Category Archives: Films based on actual events
Directed by James Cox
Written by James Cox, Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz and D. Loriston Scott
The film Wonderland is an account of the Wonderland or Laurel Canyon Murders, whichever name you prefer to attach to them, which occurred at 8763 Wonderland Avenue (3768 in the film) in the Laurel Canyon district of Los Angeles on July 1, 1981. The victims were Joy Audrey Gold Miller (Janeane Garofalo, Ratatouille, Dogma), her boyfriend William ‘Billy’ Deverall (Tim Blake Nelson, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Lincoln), Ronald ‘Ron’ Launius (Josh Lucas, Hulk, Poseidon) and Barbara Richardson (Natasha Gregson Wagner, Urban Legend, High Fidelity). The four of them had been bludgeoned to death with a striated lead pipe. A fifth victim, Susan Launius (Christina Applegate, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Hall Pass) survived albeit with serious injuries. It is believed that the murders were in retaliation for a robbery that took place at the home of Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian, Talk Radio, and Cadillac Records), a drug dealer and the owner of several nightclubs in the Los Angeles area. Knowing who the victims were and knowing that Eddie Nash was at least indirectly involved leads us to now ask one important question: what does a quadruple homicide and a drug dealer have to do with porn star John Holmes?
We all know the legend of John Holmes aka Johnny Wadd. He slept with over 14,000 women. He had a 10 inch or 12 inch or 13½ inch penis according to whoever’s talking about it and how far they want to pull out the tape measure. We know that he died of complications from the AIDS virus in March, 1988. We know that before he died that he was afraid that his famous ‘appendage’ would be cut off and pickled as a conversation piece on some douchebag’s curio shelf after he was dead and gone. The thing that we are still not sure of is whether or not John Holmes was a murderer.
The film tells the tale of the murders from two different viewpoints. The first, from David Lind (McDermott, American Horror Story, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) paints Holmes as a scumbag that sells his friends out after being slighted in his take of the Nash robbery. The second viewpoint is from Holmes himself who paints Lind as a liar who could not be believed about anything. John Holmes is guilty, John Holmes is innocent; Wonderland lets you form your own opinion.
Val Kilmer (Heat, Tombstone) is great in the role of Holmes. This was when he could be trusted to give a great performance; although I think the haircut was a bit too reminiscent of his role as Jim Morrison in The Doors. Also, let’s face it; compared to the real life John Holmes, Kilmer is an Adonis. If it weren’t for having a super-sized weed-whacker the dude would have never gotten a date. As for Kate Bosworth, she’s seriously miscast as Holmes’ girlfriend, Dawn Schiller. She looks lost in every scene as if she has no idea why she’s there.
“Um, Mr. Director, What’s my motivation?”
“You’re the drug addicted whore girlfriend of a porn star with a really big schlong. That’s your motivation.”
The best performance in the film comes from Lisa Kudrow (Easy A, Analyze This) as Holmes’ estranged wife, Sharon. She knows Holmes is a user and wants nothing to do with him; her frustration every time he shows up at her doorstep is heartbreaking to see.
Is Wonderland a good movie? Yes. Does it give us the answer to the questions we’ve been asking all these years? No; but only because the answers aren’t there to begin with. My personal opinion is that Holmes was as guilty as his dick was long. If he wasn’t at the scene of the crime with a lead pipe in his hands then he knew exactly what was going on and didn’t do a fucking thing to stop it. I believe that the man was scum and that a big cock and a bunch of porn credits aren’t going to do anything to change that. You may not agree with my opinion, and you may not want to hear it; but it’s mine and I’m giving it to you anyway.
The film is based on the incident known as either the Laurel Canyon Murders or the Wonderland Murder Case that actually happened in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles in July, 1981.
When the film played the Toronto Film Festival, one of the promotional items handed out was a ruler that was 13 1/2 inches long.
The actual police investigation tape of the crime scene is included as a special feature in the DVD release of the film.
Christina Applegate grew up near the site of the Wonderland murders and remembers seeing the bloody mattresses on the street, which led to her agreeing to take a relatively small role in the film.
In the movie, Val Kilmer (as John Holmes) wears a chain around his neck that holds a ring. The ring is was the actual wedding band that John Holmes gave his wife, Sharon, when they got married in 1965. Sharon loaned it to Val to give him good luck on the movie. When the movie was over, Sharon then gave the ring to Dawn Schiller.
