiria. I couldn’t have said any of this better myself. You really do have to view the film as a surreal sort of art piece, from the set design to the musical score. (Those walls really are breathtaking, eh?) Of course, some viewers may be put off by the poor acting, dubbed voices, and odd, almost nonsensical plot, but even if the scares haven’t necessarily aged well, I urge everyone to give this movie a watch. Even the notoriously exploitative horror genre has room for beauty…as macabre as that beauty may be. And at the end of the day, I guarantee you’ll never have seen anything like Suspiria. And you never will again.

That Was A Bit Mental

Suspiria posterDirector: Dario Argento

Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Barbara Magnolfi, Miguale Bose

“We must get rid of that bitch of an American girl. Vanish! She must vanish! Make her disappear! Understand? Vanish, she must vanish. She must die! Die! Die! Helena, give me power. Sickness! Sickness! Away with her! Away with trouble. Death, death, death!” (Madame Blanc, Suspiria)

I firmly believe that you can take any random single frame from Suspiria’s entire 98-minute runtime and hang it on your wall as a piece of art.

It’s easily one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, and one of my favourite horror films without a shadow of a doubt, because it’s just so artistically and stylistically breathtaking.

The film follows Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper, who had previously starred in Phantom Of The Paradise), an American dance student who’s travelled to a prestigious ballet school in…

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Video Game Review: Clock Tower

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The mysterious serial killer known as the Scissorman makes his return to stalk the player in this little horror gem.

Snip. Snip. Snip. It’s a sound I’ve learned to dread. You’re moving down a dark hallway, and then suddenly, you hear it—echoing somewhere in the distance, bouncing off the walls, getting closer and closer with each second you waste. And all you can do is hide, hide and wait until the threat is gone. And even then, who’s to say you won’t be found? That’s the beauty of a video game like Human Entertainment’s classic horror gem Clock Tower. It’s a battle of cat and mouse, and no matter how skilled you may think you are, you never really feel safe.

The story tells of a young woman named Jennifer Simpson, one of two apparent survivors of a serial killer known as the Scissorman—who, in a cheap Halloween mask, stalked innocents across the Norwegian countryside with a giant pair of scissor blades. Our teenage heroine has been adopted by Helen Maxwell, assistant to renowned psychiatrist Samuel Barton, who specializes in criminal psychology. And while the doctor is just beginning to make progress unlocking Jennifer’s memories of her trauma, the murders begin again. As the bodies pile up, who will evade the returned Scissorman’s iconic (albeit silly) weapon, and who will find themselves victims of his wrath?

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The Scissorman as he appears in the game. Note the memorable but ridiculous weapon.

Now, Clock Tower’s story certainly remains a unique one, and if you’re looking for nonstop gun-slinging action, perhaps this game isn’t for you. But the slasher genre is one woefully lacking in the world of video games. As many titles as we have featuring zombies, monsters, or ghosts, there are really no noteworthy mainstream games in which you play victim to a murderous lunatic.  Of course, independent titles and movie tie-in have tackled this sort of plot, and the upcoming Until Dawn by Supermassive Games looks promising. But I maintain that Clock Tower did it best.

In essence, it really is a playable giallo. For those of you unfamiliar with the Italian crime genre, giallo refers to thriller films generally involving everyday investigators pitting themselves against a relentless serial murderer. The common elements are all there (European setting, an unknown killer, a jaw dropping revelation at the end, etc.). But Clock Tower also delves into some supernatural themes involving demons, cults, and the like as it progresses.

All the same, as unique a plot as it has, it’s not necessarily entirely coherent. There are some logical gaps (everyone hops on a plane to England to visit a random castle that hasn’t been mentioned before). Moreover, the game is a sequel to a title that was not released in the United States (in Japan, Clock Tower is Clock Tower 2). And while the story does stand alone, the former game does help fill in some of the gaps. All the same, Clock Tower has the right combination of comedy and genuine terror to keep you interested. But enough about the plot. Let’s discuss gameplay.

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Helen uses an environmental hazard to fight back.You can see how the graphics have aged.

The game has four playable protagonists: Jennifer, Helen, a reporter named Nolan, and a detective named Gotts. Your decisions determine who you will control each play-through, and in the prologue, you even get to play as Dr. Barton for a bit.

