Enter an internet search of summer horror movies, and the usual suspects pop up. But what if you don’t want to watch Friday the 13th or Jaws for the umpteenth time? What if you crave something trashy, campy, strange, or downright awful? Something that makes you choke on your beer after cackling at the cringe and creates those lasting so-bad-it’s-good memories with loved ones on a humid July night. The ridiculous Sleepaway Camp inspired this list, and while its problematic chaos qualifies, it’s had a resurgence in recent years. I’m here to point you toward less discussed summertime guilty pleasures, whether you’ve never seen them or haven’t had a rewatch in some time. Grab a flashlight and meet me around the fire at Camp Horror Press as we weave a tale of underappreciated gems, and maybe we’ll rip them to shreds along the way.
Cheerleader Camp (1988):
If David Lynch and John Waters teamed up to direct a ludicrous old-school slasher, the self-aware Cheerleader Camp would be their concoction. Originally titled Bloody Pom Poms, it stars Betsey Russel (Jill Tuck in the Saw franchise) as troubled “it girl” Alison as she attends a cheerleading camp where anything goes, and every transgression is near immediately forgotten. Lynchian dream sequences featuring razor-sharp pom-poms and voyeuristic sex provide insight into Alison’s troubled mind. Yet, outside of this nightmare realm, it’s all Porky’sand classically trashy slasher depravity. There is no sense of time, so – much like the film’s young actors who can’t seem to help but tumble through the woods like ragdolls – it’s best to roll with it.
Antics include: Employees hiding a dead body to avoid a camp shutdown, wild bedroom role-play that’s recorded and screened for all to see, and a topless queen bee suntanning showdown, for good measure. Surprisingly, the acting is a degree above half-baked, perhaps because of the film’s presumably knowing nature. The sophisticated script allows for amazing line deliveries like, “Chickens! Where?!” and “I hope you DIE!” which remain oddly charming while wrapped up in the film’s bizarre plane of existence. The reveal of the killer’s identity – loosely based on a true story – is similarly satisfying. If you’re in the mood to submerge yourself in the mystical waters of prime late 80’s slasher filth, it’s time for a weekend at Cheerleader Camp.
Killer Quote: “The queen will epitomize the highest ideals of cheerleading, which are nothing less than the highest ideals of mankind.” – Miss Tipton (Vickie Benson)
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998):
Okay, this sequel to its hit predecessor from 1997 is genuinely bad. The original, which piggybacked off the success of Scream, had a few things going for it: It, too, was written by horror scribe Kevin Williamson, the cast is full of bonafide late 90’s dreamboats, and it includes what I consider to be one of the slasher genre’s best chase scenes, starring scream queen Sarah Michelle Gellar. Unfortunately, Williamson did not write this sequel, and poor SMG did not survive her legendary scuffle with the hooked killer. Scream 2 had modeled the precedent less than a year prior by satirizing cliché horror sequels while simultaneously being a great one, and I Still Know took absolutely zero notes. What remains is a hackneyed follow-up that thrusts Jennifer Love Hewitt’s irksome final girl, Julie James, into the muck once more – this time at a tropical resort in the Bahamas that resembles a lakeside retreat in upstate New York.
Hot garbage doesn’t stink so bad when it’s on celluloid, however, and if watched with the mindset of roasting this movie to hell – perhaps a drinking game – there’s fun within. Hewitt’s suspiciously forced acting chops invoke more cringe than trauma two decades before Halloween Kills ingrained “Evil Dies Tonight!” into our brains, and the return of her beau Freddie Prinze Jr. is butchered by writing him into an asinine savior subplot that literally throws him out a hospital window (and much of the action). Hewitt, arms outstretched, also blesses us with a recreation of her iconic, “What are you waiting for?!” scene from the OG, and a hilarious attempt at promotion for her now-defunct singing career inserts itself during the corniest of-the-era needle drop. Don’t fret, JLove, Ghost Whisperer comes soon enough.
