Fright Club: Best Meat Loaf Horror

Music lost a big voice recently with the passing of Marvin Michael Meat Loaf Aday. That big voice and fascinating physical presence made itself known in a lot of movies, too. Most impressive was his performance in Fight Club, but he left a mark on horror as well.

Here we remember our favorite Meat Loaf roles in horror movies.

5. Stage Fright (2014)

Think Glee meets Wet Hot American Summer meets Phantom of the Opera meets a grisly end. Throw in some Kabuki and you have writer/director Jerome Sable’s weird wooded horror.

It doesn’t always work, the tonal shifts, in particular, leaving you dizzy. But it’s a fun watch and Meat Loaf delivers an unseemly turn as the sinister entrepreneur at the center of the misrun camp.

It’s a fun, weird one.

4. Burning Bright (2010)

He’s only in it for a minute, but Meat Loaf leaves a lasting impression in this one.

Stepdad Johnny (Garret Dillahunt channeling pure Florida white trash) wants to go Tiger King before Tiger King was cool. He buys a tiger from Mr. Loaf, whose warning to the budding zookeeper sets the stage for what’s to come.

What comes is a somewhat problematic story about a young woman’s choices. You’ll see a little bit of Aja’s Crawl, too. For its B movie trappings, though, the film boasts a number of incredibly tense scenes with this tiger – not a CGI tiger, either. This is the real, toothy deal.

3. Masters of Horror: Pelts (2006)

Dario Argento directed two shorts for the excellent Masters of Horror series. Pelts concerns itself with a fur trader with a weakness for strippers. Mr. Loaf excels in this one.

Argento rarely tapped social issues in his work, but one of the reasons this film is so unnerving is the way the kill sequences are choreographed. This is smart, jarring, horrific stuff.

But in the end, it’s Meat Loaf’s lumbering, creepy central performance that makes the whole thing work.

2. Tales from the Crypt: What’s Cookin’ (1992)

Gilberg Adler mainly wrote and produced this HBO series, but he directed a couple of episodes, including this cannibalism gem.

The cast is great: Christopher Reeve, Bess Armstrong, Judd Nelson, Art LaFleur (and, of course, that perfect voice of John Kassir as Crypt Keeper). But Meat Loaf steals the show as creepy landlord Mr. Chumley.

The performance also has a little nod to another one of the big, beefy actor’s roles…

1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Meat Loaf started played multiple roles for the LA-based Rocky Horror stage play, but for Richard O’Brien’s screen adaptation, he left a big impression in just the one role of Eddie.

He has a big song and dance number, and he gives the legendary Tim Curry so much to react to. It’s a pivotal scene and an unforgettable (if brief) performance. But like doomed Eddie, Meat Loaf’s voice haunts the entire soundtrack – one of the reasons those songs live on.

What a guy. Makes you cry. Unt I did.



by Hope Madden

In 1968 (and again in 2005), the true romance of Helen North and Frank Beardsley charmed (and likely terrified) cinema audiences. North, a mother of 10 (!) wed Beardsley, a father of 8. The blending of the two families led to, well, just under two hours of hijinks.

And that was without bondage gear.

With They/Them/Us, co-writer/director Jon Sherman revisits the difficulties of combining families and the pain of new relationships, finding the pleasure in both.

Joey Slotnick (veteran TV/movie “that guy”) is Charlie, newly single dad in Columbus. His teenage kids blame him for their broken home, his new job at Ohio’s Christian university is a weird fit, but dating is working out surprisingly well. In fact, Charlie and Lisa (Homeland‘s Amy Hargreaves) fall for each other in record time and move in together almost as quickly.

So far so garden-variety, right? Nope. Because Sherman hasn’t crafted your simple dysfunctional family comedy—no Instant Family or Bad Moms or Daddy’s Home. They/Them/Us takes the tried-and-true tumult of family dynamics and blends it with a sex romp to create an unexpected take on modern parenting.

Lisa, you see, is a bit of a dominatrix. And Charlie is, well, he is willing to learn.