Essentially, the game is divided into separate levels, typically consisting of your character getting trapped somewhere and having to escape with Scissorman on his or her tail. And between these scenarios are investigation periods, during which you visit various locations throughout Oslo to gather information on the killer’s identity. These segments can unfortunately prove tedious thanks to long scenes of dialogue which you can’t skip. All the same, the levels themselves make it worth it.

You can’t fight Scissorman; there are no weapons. All you can do is run. Multiple hiding places wait throughout the level, and you must use them to evade your pursuer until he has given up the chase. For now.

And this what keeps Clock Tower unnerving. I remember one particular instance in which I pulled open a box in an effort to climb inside and conceal myself. And the killer was already there waiting to surprise me. The encounters are random, and you can only use each hiding place once. So you’d best figure out a way to escape before you’ve gotten through them all.

Still, as scary as the game is, it’s undeniably dated. You receive a threatening fax at one point. Furthermore, the graphics have not aged well, the voice acting is as bad as you’d expect it to be in the 1990s, and the controls are somewhat clunky. You maneuver your character using an onstage cursor controlled by the arrow pad, almost like in a PC game.

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Jennifer encounters the crazed lunatic she thought she defeated in the series’ first game, unreleased in the United States.

All the same, I keep revisiting Clock Tower. It has a rare magic that I haven’t encountered in any modern title. Perhaps it’s the fact that there are so many endings, depending entirely on your choices throughout the game. Perhaps it’s the fact that you never know when Scissorman will pop up. Or maybe it’s because every character that dies can be saved. (I’ve done play-throughs where I’ve saved everyone and play-throughs where I’ve saved no one).

Clock Tower’s replay value is huge, and despite some uneven difficulty and strange plot threads, the adventure is worth it. Now, bear in mind, you will get frustrated. To get the best ending, you must find a hidden, seemingly irrelevant item in the first level, hang onto it until the last level, and use it with no prompting. Things like this happen a few times (and whether your primary heroine is Jennifer or Helen depends solely on how many times you speak to a random side character in a hallway near the game’s start). So perhaps the title expects too much of its players, or maybe we’ve just been spoiled by degrading difficulty levels.

I don’t know. But I do know that Clock Tower has a unique charm. It’s a horror film made interactive. And despite its shortcomings and its age, it manages to be genuinely scary. So if you ever feel like taking a break from playing a super soldier, maybe give this title a whirl and play a regular old Average Joe.

The characters are physically weak. They vomit at the sight of blood. They flee in terror when danger nears. And maybe it’s this realism of vulnerability amid the bizarre that gives Clock Tower a flavor all its own.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

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My Top Ten Final Girls in Horror Film History

All her friends are dead, picked off one by one by a knife-wielding maniac in a tacky Halloween costume. But she keeps on fighting. Whether she’s running through an empty house, an abandoned hospital, or a darkened forest, the “final girl” finds herself alone—the only person left alive to take on whatever bloodthirsty monster is lurking out there in the yonder. She’s not always the main character or the most interesting, no, but she is always set apart from the others. Smarter, braver, nicer, more virginal.

Quite a bit has been written about the gender issues concerning this phenomenon in horror films—particularly as it appears in the slasher genre. Why must the lone survivor be a woman? Is it because the audience is more likely to sympathize with her struggle than with a man’s? Is it because the audience wants to see a girl rewarded for hanging onto her purity? Why does the final girl tend to have a more traditionally masculine name than the other female characters? What can we say about her empowering herself with the killer’s own weapon? Emasculation or what?

Huh. Weird, backward sexism in a genre that exists solely on guts and topless women? Surprise, surprise. Either way, we mustn’t neglect that some of these ladies have really kicked butt too. They’ve earned their place in pop culture history along with Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees themselves.  And my list of the top ten final girls combines the most famous with the most obscure—to give you a little taste of just how far this trope extends.

10. Sally (Marilyn Burns) in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

SallyThis timeless tale of five friends coming face to face with a family of cannibals on the Texas back roads has horrified viewers for decades now. Interestingly, Sally doesn’t see much action until the end of the movie, but her climactic escape scene certainly resonates as one of the best. Diving through a window, she manages to evade the clutches of the men who are holding her captive and to flag down a pickup truck, on which she escapes bloodied and traumatized while Leatherface waves his chainsaw about in frustration. Her daring fight for freedom earns her a place on the list.