The cast rounds out with a rasta-appropriating Jack Black, 90s icon Brandy as the rare black final girl, and Mekhi Phifer as her incredulously rude boyfriend. A few decent kills liven up the joint with some much-needed gore, followed by a suspenseful epilogue that acts as a lovely nightcap – that is, until it abruptly ends with a gotcha moment so uninspired your eyes may get lost in the back of your head. Keep up the (responsible) drinking game, and you’ll be litty as a kitty in no time!
Killer Quote: “All I know is that this is the worst vacation of my life. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m fucking horny, and I ain’t seen one goddamn psycho killer.” – Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer) moments before being slain.
Tourist Trap (1979):
What if the killer from House of Wax had telekinetic abilities and was super annoying? This wacky freakshow from the always entertaining Full Moon Features follows a group of twenty-somethings who suffer a doomed roadside run-in with the Carrie White of dollmakers, and it certainly checks off the “wrong turn road trip” box. Made at a time when not everything needed an explanation, the kinetically charged Tourist Trap somehow succeeds at being both positively silly and uncomfortably disturbing. Its achievements in audio are key: A shifty score oscillates between high tension and something akin to a Spotify playlist for clowns, and its sound design highlights the orgasmic talents of an army of moaning mannequins; if you have thin walls, beware.
Molly, the bonnet-wearing Little Karen on the Prairie heroine, is precisely as irritating as she sounds, and, as mentioned, the film’s villain is no different – he never shuts the fuck up! Of course, this is all part of the fun. There are some genuine scares to be had, mainly due to its infusion of supernatural blood into the standard slasher formula. Tourist Trap: Come for the chills…stay for the sultry mannequins!
Killer Quote: “He always wanted to be like me. You see, I’m his big brother. He always wanted everything I ever had. Including my face.” -Mr. Slauson (Chuck Connors)
Deep Blue Sea (1999):
“Deepest, bluest, my hat is like a shark’s fin.”
“Bleeding to death with no arms and short sleeves.”
“Struggling to flow with hemorrhages in your throat,
Getting the lap dance while I smash through your boat.”
Yes, those are lyrics from LL Cool J’s time capsule of a marketing tool meant to coincide with the release of this late ’90s sharkbuster. Lady Gaga who? (jk ILYSM). A rap track about how Cool J is as badass as a genetically modified shark fits the bill, though, because this movie is just as absurd. Equal parts The Poseidon Adventure and Jaws, the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Thomas Jane fight for their lives to prevent uber-intelligent sharks – engineered as research for an Alzheimer’s cure – from escaping captivity to the open sea. It’s full of gnarly kills, close calls drenched in sweat and salt water, and a shocking early death that rips a page from the Drew Barrymore gag in Scream – see, I Still Know, someone took notes.
While not very…deep, the movie isn’t half bad and was quite successful upon release. However, 20+ years and two piss-poor straight-to-video sequels later, I don’t see Deep Blue Sea getting nearly as much time in the spotlight as its summer horror peers. It’s an all-around good time and may as well be Jaws when compared to the deluge of incoherent shark movies that release every year. As Sam Jackson once said in that other creature feature, “Hold on to your butts.”
Killer Quote: Honestly, just watch the video for “Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)” with subtitles on. LL Cool J cemented himself as the poet laureate of 1999.
That concludes our time around the fire tonight. Hopefully, my shady reads of these discounted gems have inspired you to give them a whirl and make some steamy summer memories yourself. And don’t stop there. Continue down the rabbit hole and discover even more amethysts in the dirt. A few may even supply that, “You’ve never heard of this movie?” clout you can use at the next barbeque. Until next time.
It Came From Shudder August Edition
Tell ‘em it’s my birthday when I binge-watch like that! Yeah, I’m appropriating Selena Gomez lyrics because it’s my birthday and I wanna celebrate some stuff I like on Shudder. The August roster is packed, and a few recent watches also made my shortlist. Shall we gaze into the void together?
Vicious Fun (2020)
Aside from its declarative title, which it lives up to, what truly caught my eye is that the main character is a horror critic who must navigate his escape from a group of serial killers attending a “self-help” meeting. Talk about art imitating life! Just kidding … everyone at Horror Press is an upstanding citizen. Absolutely no one is a serial killer … I think (I hope no one at HP actually reads this).