Slotnick’s an endearing mess of neurosis, guilt and naivete. Hargreaves’s performance is earnest and vulnerable, and the two together create a surprisingly sweet bond. Their teen support – especially Jack Steiner as Charlie’s stoner son Danny, and Lexie Bean as Lisa’s woebegone nonbinary child Maddie — fills scenes with laughter and heart.

Stakes never feel especially high and resolutions are not particularly hard won, but Sherman and co-writer/life partner Melissa Vogley Woods — both writing from experience — craft a tender, witty tale of life, love and kink in Columbus.

All About Two Mothers

Parallel Mothers

by Hope Madden

Resilient women, absent men, memory, family, trauma, grace—somehow filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar revisits every one of these ideas to one degree or another in each film he makes.

Parallel Mothers, the auteur’s latest, hits all those notes. But the song is never the same.

In this case, Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit) meet in the maternity ward. Both are about to become single mothers, both pregnancies unplanned. Janis, a career woman who’d thought her time had passed, is elated. Ana, a teen with her own parent problems, is terrified.

The two share a room, deliver on the same day, and bond over the blessing of their first daughters. Life, of course, takes the women and their babies in unexpected directions but it is the bond that the film celebrates.

Almodóvar’s vibrant tone creates an atmosphere where anything could happen. Parallel Mothers could turn on a dime and become a murder mystery (notes of Hitchcock in that score), political allegory (a radiant backstory full of non-actors begs for your attention), or even a comedy.

Instead, it takes shape as a messy family drama, one so full of twists it recalls the filmmaker’s 1988 breakout Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Plot turns certainly suggest one of his raucous, over-the-top comedies, but Parallel Mothers is poignant in its drama.

The shocks and surprises are handled with sincerity by the cast, who imbue the film with an intimacy that grounds it. Cruz— Almodóvar’s go-to for a transcendent woman—commands the screen, an empathetic central figure even when Janis’s choices are morally muddy.

Smit cuts a curious and melancholy figure, a perfect mix to suit Ana, a woman still discovering who she is. Her enigmatic presence is balanced by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón as an entirely different kind of mother. The three women orbit each other, the men in their lives conspicuously absent.

It’s the absence, among other things, that gives Parallel Mothers its power. As complicated and showy as the dramatic twists are, it’s the backstory of Spain’s Civil War—the longing, the absence of fathers and husbands—that haunts the film.

It’s one of Almodóvar’s most tender films, and one of Cruz’s very finest performances. And though both always play well together, they have again found something new and remarkable to say.

Altar Noise


by George Wolf

These pandemic times have given us plenty of films with small casts and minimal settings. But add in the overly talky nature of Confession, and you’ve got a film that must have been inspired by a play, right?

Actually, no, which makes its construction that much more curious.

Writer/director David Beton’s thriller plays out in real time, starting when the bleeding, gun toting Victor Strong (True Blood‘s Stephen Moyer) stumbles into Father Peter’s (Colm Meaney) church with some sins to absolve.

They talk, and we start to learn a little about what brought Victor to this desperate moment. His wife was murdered years earlier and now, before Victor’s own imminent death, he needs his 18 year-old daughter to be set free with the truth of his past.

But Victor is a hunted man, and soon Willow (Clare-Hope Ashitey from Children of Men) joins the congregation with her gun, her badge, and a very different side of the story.

So far, so pretty good, as Beton’s pace makes time feel precious and the performances set effective hooks for tension and mystery. But once things start unraveling…things start unraveling.

You’ve got two versions of the truth to sort out, plus some secrets that Father Pete’s been keeping. But instead of simple flashbacks or a more ambitious Roshomon-style of reveal, Beton is content to just tell us things.

While that approach can work (see last year’s Mass), it undercuts the very nature of a visual medium. And when some of the excessive dialog is both unlikely and unnecessary (like someone saying “Come on, come on!” into a ringing phone even though they’re hiding), it chips away at the strength of your coming payoff.

Beton eventually does add a couple new faces and a weak flash of action at the finale, but by then the tension built early on has been wasted. Much like a troubled mark facing dwindling options and a ticking clock, Confession just ends up saying too much.