9.  Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) in Stage Fright

aliciaThis Italian film tells the story of a group of actors performing a bizarre art-house play about a serial killer called the Night Owl. One of the leading players, Alicia, immediately gets the audience’s support. She needs this job desperately, she has to deal with temperamental co-stars and an insane director, and to top it all off, she’s performing through an ankle injury. It’s no surprise that she’s the one to survive when a real serial killer shows up and starts picking people off. Now, Alicia does spend much of the film’s third act unconscious after tumbling down a ladder, but when she wakes up, she proves that she’s cunning enough to evade the killer right up to the end and even has the good sense to go for a gun when the opportunity presents itself (a great feat in a slasher flick, you know) And while Alicia doesn’t necessarily defeat the murderer on her own, being rescued near the end, she nevertheless earns her spot on this list.

8. Alice (Adrienne King) in Friday the 13th

Alice2Why do people bother going to Camp Crystal Lake? Whether a drowned boy or his mother, someone is always stalking the teenage counselors. This film was filmed right here in Jersey—at a camp I stayed at a few times growing up. And Alice earns her spot on this list for just about being a parody of the final girl trope. When we see the young woman and her co-workers are playing strip Monopoly, everyone is in states of half-dress but her, and just as she is about to disrobe, a wind blows in and messes up the board. Purity saved by the forces of nature themselves. Now, Alice is not necessarily the most clever character on this list (when given the choice between throwing a paint can at the killer and a roll of twine, she opts for the twine.) All the same, she manages to behead the murderer with a machete at the end, and that’s pretty cool.

7. Jennifer (Jennifer Connolly) in Phenomena

JennyThis film is about the daughter of an American movie star who is sent to a boarding school in Switzerland—where someone is picking off the students with a spear. There’s also a chimp that hangs around the local entomologist. And did I mention our heroine has the power to telepathically control insects? This bizarre supernatural slasher flick boasts a relatively famous actress in a relatively obscure role. And while the character of Jennifer makes some questionable decisions (accepting medication that turns out to be poison from someone she suspects is the murderer), her psychic powers help her both get revenge on her bullies and survive to the very end. Fun fact, Jennifer and the chimp did not get along on set even though said chimp saves Jennifer in the film’s finale. That sentence made more sense in my head.

6. Jess (Olivia Hussey) in Black Christmas

JessThis movie is famous for its opening sequence wherein a young woman is suffocated with a plastic bag and left propped in a rocking chair undiscovered for the film’s entirety. But Jess is the one who really holds the plot of this slow, haunting thriller together. And that’s because she’s strikingly more complex than most characters in these types of films. A college student with a somewhat crazed boyfriend, she must cope both with her decision to terminate her pregnancy and with the slasher who’s taken up residence in her sorority house. For defying stereotypes and for her mental and emotional strength turned physical, Jess earns her rightful place on this list. (Even if we’re to assume she’s killed off during the credits and all that).

5. Ginny (Amy Steel) in Friday the 13th: Part 2

GinnyAnother heroine from the Friday the 13th series, huh? In other lists similar to this one, Ginny proves one of the more enduring entries, and it’s because she relies on her wits to come out triumphant in the end. With a background in child psychology, she manages to fool infamous serial killer Jason Voorhees (pre-hockey mask) into thinking she’s his mother by wearing the dead woman’s sweater. And so, for proving brains always win out over brawn, Ginny thus earns her rightful place at the halfway mark of this list. And, hell, Alice is killed off at the start of this movie, so someone had to inherit her mantle.

4. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien

RipleySo this movie doesn’t have a costumed killer picking off teenagers, but for all intents and purposes, Alien is just a slasher flick set in space. The crew of the Nostromo is returning to Earth, and because this is a horror movie (no matter what anyone says), it manages to pick up an unwelcome stowaway on its voyage home. Now, in the sequel, Ripley turns into a true action hero, but even here, she displays her massive fighting potential, surviving to the very end with a flamethrower, a grappling hook, a bit of luck, and a lot of drive.

3. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween

LaurieHere she is, the original final girl. Although we later find out she’s Michael Myers’ little sister, here we see Laurie Strode as just a young woman in the wrong place at the wrong time, stalked relentlessly while babysitting on Halloween night. But while she did launch the trope and while this film did start Jamie Lee Curtis’s scream queen career, Laurie doesn’t actually do all that much. She runs around a lot, and she does manage to fight off the masked killer in the film’s climax, rescuing both of her young charges. But, in the end, Laurie tends to be one of the film’s duller characters. We like her, but we like her friends better. All the same, Laurie makes it through quite a few sequels, and that certainly deserves a nod (especially when you consider how much tougher she gets with each one).