In the real life story, John did not call Eddie Nash after the robbery at his place. Rather, John was spotted by some of Nash’s associates in Hollywood. They noticed that John was wearing some of the jewelry that was stolen in the robbery and told Nash about it. John was then accosted by two gunmen who then took him to Nash for questioning.
The movie did not portray that, while John was being beaten up at Nash’s house,Liberace’s lover, Scott Thorson, was present. It was his testimony that eventually led to the indictment of Eddie Nash by federal authorities.
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- Review – The Road Through Wonderland Surviving John Holmes by Dawn Schiller (e-bookbuilders.com)
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THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT-United States/Canada-2009
Directed by Peter Cornwell
Written by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe
“The Haunting in Connecticut” is 102 minutes long. Look on the back of the DVD case and that’s what it says. That’s one hour and 42 minutes in length. That’s not bad; I’ve seen longer movies than that. So, at what I perceived to be the 60-70 minute mark I pushed the display button to see how long the film had left before it was over. I will tell you in all truthfulness that you could have heard the groan that escaped from me in the next county. A mere 23 minutes had elapsed. That is when I realized that this movie is going nowhere fast and that it’s taking its sweet time getting there.
Allegedly based on a true story, “The Haunting in Connecticut” is the story of the Campbell family; Sara (Virginia Madsen, “Candyman”, “The Prophecy”), her son Matt (Kyle Gallner, “A Nightmare on Elm Street“, “Jennifer’s Body”), Matt’s younger brother Billy, cousins Mary and Wendy (Amanda Crew, “Final Destination 3) and Sara’s husband, Peter (Martin Donovan, “Insomnia”). The family moves into a house that is closer to the hospital where Matt undergoes treatment for cancer. The first night everyone picks what room they want for their own; Matt picks the room in the basement. There’s another room down there, but it’s dark and it’s locked. We just know that there’s something creepy in that room and of course there is. Pretty soon there are plenty of strange occurrences going on in the house. Lights flicker on and off, doors slam, shadowy figures appear, food suddenly rots, and unseen birds flutter about; all that jazz. Being sick, Matt is the one who is most in tune with these spirits. He sees the same young boy each and every day; as well as people with their eyelids cut off and mysterious writing carved onto their bodies from head to toe. Matt calls a priest, Father Popescu (Elias Koteas, “Apt Pupil”) and he tells the family that the place is haunted and that it’s evil and that they should get out as fast as they can. Isn’t that scary? It is, but only if you’re five years old.
“The Haunting in Connecticut” is supposedly the story of Carmen Snedeker and her family. There was a book, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting that was written by Ray Garton in 1992. Garton has publicly distanced himself from the accuracy of the events he depicted in the book. That’s usually not a good sign for a tale that’s supposedly true. But “The Haunting in Connecticut” doesn’t suffer from bullshit; it suffers from boredom.
Based on the story featured in the Discovery Channel documentary “A Haunting in Connecticut”.
The character of Reverend Popescu was supposedly based on John Zaffis, an investigator who worked on the case.
Ed Warren and Lorraine Warren, who are known for involvement in The Amityville Horror case, were investigators for this case.
Though Elias Koteas’ characters appears much older than Virginia Madsen’s, he is only six months older than her.
- MovieTimes.com Picks of the Week March 26, 2009 (mrmovietimes.com)
- Seven Horrific Hauntings Based on True Events (dreadcentral.com)
- ‘Paranormal Witness’: Story Behind ‘The Haunting In Connecticut’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Rising Actors Under 25: Kyle Gallner (cwatlanta.cbslocal.com)
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Directed by Zev Berman
Written by Eric Poppen and Zev Berman
The DVD box for “Borderland” indicates that it was inspired by a true story. Wikipedia tells us that the film is loosely based on the true story of Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo; the leader of a religious cult that practiced human sacrifice. It goes on to say that Constanzo and his followers kidnapped and murdered Mark Kilroy, a University of Texas student, in the spring of 1989. I didn’t know these facts before I watched the movie. But now that I do I can understand why the film had a feeling of realism to it that is sorely lacking in other films cut from the same cloth. I found myself caring for the characters in this film and found myself rooting for them to survive. When that doesn’t happen I reacted with the same shock and sadness that they do.
