We’re rolling into early autumn, and the month and a half or so leading up to Halloween is a big time for theatrical horror releases, marathons and other events. The Halloween event season kicked off with the latest installment of Terror in the Aisles, held at the Portage Theater (as always) on Friday, September 14.

The lineup for Terror 12 had a distinct comedic theme, with the new Finno-Australian moon-Nazi epic Iron Sky headlining, Larry Cohen’s mid-’80s social satire The Stuff taking the center slot, and finishing off with Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker. Cohen was originally supposed to appear in person, but he had a family emergency and the film’s DP, Paul Glickman, appeared in his place–although Cohen ended up introducing The Stuff via Skype video chat. (You may remember Cohen and Glickman also were on hand for Sci-Fi Spectacular 6.) Also on hand was Patty Mullen, who played the female lead of Elizabeth in Frankenhooker.

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There was a DJ.

I didn’t catch his name.

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Music video: “The Unholy Manipulator” by Product of Hate

Music video for a metal band, in which Hellraiser’s Ashley Laurence (who still looks absolutely stunning, by the way) captures and tortures a guy who berated a clerk at a video rental store (remember those?). The song wasn’t bad either, although it’s not a style of music I’m all that into.

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Trailers for Video Diary of a Lost Girl and Diecons

About a minute into the trailer for Video Diary of a Lost Girl, one of the characters lays out the premise: “You’re immortal? And you have to have sex once a month or else you will die? And any man you have sex with then goes on to die because of it?” But the set-up seems absolutely mundane in comparison to the film’s visual aesthetic, which is apparently heavily influenced by early-’80s low-budget rock videos. I don’t normally go for the whole ’80s-retro thing, but this one’s an exception: it looks so outright bizarre that I can’t imagine I’m not going to end up seeking it out at some point–probably just as soon as I’m done writing this post.

Diecons looks a lot more straightforward. The premise appears to be that Hannibal Lecter has assembled a team of masked killers from famous horror movies (Leatherface, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, a guy in a Ghostface mask, etc.) and has sent them out to kill people. I have to be honest, this one doesn’t really pique my interest (three of the characters are slashers, and overall the movie looks like a slasher)…but then again, there are films I expected to dislike for similar reasons that I ended up liking, so maybe I will end up checking it out at some point.

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Iron Sky

Iron Sky (Timo Vuorensola, 2012)

The basic premise is that, in 2016, the U.S. President (never named, but obviously intended to be Sarah Palin) is having a tough time with her re-election campaign, so she commissions a moon landing led by a black astronaut, as part of a cynical publicity stunt. However, when the team of astronauts arrive at the moon, they discover they’re not alone: on the dark side, there’s a human colony founded by Nazis who fled the planet in 1945. It’s not too hard to predict, in vague terms, what happens when the Nazis decide to return to their home planet, but there’s a couple of interesting and unexpected twists and turns along the way.

I can’t recommend this film enough–it’s one of the most original and biting political satires I’ve seen in a long time. My two problems with it are that the humor is occasionally a bit too time-stamped–there’s a scene modeled after the famous sequence in Downfall that launched a million YouTube parody videos–and the “digital backlot” CGI in the moon colony scenes, while not outright bad, is pretty obvious.

As with The Last Starfighter back at Sci-Fi 6, this doesn’t get a rating because I can’t even remotely justify it as horror without stooping to petty political sniping. (On the other hand, anyone who wants to crack jokes about how scary the idea of President Palin is, feel free.)

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The Stuff

The Stuff (Larry Cohen, 1985)

Paul Glickman, DP for The Stuff

Glickman played great off of Cohen back at Sci-Fi 6 and he’s just as good telling stories on his own–a particularly good one involved Cohen sneaking Andy Kaufman into a parade of police officers during the production of God Told Me To. (And I never even knew Kaufman was in that picture…) He also talked a bit about the late Zoë Tamerlis, who I didn’t realize had worked with Cohen (she was in Special Effects); she’s actually better known for her work with Abel Ferrara (she starred in Ms. 45, and wrote and had a small role in Bad Lieutenant).