2. Sidney (Neve Campbell) in Scream

SidThe original meta horror parody, Scream manages to be as scary as it as amusing, and guiding the series through four movies, Sidney rightfully earns her place on this list. Before outsmarting and outfighting the killers in the original film’s climax, she gets multiple memorable chase sequences, and as things start to come to a boil, the audience really begins to root for her.  And how could we not? She’s tough, funny, and determined, and when she turns the murderers’ own game against them, I always find myself grinning. Therefore, for surviving the sprees of seven different killers, Sidney properly emerges as number two on this list, kicking butt to the very end. But now for the grand finale.

1. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) in A Nightmare on Elm Street

NancyShe’s just your average teenager, the girl next door who finds herself confronting the crazed serial killer Freddy Krueger, who hunts his victims even in death by invading their nightmares. But what makes Nancy so special? It’s the fact that she’s ready to give her tormenter a fight. Taking to his own uneven playing field, the dream world, Nancy prepares herself to battle Krueger face to face, fearlessly dragging him back into reality. And there, she has a fair shot, luring the killer into the booby traps she has set up before setting him ablaze. And when that doesn’t work, she turns away from him, effectively taking back the power she has given her fears and rendering him helpless to harm her (until that weird epilogue was shoehorned in). All the same, add in the fact that two films later Nancy prepares a new generation of teenagers to defend themselves against the knife-wielding predator and the fact that before dying she manages a final blow on Freddy with his own glove, and Nancy emerges as my number one final girl in horror film history.

And there you have it, folks. Tell me who yours are in the comments. There are a few honorable mentions absent from this list, such as Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) from The Descent, but there’s plenty of others too who probably deserve a spot on lists of your own.

New Jersey Independent Film Spotlight

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New York-based actor, writer, filmmaker, and self-proclaimed “Jersey Boy” Sam Platizky.

This week, I was fortunate to have a chat with Sam Platizky, a New York-based actor, writer, and filmmaker from my hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey. Along with working on multiple independent films and web series, Sam has also self-produced and starred in two of his own original screenplays, both featuring everyone’s favorite movie monster—the zombie.

The horror-comedy Blaming George Romero (Official Selection 2011 Bergenfield Film Festival, Official Selection 2011 Golden Door International Film Festival) tells the story of four film-fanatic friends who jump on the chance to be “survivors” when they think the zombie apocalypse has begun. And Red Scare (2012 Gold Kahuna Award Winner at the Honolulu Film Awards, 2012 Silver Ace Award at the Las Vegas Film Festival, Official Selection at the 2012 NJ International Film Festival, Official Selection at the 2012 Golden Door International Film Festival, and Honorable Mention at the 2012 Mockfest Film Fest in Los Angeles) details American hero Rex Steel’s fight against the dastardly Soviet plot to bring the living dead to our shores.

Talking with Sam this week, I asked him to tell me a bit more about the moviemaking process.

The Faux Phantom:  Can you tell me a bit about how you first got interested in screenwriting and filmmaking?

Sam: I have been acting since the 7th grade, but I got interested in screenwriting and filmmaking shortly after I graduated from college. After seeing Zach Braff’s Garden State, I remember liking the idea that he wrote himself a role because no one else was going to do it for him. I was growing unhappy with not being cast in things and being cast in things that weren’t that great. So, one day, I decided to sit down and write myself roles that I would enjoy playing.

The Faux Phantom: So in addition to Garden State, what other films and people would you say have influenced your work?

Sam: I am always influenced by Mel Brooks. I have been watching his movies forever, and they are near and dear to me. There are no comedies quite like his. I love everything I have seen Edgar Wright do, especially the Cornetto Trilogy, from the visuals to the scripts to the casting and even his style of editing, so I am sure that there is some influence from him and Simon Pegg in my work.

