Souls-like C.H.U.D. + Review

Last night, I watched C.H.U.D. (1984). As kids, my brother and I saw it or C.H.U.D. II (1989), the latter featuring the ignominious Bud the C.H.U.D., and we identified something noteworthy enough in the films to continue referencing them in various ways over the years. Before revisiting it, I couldn’t recall anything from either film besides their names and basic premises. The first installment is entertaining in that so bad it goes back to good way, and it also has a strong cast, which helps. At turns, its plot – when not wholly laugh-out-loud falling down – wouldn’t have been out of place reworked into an X-files episode.

I don’t think there is any real connection, but at a couple of points in the film, I was put in the headspace of a Souls game and made this GIF. The resolution is lousy because to make it, I used images of the T.V. I shot with an iPad, but the same lack of fidelity could also be fittingly Souls-like; i.e., now its time to adjust your T.V.’s brightness/darkness until you barely see whatever it is you are to witness.

Me at corners in Dark Souls
Me at corners in Dark Souls


C.H.U.D. (1984) – 2/4 – The best part of this movie is that the reveal is with the acronym that has stood for one thing most of the story, but conspiratorially indicates something else, and my resultant uncertainty if this new information changes my understanding or experience of the events that transpire in the film as a whole.

Deep Listening – Frog

The following video resulted from a workshop and deep listening exercise held on 3.10.23 on South Puget Sound Community College’s campus as part of the Digital Humanities Lab. The workshop was led by Jessie Lenderman, an instructor at the college who is a filmmaker and documentarian who uses inter-disciplinarian practices to inform her work.

In the first part of the exercise, participants were given an object and asked to write a short piece only describing it. Next, participants developed a second short written piece detailing personal associations with their chosen item. In the last part of the exercise, participants filmed the object, using the two former pieces of writing to help guide the audio-visualization of it.

Videos were shot on our phones. To edit the video, we used an open-source software program called OpenShot. Open-source software is distributed with its source code, making it available for use, modification, and distribution by anyone who uses it. Unlike software developed by many corporate entities for profit, open-source software is guided by an ethical component that fosters community, exchange, and learning.

In my video, I incorporated a recording of frogs I’d made on campus the evening before, around 8 PM. I was leaving the building when I heard them in a chorus.

Frog from Mike Gray on Vimeo.

My PS5 Disc Reader is Toast

As indicated above, the disc reader on my PS5 broke. Game over, it’s now the big sleep, and the disc reader is in dirt nap mode pushing up daises. I’m upset by this because I’m one of those rare people who was very excited to have the ability to watch BD and 4k discs on it. And the unit is now out of warranty, and I don’t see myself sending it back to Sony for repairs.

I read countless articles on Sony’s site and off; I viewed a playlist’s worth of videos, even one featuring a person who was overly pumped about explaining how to wipe your PS5. (He came across like the process was virtually alchemical, and once you’d followed his instructions, a new PS5 would rise up like a phoenix from its old husk.) I did everything I could to troubleshoot the issue, from clearing various caches to reinstalling the operating system; nothing remedied the problem. Multiple discs, games, and films, flipping things every which way to tomorrow — bottom line, it’s still broken AF.

I will say that the reinstall of the OS was pretty easy. I lost some of my game save information, but with any new game, my save points were all downloaded from the cloud fine. I did, however, lose all the pictures and clips I’d saved from gameplay. This was irritating, as I could have easily kept that information if I had remembered. But, on the flip side, now I have a reason to grab all new tourist-styled pictures of my exploits in Demon Souls. Here’s one of my new ones, right after I found a ring in some hell hole bog of blood, bits, and despair. The purpose of the ring I found? It lets you run quicker in bogs (novel), and now I can speed around in an even grosser bog that might be more accurately described as a dimly lit swamp of turds.

Demon Souls
I found the Sodden Ring!

Back to the main point; the PlayStation is only a little over a year old. I’ve gone through some controllers in that time, which I expected, but I did not anticipate the disc reader getting toasted. I have film distributors, like Vinegar Syndrome and Arrow, that I’m a big fan of, especially their meticulous treatments of older media, and it was a lot of fun watching some of their BDs and 4Ks on the system. The last film that graced my PS5 was Righting Wrongs (1986) with Cynthia Rothrock and Yuen Biao. Spoiler Alert: Everybody dies at the end of that film; for a Hong Kong action film, it ends on an uncharacteristic downer note, but maybe that’s also fitting if your disc reader is going to go that way as well.