Some sort of video (possibly Kickstarter) involving Larry Cohen

Basically it was a brief promo video covering Cohen’s career, although not 100% a puff piece or entirely serious as it includes a recently-filmed scene depicting Cohen panhandling on the streets of New York for production funding. I don’t think anyone ever specifically said it was a Kickstarter video, but I got the feeling that it was and I know Cohen’s got a new picture in production (called Delusions, and at least partially filming in Chicago). This will, I think, be the first actual feature film since the mid-’90s that he’s actually directed, although he’s kept busy in the interim, writing a pile of screenplays.

Larry Cohen, director of The Stuff, over Skype

As I mentioned earlier, Cohen ended up not being able to appear in person due to a family emergency–it turns out that his dog had been bit by a poisonous snake. (Thankfully, the dog’s life was saved.) He did do a talk over a Skype video chat projected onto the screen, though. He talked a bit about his career, and the new movie he’s making, but obviously most of what he talked about was The Stuff, particularly singling out the main and supporting cast members for specific praise. It’s always great to hear about how Michael Moriarty approaches his craft.

The Movie

I think for the most part it’s aged very well, despite the wonky production values (and actually most of the set-piece effects sequences still look pretty good), rooted-in-the-mid-’80s cultural references (Clara Peller has a cameo), and credibility-stretching plot development (Michael Moriarty and Andrea Marcovicci fall for each other way too soon, and a few too many coincidences). It works for the same reason Cohen’s best films work: they’re a lot of fun, smart without being preachy (according to Cohen, the Stuff is a metaphor for cigarettes–the basic premise was inspired by how tobacco companies marketed cigarettes knowing they were both dangerous and addictive), featuring a great cast (and Moriarty actually underplays this one, allowing Garrett Morris and Paul Sorvino to steal several memorable scenes) that has a great rapport with each other and works its collective ass off while still enjoying the hell out of the overall experience. I’m not sure I’d call it one of the all-time greats, or even one of the decade’s best, but it’s definitely memorable, enjoyable and a fine example of how to do social commentary in horror.

Fun fact: three of The Stuff’s cast members would go on to hold series-regular roles in the Law and Order franchise. In the original series, Moriarty was the original executive D.A. (replaced by Sam Waterston), and Sorvino was the second senior detective (replacing George Dzundza and being replaced by Jerry Orbach). And Eric Bogosian (probably still beste known for Talk Radio), who has a brief role as a grocery store clerk, went on to replace Jamey Sheridan as the police captain on Criminal Intent.

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Trailer: Bloody Baby

I’m not even remotely sure how to describe this one, other than that it looks…well…interesting.

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Short film: The Girl in the Black Dress

An interesting short about how two guys respond to the death of a young woman (one’s her brother, the other is her ex-boyfriend/fuckbuddy/something like that). It’s pretty good, although I think the final reveal comes a bit out of nowhere. Also, I wouldn’t really call it horror, but that’s just me. Still, pretty good.

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Frankenhooker (Frank Henenlotter, 1990)

Patty Mullen, star of Frankenhooker

I guess there’s an urban legend going around that Mullen was asked to dye her pubic hair purple for the film, and refused to do so. She confirmed this, stating that a body double was eventually used (but that depending on what cut of the film we’d we watching, we might not see that scene–which we didn’t).

She also auctioned off a signed bra and pulled a bunch of people out of the audience to do the Frankhenhooker walk onstage–including someone in a teddy-bear costume. Surreal.

The Movie

After two films based on social commentary and satire, here we have Frankenhooker, the cinematic equivalent of a sick joke with no redeeming social value whatsoever. That’s a complement, actually: gross-outs, taboo-breaking and transgression is as important part of the genre as metaphor and symbolism. On a night that, as I mentioned at the beginning, was themed around the overtly comedic, this is the one that elicited the most laughs from me. A hilarious (if occasionally sloppy) story is enhanced by some fantastic comedic acting, particularly James Lorenz’s hilariously unhinged mad scientist and Mullen’s physical tour de force in the title role. In this context, the production values–barely an improvement over Basket Case–are entirely forgivable. This is what makes a cult classic.

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So what’s next? I’ll definitely be attending the Chicago Horror Film Festival (last weekend of September) and the Massacre (no longer the Music Box Massacre as it’s now being held at the Portage) on October 20-21. There’s also a festival in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, that I may go to during the first weekend of October.

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