But I digress. The movie’s a blast and features some great actors who have a marvelously meta time dissecting slasher villain archetypes. Oh, and it’s set in the ’80s! How fun.
One Cut of the Dead (2019)
I’d heard good things, so I skimmed some reviews beforehand, as one does. It seemed the consensus was, “the less you know, the better,” and I couldn’t agree more. What I can tell you is we watch as a sadistic director makes a low-budget zombie flick and continues to film after his cast and crew experience an attack by the actual undead. I was initially underwhelmed but stick with it. You’ll be in for a surprise that ends up being a love letter to the art of filmmaking.
The Convent (2000)
The type of movie you put on at 1 am with some Taco Bell after getting home from a night out. It’s full-throttle grungy Y2K mayhem: A group of Greek life douchebags finds themselves the unwitting hosts for a flock of demonic nuns after they decide to make a late-night visit to a condemned convent with a dark past. The makeup and special effects are Day-Glo Buffy the Vampire Slayer perfection. The cast includes a young Kelly Mantle of Drag Race fame and horror vet Adrienne Barbeau, former wife and frequent collaborator of John Carpenter. It’s loud and messy, and it would probably be canceled if made today. Sometimes that’s just what you need.
A Shudder original from Chloe Okuno, the director who made Raatma a mascot of the horror community with her V/H/S/94 segment “Storm Drain.” If that doesn’t pique your interest (Hail Raatma!), how’s this? It’s a Hitchcockian thriller starring horror darling Maika Monroe, who plays an American ex-pat in Bucharest convinced she’s become prey to a serial killer fond of beheading. It had a brief stint in theaters earlier this summer – which I missed out on – and I can’t wait to hit play when it makes its Shudder premiere on August 26th.
The Innocents (2021)
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Eskil Vogt wrote and directed this Norwegian supernatural thriller that examines purity and morality when a group of children discover and abuse dark powers hidden within. The trailer is instantly compelling, and the whole thing gives me X-Men meets Goodnight Mommy vibes. I’ll certainly be checking in when it arrives on Shudder, August 18th.
Special Edition: The George A. Romero and Stephen King Collection
August is starting with a shriek! On the 1st, the original Creepshow (1982), directed by Romero and written by King, makes its triumphant return to Shudder accompanied by a collection of the duo’s greatest hits. From the OG versions of Carrie, The Crazies, Firestarter, and Salem’s Lot to unconventional gems like Monkey Shines and Misery, this collection will fill out your watchlist nicely. It’s been ages since I’ve seen some of these, and it’s important to know your horror history!
That about sums up my recommendations for the month. I hope my particular blend of oddities has enticed you. And if not, don’t worry about it. At least you don’t work with a bunch of possible serial killers.
Hocus Pocus 2: Teaser Trailer Breakdown and What We Know So Far
THE WITCHES ARE BACK!
It’s been almost thirty years since Hocus Pocus first premiered. The film starring Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the legendary Sanderson sister witches who are bent on stealing the lifeforce from children on All Hallow’s Eve is regarded as a Halloween classic.
Directed by Kenny Ortega, this movie still tops the charts for most-watched Halloween movies today. It has appeared on Eli Roth’s History of Horror, fourteen “Top 10” episodes of WatchMojo, and has dozens of lines that fans immediately recognize. After all, what Hocus Pocus fan doesn’t know the ending to the line, “Oh look, another glorious…”
While Max (Omri Katz), Dani (Thora Birch), and Allison (Vinessa Shaw) stole our hearts as the protagonists of the original film, we are ecstatic to see that Hocus Pocus 2 is finally on the horizon with new protagonists and a new story to tell, this time directed by Anne Fletcher.
While many details are still unknown, the recent release of a teaser trailer left us ecstatic and anxiously awaiting more. Let’s “form a calming circle” and break down the trailer moment by moment and see what it means for this highly anticipated sequel.
Will Hocus Pocus 2 Introduce a New Familiar?
The trailer opens with a scenic shot of a black bird with red and yellow plumage flying over the water. Immediately we are left to wonder if this peculiar bird will make more of an appearance in the sequel.