Cynthia Rothrock - Righting Wrongs (1986)
Dead like Cynthia Rothrock in Righting Wrongs (1986)

Thoughts on an Escape Room

Recently I went to an escape room with some friends. I’m not good at these things, primarily because they privilege a particular type of observational ability. Knowing this, I expected to be little help, and besides figuring out a set of magnets was placed on a board, I wasn’t. Thankfully, our group wasn’t made up of people with my learning style/approach to the world. Among our group was my wife, who is very good at these things, and several other people I consider extremely intelligent.

The room we were assigned had a 28% success rate, and as the person at the front desk explained, their most challenging room. Never having done one, I didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised that, as a designed experience, some of the puzzles were very innovative, almost closer to a ride or movie. (The props in our room suggested someone was a big fan of _The Fifth Element_.) In one instance, a laser had to be shined in multiple mirrors to trigger something.

The room had a 70-minute or so time limit. Our group got close to figuring it out, but we didn’t. I have to say, I don’t recall being frustrated during my time in the room. I had a nice time looking at the gadgets and do-dads. However, when we were released into a state of patronizing failure, I was seething with rage. Sure, I’ve already stated I was fully aware that I would never be an escape room gold medalist. So why was I so mad? My wife later commented that she touched my arm at the end, and I jerked away, which I don’t recall doing. Despite the haphazard set of steps to figure out the puzzle, what burned me most was that a group of reasonably educated people could not figure it out. I’ve felt frustrated in other walks of life when there are expectations to complete and participate in specific processes. However, there is no explanation or transparency about where that ‘participation’ leads or what it ultimately results in. It’s either that, or I’m just really competitive, and I don’t relish being made to feel like an idiot.

The takeaway? I’m glad I had the experience, and I’ll probably be thinking about my emotional reaction to it for some time. God, it pissed me off and still does.

Music discovery

Somehow I missed a ton of great music in the last decade. I blame it on a couple of things:

  • The decline of radio. It got so bad that I just stopped listening around 2012. Thus it became much harder to discover new stuff that way.
  • I moved to Ohio in 2012. This is coupled with the above point. I knew of a couple non-mainstream radio stations in Philly, but the decent ones in Cleveland didn’t quite broadcast to where we lived on the far East side.
  • The rise of streaming music. I have a ton of ripped music in a carefully curated collection. When Apple Music came out, there were lots of stories of it screwing up your local library in various ways. As a result I stayed away for a long time.

As a result, I got in a rut where I was purchasing music from bands I was already aware of, but finding anything new was getting difficult. During the early pandemic, I finally finished ripping the last of my CDs in a lossless format and tagged everything right. I also bought a new drive for music backup; if anything happen I would be good.It was time to try some of the streaming services. I tried Amazon Music for a tiny bit. I tried Spotify for a bit longer and finally settled on Apple Music. We have a lot of Apple devices so it just made sense.

Long and short of it, I’ve gotten recommendations for a bunch of albums that came out in the 2010’s that are really great. I’ve added a number of new bands to the rotation. I’ll write about some of them at some point.

It’s clear each service has its own algorithm for recommendation. They suggest different bands; they also get stuck in a rut sometimes. I’m starting to branch out to some streaming radio and curated playlists to keep things fresh. I’m also playing around with We’ll see it goes.

It still blows my mind that I have access to all this music so easily. 1995 me would be so very jealous.

  1. How very 2000’s of me. 

Loss of Mt. Rainier

Loss of Mt. Rainier is a film I made a while back. It is an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Loss of Breath”. In addition to being very happy with the way it turned out, I had a great time making the film and got the chance to work with a lot of talented people. I’ve posted a brief description of the film below.

When a social media star slips into a catatonic state, his body is abused on a macabre journey to the top of Mt Rainier.

Loss of Mt. Rainier from Mike Gray on Vimeo.

Horror Movies October ‘22

Here are some brief thoughts on Halloween-ish offerings I watched this October. We still have a couple more days left, I know, but in case anybody needs something to watch… My rating system is the same as an earlier post1.

The Main Halloween Watches

  • Next of Kin (1982) – 3 (S, M, V) – There are a number of stunning shots in this down under psychological horror, thriller, mystery that is not the same film as the one that stars Patrick Swayze. At turns it suffers from the feeling it is missing pieces, shots, information, and connective tissue; this is especially the case as it moves into the end, where it becomes a different movie altogether, but the film left an impression. I would add, that when I streamed this, something was drastically wrong with the audio technically (it echoed or was phasing); I hope this was something to do with streaming.