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Blaming George Romero. 2011. Loarina Gonzalez, Robert Lise, Sam Platizky, and Dan Gregory

Kevin Smith, another Jersey Boy who made good on the indie circuit, is another person who I admire. I feel like my first screenplay that was produced, Blaming George Romero, might have been trying too hard to feel like a Kevin Smith movie— in terms of the dialogue, at least. But I just love movies altogether. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t watching movies, so I guess I have been influenced by all of the movies I have seen in one way or another.

The Faux Phantom: So both Blaming George Romero and Red Scare are about zombies. Would you say you’ve taken some cues from Pegg and Wright’s Shaun of the Dead?

Sam: I’ve been a fan of zombie movies for a long time, but I loved Shaun of the Dead. I’d say there are similar themes in Blaming George Romero and Shaun of the Dead: friendship, living vs. surviving, growing up, etc.

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Red Scare. 2012.

Red Scare is its own animal though. It sprang from [Blaming George Romero] but it was really more of an ode to Mel Brooks’ comedies and the 1950’s as a time period.

Zombies are a good tool, because they are basically blanks. They are scary, but they have no real motivation beyond hunger, so they can be put in any situation and they work. Romero used them to great effect in his films, and I’m just trying to follow his great example. I hope I’ve done Romero, Wright, and Pegg proud.

The Faux Phantom: So can you tell me a bit about Blaming George Romero’s conception?

Sam: I had written a big budget zombie horror period piece, and realized I’d never be able to film it at this point in my career, so I sat down and wrote a smaller, more personal piece that would be film-able. I wrote it with 90% of the cast in mind, and that was BGR.

I met with a more tech savvy friend of mine, Brad Resnick, and we hammered out the details of how we could produce a feature length film. We used a crowd funding website called Indiegogo to raise the majority of our funds, and we got to work.

The Faux Phantom: And how was the filmmaking process?

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Red Scare poster by Steven Defendini.

Sam: The actual film making was a wild ride. With few exceptions, no one involved had ever been part of anything like this, so we were all learning as we went. In any group of different personalities you are going to have some conflicts. We did. Everyone was working for free, the conditions and locations weren’t always great, and tempers flared. It wasn’t always easy, but fortunately we kept pushing through and finished. By the end of filming and post production, I was happy that we did it, but I felt like I never wanted to undertake anything like it again. So, naturally, a week after we premiered BGR, I got to work on Red Scare.

The Faux Phantom: And how did the Red Scare process go?

Sam: By contrast, it was much easier and smoother. As a group we had gotten into our groove. We knew what we were doing now. The crew was populated only with people who shared the same positivity and creative vision. In addition, the director, Bill Dautrick, and I shared a nearly identical vision for what we wanted this movie to be. Thanks to all of this, each shoot went much more smoothly/quickly than BGR shoots. Also, the fact that this was strictly a comedy made the mood on set much lighter. It was one of the best experiences of my life, to be honest.

That’s not to say that we didn’t run into our share of problems. I think that on any movie set, some things will go wrong, and not always the things you might think. This time around, though, we knew how to deal with problems a little better, and when things did go wrong the lack of negativity in the cast and crew really made a difference.

I’d be remiss not to mention that there were four people who were there for every shoot with me whose professionalism, creativity, and positivity went a long way towards making Red Scare the success that it was: Loarina Gonzalez, Sean Feuer, Tony Pineiro, and Joey Mosca.

The Faux Phantom: After everything, what would you say the legacy of the two films has been? Both in regard to your own life and work and to the movies’ successes?

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Blaming George Romero. 2011.

Sam: Well, we didn’t make money, that’s for sure. Red Scare won some awards. Both movies are now available on Amazon, and will hopefully be available in more platforms as time goes on. So, its out there and can be seen by anyone who wants to, so that is a legacy of a sort. They got me into the filmmaking side of the business, and I have no plans to quit, so that is another type of legacy.

As far as the future goes, who knows? BGR was released in 2011 and Red Scare in 2012, so it hasn’t been that long. I think both movies touched lives, you know? Both movies will always be a part of the cast and crews’ lives. Whether they go on to bigger and better things, or whether they don’t continue in the arts, the people that were involved can always look back on that time in their lives with, hopefully, fondness. They are their movies as much as they are mine.

But, honestly, what matters most is that I did what I set out to do. I made two movies that I am insanely proud of, and I got to meet and work with some fantastic people while I was doing it. If I never did anything but those two movies, I would be happy.  I think I have left the world with something. Hopefully something that people will enjoy for many years to come.