Feed My Frankenstein

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster

by Hope Madden

Who doesn’t love Boris Karloff? From Frankenstein’s monster to the Grinch, he’s brought to life some of the world’s best (and greenest) baddies. And he did it with grace, understatement and more than a touch of weirdness.

Co-writer/director Thomas Hamilton, like many of us, loves Boris Karloff and wants to celebrate his legacy. The vehicle for this celebration is the documentary Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster.

Interviews from gushing fans including filmmakers Guillermo del Toro and Joe Dante, as well as film historians, colleagues and Karloff’s daughter, Sarah Karloff, ground the doc. With these voices, Hamilton shapes a picture of the actor as a lovely soul, humble, and more talented than audiences of his time realized.

We’re also treated to a smorgasbord of scenes from Karloff’s 50+ years onscreen. Ample time is spent with the many incarnations of Frankenstein, of course, including mention of the partnership Karloff and make-up magician Jack Pierce shared in the creation of cinema’s most iconic monster. The film hits the other obvious highlights as well: The Mummy (1932), The Black Cat (1934), Black Sabbath (1963) and Targets (1968) among them.

Hamilton also digs into Karloff’s TV experience, which reinvigorated his career as well as his love of acting. Low lights, such as Karloff’s list of racist Asian characters, most notably the abomination that is The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), are touched on if never fully examined.

Most interesting is footage of del Toro and Dante, two greats of genre cinema, both detailing the career and impact of a hero. Conversation with Peter Bogdanovich, who directed Karloff in the chilling Targets, leaves the most lingering impression.

Man Behind the Monster falls short in two fairly important areas. There’s no revelatory information, and that’s OK, but there’s little more insight here than what you might find on Wikipedia.

The second real shortcoming is in production value. Most subjects sit in front of weakly imposed green screen images. Even artwork rendered by Joe Liotta finds itself lost in front of garden variety backdrops.

The end result is a pleasant enough chance for Karloff fans to soak up like-minded love of one of cinema’s greatest genre performers. Hopefully everyone can come away from it with a list of new Karloff movies to discover.

The Story of My Life


by George Wolf

Like so many other headlines of numbing enormity that we regularly scroll past, stories of the worldwide refugee crisis rarely come with an intimacy that makes the stakes feel palpable. Flee brings an animated face to the discussion, using one man’s incredible story to re-frame the issue with soul-stirring humanity.

Director and co-writer Jonas Poher Rasmussen identifies the man as Amin Nawabi. Amin’s on the verge on marriage, a life change that seems to compel him to reveal the secrets of his life story for the very first time. Despite happy plans for the future, the fact that the name Amin Nawabi is a pseudonym comes as a bittersweet reminder of how the past continues to haunt this soul’s present.

Amin’s earliest memories are of his native Kabul in the early 1980s when the Mujahideen took charge in Afghanistan and the dangers began. Amin’s father was deemed a “threat” and arrested. While his older brother was able to escape the bloody battles with U.S. troops, Amin and the rest of his family begin years of attempts to flee the country.

But even under such a harrowing veil, Rasmussen finds a sweet innocence to propel Amin’s coming-of-age story. Bedroom posters of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris wink back at the young Amin, as his gentle adult voice recounts an ever-present realization that he was attracted to men, and that he had one more reason to always be on guard.

A successful cross into Russia only changes the specifics of oppression, leaving Amin under constant threat of discovery, deportation and corrupt police. (One incident where Amin manages to escape their greed leaves a lasting scar on him, and on us.)

The animated wartime recollections — punctuated with scattershot live action moments — do bring the Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir to mind, but Rasmussen may well have preferred a completely live action narrative if he did not have an identity to protect. Using Amin’s actual voice in their conversations adds startling depth to the reenacted memories, and as our childlike comfort with animated scenes clashes with the uncomfortable scenes depicted, Flee‘s bracing resonance only intensifies.

And after all that Amin endures, as the horrors in his story gradually diminish and we see his fiancé Kaspar gently nudging Amin to accept the peace in the next stage of their lives, the full weight of the struggle emerges.

We yearn for Amin to let go of the past even as we know it is what defines him. He lives each day as a testament to those whose sacrifices enabled him to finally find something that feels like home.