  • Wolfen (1981) – 1 (S) – Withstanding its good performances, the opportunity to do something more with a vaguely interesting premise is squandered in the most palatable of ways for its own times, and utterly trash-ass-backwards for the present. When shit started to Hollywood explode near the end, I fully checked out. Fuck this film.

  • Dead and Buried (1981) – 2 (Str, V) – Its twists are surreal, clicking in a clockwork at 20 minute intervals. While on the surface it might seen incongruous to compare the film to Alien, O’Bannon and Shusett’s better known script, the structures of the two films are similar, with their protagonists emerging closer to mid-story. The end is borderline nonsense, but there is a daring unpredictability to the movie that wouldn’t be out of place in a Twilight Zone episode.

  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981) – 3 (S, V, M) – I’ve been asked to leave the room on too many occasions while making an ass of myself praising the merits of La bête (1975). Once again, I can thank Walerian Borowczyk for getting me ejected from family gatherings, committee meetings, and probably barred from voting if Democracy continues on its current trajectory. The plot doesn’t evolve so much as devolve as Jekyll/Hyde runs about a mansion fucking and killing everyone while waving two middle fingers, a dick, and his victims at the Enlightenment; Udo Kier rolls, gags, and gasps, the shots are hazy like pervy lace, and Marina Pierro’s gaze is ever present amid the debauchery/eroticism/porn or whichever descriptor one feels rhetorically comfortable. Not for kids, not for functioning adults, and definitely not for Tiffany Smiley with the price of hot dogs up 26%.

  • Funhouse (1981) – 2 (S, M) – Though often thought of as a slasher, the film has more in common with the works of Browning and Whale where the monsters are misunderstood and their guardians consciously abuse and use for their own benefit. The film’s straightforwardness perhaps made it something of an atavism in its own time, but removed from its context, that same simple tale (told well), its stylishness, its screams-n-scares, and its carnival creeps place it in good company with the class acts it clearly adores.

  • The Velvet Vampire (1971) – 2 (S, M) Late in the story Diane LeFanu, played by Celeste Yarnall, tells another character, “You could have turned away, but you didn’t.” Commenting on a voyeuristic thirst for transgression, it is as much an address to the character it is spoken to as it is the audience itself. It’s a quote-worthy line I’ll be repeating. I was also quite taken with the dreamlike desert sequences, which while New World Pictures budget-conscious, are also quite beautiful and inspiring for any filmmaker shackled by limitations.

  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) – 4 (S, Nar, V, M) – Why did I wait so long to watch this film? I’m an idiot. That’s why.

  • Vampry (1932) – 3 (S, V, M) – The visuals and themes here work in an almost patchwork fashion, a sort of greatest hits of horror, which is all the more astounding for a film from 1932. The picture also clearly disproves that ‘all’ early sound cinema is stiff. Visually, this film is anything but boring. Light and shadow play tricks, the camera weaves and tracks by its own logic, and countless shots are masterclasses; it would behoove both the aspiring and seasoned image-maker to study this one.

  • Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) – 1 (S) – This is a minor early Argento film that is a bit tighter than your average giallo. The maze sequence makes one wonder if Kubrick was thinking it of all those years later when he made The Shining.

  • Hocus Pocus 2 (2022) – 3 (S, Nar, M) – My expectations were so low with this one, and I was so wrong. It is less a sequel and more an origin story, drawing arguably from the superhero genre. I’ll be honest, I loathed the main storyline of the 1st, and the two vapid cleancut teens who fall in love and die, turn into a cat – or whatever happened with regards to that. The 2nd installment amends this, with a superb main storyline as well as interesting characters who your three favorite witches support and chew the drapes behind. The best part is you don’t even have to watch the first one to get the charm of the new one. Replete with too many great performances, this was the 2nd best film I saw on the only holiday I ‘officially’ celebrate/observe.

The Linnea Quigley Movies

Full admission, the films I’ve reviewed below aren’t good. I watched them solely because of Linnea Quigley, a scream queen star of the straight to VHS days, and due to the fact that I’m still a child. Quigley’s career never stopped either, she’s still around doing films and living an aspirational creative life. These films aren’t recommendations unless you are a Quigley fan.

  • Creepazoids (1987) – 0 – An Alien low-budget clone with zero nuance, depth, or craft. Quigley gets top billing, but isn’t the last survivor, which is the number one reason I hated this movie by its bottom of the barrel stupid end.

  • Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988) – 1 (M) – The bulk of the movie is drivel, and unless I’m the slimeball for enjoying it, I can’t really explain how slimeball (gutter ball?) fits into the title. Quigley’s character named Spider, a punk, is introduced knocking off the cash register in a closed down bowling alley where a group of college kids have gone to finish a sorority initiation ritual. Things go from there, and Quigley’s one-note sarcasm and performance as an outsider looking in at the privileged college kids gave me a brief moment of happiness.

  • Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988) – 1 (M) – The mash-up of noir, motiveless T&A, and comedy splatter is perhaps a bit predictable, but at least it keeps things moving to the end when literally things have gotten so lazy, people are finishing off the sets with marker and half-funny poster board signage. Quigley’s character is somewhat forgettable in this one, and though her grand finale chainsaw dance is stilted initially because they couldn’t turn on the chainsaws (I think), she does get into the buzz of things by the end.

  • Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout (1990) – 1 (M) – I’d love to know the history behind this one. It’s either a creative acting reel, or as a friend suggested, somebody’s tax write-off. The latter feels like a jaded read to me, but whatever it is, it is clearly an oddity. What’s more, VHS copies of it currently go for around 40 dollars on Ebay, making it almost as valuable as a Garfield phone, and in these uncertain economic times, probably a sound investment.

  1. Films are graded in 4 categories, with each category worth one point. The film either gets the point in a given category or it does not, with the highest possible score being a 4 and the lowest possible score being a 0. In other words, the scale has 5 possible grades.

    Categories are as follows:

    0/1 Point – Stylistics (S) – Does the film do something stylistically well. Style includes elements of cinematography, mise-en-scène, editing, and sound.

    0/1 Point – Structure or Narrative (Str/Nar) – A film may either have a good story if it is narrative (Nar), or have an interesting structure if narrative is not at the forefront or a concern (Str).

    0/1 Point – Vision (V) – Is the film unique, original, and/or were the filmmakers daring, innovative, or creative in some way.

    0/1 Point – Did Mike Like It (M) – This is the bias category of the reviewer. 

Giallo & A Review System

I have a post/essay that I’ve been sitting on for a long time about a better review system. I always think I’ll post it, but I don’t, and I’m not posting it now either. That system is called the “Sphere Review System”. I do have a new system, explained below, that draws on some of the ideas from the “Sphere Review System”, particularly with regards to the reviewer’s own bias/tastes.

To keep this short, and get to the giallo part of this post, in the review system I am using here, there are 4 categories that a film is graded in, each category is worth one point. The film either gets the point in a given category or it does not, with the highest possible score being a 4 and the lowest possible score being a 0. In other words, this scale has 5 possible grades.

When I used the system in reviewing the films I have below, I did find it couldn’t account for everything. However, hopefully the brief comments I wrote after the films offer clarity. For its yet to be solved shortcomings, I do feel the system is straight forward and simple.

Categories are as follows:

  • 0/1 Point – Stylistics (S) – Does the film do something stylistically well. Style includes elements of cinematography, mise-en-scène (lighting, performance, set design, costume, makeup, etc.), editing, and sound. A film may do one or more of these well, but it can also simultaneously do one of these poorly and still get a point. And rarely, if ever, will a film do all perfectly. For example, a film may have great shots, but bad acting, or vice-versa. The review itself will try to account for such variances.
  • 0/1 Point – Structure or Narrative (Str/Nar) – A film may either have a good story if it is narrative, or have an interesting structure if narrative is not at the forefront or a concern. For example, Die Hard has a good story and plot, while Suspiria, where narrative is less of a concern, has an organic escalation of events that support its tone. Some works may have no plot so to speak, such as Bruce Conner’s A Movie, but have a clear structure which governs the way in which images in the film proceed. When a film gets a point in this category, “Nar” will be used for those films where story and plot is more central, and “Str” will be used for those films that are ordered according to different criteria.
  • 0/1 Point – Vision (V) – Is the film unique, original, and/or were the filmmakers daring, innovative, or creative in some way.
  • 0/1 Point – Did Mike Like It (M) This is the bias category of the reviewer. This final category draws heavily from some of the ideas presented in the “Sphere Review System”. As the adage goes, there is no accounting for taste.