The Faux Phantom: So what can we expect next from you?

Sam: I just finished shooting a web series called “Lost & Found,” and am in the post production phase of things now. It’s about a group of strangers who find each other after a near tragedy and get together to create a show of their own in an effort to help each other. Beyond that, there are a few scripts that are being tossed around my group ranging from horror shorts to feature length romantic comedies and everything in between.

To see more of Sam’s work, you can visit his official website, and both Blaming George Romero and Red Scare are available for purchase on Amazon— here and here.

Who knows? He’s centered here in Hudson County, so maybe you’ll see a few familiar faces and places on your screen.

Netflix Horror Finds: The Innkeepers

This review may contain spoilers

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The Innkeepers. Dark Sky Films. 2011.

Long, twisting corridors. Rows of identical doors shut tight to the outside world. Disembodied voices floating through the empty hallways at night. And, of course, the distinct awareness that you’re not alone. The others are all around you.

Maybe you catch glimpses of them hurrying down a stairwell or disappearing into a doorway. Maybe you hear them shuffling about above you or banging on the walls next door. Or maybe you get stuck waiting behind them while they fill up their ice buckets. That’s right. I’m not talking about a haunted asylum. I’m a talking about a hotel—the setting of today’s Netflix Horror Find. And while it never really tries to be The Shining, it unfortunately never quite achieves the tension or the lasting impact of Kubrick’s film either.

The Innkeepers, directed by Ti West, (whom horror fans may know for films like The Roost and The House of the Devil) stars Sara Paxton (The Last House on the Left) as Claire, a young employee at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a historic hotel about to close its doors for good. Other major characters include Claire’s co-worker Luke (Pat Healy) and a former television actress turned psychic healer (Kelly McGillis).

Both Claire and Luke are amateur paranormal investigators who spend much of the film either talking about or hunting for the ghost of Madeline O’Malley, a scorned bride who, according to legend, hanged herself in the building over a century ago. And that’s where The Innkeepers begins to fall apart. There is quite a lot of talking about the ghost. But there are very few scares. And you can imagine how this is problem in a film that’s an hour and 40 minutes long.

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Claire (Sara Paxton) does quite a bit of wandering through empty hallways.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with slow horror, and West’s own The House of the Devil has already proven that a jaw dropping finale can make over an hour of steady build worth it. But The Innkeepers, on the other hand, never really reaches that level. The climax, like most of the film, is disappointing. And the final few moments of Claire really confronting the hotel’s specters do not make the other long, tedious scenes of her aimlessly wandering about worth it.

And there is a lot of aimless wandering. At one point, our protagonist sits in the laundry room for several minutes trying to catch disembodied voices on her recorder. And after what feels like an eternity, she doesn’t actually find anything.

The Innkeepers (2011) Ti West Sara Paxton Pat Healy Kelly McGillis 18

And the empty corridors continue. Brace yourself for a lot of this.

Now, the old ‘build up and let down’ is a staple of the horror genre. A character slowly creeps towards a closed room, pulls open the door, and finds it empty. We get nervous because maybe just maybe there could have been something on the other side. So when there isn’t, we let out a breath of relief.

But if nothing has happened so far to make me really believe that Claire would hear something on that recording, why should I be forced to sit through a long, boring scene of her doing nothing? Especially when there’s no payoff.

I get what the film is trying to do. It feels almost like a mockumentary, and it does strive for a sort of realistic ghost story. We see a pair of co-workers chasing something which may or may not exist, and their successes, when they have them, are minor. Throw in a setting that’s not particularly grand or isolated, and you have something which feels almost like real life. But can the monotony of our everyday existences really translate well to the movie screen?

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Claire and Luke (Pat Healy) decide to check out the basement.

I don’t know. But I do know that the film, in addition to being tedious, feels somewhat scatterbrained. There are some moments of genuine comedy. But they feel out of place when the darker ghost plot really takes off. And even the camerawork sometimes feels odd. Slow, fluid shots of hallways are combined with slick, swift close-ups, and nothing fits together coherently.

But, despite it all, the film does have its redeeming qualities. Some of the scares are truly unnerving. One particular dream sequence involving a bed sheet comes to mind. And Kelly McGillis really shines as Leanne Rease-Jones, through whom much of the film’s mythology is established.