Ed (Brian Presley, “Home of the Brave“), Henry (Jake Muxworthy, “I Heart Huckabees”) and Phil (Rider Strong, “Cabin Fever”) are recently graduated from college. They travel to Mexico to check out the local strip clubs and to get laid; as all young men are wont to do. Ed meets Valeria and falls in love and Phil falls for a prostitute with an infant daughter. On his way to take her a gift, he is kidnapped by a cult to be used as part of a sacrifice for one of their rituals. The film then begins a race against time for Ed and Henry to try and find Phil and bring him back to safety. Up to this point the film draws strong comparison to “Hostel”. Despite their feelings of youthful invincibility, the boys are helpless and out of their league in a foreign country whose traditions and ways of life they know nothing about. It’s not until the final act that the film slips into “Straw Dogs” territory in depicting normally peaceful men doing violent things to protect themselves and the people they care about.
“Borderland” was one of the films in the 2007 package of ‘8 Films to Die For‘ from the After Dark Horrorfest. Despite the film being disturbing, it is well written, directed and acted and is easily one of the shining moments for the Horrorfest series. Along with Xavier Gens “Frontier(s)”, I highly recommend it.
Loosely based in a case occurred in Mexico in 1989 of a group called “narcosatanicos” who killed at least 20 people and their bodies were used in satanic cults. They were accused of the murder of Mark Kirloy, a student who disappeared in march 1989 and killed by this group during a spring break.
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Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Screenplay by Sandor Stern
Based on the book by Jay Anson
What is fear? Is it being scared of the unknown or is it being scared of the things we already know? Fear can grip us in ways that we never thought imaginable. Take for instance “The Amityville Horror”. Here we have a film that I’ve seen at least five times and have usually found to be sort of tedious and unremarkable; and yet this time and at this point in my life the fucking thing scared the living shit out of me. By the end of the film and after four beers I had to piss so badly and yet I waited until my teeth were floating because I just could not walk away until it was all over.
But, I digress. It is not because of the phenomenon that allegedly happened to George and Kathy Lutz and their three children that scared me. Hollywood and an author (Jay Anson) can fake glowing eyes and bleeding walls and cries of “GET OUUUUTT”; but what they cannot fake is real life. Ronald Defeo, Jr. did indeed murder his family in cold blood in that house at 112 Ocean Avenue. He did indeed shoot them in their beds while they slept. Was he possessed by a demonic force while he pulled the trigger of that .35 Martin rifle? Who the hell knows? Devil or not, what the man did was evil.
But again, I digress. We’re talking about a movie here, aren’t we? Why was I scared by “The Amityville Horror”? I’m supposed to be the big bad horror movie review guy. Stuff like this is supposed to be second nature to me. Is there something happening in my life that’s causing this fear? Am I suicidal or homicidal? I don’t think it’s any of that. What I think it is the fact that as I have grown older I have come to realize that there is indeed real evil in this world and there is not a damn thing that Hollywood can do to sugar coat it.
The outdoor scenes of the movie were not filmed in Amityville, Long Island, but rather Toms River, New Jersey. Local police and ambulance workers played extras.
Jay Anson who wrote the book “The Amityville Horror” actually wrote out a screenplay for this film only for the producers to turn it down. Eventually they found Sandor Sternand liked his take on it so he was hired for the job.
James Brolin was hesitant when he was first offered the role of George Lutz. He was told that there was no script and that he must obtain a copy of Jay Anson’s novel and read it as soon as possible. Brolin started the book one evening at seven o’clock and was still reading at two o’clock in the morning. He had hung a pair of his pants up in the room earlier and at a really “tense” part in the book, the pants fell down from wherever they had been hanging. Brolin jumped out of his chair, nearly crashing his head into the ceiling. It was then that Brolin said, “There’s something to this story.” He agreed to do the movie.
Due to all the unwanted fame the book and film had brought upon the real house in Amityville, the current owners have replaced the “evil eyes” windows with normal rectangle-shaped windows.
Margot Kidder went on record with her friends that she hated the film.
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Directed by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman
Written by Joshua Zeman
When you think of the Boogeyman, what comes to mind for you? Is it a childhood image of a faceless being that sneaks into your bedroom at night and turns those clothes you threw in the corner into a living, breathing embodiment of evil? Maybe your boogeyman is Michael Myers with his unfinished Captain Kirk mask, his 1000 yard stare and that butcher knife. How about Freddy Krueger? Now there’s a boogeyman for you; a burned child molester with razor sharp knives for fingers.