Remember, the first Hocus Pocus saw the assistance of Binx: the boy (Sean Murray), who was turned into an immortal, talking cat (Jason Marsden) by the witches. This cat served as the protagonists’ familiar. Given Thackery Binx’s transition into the spirit world at the end of Hocus Pocus, it begs the question of whether there will be a helpful animal friend for the adversaries of the Sanderson sisters once more.
Or could it be that Hocus Pocus would follow in the footsteps of other Disney counterparts such as Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty which see magical villains utilizing a bird as a companion? Will evil have a familiar of its own this time?
If that’s the case, the new protagonists undoubtedly have a difficult journey ahead.
Meeting New Characters
The next shot of the trailer sees the introduction of the sequel’s new protagonists. Pictured is Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) standing by a bike rack in a schoolyard. In the background of the next shot, a partial name can be observed: “…Skelton High School”. Given that the original Hocus Pocus took place at Jacob Bailey High School, it seems our newcomers attend a different school. However, according to the synopsis, the story still takes place in Salem.
In the foreground of the shot, we are introduced to the third protagonist, Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who wishes Becca a happy birthday.
“What are you guys going to do tonight?” she asks the girls.
Becca replies that they plan to binge scary movies, although the following scenes indicate otherwise.
The Next Generation of Salem Witches
The ensuing frames of the trailer follow Becca striking a match, bringing the flame to a candle nestled in the ground. She and Izzy are huddled around it, in the forest with a full moon glowing brightly in the background.
The shot cuts away, and shows the two girls in the daytime, walking their bikes to a Salem Magic Shoppe. Gilbert (Sam Richardson), who is presumably the shopkeeper, is on the screen, explaining:
“You know legend has it, on her sixteenth birthday is when a witch gets her powers.” A black cat is shown. (Are you my familiar?)
The spoken line at the magic shop reveals a huge plot point of this sequel: the emergence of another witch. Lest we forget that the original Hocus Pocus did not initially feature protagonists that had mystical forms of magick.
Old Magick vs New Magic
In the beginning, the protagonists of the original used the magic of technology to outsmart and confound the evil witches. Most notable examples of this came from:
- The scene where Max seemingly conjured fire in his hand via a lighter, which he then used to set off a sprinkler system he introduced as “the burning rain of death”.
- Then, who could forget the headlights that shone brightly as sunlight as Max proclaimed the witches forgot about Daylight Savings Time.
- Finally, the moment where a recording led the Sanderson sisters into a furnace, and they eventually emerged smoke-filled, saying “Hello, I want my book” in French:
“Bonjour. Je veux mon livre.”
For what it’s worth, these technological tricks only deterred the witches from their goal, they did not defeat them. The protagonist trio was not successful in stopping the witches until they began adapting facets of real magick. Examples of this were Allison utilizing a salt circle, the final fight taking place on hallowed ground, and Max using the witches’ life-force absorbing potion on himself.
It will be interesting to see if the characters of Hocus Pocus 2 will follow this same trend. As sci-fi writer and scientist Arthur C. Clarke famously once said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It was a combination of this technological “new magic” and tenets of old magick that defeated the Sanderson Sisters in the past.
If this is to be the case again, the new characters may have a leg up on the competition as technology has boomed significantly since the witches arose last, and the trailer already shows the protagonists’ propensity to practice old magick.
Witch Worlds Collide
In a voiceover, Becca and Izzy can be heard starting to chant:
“Another year begins anew…”
Then the eerie chants of the Sanderson sisters can be heard:
If you can’t quite put your finger on how that’s familiar, the first time it was heard was during Binx’s curse in the first Hocus Pocus:
“Twist the bones and bend the back.
Trim him of his baby fat
Give him fur black as black
The girls’ chant continues: “Maiden, mother, and crone too”.
What better an object to make an appearance during all this spellcasting than the Sanderson’s book of magic. While shown only briefly, its stunning resolution and lifelike quality clearly reflect this digital era. The book’s bright blue eye is open once more.
In the next shot, a book is seen shaking on a shelf, with the black cat from before eyeing it closely. Could it be that the Sanderson’s magic book made its way into the Salem Magic Shoppe?