As for our heroine, Paxton does not deliver a bad performance, but she’s not necessarily a standout either. Pat Healy mostly overshadows her, but in truth, neither is really given much material to work with (beyond broodily walking down empty corridors).

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The film isn’t without scares. But there isn’t enough of them.

Still, at the end of the day, the film certainly had potential. It could have been an eerie, memorable—albeit standard—cinematic ghost story. All the pieces are there— a psychic, a dead bride, a mysterious guest who insists on having a particular room. But instead, we got a tedious film whose slow pace does nothing but make it drag. The scares are too few and far between to make it worth it. And that’s really too bad. Because West is a talented director. All the same, if you want a more impressive example of his work, you ought to look elsewhere.

Final Score: 2 out of 5

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An Ode to the Zombie

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The Walking Dead is arguably the most mainstream manifestation of the modern zombie.

Sometimes I wonder what my friends and I are doing with our lives. I mean, most of us have a pretty good idea about what we’d do in the event of a zombie apocalypse but pretty much no idea what we’ll do once we graduate. But how could we not think about zombies? They’re absolutely everywhere. TV, books, movies, video games—they’re persistent little monsters who have found permanent spots in all of our media. And while vampires have become hip, urban creatures of the night and werewolves have become puberty metaphors, the zombie has more or less been the same mindless hunk of flesh he’s always been. All the way back to Night of the Living Dead in 1968. But why the fascination? What keeps zombies so relevant in our minds?

They’re not aliens from another planet, not demons from hell, not crazed serial killers whose specific circumstances have driven them to kill. No, zombies don’t discriminate. They’re our friends. They’re our neighbors. They’re us. And maybe that’s why we keep them around. It’s the same way we turn to reflexively gaze at our reflection, even for a moment, whenever we pass a mirror. We like to look at ourselves. And zombies can do that for us in a way no other monsters can. They show us ourselves, our social anxieties, our daily lives, our humanity—and, of course, how quickly we can lose it.

I think it’s always been this way. Even back in 1968 when George Romero first defined the current mythology. Night of the Living Dead took the traditional zombie, a poor soul enslaved by a sorcerer in some dangerously non-Western place, and turned it into the monster we all know and love today. And it’s obvious to which primal fears these monsters appeal. A vampire can turn you into a bloodsucker, but you at least get to keep your mind. Zombies, on the other hand, don’t think. They lose their minds. So when we join their ranks, we lose the very thing which separates us from the animal kingdom. And when we lose it, we commit what is arguably the most heinous of all sins, the single most awful insult to human ethics. We eat each other.

But, at the end of the day, every movie monster appeals to some primal, universal fear. Or they wouldn’t scare us. So what makes zombies unique? How do they function on a social level? Well, look at this trailer.

Could audiences look at those static, black and white images and see anything but news reports about the war in Vietnam? What a film. It took the terrors of wartime and planted them firmly in the American mainland. A horror film where no one, not even the hero, survives. Throw in the government’s inability to fight the zombie threat and a daughter who murders her mother and eats her father’s corpse, and you’ve got the dismantling not only of the American system but of the classic family unit. You’ve got just about every social fear of 1968, and as the movie ends, we see that the trigger-happy human mob is just as dangerous as the horde of the undead. We stare ourselves in the face and leave with a bitter taste in our mouths. And it happened again only ten years later.

Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead took the monster and planted it in a shopping mall. And audiences saw the threat of commercialism, saw themselves becoming slaves to a culture of advertising and luxury. And that’s where zombies gain their persistence. They can adapt to any decade, to any widespread social fear, no matter how violent or seemingly trivial.

But what do we fear today? Why do we keep tuning in for the latest episode of The Walking Dead? Is it the threat of super viruses, new illnesses spreading like wildfire, leaving us helpless to stop them? Is it modern technology, new weapons and mounting global tensions making the possibility of a man-made apocalypse a horribly distinct reality in our minds? Whatever the appeal, I don’t think zombies are going anywhere anytime soon. And I think we can all expect them to keep on changing along with the times, adapting to whatever our new anxieties turn out to be in the next ten, twenty, thirty years.

They will forever be our personal mirrors in the horror genre, the lens through which we view ourselves. And we can only hope that once the dead finally do rise and take to the streets, they’re not quite as resilient as they are on our screens.

Stage Fright

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Located in Dineen Hall, the Roy Irving Theatre hosts various events throughout the year, including two main-stage dramatic productions.