For the families of Jennifer Schweiger, Holly Ann Hughes, Hank Gafforio, Tiahease Jackson and Alice Pereira the boogeyman may or may not be Andre Rand. When I say ‘may be’ I mean that there is enough circumstantial evidence to show that Rand is the abductor and possible killer of these children. When I say ‘may not be’ I mean that Rand isn’t about to open his mouth and proclaim his guilt. That’s where “Cropsey” comes in. “Cropsey” is a documentary about the crimes, the trial and the aftermath of the case against Andre Rand. Was Rand a child murderer? Was he a pawn in the game of a satanic cult that trafficked in children? “Cropsey” the documentary gives us the information but allows us to form our own opinions as to Rand and his alleged crimes. But I don’t see a documentary about a possible child abductor/child murderer; I see an opportunity to help the families of the victims to have closure. A detective is quoted as saying that when a child is murdered and their body is found that at least that family has a place to visit their body. However, when a child is kidnapped and they have no idea whether they are alive or dead the family will continue to believe that their child is alive until the evidence proves otherwise.
I don’t intend to rate “Cropsey”. Instead, let the drops of blood represent the missing children and the hope that their families will find closure one way or another.
Holly Ann Hughes-Missing since July 15, 1981. She was 7 years old at the time of her disappearance. Her body has not been recovered.
Hank Gafforio-Missing since June 9, 1984. 22 years old at the time of his disappearance, Hank had the mentality of a 15 year old. His body has not been recovered.
Tiahease Jackson-Missing since August 14, 1983. She was 10 years old at the time of her disappearance. Tiahease had a learning disability. Her body has never been recovered.
Alice Pereira-Missing since July 7, 1972. She was five years old at the time of her disappearance. Her body has never been recovered.
Jennifer Schweiger-Missing since July 9, 1987. Her body was found a month later. She had Down’s syndrome.
It is not for my benefit that I list these missing children. I didn’t come away from “Cropsey” as a critic; I came away as a concerned person who wants to help these families find closure. If you have any information regarding these children then please feel free to contact the numbers below. Thank you.
Richmond County District Attorney’s Office (718)-876-6300
Donna Cutugno, the Friends of Jennifer (718)-698-4053
*Note: The disappearances all occurred on Staten Island, New York
- See Dread Central’s Online Screening of American Maniacs With Trent Haaga, CM Downs, Dr. Gash (dreadcentral.com)
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Directed by Peter Medak
Story by Russell Hunter
Screenplay by William Gray and Diana Maddox
The Changeling is a suspenseful, intelligent ghost story and that is really all I know to say about it. It was released in 1980 and of course it has become somewhat dated. When was the last time you saw a fully enclosed phone booth? But that’s nitpicking of the smallest order. The film is actually quite good and while watching I kept asking myself why I avoided it for so many years.
The plot of the film revolves around George C. Scott’s character and of the ghost of a child who is, in Scott’s own words, “trying desperately to communicate with me.” The film has all the things that a good ghost story should have; a haunted house, a séance, ghostly visions and mysterious whisperings; and of course it has a ghost. Scott and his co-star Trish Van Devere mesh very well in their time together on screen. But of course this may be due to the fact that the two had been happily married since 1972.
All in all, The Changeling is an entertaining way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon curled up on the couch with your significant other. Pop some popcorn and enjoy. Oh, and don’t forget to turn off the lights.
The movie is based on events which supposedly took place at a house in Denver, Colorado, in the 1960s. The Chessman Park neighborhood in the movie is a reference to Cheesman Park in Denver, where the original haunting transpired.
- “We’ll tell scary ghost stories and … Oh, let’s just tell scary ghost stories!” (moviemorlocks.com)
- Susan Hill on The Woman in Black/Writing a Ghost Story (Saturday Guardian) (barnsleywriters.wordpress.com)
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Screenplay by Frank DeFelitta
Based on the novel by Frank DeFelitta
It’s bad enough when you’re a woman to not be able to fight back when you’re sexually assaulted. The assailant, full of anger and rage, sees you as nothing but an object, an end to his means. Fueled by that anger and rage, he forces himself on you, pushing onto you and driving you open with unchecked strength and power as he takes from you what he wants. I’m not even going to pretend to know what that’s like. I’m not a woman; I’ve never been raped nor have I ever raped anyone. I couldn’t imagine doing that to any woman. But I can imagine the helplessness of the situation. I felt that helplessness for Carla Moran, the young woman repeatedly raped and assaulted by an unseen force in The Entity. I felt for this woman. To be raped by some drunken, smelly excuse for a man is bad enough. At least you can get a description. Carla Moran could barely get anyone to believe her; even after her children, her best friend and her boyfriend witness the attacks. That’s the thing I found scariest about this film; her complete helplessness to combat this force and drive it away from her life.