When a film is scored, the parenthesis and abbreviation(s) beside the score indicate the categories the film received points in. Films do not receive a point for doing things serviceably, but only get points if they step beyond the serviceable realm and into the notable. On the same token, a point does not denote perfection, as nothing can truly be perfect.

Some Gialli I watched Summer ’22

  • The Pyjama Girl Case (1978) – 2 (S, M) – The 1st two acts are good, but they drop Ray Milland’s character in the 3rd act, which is a shame. The end is particularly dumb. Someone is hit by a bus and there may be a shot of a shoe flying through the air. The film was based on a real case that happened in Australia in the ‘30s. This does help to account for the bizarro cadaver-on-display-at-uni sequence. Most importantly, the film introduced me to Amanda Lear, who I will forever after adore. The soundtrack is “A” plus, plus.

  • The Possessed (1965) – 3 (S, Str, V) – An arguable early giallo, which has some exquisite shots; ultimately, the film is more of a mystery than giallo though.

  • Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975) – 2 (S, M) – Tonally this is all over the place, at turns really twisted and grim and then a buddy comedy. It ends on a real downer. The score is fun, and there are some cool shots.

  • What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1973) – 1 (S) – Not a sequel, but the follow-up to What Have They Done to Solange? (1972) 3 (S, V, M), both films directed by Massimo Dallamano. Of the two films, Solange is superior and has far more relevance in the post-Roe world, but Daughters has a truly awesome score, which was apparently recycled from another film. Daughters merges the poliziotteschi genre with giallo, and because of this, is not unlike Suspicious Death of a Minor. The motorcycle knife welding maniac in this one has zero characterization and is particularly laughable. Fans of Solange will get something out of the film.

  • Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) – 3 (S, Nar, V) – A lot of people consider this film to be a peak giallo as well as Fulci’s greatest work (Fulci does too). It is extremely grim and unlike a lot of gialli has a plot (if plot is your thing) that holds together. Personally, I just don’t care for Fulci’s penchant for extreme gore, which too often feels out of place within the film itself. The end shot in this one has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen, and I am confident that I was not meant to belly laugh for three minutes straight.

  • Torso (1973) – 1 (V) – The film offers a clear link to the American slasher film; it also arguably features the quintessential knife-wielding-motorcycle-maniac. Alas, the film borders on forgettable.

  • Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) – 0 (no points) – This one has a title, but that’s about it. There is a motorcycle maniac, but the film mostly trades on soft-core porn and shock value with scenes of genital mutilation. This film is also irksome, because in the first half of the film someone seems to care about lighting and shots, but then they give up in the second half and everything looks like garbage.

The Argento I Watched Summer of ’22:

With the exception of Opera, I’d previously watched the other Argento films multiple times. For anyone interested in this post broadly, I would also mention that I feel Argento’s works are vastly superior to any of the films I’ve reviewed above.

  • Tenebrae (1982) – 4 (S, Str, V, M) – This just got a new 4k transfer, it is glorious.

  • Deep Red (1975) – 3 (S, Str, V) – Also got a new 4k transfer, which is very good. Overall, solid.

  • The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) – 3 (S, Str, V) – Solid as well; the murder scene is still a mic drop.

  • Opera (1987) – 3 (S, V, M) – This was the one Argento I had never seen, and I’m so sad I only just watched it. It is bananas, laugh out loud undistilled stoopid, and utterly delirious. To quote Rotten Roland from Galaxy High School, “I love it, I love it!”

The most notable slasher I watched Summer of ’22:

Girls Nite Out (1982) – 1 (M) – Below is an abbreviated review I wrote for this film and posted on a Discord server I am on.

Blood Rage came up on this server at one point, and for those who similarly like ’em so-bad-there-are-other-reasons-for-watching, they might check out Girls Nite Out. This is a slasher, and where it becomes a slasher, it’s really facile, sexist, and dumb (albeit the concept of the killer wearing the school mascot suit replete with krueger claws is sort of dippy-fun), but i do genuinely like other aspects of this film, such as the cast, its rambunctiousness, and its general lack of self-knowledge about just what type of film it should be. at turns it’s a comedy, ala animal house and other films that would have been popular at the time, a slasher – and it definitely qualifies as a slasher, drawing from giallo, and silly voices being spoken over phones – and then at the end, it becomes a weirdo police procedural. it also features what i’m guessing is every hit single by the lovin’ spoonful and finally hal holbrook – mr. mark twain tonight “himself” – which the credits never let you forget. i’m posting this over in saturday-nite-trash just so ppl know what they are getting into in that event they decide to give it a go