“We call on thee with one request…” the girls’ spell continues. This time, the dialogue is no longer a voice-over. We are taken back to the shot of Becca and Izzy in the woods under a full moon as before, and it’s revealed that this is where they are as they are chanting their spell.
A zoomed-out shot of a church within a cemetery is followed by the close-up of a grave that Hocus Pocus fans will recognize immediately.
“Here lies the body of William Butcherson”
According to the cast list, Doug Jones will be reprising his role as the former love, and victim of Winifred Sanderson: Billy, in Hocus Pocus 2.
The camera flashes back to the girls in the woods as they conclude their spell:
“Help our intentions manifest.”
Just then, the iconic black flame candle bursts to life as Becca’s match ignites it. The girls seem startled by the black of the candle flame and immediately jump back.
This Halloween season, a title card begins.
A shot of the girls staring off into the woods, looking confused or concerned. Followed by another shot, this time of a strong wind blowing the candle flame, and billowing leaves around it. Red smoke begins to emit from the earth near the candle, as the girls are left looking stricken.
The Earth splits, revealing a red glow emanating from within. The girls begin running, as the crack in the Earth outstretches in the opposite direction. It continues to spread until it finally forks into three, forming a pitchfork shape on the ground.
(Given the incorporation of real magickal practice (chanting on a full moon, manifestation, etc.) the pitchfork shape could very well represent the Algiz rune. It aligns with the potential theme of discovering oneself and awakening powers.)
….never die, the title cards continue.
Then the screen goes to black, and the unmistakable, immediately recognizable voice of the great Bette Midler in her role as Winifred Sanderson can be heard.
The Return of the Sanderson Sisters
“Lock up your children!” Winifred Sanderson commands. It is then, through the flashes of strobing light that we are finally given a glimpse of the Sanderson sisters, just as glorious as ever.
“Yes Salem, we’re back!” exclaims Winifred, as the screen fades into green smoke.
As viewers may be aware, Disney tends to use green when representing a villain. How perfect that this callback to villain themes would be immediately succeeded by the title card reading “Disney’s Hocus Pocus 2”.
The same frame also informs us that the film will be available for streaming on September 30th.
Though the trailer is almost over, there is one more morsel of information it offers before it ends.
Another Hocus Pocus song?
A man who seems to be speaking to a security guard appears on the screen, proclaiming, “Hey, it’s the Sanderson sisters! I bet you’re looking for a stage.”
“Always,” replies Winifred Sanderson, absolutely smoldering.
This moment immediately brings to mind the Sanderson sisters’ Halloween performance in Hocus Pocuswhere they hypnotized all the town’s adults to dance until they were dead via the fantastic performance of “I Put a Spell on You.”
(Dancing until death has historical roots, most notably in The Dancing Plague of 1518 where people of the ancient city of Strasbourg began dancing inexplicably for months. Hundreds joined in this dance against their will and danced until they finally dropped from exhaustion. Although the potential causes range from hysteria to mold, no one can definitively explain why this phenomenon has occurred in the past.)
Since Max, Dani, and Allison were able to break the curse by defeating the witches, the adults survived and were left only with the memory of the epic song cover, coupled with a “marvelous introduction” by Max.
The moment in the trailer hopefully means that Hocus Pocus 2 will have its own music numbers, as Sarah Jessica Parker’s “Come Little Children” from the original Hocus Pocus is also a stand-out hit from the film.
It’s worth noting that the cast list shows drag performers Ginger Minj, Kahmora Hall, and Kornbread Jete are slotted to play drag versions of Winifred, Sarah, and Mary, respectively. Therefore, it is a possibility that the man in the trailer could have been mistaking the real Winifred Sanderson for the drag version, hence explaining his comment.
No matter the case, it seems that Bette Midler is poised to take the stage in Hocus Pocus 2, and historically that means greatness is sure to follow.
What’s more, is that Hannah Waddingham is slotted to play a role in the film. However, mysteriously, she is neither featured in the trailer nor is her character name listed on the IMDb cast list.
With three months to go until this film’s release, this teaser trailer gave us so much and so little simultaneously. September 30th can’t come soon enough.