The Entity is based on a novel by Frank DeFelitta. DeFelitta in turn based the novel on the real life Carla Moran and her case of demonic sexual assault in Los Angeles in 1976. At the end of the film, after the final scene, a scrolling marquee tells you that she lives in Dallas, Texas and is still assaulted to this day (the film was released in 1982). I felt for Carla Moran as I watched the film. I was scared for her and I pitied her. There are moments in the film where I felt a chill run down my spine and a feeling of dread would come over me. Not even her own house was safe haven for this woman.
If I had watched the film when it was first released, I don’t think I would have appreciated it. There’s no blood, no gore, no masked man with a machete. But there is fear, helplessness and utter dread. To be honest, I’ll take my chances with the guy with the machete.
The real-life Carla Moran’s teenage son described a particularly vicious attack in which Carla was thrown by the malevolent force and hit her head. He tried to intervene, but he was also thrown, breaking his arm. In the filming of the movie, the actor playing the son broke his arm in that scene, and the curtains tore from top to bottom without explanation.
For the scenes where the entity disturbs Carla Moran by touching her, the visual effects team designed a hot air stream’s system, pretending fingers that “touch” her body.
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BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (Les Pacte des loups)-France-2001
The ‘wow’ factor on this film is at an all time high as we are treated to a spectacular hybrid of a film that should break down under the weight of so many genres; and yet each new scene brings a fresh approach and a new surprise to the viewer. Samuel Le Bihan, Monica Belluci, Vincent Cassel and Philippe Nahon are no strangers to the French horror genres as all four have performed in controversial fright-fests; Le Bihan in Frontier(s), Belluci and Cassel in Irreversible and Nahon in Haute Tension. Brotherhood of the Wolf is the kind of film that I found to be entertaining long after the credits rolled. I found myself replaying scenes in my mind and asking myself ‘What just happened?’
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Badlands is the motion picture as National Treasure. Its influence has been felt through the years in films like Monster, True Romance and the highly underrated Kalifornia. The first lines of Bruce Springsteen‘s Nebraska are awash with imagery of the first meeting between Kit and Holly.
I saw her standing
On her front lawn
Just a twirlin’
I and she went
For a ride, sir
And ten innocent people died…
Yes, the song is about Starkweather, but the imagery is all Terrence Malick and Badlands.
Finally, and it should go without saying, Badlands is the motion picture as a masterpiece. I’m just going to leave it at that.
The actor that originally had to play the man that rings at the rich man’s door did not show up, so Terrence Malick played it himself, although the intention was to use this part only temporarily.
Although Charlie Starkweather had been executed when the movie came up for production, Caril Fugate was still alive and facing parole, prompting the filmmakers to change the names of the principal characters to avoid a lawsuit.
Don Johnson auditioned for the part of Kit.
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- Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS May Come to Criterion; Director Working on an Extended Cut of THE TREE OF LIFE (collider.com)
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This film holds a special place in my heart. I know that may sound corny coming from a 49 year-old man, but the reason is because it was the very first date between myself and the beautiful woman who is now my wife of almost 4 years. There were so many reasons why I was so excited to see this film. The aforementioned first date, of course, but also because this film had so much going for it. It had two of the finest actors of past, present or future in Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland in the lead roles of Lucy and John Bell. There was the performance of Rachel Hurd-Wood as Betsy Bell that, while not Oscar worthy, was able to hold her own against the likes of Sutherland and Spacek.
Then there is the story behind the film. The story of the Bell witch is the most documented haunting in American history. It is the only reported case in which a spirit has caused the death of a living human being. The first time I remember reading about the Bell witch was in the pages of Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery. I was enthralled with the story of this vengeful entity who made life a living hell for John and Betsy Bell. Can you see why I was so stoked to see this film?
The first part of the film moves along rather nicely. It grows a bit tedious in some places, but for the most part is a faithful adaptation of the events that took place on the Bell farm in Adams, Tennessee from 1817 to 1820. The scenes of the haunting and the torture of Betsy Bell by an unseen force are well filmed and well acted and Sutherland and Spacek are at the top of their game. I am enjoying the film and intend to recommend it to friends the first chance I get. That is until the ending causes all that came before it to come crashing down like a house of cards.
Throughout the entire course of this film director/co-writer Courtney Solomon leads us to believe that he believes in the legend of the Bell witch. The ending that is tacked on to this film is like a slap in the face. Why does there have to be a rational explanation for the Bell witch? Why were the filmmakers not satisfied with what could have been an intriguing adaptation of an amazing legend in American history? The supernatural is not a rational thing, so why treat it as such?
Thank you, Courtney Solomon, for ruining a legendary tale. At least you didn’t ruin my date.