It’s that bubbling, nauseous sensation in the pit of your stomach, the awful, anxious awareness of hundreds of eyes resting squarely on you. But then your scene, your speech, your song ends, and you flee into the relative safety of the wings, hiding offstage with adrenaline pumping through your veins. But what happens when the sensation doesn’t go away? What happens when you’re alone in the dark, listening to the applause of an unseen audience, and you can still feel someone watching you, still feel invisible eyes digging painfully into your back? This feeling is not unfamiliar to those of us who regularly perform in the Roy Irving Theatre at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, NJ.

But beyond us, the legend of the infamous ghost who haunts the place remains one of the most stubbornly persistent among the entire student body. I and my fellow actors in the school’s drama society have taken to affectionately calling him Roy. But whatever joking fondness we have for our unseen fellow-thespian, only a precious few of us are brave enough to stay alone in the building after dark.

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The lobby corridor leading to the women’s restroom. Visitors report the feeling of being watched while walking down it as well as the sound of someone whistling echoing off the walls.

It is not necessarily a big place. There are no long, twisting corridors or trapdoors. But there is a lobby with two restrooms and a box office. A modest theater which can seat about 350 people. A costume loft and lighting booth. Wing space off stage left that leads to the lower-floor dressing room. And a winding stairwell that leads to another dressing room on the upper floor.

Perhaps because of its small size, just about every corner of the Roy Irving Theatre has a ghost story associated with it, and I have heard them repeated by every sort of student you can imagine. There was the group of social science majors who ended up throwing an impromptu party in the main theater one night. And maybe they regretted it. Because although the back doors were locked, some invisible force continued to push on them. Their radio turned off on its own more than once, and the lights flickered off twice overhead. Faulty wiring? Whatever the culprit, the ghost light of Roy Irving Theater remains a phenomenon with which many students on campus are familiar. It is that one particular overhead lamp which turns itself on mid-performance almost without fail. But never during rehearsal.

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An actress takes a break in the downstairs dressing room between scenes at a recent rehearsal.

Along with doors closing by themselves in the dressing rooms and phantom whistling in the lobby, there is also a a phone in the wings of stage that is not connected to anything. While even in my long hours in the theater I have never heard it, more than one person has reported to me that it rings every once in a while. But no one has ever dared answer it. And if they did, what would they hear? A recording from Campus Safety about snow closings? Or a voice from beyond the grave?

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The stairwell which connects the dressing rooms.

I don’t know. But I do know that even if I only approach things like this with a mocking sort of superstition, I have had my own share of eerie experiences in the old place. In the downstairs dressing room, there is a bathroom with no running water which we now use to store our painting supplies. With its broken tiles, its rusted fixtures, and its lack of electricity, it does a good job of unnerving anyone who wanders in. While preparing for a show one afternoon, I was leaning into the dressing room mirror and smearing foundation over my cheeks when I caught distinct movement through the open door to that dismal little room. When I walked over to investigate, I fully expected to see a member of the crew. But no one was there.

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Old props and costumes litter the dressing room on the lower floor.

Another time, we were in the middle of last minute rehearsals for the drama God of Carnage. With a four-person cast, a director, and a tech manager, there were not many of us in the theater that night. So during a break, everyone abandoned me to go get coffee. I decided to lounge on the sofa onstage, exhausted from school and work and practice. But staring out into the empty house, I saw someone moving between the rows of chairs, making a ruckus. A few moments later, my friends came in through the other door. So whom had I seen and heard?

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This lamp has made a cameo appearance in every show for the past two years after we found it mysteriously resting discarded in a bit of bushes on campus.

I don’t know. It wouldn’t be first time I hallucinated from lack of sleep. All the same, I’m not the only member of the drama society who reports these things. I remember sitting with two friends in the main theater late one particular night when something began to unnerve us. And we all kept looking at the entry doors as if we expected someone to walk in. No one ever did. But we did flee into the cold to hang out elsewhere.

All the same, the Roy Irving Theater is our home. It’s where we work and where we play. It’s where the student body and the faculty can see two great shows a year. And it’s where we uphold not only fine arts at Saint Peter’s University but also the legends which give the campus community a rich and unique oral tradition all its own. And so, if you’re reading this over my shoulder, Roy, keep it up. Just find someone new to haunt.