What’s left is a hope that giving voice to his burdens may finally set him free, and lead to a greater understanding of the many voices yet unheard.

Big Boys Don’t Cry

I’m Not in Love

by Tori Hanes

I’m Not In Love, the final installment in director Col Spector’s trilogy, continues his exploration into the anti-romantic-comedy universe analyzing the modern man’s romantic relationships.

Shot in London, the story follows the melancholy and often hapless Rob (Al Weaver), who must decide whether to commit to his suitable yet average girlfriend Martha (Cristina Catalina) or continue in his journey to find the perfect woman. What ensues is the constant battle Rob must wage against himself in order to achieve external happiness in the form of a partner – just, preferably, not the one he currently has.

The brightest moments of the piece shine through Weaver’s grounded, understated performance as the ultimate anti-hero Rob. Embedded with inherited relationship trauma from his bitterly divorced parents, Rob consistently makes unjustifiable decisions at the expense of others- but Weaver’s ability to show a complicated relationship with self-awareness is what saves Rob from becoming unsalvageable. 

I’m Not In Love describes itself as an “anti-romantic-comedy,” and in a baseline way, it achieves this idea. It flips a few conventions on their heads: it challenges the idea of a picture-perfect ending and follows an unlikeable protagonist with an unredeeming story.

However, to fully encapsulate an “anti” version of any genre, a new or interesting idea should be present. I’m Not In Love paints an overly nihilistic picture of romantic relationships and familial commitment without much thoughtful consideration as to why. Like a teenager rebelling against their parents, the “anti” in “anti-rom-com” serves more as a symbol of nonconformity than thoughtfulness. 

The film runs a quick 85 minutes but feels bogged by a plot that spins itself in repetitive circles. Much of the story’s monotony stems from non-committal writing. I’m Not in Love can’t decide if it wants to live in a lighthearted air or dive into deep drama, which keeps the film in a perpetual limbo. 

Ultimately, Weaver’s performance is the gravitational pull that makes this piece interesting, and the film orbits around that. The lack of unique perspective would not necessarily be a deal-breaker if the plot had found more moments of genuine levity or self-aware humor. I’m Not In Love may leave you feeling joyless, but not in a cathartic way.

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The Truth Shall Set You Free


by Brandon Thomas

Based on real events, Unsilenced follows a group of students as they navigate the political turmoil around the 1999 Chinese ban of religious movement Falun Gong.

As the crackdown against Falun Gong practitioners intensifies, the students find themselves in the crosshairs of the Chinese government through their refusal to adhere to the ban. American journalist Daniel Davis (Sam Trammell of True Blood) begins to dig into the torture and suppression surrounding the Falun Gong ban when the students go into hiding. When their paths meet, both the students and Daniel have to make a choice about how important the truth is.

Hard-hitting political movies aren’t a new phenomenon here in America. From All the President’s Men to JFK and Selma, movies depicting real-life political events and movements are a part of our cinematic DNA. The same can’t be said for places such as China, which is now one of the top movie-going countries in the world. Films challenging China’s political history never come out of the country itself, and even those foreign-made films face increased scrutiny and push-back from the Communist nation.

Despite the potential “touchiness” of the subject matter, director Leon Lee has made a film that is almost devoid of subtlety. The direct messaging feels purposeful, as Lee crafts a film much more interested in delivering a message than telling a strong story. The story still resonates, but through a guise of a TV movie-of-the-week with on-the-nose performances and flat photography.

Even with the narrative clumsiness, Unsilenced manages to have some thrilling moments. The segments featuring Trammell as the American reporter work the best as they threaten to take the story into more of a political thriller than a drama. The shoe-horning in of a Western white guy isn’t the best of looks these days, but it’s interesting how Lee’s focus as a director narrows during these scenes.

Although Unsilenced suffers somewhat from that lack of subtlety, the message being conveyed comes through a lens of genuine caring. Lee’s entire filmmaking career to this point has focused on human rights. While most of that work has been through documentary film, Lee’s few segues into narrative features have kept the spotlight on the issues that are important to him as an artist. Even if the final product isn’t a home run, it’s impressive to see a filmmaker tackle an issue over and over with the same fiery passion.